July 2, 2014
A Closer Swap with Thee
We have ourselves a challenge trade.
Through some eyes, Jerry Dipoto committed a few cardinal sins with this swap. He traded young for old, years of control for months of control, and cheap for a little more expensive. Yet, if you watched Grilli's first few appearances with L.A.A., then you understand why Dipoto made the deal. Grilli's stuff remains quality: his fastball touches the mid-90s and has arm-side boogie, and his confidence in his slider enables him to throw the pitch whenever against whomever. If you didn't know any better, you'd think he could be a useful late-inning reliever right now.
And maybe Grilli can be. Granted there are numbers of both the rate—he's throwing fewer strikes and missing fewer bats—and counting variety—his home run, earned run, and walk totals from this season nearly match last year's in less than half as many innings—working against him. But the Angels aren't betting on Grilli returning to form. What they're betting on is that he's more likely to do so than Frieri over the course of the season. Is it myopic to do so? Maybe. Though given the volatility of non-elite relievers, as well as the amount of talented young bullpen arms in the system, it's not a deal that Dipoto is likely to regret.
Williams becomes the third pitcher to work the ninth inning in a save situation days before he was designated for assignment, at least according to an unofficial count. In Williams' defense, he never belonged in that situation. He did, as the Astros wanted, throw strikes and coerce groundballs. What he did not—or could not—do was keep runs off the board. Williams hadn't pitched back-to-back clean outings since mid-April. His improved strikeout rate aside, there's no reason to fancy him as more than a low-leverage reliever on a team that is unconcerned about wins and losses.
By comparison, the Villar demotion is surprising. The Astros will presumably turn to Marwin Gonzalez as their everyday shortstop. Enrique Hernandez, who is expected to be called up on Tuesday, could fill in there, too—though he lacks the required arm strength and profiles as more of a super-sub type. In addition to Hernandez, the Astros will bring outfield Domingo Santana and pitcher Kevin Chapman to the majors. Santana is a surprise addition, in part because Jeff Luhnow dismissed the possibility a few days ago. He's going to strike out, a lot, but adds more pop to the Astros lineup.
Dayton Moore alters his bench. There's no reason to think Ibanez—released by the Angels last week after an unsatisfying run as their DH—or Colon—a former fourth-overall pick—will give Kansas City a huge boost. Still, look at who they're replacing. For as bad as Ibanez was in L.A., his numbers trump what Maxwell did this year in Kansas City. Colon is a disappointment relative to where he was drafted, yet it's hard to envision him being worse than Ciriaco has been over the past two years. Yes, this is faint praise. Doesn't matter; marginal upgrades are worth making.
Placed SS-R Chris Owings on the 15-day disabled list (strained shoulder); purchased the contract of SS-R Nick Ahmed from Triple-A Reno; transferred 3B-L Eric Chavez to the 60-day disabled list; acquired INF-R Ronny Cedeno from the Phillies in exchange for C-S Raywilly Gomez; optioned Cedeno to Triple-A Reno. [6/29]
Ahmed, 24, was acquired in the Justin Upton trade. While his bat hasn't developed like the Braves hoped it would, back when they drafted him in the second round a few years ago, he should have a big-league future in a utility role. Ahmed possesses a strong arm and enough speed to play on the left side of the infield. His bat isn't as well-regarded, as neither his hit nor power grade out as average tools, and his grinder mentality isn't considered enough to overcome those shortcomings. Expect Ahmed to get some playing time in Owings' absence, with an eye on claiming a reserve role in the future.
The Cedeno trade serves two purposes: 1) to add a layer of organizational depth, in case of another injury, and 2) to alert the world that there's a player named Raywilly.
Acquired RHP Ernesto Frieri from the Angels in exchange for RHP Jason Grilli [6/27].
The comparison to make here, which some, including Travis Sawchick, have already made in a convincing manner, is to the Joel Hanrahan-Mark Melancon trade of two winters ago. The Pirates were getting a younger, less-established pitcher for an older, seemingly safer veteran type. That deal was considered fair at the time: the Pirates were losing in the short run to gain over time. Flash forward to the present and it looks like a rip-off. Nothing is in this sport is for certain.
That written, the odds of a sequel seem limited. While the statistical indicators suggest Frieri should improve, there's something to be said about the flaws in his game. The Pirates have become synonymous with sinkers, and you wonder if pitching coach Ray Searage will help his newest project add some wiggle to his relatively straight heater. As is, Frieri relies more on deception, velocity, and location than movement. Unsurprisingly he has struggled with the home-run ball, having allowed more than two per nine innings this season. Even the seeming positive in his peripherals—an improved walk rate—is a byproduct of getting hit around more so than him increasing his rate of strikes.
None of this necessarily precludes Frieri from becoming a useful reliever. It just means there's a little work to be done before he's as good as new. If Searage and the Pirates can tune Frieri just right, they could have a cheap, valuable arm through the 2016 season. To think it would've only cost them a rental.
Falu had an eventful June: he celebrated his 31st birthday, mourned the sudden death of his mother, changed organizations, and returned to the majors. Despite the turbulence, his game remains the same. Falu is a competent singles hitter who rarely walks or strikes out. Such a limited profile restricts his offensive ceiling; the good news then, is that Peterson set a low roof by hitting .100 through 50 at-bats. When Falu's defensive versatility is factored in—he has experience across the infield and in the outfield—the overall package makes sense as a spare infielder on a non-competitive team.