July 31, 2014
Yankees Get a Proper Infield
Hours after exporting Jon Lester to Oakland, John Lackey to St. Louis, and Andrew Miller to Baltimore, the Red Sox made their least-notable move of the day. Unless, of course, you treasure the historical footnote of division rivals teaming up to make a deal.
The swap of left-handed infielders is the first consummated by the Red Sox and Yankees since 1997, when Dan Duquette sent Mike Stanley from Boston to New York, and his counterpart, Bob Watson, sent Tony Armas north on I-95.
That’s about the most significant element of the trade for Ben Cherington, apart from the money he’ll save John Henry and the rest of the ownership group. Drew was owed about $4.8 million the rest of the way; Johnson was owed $3 million for the whole season and has some $1 million coming to him from this point on. Subtract the $500,000 the Red Sox are sending with Drew, and they’ve shaved about $3.3 million from the books.
Johnson has no obvious role on John Farrell’s roster, but he can fill multiple positions. His greatest benefit to the Red Sox will be filling in around the infield, so that Cherington doesn’t have to rush any of the team’s prospects before they’re ready for The Show. —Daniel Rathman
The Red Sox are not contending and aren't going to take away plate appearances from Will Middlebrooks, Brock Holt, Daniel Nava or even Mookie Betts for the sake of Kelly Johnson. I'd expect him to be DFA'd shortly, but even if he stays with the team, don't look for him to grab more than 50 PA in Boston from here on out, barring injuries. —Ben Carsley
Acquired INF-L Stephen Drew and $500,000 from Red Sox for INF-L Kelly Johnson [7/31]
Acquired INF/OF-R Martin Prado for C/OF-R Peter O’Brien [7/31]
When your roster is stacked with aging players, it helps to have versatile ones to supplant them. Enter Martin Prado, who also joins a roster that has no other outfielders who bat solely from the right side.
General manager Brian Cashman said shortly after nabbing Prado from the Diamondbacks that his newest position player would see the bulk of his time in right field, a position that he hasn’t played since 2009. But the 30-year-old can also handle the keystone, the hot corner, and left field, giving Joe Girardi a host of lineup options that enable him to rest other regulars and ward off fatigue down the stretch.
With Ben Zobrist staying put in Tampa Bay, Prado and Emilio Bonifacio were the best Swiss army knives on the market. Prado’s not a switch-hitter, he’s not nearly as proficient in the field as Zobrist, and his results to date this year have been decidedly worse than in his Atlanta years. But he can plug a hole and do well in part-time duty, which is what the 2014 Yankees—treading water in the wild card picture as they await news on Masahiro Tanaka’s arm—currently need. And he can do all of that without forcing a general manager to fork over the farm to the Rays.
Prado has seen his True Average drop for the second straight year, from .286 in 2012 to .264 in 2013 to .248 in 436 plate appearances this year. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll find that he’s hit well in limited action against southpaws, compiling a .338/.381/.500 slash line in 84 trips. That’s the assignment with which he’ll likely be tasked in the Bronx.
The Yankees were able to obtain Prado without surrendering much young talent because of the contract extension to which the Diamondbacks inked him when he came west from Atlanta in the Justin Upton blockbuster. A 0.1-WARP contributor to this point in 2014, Prado is owed just under $5 million the rest of the way and guaranteed $11 million salaries in 2015 and 2016.
That’s a lot of coin for a replacement-level player. But if Prado helps Girardi to keep his teammates fresh and returns to the 1.2-plus-win production he’d delivered in every full big-league year prior to 2014, Cashman won’t have any regrets.
In 20 major-league seasons, Derek Jeter has never played a position other than shortstop. In nine years in the bigs, neither has Stephen Drew. But they are teammates now, and that means Drew will have to move to second base.
The trade comes two months and 11 days after the Red Sox brought back Drew—who was dogged all offseason by his decision to reject their qualifying offer—on a pro-rated version of the $14.1 million he would have received had he put pen to paper last fall. Drew returned to compile a .208 True Average, and even if you believe that his shortstop defense has improved from -4.6 FRAA in 2013 to +2.2 in 2014, he has hovered around replacement level.
Like Cashman’s acquisitions of Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley earlier this month, this one is a bet on a second-half rebound, perhaps aided by the short porch in right field, at which Drew can now take aim. The 31-year-old hasn’t hit with anything resembling the thump he showed in 2013, spraying only a handful of flies beyond medium-deep pastures. But he won’t need to enjoy a complete renaissance to give the Yankees an incremental upgrade over Brian Roberts and Co., who amassed a .239 TAv at the keystone before his arrival.
Speaking of Roberts—he was designated for assignment with 348 plate appearances to his name, two shy of an escalator that would have raised his paycheck by $250,000. The Yankees save a quarter-million there, avoid any potential future raises—Roberts had another $250,000 due his way at 400 PA—pick up $500,000 from Boston, and shed what’s left of the $3 million deal to which they signed Kelly Johnson.
Since Cashman did not part with any prospects or long-term assets, the trade is virtually risk-free for the Yankees, with a chance that Drew continues to scuffle and makes them worse but also a possibility that he rediscovers his swing and makes them better. With Masahiro Tanaka’s health in question and PECOTA giving the Yankees only a 15.2 percent shot of making the postseason, there was no reason for Cashman to gut the farm for midseason upgrades.
He got what he could without doing so. Now, as he told reporters in the aftermath, “We’re going to find out if it’s good enough or not.” —Daniel Rathman
Drew is a marginal fantasy middle infielder going from a good home ballpark with a bad supporting cast to a great home ballpark with a decent supporting cast. Add in the 2B eligibility he'll gain and the short right-field porch in Yankees Stadium, and he sees a slight uptick in fantasy value for the rest of the season. It's tempting to write him off altogether, but he's hit better in July than in June and better over the past few weeks in general. He's interesting in deep mixed or AL-only leagues again.
How do you kill that which has no life? —Ben Carsley
You would think getting away from Arizona is a positive in every aspect, but the reality is that not a ton changes for Prado. Both his new and old home environments are great spots for hitters, and while the lineup around Prado is now a bit better, it’s not enough to push him to an up arrow – though you could think of him as shading that way in terms of value. He should see most of his action in the outfield with new acquisitions taking up all the available infield spots, pushing Beltran to DH. —Craig Goldstein
Acquired C/OF-R Peter O'Brien from New York Yankees for INF/OF-R Martin Prado. [7/31]
Just from seeing Peter O'Brien in batting practice a few games, you know the power is "can't miss," says an American League scout. He launched balls out of the Trenton Thunder stadium with ease while hitting the newly light scoreboard 400-plus feet away. For a player who plays a premium defensive position (catcher), the power potential would surely be more than enough. The problem is many evaluators, including myself, do not believe he will find a home behind the plate at the highest level. His inability to block quality stuff in the dirt, his poor framing, and his immobility behind the plate will all force the D'Backs to find him another position.
The power is inevitable but even at the plate it's his carrying tool. He has man strength but less than stellar bat speed and he had pitch recognition problems in my viewings. He was susceptible to off speed down in the zone and his plate coverage is not great. His bat speed being in the fringe-average range does not give him any margin for error when he guesses wrong, which he does often. His contact skills are lacking and his average could appear empty against quality stuff from either side. Finding a position for O'Brien could be difficult being he might not hit well enough to fill in at a corner infield spot, even if the power would play. His actions at 1B were also robotic and he had trouble around the bag.
His raw power should not go unnoticed but realistically, against quality major-league pitching, his hit tool utility will limit his game power. Ultimately, if he can find another defensive home, he can get away with playing for an extended period of time while hitting for a low average, ~30% K rate and some HRs for a non-competitive team. Realistically, O'Brien profiles as an up-and-down bat.. —CJ Wittman
Here’s what I wrote about Peter O’Brien just prior to the futures game:
None of that changes now that he’s in a new organization.
AZ third base situation
It’s not really clear who ends up with this role, or if it will even limited to one person. Didi Gregorius, Nick Ahmed, Jake Lamb, and even Mark Trumbo are options for the Diamondbacks, but none of them should be expected to come close to Prado’s production, save perhaps Trumbo who was already doing his thing in the outfield.
Ahmed has already seen 15 games in Arizona and the results haven’t been pretty. He’s a solid player in real life but the fantasy returns should be fairly minimal. If there’s one guy owners should be hoping grabs the gig, it’s Lamb. The 2012 sixth round pick has mashed at Double-A, producing a cool .950 OPS. He’s walking at a clip of 11 percent, and while his 22 percent strikeout rate is high, it’s a two percentage point drop from 2013, so he’s heading in the right direction. He has the potential to be a fantasy contributor even in shallow leagues thanks to a dearth of talent at the position and possible above-average hit and power projections. The ultimate question is whether he’s a 20 home run guy at the major-league level or not, and that is yet to be answered but owners should prefer the Diamondbacks find out with him rather than turn to the other available options. —Craig Goldstein
Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @danielrathman