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July 26, 2017

Transaction Analysis

The Bridge to Knebel

by Kate Morrison, Nick Schaefer, Scott Delp and Gideon Turk


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired OF-R Ryan Cordell from Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for RHP Anthony Swarzak. [7/25]

Traded last year as the player to be named later in the Jonathon Lucroy deal (backing up the much bigger names of Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz), Cordell is the kind of player who doesn’t exactly light up external reports, but whom organizations often love to have in their high minors. A competent utility outfielder, Cordell has the instincts that make him a solid corner man, combined with a bit of speed, enough to have some experience as a center fielder.

Cordell has shown legitimate power in the high minors, but there’s enough swing and miss in the approach to limit the in-game usefulness. All in all, the White Sox have acquired a useful outfielder who will probably see big-league time in light of their rebuild, opening the door for him to position himself as a useful fourth outfielder going forward. —Kate Morrison

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Signed INF-S Danny Espinosa to a one-year contract. [7/23]

Espinosa was designated for assignment by the Angels on July 16 and released four days after that. Acquired by the Angels from the Nationals last December, Espinosa has always been an excellent defender who has struggled to contribute offensively. At his best, he has shown 20-homer power and an ability to steal a base and work enough walks to be within shouting distance of an average hitter, but those times have not come often enough. Espinosa’s career stats read like a vast offensive wasteland.

Both the Mariners and Espinosa are hoping that the change of scenery will revitalize him, but it's difficult to imagine what they can realistically be hoping for from a 30-year-old career .221/.297/.380 hitter. He did have a 24-homer season for the Nationals last year, so the power is still there when he does manage to make contact, but Espinosa batted .162 with six homers in 77 games for the Angels.

Espinosa is not just a plus defender, he is also quite versatile. He's played every infield position, as well as left field. The idea is to use him as a super-utility guy in much the way Taylor Motter had been used. You may remember Motter as the guy who had five homers in April only to cool off considerably since; he was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to make room for Espinosa.

While there is little chance for regular at-bats with the Mariners’ wealth of infield talent, Espinosa’s glove and ability to play all around the diamond will get him some opportunities. The Mariners will likely be happy to have him make some plays defensively, run into a home run now and then, and steal the odd base. You are free to wish that the expectation bar for your job was so low. —Scott Delp

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Acquired INF-R Rob Refsnyder from New York Yankees in exchange for 1B-R Ryan McBroom. [7/23]

The Blue Jays’ seemingly endless descent into baseball purgatory won’t be solved with the acquisition of Refsnyder, but that doesn't mean this move isn’t a welcome one in Toronto. The 26-year-old is less than two years removed from being a shiny prospect in the New York system, and if he can find even some of what got him recognized in 2016 as BP’s sixth-ranked Yankees prospect it’ll be a step up from the production the Blue Jays have received from their middle infielders this season. Devon Travis is on the shelf and Ryan Goins, Darwin Barney, and even Troy Tulowitzki have all struggled, leaving lots to be desired up the middle.

For his career, Refsnyder has 262 plate appearances and a .224 TAv, around what you might expect for a utility player. However, Refsnyder’s value to the Blue Jays will come from his ability to play multiple positions, as he has seen time this season at first base and second base, as well as in the outfield corners. He'll have to hit, however, because his defense is unlikely to be a big asset beyond versatility. His .312/.390/.464 line at Triple-A in 2017 is a good sign for the Buffalo Bisons, where he will play for the foreseeable future, but his time in Toronto should come soon enough. —Gideon Turk

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Acquired RHP Anthony Swarzak from Chicago White Sox in exchange for OF-R Ryan Cordell. [7/25]

From 2009-2012, Swarzak was a replacement-level pitcher, starting in one third of his appearances for the Twins while averaging about 100 innings a year. Even after his subsequent full-time shift to relief, he was still initially used in longer outings—first to great success, then to disaster. Despite posting solid peripherals for the Indians and Yankees over brief stints in 2015 and 2016, he came to the White Sox on a minor-league deal with a non-roster invitation to spring training. By making the Opening Day roster, he secured a $900,000 salary.

Now in his age-31 season, Swarzak is throwing harder than ever, averaging 95 mph on his heater and reaching back for 97 as needed. “Backdraft" attributes his increased velocity to the obvious change of airing it out for short bursts rather than pacing himself for longer outings, as well as focusing more on whiffs and a newfound ability to modulate his velocity and fastball run with tweaks on his delivery from pitch to pitch. Throw in a sharp slider and a vestigial ability to stretch for more than three outs at a time, and Swarzak seems to have completed his transformation from an up-and-down long reliever and spot starter to late-inning stopper.

His DRA currently sits at a career-best 3.47, lagging a bit behind his shiny 2.23 ERA, but not out of line with the 3.90-ish DRAs he’s posted over small samples in his previous two years. Barring injury, he represents a substantial upgrade over Carlos Torres and Oliver Drake in the Bridge to Knebel (I propose “The Knebel Creek Ferry” if anyone is with me there) with virtually no impact on the Brewers’ 2017 finances. —Nick Schaefer

Kate Morrison is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kate's other articles. You can contact Kate by clicking here

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