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August 8, 2017

Transaction Analysis

Two Years in Four Acts

by Wilson Karaman, Bryan Grosnick, Jeffrey Paternostro and Greg Goldstein


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired INF-R Brallan Perez from Texas Rangers for international bonus pool slot money. [8/5]

You will be shocked to learn that the Rangers had a spare, polished Latin American middle infielder to use to add to their Shohei Ohtani rainy day fund. Perez has been a jack-of-all-trades for the Rangers' affiliates, bouncing between Hickory, Down East, and Round Rock in 2017, playing three infield positions, and even popping up in right field once. He’s listed at 5-foot-10, which might be a couple inches generous, but he can hit a bit and is an above-average runner.

The swing—like his frame—is short and compact, so there isn’t going to be much more than doubles power. And he may think he is actually 5-foot-10 based on his willingness to expand the zone up on fastballs. At worst he will continue to be an organizational Swiss army knife for Baltimore, but Perez has a non-zero shot at being a useful extra infielder in the majors at some point. —Jeffrey Paternostro

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Purchased the contract of 3B-R J.D. Davis from Triple-A Fresno. [8/5]

A former third-rounder out of Cal State Fullerton, Davis has kind of hung around the middle of the Astros’ system on a consistent trajectory for several years. And now at 24 that path has led to his big-league debut in Houston. A burly man with loads of natural strength, Davis is a bit of a stiff mover who survives to the degree that he does at third base thanks to soft hands and a strong arm that pushes plus-plus.

Raw power is the second of his tools that might just exceed plus, but while his swing has gotten noticeably looser and more consistent from launch over the past couple years, it is still more of a strength swing with average bat speed. Two years ago in High-A he consistently came up empty on as many in-zone pitches as anyone I’ve seen. He’s worked hard subsequently to get his barrel to spend more time on plane, but swing-and-miss is still a big part of his offensive game.

Nonetheless, he’s shown a consistent ability to bring a good majority of his power into his game in the high minors, with notable ability to let balls get deep and drive them to the opposite field. He rolls over on more than his fair share, however, and combined with the strikeouts it is highly unlikely that batting average is ever an asset. He offsets some of that deficiency with a willingness to take walks, and a fringe-average on-base profile bolstered by solid-average game power and won’t-kill-you defense can add up to a useful 25-man piece if he can hang with big-league pitching. —Wilson Karaman

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Acquired RHP Ryan Garton and C-R Mike Marjama from Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for IF-B Luis Rengifo, LHP Anthony Misiewicz, and a player to be named later. [8/6]

An incomplete list of things Jerry Dipoto doesn’t need:

Sure, with newly-acquired David Phelps down with a surprise injury there’s probably room for another relief arm on the M’s. But Garton wasn’t getting reps in the uninspiring Rays bullpen, so what makes you think he’ll get them in the uninspiring Mariners bullpen? He wasn’t all that good last season in the majors, and the velocity on his second-most-used pitch, his cutter, is down a few ticks from last year. Garton was kind of a pop-up velocity guy in general, so I get very concerned about any decrease in pitch speed. But he’s been great for Triple-A Durham this season, so maybe he’ll be great in Tacoma for a while too. Just don’t go buying any Garton shirseys just yet. —Bryan Grosnick

ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired OF/1B-R Connor Joe from Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for IF/OF-R Sean Rodriguez. [8/5]

After having a fairly strong season at High-A in 2016, Joe has taken a slight step back in his first stint at Double-A. The jump from level to level always tells a lot about a player and you can see from his struggles that Joe’s lack of superior tools is currently being exposed. The first baseman/right fielder will turn 25 this month, so he’s not young for the league he’s in. Also, at six foot and 205 pounds, he lacks the strength needed to project as an average power hitter and is likely more of a fringe-average contact hitter due to how his average bat speed will translate at the major-league level.

To his credit, the former competitive balance draft pick is steady with the bat because he uses a compact stroke and is able to adjust the bat head in order to consistently put the barrel on the ball. He covers the plate fairly well and shows the ability to use all fields. However, his offensive profile projected much better when he was a catcher. His arm and body wouldn’t stick behind the plate, and now that he's shifted to more offensive-oriented positions he’ll likely be relegated to a bench role when he does reach the majors. —Greg Goldstein

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Acquired IF/OF-R Sean Rodriguez from Atlanta Braves in exchange for OF/1B-R Connor Joe. [8/5]

Act 1: The Wrong Place, The Right Time

Rodriguez goes ballistic during the 2015 Wild Card game and fights a Gatorade cooler.

This event immediately overshadows his history as a worthwhile role player: a guy who can play multiple positions well and hit for a little power from the right side. The Pirates go on to lose this play-in game, as is their stock-in-trade.

Act 2: The Right Place, The Right Time

I wouldn’t go so far to say that 2016 went perfectly for the fiery utility man, but it couldn’t have gone that much better. After eight seasons of offensive production that maxed out at “average” by True Average (his high point was a .260 TAv in 2014), Rodriguez absolutely shone in a platoon-and-defense role with the Bucs last year. He made his way into a career-high 140 games, but also tuned up right-handed pitching in a way he’d never done before. Whereas you once had to squint to see a legitimate major-league regular, now you only had to open your eyes. With a .510 slugging percentage and 2.3 WARP in the bank, Rodriguez finally earned the opportunity to enter free agency and shoot his shot. Peaking late—at 31 years old—is so much better than never peaking at all.

Act 3: The Wrong Place, The Wrong Time

After signing a lucrative two-year, $11.5 million contract coming off the aforementioned best season of his career, Rodriguez looked like a potential starting infielder for a rebuilding Braves team. Perhaps finally he would have gotten his chance to be a real, everyday regular, albeit on a middle-of-the-road Atlanta club. Instead, he suffers a serious shoulder injury during a terrifying automobile accident. This accident—apparently no fault of his own—also injured his wife and children as a stolen police cruiser rammed his vehicle. Though it was originally thought that he could miss the entire season, Rodriguez recovered from rotator cuff surgery quickly, and returned to the majors after the All-Star break.

In his 15 games back with the Braves he did several of the things that he did before his injury, which mostly included drawing walks and moving around the diamond. His .162 batting average was paltry, but the .326 on-base percentage was just fine. Plus, he played four different positions: second base, third base, and both outfield corners. There were enough good signs that made you think that either the Braves could hold him as a hedge against a young and questionable infield in 2017, or perhaps deal him off to a contender.

Act 4: The Right Place, The Wrong Time

Instead, the Braves did neither. They dealt him to the scene of his greatest successes: Pittsburgh. The Pirates are not a contender at this point, but they could use Rodriguez’s bat and flexibility. What happened in his first game back with his old team, his old friends … it’s the stuff that makes baseball something slightly more than just a stupid game.

He hit one of his patented surprise dingers, pulling a pitch into the stands beneath the great scoreboard at PNC Park. He won the game for his new, old team, which likely won’t move the needle much in terms of the NL Wild Card standings. That’s probably okay. When he crossed the plate, Rodriguez looked plenty happy to be healthy, hale, and home. His story has a happy ending, at least for now. —Bryan Grosnick

Wilson Karaman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Wilson's other articles. You can contact Wilson by clicking here
Bryan Grosnick is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bryan's other articles. You can contact Bryan by clicking here
Jeffrey Paternostro is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeffrey's other articles. You can contact Jeffrey by clicking here

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