April 21, 2014

Antonetti pulls off a coup for Choo

To quote the great Nick Gilbert…. “What’s Not To Love?”

I have killed Chris Antonetti time and time again for his head scratching roster decisions, but none of those will be mentioned in this piece. I am here to stand up, clap, and give the much maligned Tribe GM his proper due.

Throughout this offseason, the Indians have been in the center of activity in baseball’s hot stove league. They have a powerful and well respected new manager in Terry Francona, and a roster with a young core group of players, four of whom were prime trading chips. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Indians needed a makeover.

But would they actually have the stones to go through with it? And if so, how would they go about it?

It started with the trade for Mike Aviles. It seemed like a small move, but it was one that would start the facelift. On Sunday, the Indians decided they no longer wanted to wait on Kevin Youkilis and instead signed free agent first baseman Mark Reynolds for half of the cost (one year, $6 million) of Youk (who signed a one year, $12 million deal tonight with the Yankees).  But as I said on Monday, there was no chance Antonetti was done.

It took just one more day, and almost out of nowhere, reports started to trickle in late Tuesday afternoon that the Indians and the Reds were in “deep discussions” involving OF Shin-Soo Choo. By nightfall, a third team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, entered the fray. We had been hearing about talks between the Tribe and the D’Backs all last week in Nashville, but nothing came to fruition. The Diamondbacks needed a shortstop, the Indians have wanted young arms.

Around 9:15 PM Eastern time, the deal was all but done. The three-team deal turned out to be more than we could have hoped for. The Indians parted ways with RF Shin-Soo Choo, utility man Jason Donald, left-handed reliever Tony Sipp, and AAA first baseman Lars Anderson. Choo and JD end up in Cincinnati with Sipp and Anderson heading to Arizona. The key member of this deal was a 23-year old prospect shortstop named Didi Gregorious. Apparently, Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers was hot for the slick fielding kid and preferred him and his asking price to Tribe All-star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. So Gregorious, not Cabrera, was sent west from Cincinnati. For the Tribe’s trouble, they got the young starter they have been holding out for, Trevor Bauer, with relievers Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers from Arizona. They also received CF Drew Stubbs from the Reds.

All of this came to fruition without the Indians having to trade Asdrubal Cabrera. It also should be noted that to get this deal done, the Indians reportedly gave the Reds money to make up for the difference in salary between Choo and Stubbs.

For the last three weeks, all we heard was that the Tribe would have to send AC to Arizona to get Bauer. In the end, pulling in Gregorious was the thing that got the deal done.

Now to the particulars.

Choo was a fan favorite and a solid player here for parts of seven seasons, there is no doubt about it. But I have maintained for close to two years now that he is not a “winning player.” You all know by now he is a free agent after the 2012 season and had zero interest in re-signing in Cleveland. Unless the team was a contender out of nowhere, the Indians would have dealt him at some point during the season. Instead, they used him as bait to nab a future top of the rotation starter in Bauer. Choo has not fared well under pressure (see his post-DUI 2011 numbers) and is entering his contract year. Antonetti was painted into a corner by Choo and his agent Scott Boras. All it took was the right opportunity to come along. It just did. And now Choo is the new leadoff man and center fielder in Cincinnati.

Speaking of which, the Reds fanbase need to be warned – Choo in Center is going to be a disaster. We all know that he is one of the worst defensive outfielders in the game, but that is covered up by his rocket arm, which will be missed in right field. But I can’t remember another outfielder in my day who lost more balls in the lights or the sun. It should be very interesting to see how he does in Cincinnati.

As for Donald, he was a major disappointment here since coming over the horrific Cliff Lee deal. The Indians had high hopes that he could become a super utility man, but he never hit enough to do so and had major defensive issues at third. Shipping him to Cinci with Choo is not a loss in the least bit. Losing Sipp shouldn’t sting either as its time for Nick Hagadone to step to the forefront as the team’s top lefty reliever. The 29-year old Sipp was up and down for the past two seasons and just when you thought you could count on him, a bad two month stretch would follow.  He had a penchant for allowing home run balls at inopportune times and wasn’t a big strikeout guy. Sipp, who is arbitration eligible in 2013, should be easily replaced by the younger and cheaper Hagadone.

The prize coming to Cleveland is clearly Bauer, who is regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. It is easy to ask why the Diamondbacks were so willing to give up on him. There were whispers that his velocity was down last year and that the Arizona brass wasn’t crazy about his attitude. However, this is an organization in dire need of a young shortstop and loaded with quality young arms. Its the old adage – you have to give something to get something.

Bauer spent most of last seen between AA and AAA where he went 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA/157 Ks in 130.1 inning pitched. John Sickels of Minor League Ball had this to say about Bauer in July:

Bauer is a 6-1, 185 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born January 17, 1991. Although not physically large, he is an excellent athlete who is strongly devoted to intense physical (and mental) conditioning, including an extensive long-toss program and “pitch tunneling.” Highly intelligent, he takes his profession very seriously and isn’t afraid to try something new or unusual. Thus far, he’s held up under heavy workloads without trouble.

He gets his fastball up to 98 MPH on his best days and works at 94-95. Although occasionally straight, the fastball is rated a plus pitch and he’s not afraid to throw it high in the strike zone. The pitch is made stronger due to the contrast with his outstanding curveball. He also has a good slider, and also works in an impressive changeup and a splitter.

The kid has top of the rotation potential and slots in from day one. The Indians brass has been high on him since the 2011 draft where he was taken four spots higher than the Tribe’s pick, Francisco Lindor. A change of scenery from Arizona should serve Bauer well. He was drafted as the pet project of former Diamondbacks GM and now Angels GM (and former Indian) Jerry Dipoto. Most importantly, Bauer is under Tribe control for six more seasons.

Shaw and Albers are two guys who will immediately take spots in the all of a sudden loaded Tribe pen. The 25-year old Shaw played a key role down the stretch in the back of the Arizona bullpen. In his first full season in the majors, he made 64 appearances posting a 3.49 ERA. Right-handers hit just .211/.339/.630 against Shaw. Think of him as a long-term replacement for Joe Smith, who will be a free agent after the 2013 season. Albers, 29, was traded from Boston to Arizona in midseason, but posted solid numbers across the board in 2012. He made 63 appearances with an ERA of 2.39 and a WHIP of 1.12. He will battle with Cody Allen to take the Esmil Rogers roll this season.

Your 2013 bullpen could look something like this: Closer Chris Perez, set-up men Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith, middle men Allen,  Shaw, Albers, with the lone lefty Hagadone. I like what I am seeing there.

The final piece of the trade is Stubbs. A thought to be center fielder of the future in Cincinnati, the right-handed hitting 28-year old burst onto the scene as a regular in 2010 where he hit 25 homers and stole 30 bases. The speed stayed and the defense was solid, but the on-base and slugging percentages went down while the strikeouts went up in each of the past two seasons. Stubbs led the NL in K’s in 2011 with 205. He did steal 40 bases though. Stubbs has power and speed and could be primed for a bounce back in Cleveland. He is entering his first year of arbitration status and coming off a .213/.333/.610/14 HR/40 RBI/30 SB season.

It should be interesting to see what the Indians decide to do with Michael Brantley now that Stubbs, a natural center fielder who hasn’t played anywhere else in the majors, is on board.

So to recap – the Indians gave up the final year of  Choo, a utility man in Donald who has failed to impress, a reliever (Sipp) who has struggled for the past two seasons, and a throw-in (Anderson) for a soon to be 22-year old stud starter who was the #3 pick in the 2011 MLB draft, two relievers who will immediately take spots in the pen, and a starting outfielder with speed.

For all the flack Antonetti has rightfully received, you have to love what he has done in this deal on paper. But again, I say we need to see what Kid Chris’s next move is. Does he now keep Asdrubal Cabrera now that he used Choo to get Bauer? Does he throw even more money at Nick Swisher knowing that this team still has a hole in right-field and at DH? Will he sign or trade for a free agent starting pitcher?

One thing we do know is that the Indians are definitely serious about changing the direction of this franchise for the future. We also know that the General Manager is not afraid to make the big move despite being burned by his first one on the job in 2011 (Ubaldo, anyone?)

(photo via Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

  • Jeff D

    I’ll agree, give credit where credit is due. I think the Indians killed it in this trade. Read through the comments on the DBacks blog over on SBnation, and they sound almost suicidal over this one.

  • mgbode

    Stubbs should definitely be our CF. whether or not he should also leadoff will depend on if he can get his OBP to rebound. i don’t really care what his BA is.
    As for the Reds, what a hitting OF. I would think that Bruce is their CF though. He seems a more natural fit there.
    As for the D-Backs, either they know something about Bauer or they just gave up a top of the line SP under club control through 2019 for a defensive SS. Very possible they just made a gross error.

  • whipjacka

    Everyone is swooning over the tribe tonight, but let me point one thing out; The tribe has nobody who can get on base. in the past week, the indians have gotten two players who average over 150 strikeouts a year with batting averages under .225. Does it make a difference if our bullpen is loaded if they have no run support?
    You wonder if the tribe will move Cabrera? Of course he will.

  • ughh

    The Browns have won 3 in a row, the Indians are winning trades, the Cavs beat the Lakers tonight, Ohio State was undefeated…yep, the world is ending soon

  • Jaker

    Love the move, but not crazy about the “attitude” problem that ARZ had with Bauer. Still, this is a great move, and I don’t think we’re done. Cabrera and Perez should be on the lookout

  • Jeff D

    Oh, no doubt, this move doesn’t mean that you can start buying playoff tickets now. But, FWIW, Mark Reynolds does walk a bit and his career OPS+ of 109 (116 in 2011, 107 in 2012) means he should give the Indians roughly league average performance at 1B (even if it looks ugly-ish with lots of Ks and a low AVG). It’s been a long time since the Indians got league average performance at 1B…look at the OPS+ since 2009 for the regular Tribe 1B:

    2012: Kotchman – 73 (yikes)
    2011: LaPorta – 98
    2010: LaPorta – 87

    All in all, I think the Indians feel like a better team today with Reynolds, Stubbs & Bauer than they did with Choo, Kotchman and Jeanmar Gomez. Maybe at least one with more hope (thanks to Bauer)?

  • saggy

    gotta keep making moves, Antonetti. AC and Perez should be next. There is still young talent available – major league talent.

    I root for Stubbs but I have thought for a while that he’s going to be out of the league by 2014. Maybe a switch to the AL will rejuvinate him.

    I’m really excited about Bauer – How can you NOT be? The kid has been around 1 year; it’s not like he is a disenchanted veteran. Maybe he had attitude issues – who knows? – but a change is always a good potion for that.

  • Fishbellywhite

    Cleveland just gave up on a “can’t miss” top 10 draft pick. LaPorta couldn’t make the adjustments at the major league level. If Bauer reaches his potential then Cleveland did well in this trade, but I agree with Dusty Baker, “a prospect is a suspect unitl proven otherwise”. So I’m not holding my breath.

  • mgbode

    you can get on base with a BB just as good as a hit. if you are Stubbs, then you can swipe 2B to make it look like you hit a double. Stubbs needs to get back to his career norm of .320 OBP. would love Reynolds to get his back to .345.

  • mgbode

    yes, more hope with Bauer, but it’s hard to see the hitting being on the same level without Choo. Choo was our premier hitter. the trade makes complete sense (6yrs of control of a possible premeir pitcher), but our hitting still has some work to do (as does our pitching staff really)

  • Dee P

    I agree with you about the hit to the offense, but I don’t believe it will be that bad, or that we need to find an offensive savior outside the organization.

    1. The core of this offense has not changed. Choo could not be considered as part of the core because we all knew he was gone after 2013. The core remains – Santana, Kipnis, and Chisenhall….with Brantley on the fringe. These are the guys we need to lead our offense. Kipnis needs to continue to develop, Chisenhall needs to break on to the scene like Kipnis did last year, and Santana (the most important) needs to take the next step into becoming the leader and focal point of the offense.

    2. Choo’s numbers looked good, but to me personally he never became that impact bat. Even in previous years, if you gave me a situation where we needed a hit to win the game and I could choose ANY Indian bat, it would never be Choo or bust. I’d choose (no pun intended) Kipnis, Santana, and Cabrera over him….and even Brantley has been “more clutch” in his short career so far. So yeah, the numbers say we lose a lot, but based on my eye test I don’t feel like we are.

    3. Stubbs and Reynolds are not and should not be counted on as our main offensive guys, but they are great compliments to the core mentioned above. We are getting great base stealers (even Reynolds has quality SB numbers) and both players are getting fresh starts with guaranteed playing time which will be something new to them from last year. If we view them as complimentary pieces we will be happy….if we view them as saviors we will be disappointed.

    4. Let’s also wait and see what free agent OF the Tribe ends up with. This can also make this trade feel a whole lot better as well.

  • Dee P

    You also have to factor in the mental approach both of these players went through last year. Baker publicly soured on Stubbs….not playing him all the time, calling him out in the press, etc. Tried to motivate him but it obviously back fired. A fresh start with Francona who has proven to be a “player’s coach” could do positive things for Stubbs to help him get to his career norm OBP.

    Same with Reynolds. There was a time there where he was benched for a while, or at least not getting regular playing time. Chris Davis burst on the scene (finally), and Reynolds began struggling. He caught fire near the end, but point being both of these guys coming to the Tribe, knowing they have starting spots, could and should do wonders for them mentally. They clearly have the physical tools to succeed – we have seen that…..I 100% feel their struggles have been mental.

  • Natedawg86

    It can be said that Harper and Strasburgh have attitude issues too…

  • Natedawg86

    I feel like Choo’s hitting has just not been there lately though. I did watch the team more in the begining of the season than the end though. He had an awful start to last season. If you compare Stubbs to Choo, Choo has better career OPS+ avg (132 to 89) but stubbs averages 37SB compared to Choo 20. And the cost is Stubbs ~527K, Choo ~4900K, and Choo Sal is going to prob be around 12000K for several years after this year. I think for the price comparison, we are doing ok, and is choo 10X better than Stubbs? We will see i guess.

  • mgbode

    Great points above. I think choo gets a bad rap on some of that but it doesn’t matter now

  • Harv 21

    Wait, you give up a potential front of rotation starter, who you obtained with your high first round pick just 2 years ago, for a slick SS? Even if your staff is “loaded”?
    Something’s going on with him , but … it doesn’t matter. Choo/Boras in a walk year is not going to give you a Bauer with no issues, no matter how many teams and players are involved.

    Good percentage risk at the right time, before Choo can get tense and lose value. And Francona and a good pitching coach probably have the experience and flexibility to work with each player as he is rather than feel threatened by a non-conformist. If Bauer is healthy I can’t imagine them getting more for Choo as a one year rental.

  • JK

    Can you expand a little on “gave up on?”

  • JK

    With Reynolds & now Stubbs we should see if we could some how get Dunn and make a run at the all time single season strike outs as a team…. OUR WINDOW IS CLOSING!!!111!1!11!

    In all seriousness though, who else can we look to move? I think we all know Ubaldo but who else? Is it bad to say I think I’d rather keep Asdrubal? Any chance to move Perez?

  • ThatAlex

    On the plus (or minus) side, with all these high K players on the roster now it’s doubtful Antonetti will try and go after Hafner!

  • ThatAlex

    I really think this so called “attitude problem” is overblown. Plus, we now have one of the most respected and player-friendly managers in all of baseball in Francona. Same guy who managed all those Boston divas to 2 WS titles. If anyone can keep Bauer under control, it’s Terry.

  • thepaledragon

    rerish noooooooooooo

    (I just had to get that in one last time. It actually seems like a really good trade for us on paper)

  • Garry_Owen

    Just when I thought I was out . . . they pull me back in.

  • mgbode

    w/ Stubbs it wasn’t just Baker either, the fans really turned on him. players aren’t supposed to care and are professionals and all, but having a baseball-rabid town hate your guts and your manager agree with them cannot be an easy thing to get out of your mind. let’s hope Francona can get him back to where he was (or dare we dream better?).

    i think Reynolds just is what he is. he goes through hot/cold streaks (that amazing series vs. NYY in the beginning of sept) and the O`s were just trying to play off them. i will gladly be wrong and see him become our new Thome though.

  • architrance

    I’m seeing a lot of AZ Diamondbacks fans complaining in hindsight that Bauer was a “bust” anyways. Apparently they haven’t seen a real bust before. To judge a 21 year old kid who barely played two seasons of professional ball, making it all the way to the Bigs (starting 4 games for AZ) while striking out 200 in 157 innings for his Minors career with a 3 era – IS NOT a bust, at least not yet. The kid has TONS of potential, hopefully he can fulfill it with the Tribe. It’s nice to trade for a guy with so much hype for a change. He (and his warm ups) are going to bring a lot of excitement to the Prog. And between Stubbs, Reynolds and now Bauer, there’s gonna be a lot of K’s at Carnegie and Ontario.

  • mgbode

    that is an absolute huge dropoff. and, I don’t care about price/performance when analyzing our hitting for next season (those go into the discussions of who to target in FA/trades, yes).

    think of it this way: swap out Choo for a fast-LaPorta. will the offense be as good? this isn’t to say it was a bad deal, just that our offense is clearly hurt and we need to do more to help it.

  • cmm13

    6 year controlled potential top of rotation pitcher > 1 year rental on soon to be overpriced free agent

    2 ready made bullpen pitchers > 1 up and down lefty who was about to lose his spot anyways

    $6 million 1 year deal on power hitting (although SO prone) 1b > $12 million 1 year deal to broken Youklis

    …what’s not to like indeed.

  • CleMe

    You’re basing your entire skepticism on Matt LaPorta and not the hundreds of top ranked prospects that have become all-stars and hall of famers. And to your point, Dusty Baker is notoriously known for costing his teams games because of his refusal to play young players and instead trot out old hags with nothing left in the tank because they used to be a good player. I really like this trade.

  • beerf

    Reds (and Browns) fan here, and I’m really excited about landing Choo. We desperately needed a leadoff hitter, and no we have one of the best in the game. We were one game away from beating the World Series Champions, Giants, and our offense not scoring was a big reason we lost. Now our lineup will look like this: Choo, Phillips, Votto, Ludwick, Bruce, Frazier, Cozart, Hanigan… Wow! Merry Christmas to Reds Fans. And to all a good night.

    Every Reds fan has grown impatient with Stubbs. He’s a great defensive outfielder, but his bat was inconsistent.

  • mgbode

    best hitting OF in MLB. you guys should have some fun with that. just hope that Bruce can handle CF and you don’t try Choo there.

  • mgbode

    Just when I thought Antonetti couldn’t possibly be any dumber, he goes and does something like this… and totally redeem himself!

  • maxfnmloans

    Any chance they can get Shelby Miller from the Cardinals for Cabrera? And sign Swisher?

  • Steve

    Baker is not the guy to follow when it comes to prospects. They either get thrown to the wolves or into the doghouse.

    LaPorta failed because he was never healthy. Injuries can happen to any player at any stage in his career.

  • mgbode

    LaPorta was able to log over 1000PA in his MLB career. He failed because he lacked the ability for pitch recognition at the MLB-level.

  • Fishbellywhite

    LaPorta was just an example. I think you have it backwards. For every Mike Trout there are many more LaPorta’s,Brian Billingtons,Matt Bush’s, Greg Reynolds, etc.. Bauer may make it, and I hope he does. I’m just saying rating prospects isn’t an exact science.

  • mgbode

    definitely not.

    however, think of it like this: if Choo walks, then the Indians get a sandwich pick between the 1st and 2nd round of the 2013 MLB draft. that means they get the #31-40 rated player eligible for that draft (if they can sign him).

    by trading for Bauer, we got the #9 rated player in MLB w/ minor league experience to back it up, already signed, and that includes players over multiple drafts.

  • Fishbellywhite

    Last month Cleveland outrighted him to the minors, he’s no longer on the 40 man roster. I took that as them giving up on him.

  • Steve

    Of those guys you compared to Trout, LaPorta was ranked highest, in the mid 20s, quite a bit different from being the best prospect in the game like Trout was. You can’t just lump all sorts of prospects together.

    For example, Bush was a #1 pick because the Padres were incredibly cheap. Their front office wanted to take Drew, Verlander of Weaver instead. It was considered probably the worst #1 pick (and maybe all top 10 picks) of all time. Bush was never considered a top prospect by more than one team.

  • Steve

    LaPorta was a league average hitter in his first stint in the pros at 24. Maybe his pitch recognition declined, but he had hip surgery after the 2009 season, that still needed more surgery last October. It should be pretty clear that his hip never healed properly, and had to have been affecting him. His extended playing time in AAA this year was also at a much lower level than his pre-200 surgery performance as well.

  • mgbode

    181AB in 52games is a pretty small sample size. He was able to come back in 2010 and 2011 and put up extremely similar numbers in BA and OBP just without quite as much power.

    maybe the only thing missing was that his hip sucked him of his power at the MLB level, but considering it didn’t affect his BA/OBP, I am not willing to make that leap (yes, he was hurt in 2012 and that dropped things off for him).

    ———————–

    also, I do not believe that 98/99OPS+ from a 1B or corner OF is league average. that is considered league average hitter overall.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Well, I think we know that Stubbs will play well in at least 5 games next season… our home and away series with the Reds. I’m sure there are several ex-Reds who love sticking it to Dusty Baker, but Stubbs will certainly be among them.

  • mgbode

    furthering that point, after the first 52games, teams started throwing alot more change-ups and sliders at LaPorta instead of fastballs at a very consistent overall rate over those next years.

    scroll down to Pitchf/x Type:
    http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=2280&position=1B

  • Steve

    I’ll take league average from my 1B in his first go round. Obviously you’re expecting improvements.

    And ability to generate power at the plate will affect more than SLG. Hitting balls harder will likely result in more falling in (AVG) and pitchers working around you (OBP).

    And pitch f/x didn’t distinguish 2 seamers and sinkers from 4 seam fastballs that well before 2010. That’s where the difference really is. Guys like Choo, Hafner and Cabrera all saw ~50% fastballs in 2009 and then saw that number drop into the 30s for the next three years, while seeing their number of 2 seamers and sinkers faced bounce up.

  • markn95

    As much of a fan favorite as Kirk Gibson was throughout his playing career (and rightfully so), I can’t imagine playing for a red ass like him is all that fun. Particularly if you’re a 21-year old rookie with less than a year of minor league experience being called up ahead of “deserving guys” who have “paid their dues.” I wasn;t there in the locker room, of course, but doesn’t this at least seem like a plausible scenario?

    And just because a player is called “difficult” by one organization with one manager doesn’t mean he’s Milton Bradley. Cautiously optimistic Francona can turn this guy around (he can;t be harder to deal with than Beckett or Schilling for G-d’s sake).