31 July 2011

2011 Trade Deadline: Koji Uehara, reality vs. possibility (Part 1)

In our last discussion of Koji Uehara we laid out some potential suitors and target packages we would expect attainable in exchange for one of the top relievers this summer. Between then and now, Koji was shipped off to the Texas Rangers for two reasonably young players ready to step in at the Major League level -- Chris Davis (cof/cif) and Tommy Hunter (rhp). Below we'll examine this return. This afternoon we will finish with our analysis as to what we would have liked to have seen done, as relates to Uehara.

Reality: Koji for Davis and Hunter
The trade package that Andy MacPhail landed ends up a very solid return from a value standpoint. Baltimore sold high on a mid-30s relief arm with one more year of control ready to vest ($4 million) and obtained two mid-20s talents with no need for any more time in the Minors. My assumption is that the deal was structured around Uehara for Hunter, with Baltimore pushing for Davis's inclusion and Texas agreeing in exchange for the O's picking-up $2 million of Koji's 2012 salary. The $2 million is not insignificant in this context, but even as a fringe-average ML bat Davis will be worth more than that over his next four seasons under control.

Chris Davis (corner infield/corner outfield)
Most prospect enthusiasts are well aware that Davis's calling card is his elite raw power, which grades as a 75/80 on the scouting scale. The issue comes in trying to get that raw power to manifest in Major League game action, as he's long to contact with a max effort swing. This forces Davis to commit early to pitches and has lead to far too many empty swings chasing off-speed pitches at the Big League level. If Davis can make some adjustments and shorten his swing, he should see a decrease in strikeouts, which in turn should give him extra contact opportunities to get his power involved. There is Mark Reynolds upside, but it is going to take just short of an overhaul in approach and swing. As a secondary piece to the deal, this is a fine risk, but the odds are against Davis until he proves he has the ability to start making adjustments.

Defensively, Davis has soft hands at first base, and enough athleticism to fill in at a corner outfield spot or even at third. While his athleticism gives him enough flexibility to move around some, his best fit is at the three spot, and it seems unlikely he tops out at more than a fringe average defender in the other three corners.

Tommy Hunter (rhp)
Hunter is an established back-end starter with five more years of control before he can leave via free agency. Not a bad start, eh? In fact, that alone is certain "enough" return on Koji to make this a smart deal. Hunter is a big, durable body with an easy arm and uncomplicated motion. His fastball lives in the 89-92 range, but can bump as high as 96 mph when he's reaching back for it. He'll drop an upper-70s breaker for a different look, he commands the solid average pitch well enough. His change-up is also a legit average Major League offering, and when he turns it over he gets some fade.

While Hunter boasts a true average arsenal and commands each of his three offerings, his ceiling is limited due to his lack of a true out pitch and a corresponding inability to miss bats. Baltimore is hoping for a durable innings-eater that consistently will get them 6 or 7 innings a start. With continued growth we could see Hunter put together a season or two of legit #3 production, placing him on par with the likes of Jake Arrieta from a "value" standpoint. All-in-all a nice arm to have under control for the next four seasons, and someone that will hopefully provide some stability at the #4 spot while Baltimore waits for Matusz, Britton and perhaps Tillman and Arrieta to take a step forward.

Final thoughts
It is impossible to look at the deal and consider it a loss for the O's. In return for a relief arm with no real role in the club's future, Baltimore landed two 25 year olds -- one with a bit of upside and not a lot of probability, and the other likely to be a solid contributor but not much more than that. Further, adding $2 million to the deal is a no brainer if it gets you back Davis. It is another strong value package landed by MacPhail and another feather in his "good trade" hat.

The biggest challenge for Baltimore is going to be not falling into bad habits moving forward. While the return for the deal is solid, much of it is negated if Baltimore turns around and commits another $5-7 million per year on a two or three year deal for more relief pitching this off-season. Further, the Orioles can't approach developing Davis the same way that they have Nolan Reimold. Davis needs to play and the Orioles need to see what they have in the once promising slugger. Considering the monster year Davis has had at Triple-A Round Rock, it would behoove Buck Showalter to slide Davis right into the recently vacated hole at first base (discussion of the Derreck Lee trade to follow) and see where things stand come October.

Our preferred return for Koji would have been a more forward thinking package, sacrificing some proximity to the Majors for additional upside. One of Davis or Hunter and one higher upside talent, further away, would have been a boon. The same, this is hardly a package to be disappointed in. Hopefully the pro scouts pushing for Davis have identified what they would like fixed, and the Orioles end-up with two two 30-35 homerun run bats at the infield corners in 2012.

In a bit we'll post our suggested trade packages for Koji and provide some more info on the players we were hoping to see come back to the Birds.


TheJbLounge said...

Yeah the O's always trade for AAA or "4A" level players. Not counting the Bedard trade, I'm not sure the last time the O's traded for an A/AA player. The O's can't look ahead beyond 1-2 years as an organization which is exhibited in the Lee's, Atkin's, Guerrero's, Gonzo's we get. A lot of A/AA players have been traded like Michael Young, Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, and Cliff Lee. But our scouting is so terrible and we seem to ruin players in the minors.

All that said, I'm very happy with Hunter and Davis. Guthrie, Matusz, Arietta, Britton, Hunter could pan out in 2012 and Chris Davis has a chance to be decent with enough ab's.

Anonymous said...

They trade for low minors guys every year. They even traded for a low minors guy two days ago. So....I don't think it is merely that simple.

Anonymous said...

You my friend are the bomb.

TheJbLounge said...

One more thought. San Diego got Robert Erlin from Texas in exchange for Mike Adams. Erlin between A and AA and at age 21 has 123 K's/12 BB's in 121 innings with a 3.34 ERA. Former 3rd rounder by the Rangers in 2009. The numbers indicate he has an out pitch yet has control.

Instead the O's got 2 4A stopgags. Even better is that Chris Davis all but assures Angelos an excuse not to go after Fielder or Pujols.