03 August 2011

2011 Trade Deadline: Koji Uehara, reality vs. possibility (Part 2)

In Part 1 of our look at the Koji Uehara deal, we broke down Baltimore's haul (Tommy Hunter and Chris Davis). In Part 2, we will take a closer look at each of our suggested deals for Uehara, provide some more indepth analysis of the players we were targeting and finally compare our hauls with Baltimore's actual get.

The possibilities...
Detroit Tigers
Our suggested packages:

  1. Chance Ruffin (rhp, Tigers - ML) and Drew Smyly (lhp, Lakeland - AA)

  2. Andy Oliver (lhp, Toledo - AAA) and Drew Smyly
Whether you prefer option 1 or option 2 depends on whether you prefer a good relief arm that could be stretched out to start, or a potential solid starter that could be good in relief. I lean to to the Chance Ruffin package, as it gives you a "now" bullpen arm that can step into the 6th/7th inning and push everyone else back an inning. Eventually I expect Ruffin to be a late-inning guy if he stays in the pen. There is a chance he grows into a mid-rotation arm if stretched out.

Scouting Summarys (Ruffin and Smyly):
Ruffin is a slightly undersized righty that showed four pitches as both a starter and a closer at the University of Texas. He has pitched exclusively in relief for the Tigers, logging just 45 innings between Double-A and Triple-A before being promoted last week. You can find some of my scouting video on Ruffin here.

At UT, Ruffin generally sat 90-92 mph with his fastball and has bumped that to 91-94 mph this summer. There is some armside life and he has shown an ability to spot it to both sides of the plate. His slider is a wipeout offering at its best, coming with tilt and late bite (generally low-80s velo). Though he hasn't shown them often as a pro, Ruffin also has an 11-to-5 curve and a change-up in his repertoire. The curve doesn't have great depth, but when he snaps a good one its tight and can change the eye-level of the hitter. His change is undeveloped, and stands as the biggest hurdle to converting to a starter.

His armslot is true three-quarters, and the arm action is fairly clean. He'll flash the ball to hitters on the backside, but the ill effects are minimal since his slider and fastball grip are not easily discernable. If he were to fold a change-up in the mix more often, he may need to address this.

Ruffin is a potential late-inning arm with closer stuff if he can continue to grow his fastball and slider command. Even if he does not make the conversion to starter, it would be nice to see him drop his curveball from time to time, as it could be another putaway pitch and at minimum would give him a true change-of-pace offering.

Smyly was a 2nd Round selection in the 2010 draft and has spent the bulk of 2011 in Lakeland (A+), where he averaged 8.6 SO/9 and 3.67 SO/BB. He has made one start at Double-A Erie, tossing seven shutout innings while striking out eight and allowing just six baserunners (four via hit, two via walk).

Long and lean, Smyly's strength is his ability to change speeds and create tough angles with his long limbs. His fastball vacillates between 87 and 92, sitting most comfortably 89-91 mph with solid bore. His curve works well out of a high slot and is an above-average to plus pitch when he's hitting his release. Smyly has made strides with his change-up, which was fringy at best at Alabama and likely tops out as an average offering when all is said and done.

Smyly's high arm slot and long arms helps to produce excellent plane on each of his offerings, and makes him very difficult to square-up. His landing could be softened some, particularly on his curve which he has a tendency not to finish. He'll come across his body some, as well, but all in all there is a lot to like about his easy motion and release.

Smyly could be a mid-rotation arm with continued improvement in his secondaries. His easy motion has allowed him to locate well -- even with inconsistent off-speed stuff -- and he offers enough physical projection that you could dream on another uptick in velo, as well.

Ruffin - Potential late inning arm, Major League ready, could handle late-inning work by 2012.
Smyly - Potential mid-rotation starter, Double-A in 2012, could be ML ready by late 2012/early 2013.

Texas Rangers
Our suggested packages:

  1. Robbie Erlin (lhp, Frisco - AA; Note: traded to San Diego, now San Antonio - AA)

  2. Mike Olt (3b, Myrtle Beach - A+)

  3. Jordan Akins (of, Rangers - Rookie) and Justin Grimm (rhp, Myrtle Beach - A+)
I ranked Mike Olt as a 3rd Round talent last spring, and the Rangers nabbed him in the Supplemental-1st Round, ultimately singing him for an affordable $715,000. In his first taste of pro ball he has improved his contact rate and his defense, while continuing to show good power. Still, at 22 years old in HiA, I have enough concerns about his probability to prefer the safety of option 1 or the disbursed risk of option 3. While option 3 may ultimately provide the highest upside, it probably makes more sense to focus on talent closer to contributing with the current "core" in place at Baltimore. That leaves Robbie Erlin as our suggested package with the Rangers.

Scouting Summarys (Erlin):
Robbie Erlin split his 2011 summer in the Rangers system between Myrtle Beach (A+) and Frisco (AA), before being moved to the Padres system as part of the Mike Adams trade. Erlin is undersized for a starter, listed at just 6-foot, 175-pounds, but possesses the arsenal and command to eventually land him in the middle of a Major League rotation. He has consistently hit a BB/9 rate around 1.0 as he's progressed through the Minors, while posting a career SO/9 rate over 9.0 through 246 innings (never dipping below 8.7 at any level).

His arsenal is lead by an upper-80s to low-90s fastball that tops around 92 mph -- an average offering that plays up because of Erlin's surgical placement. His secondaries consist of an upper-70s hard 1-to-7 breaker that flashes plus and is consistently and average or better offering, and a mid-70s change with fade and late drop. Both his breaking ball and change-up could be true plus offerings when all is said and done, and at minimum the diminutive lefty should boast three average or better weapons with easy plus to plus-plus command.

Erlin's mechanics are minimalist and clean, with excellent pacing, a short arm circle and consistent timing and release. He throws out of a high-three-quarters slot, giving his pitches some angle in spire of his size. With one of the prettiest motions you will find, there is little doubt that Erlin will continue to place pitches to the quadrants, which will help him make the necessary adjustments at Triple-A and eventually with the big club in San Diego.

Though he won't light up radar guns, Erlin is a strike thrower with two potential plus offerings in his curve and change-up, who shows elite command of all of his offerings and an advanced approach to pitching. He works with a purpose on the mound and will be providing valuable innings at the Major League level sooner rather than later. He tops out as a #3, but is a good bet to get there.

Erlin - Potential mid-rotation starter, Triple-A in 2012, could be ML ready by early 2012.

Philadelphia Phillies
Our suggested packages:

  1. Jonathan Singleton (1b, Lakeland - A+; Note: traded to Houston, now Lancaster - A+)

  2. Brody Colvin (rhp, Lakeland - A+)
Jonathan Singleton was included in the Hunter Pence deal, along with fellow Lakeland prospect and Futures Game participant Jarred Cosart and Josh Zeid (Reading - AA), and thus is highly unlikely to have been available to land a relief arm. Similarly, it seems unlikely Philly would unload Brody Colvin after already moving one third of the Lakeland Trio (Cosart, Colvin and Trevor May). Accordingly, we aren't going to dig into the details on Singleton or Colvin...yet. Check in tomorrow, as we'll be writing up two larger deals potentially available to Baltimore -- one of which could have netted Colvin, Singelton and more.

Neither suggested package likely available for Uehara.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Our suggested packages:

  1. Zach Von Rosenberg (rhp, West Virginia - A)

  2. Starling Marte (of, Altoona - AA) and Brooks Pounders (rhp, West Virginia - A)

  3. Starling Marte and Jeff Locke (rhp, Altoona - AA)
None of the players listed above ended-up moved this past weekend. Further, Pittsburgh's acquisition of Derrek Lee (see yesterday's Cup of jO's) and Ryan Ludwick in exchange for organizational filler indicates that while the Bucs are still taking 2011 seriously, they aren't going to sacrifice any significant future pieces for a one year push. That leaves us dubious that any of the above would seriously be shopped for a relief arm. There were rumors that the Pirates were in on some of the big arms floating around, but we are comfortable striking them from consideration given what actually transpired at the deadline.

Unlikely to move suggested players for Uehara.

Settling on our deal...
After narrowing our search and providing details on our targets, we are left with two potential packages for Uehara:

  1. Uehara to the Tigers for Chance Ruffin and Drew Smyly

  2. Uehara to the Rangers for Robbie Erlin
Saying this, we of course note that there is no guarantee that the Tigers or the Rangers would have agreed to these terms. It is our best estimation based on our own player evaluation, our analysis of what transpired at the deadline, and our analysis of the needs of all teams involved.

Erlin was moved to San Diego along with fellow Double-A arm Joe Wieland in exchange for relief pitching. Wieland's growth in 2011 puts him closer to Erlin in "value" now than he was at the beginning of the season, and it is not a stretch to think that had Baltimore pushed for Erlin they could have received him.

All signs indicate that Ruffin is to be the "player to be named later" in the deal that brought Doug Fister and David Pauley over from Seattle. With Francisco Martinez anchoring that trade from the Detroit side, it's certainly possible that the Tigers could have found another player -- perhaps Andy Oliver -- to include in the Seattle package. Further, the Tigers would have had no need for Pauley with Koji in pocket, so perhaps no player would have been needed to sub into that deal at all.

The benefit of the Detroit deal is two-fold: 1) you get back two pieces, each of which could be above-average Major Leaguers, and 2) you get a ready replacement for Uehara in the pen. The benefit of the Texas deal is the high-probability that Erlin will find success, given his command and approach. With the Orioles's influx of young arms in place and recently stumbling at the Major League level, and with many of them struggling in particular with command, the thought of adding a 1 BB/9 arm to the mix at some point next year is too good to pass on. Both packages are good value for Koji, but if we make the call we go with Erlin.

Camden Depot suggested trade:
Koji Uehara (rhp, ML) to Texas Rangers
Robbie Erlin (rhp, AA) to Baltimore Orioles

It's a toss-up whether we like Erlin more, less, or about the same as the Tommy Hunter/Chris Davis package actually received. There is big upside in Davis's bat and Hunter has already shown success as a starter and reliever in the pitcher-friendly Ballpark in Arlington. It will be interesting to compare these three over the next four years and revisit this post once everything shakes out.

Next up:
Did Baltimore miss the boat on a potential blockbuster? Another two part series exploring a few deals larger in structure and centered on two different O's.

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