31 July 2015

Orioles Deal Tommy Hunter For Outfield Depth

In a last minute deal before the 2015 trade deadline, the Orioles sent right-handed relief pitcher Tommy Hunter to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Junior Lake. Hunter was acquired with Chris Davis in 2011 from the Texas Rangers, and after the “Tommy Hunter: Starting Pitcher” experiment failed to yield productive results, the Orioles sent him to the bullpen for good towards the end of the 2012 season. It was there he found a few extra ticks on his fastball and was generally an effective reliever at a modest price, although his outings could sometimes be stressful. As an Orioles reliever, Hunter had an ERA of 3.11 in 211 innings pitched, while striking out 19.2% of batters and walking 4.9%. Hunter’s time in Baltimore as a reliever could be described as solid, if unspectacular, and he contributed positive value to the organization, contributing a total of 2.9 bWAR during his time in Baltimore (that number includes his time starting as well).

However, over time his relative value to the club diminished due to his rising salary through arbitration (Hunter is making $4.65 million in 2015) and the fact that he no longer had any minor league options remaining. As anyone who follows the Orioles knows, the Dan Duquette led front office values these options greatly, especially in the bullpen where they shuttle relievers back and forth between Norfolk and Baltimore depending on matchups, performance, health, etc. Hunter was due to become a free agent after the season, so having several relief pitchers on the 40 man roster with minor league options remaining (who could provide similar production) available made it an easy decision for the Orioles to deal Hunter and get something of value in return.

That something of value returning is Chicago Cubs outfielder Junior Lake (personally I was hoping for Mike Olt). Lake is a former prospect who topped out as the Cubs 8th best prospect prior to the 2012 season according to Baseball America. He’s lost some luster since then and is better suited as outfield depth. In Lake, the Orioles are getting an outfielder with plus power and a very strong arm (Baseball America rated it the best infield arm in the Cubs system from 2008 to 2012). Unfortunately, he he has a lot of trouble with breaking balls and lacks a sound approach at the plate, so he’s not likely to hit enough to get to that power. His arm is less of an asset than it should be as well, as his overall defense in the outfield generally isn’t well regarded. In a limited sample, advanced metrics love him in left field (where is arm is less useful), but find him well below average in center and right.

Overall, Lake has a career batting line of .241/.283/.380 in 642 PA’s. He strikes out more than 30% of the time and walks less than 5% of the time. All of this has added up to roughly 0.2 wins above replacement (according to Fangraphs) in approximately a season worth of at-bats, the very definition of a replacement player. This does not mean that he doesn’t have value. Lake could be productive as the light side of a platoon, as he’s a much better hitter against left-handers, putting up a 118 wRC+ in 185 career plate appearances. Additionally, Lake is still just 25 years old, so while it’s very unlikely, there’s an incredibly small chance things click for him at the plate (though I wouldn’t hold my breath for that to happen). He also has minor league options remaining and won’t be arbitration eligible until 2017, and as discussed before the organization values that flexibility.

Overall, this trade doesn’t really move the needle on the 2015 season. The Orioles gain additional flexibility in the bullpen and the outfield in one move by dealing a quality (but easily replaceable) reliever who is about to become a free agent for a player the Chicago Cubs didn’t really have much use for anymore. Ultimately, Tommy Hunter was not going to bring back much, and the Orioles did well to get back a player who could at least help in a limited capacity at a position of need.

Oh, and the Orioles also save the remaining salary owed to Hunter as well in this deal, which conveniently works out to be approximately the same amount they will owe to newly acquired Gerardo Parra, which I highly doubt is a coincidence.


Anonymous said...

It's moot, but why Mike Olt? He has power and is a good defender, but his batting average, which I think is under.190 for his career, is so awful that it completely negates his legitimate assets.

Anonymous said...

Well written piece. I think your last point actually was the main reason for the trade--to help pay for the remaining salary on Parra (about 2 million). PA ha a certain annual budget and doesn't want to pay much more.

Anonymous said...

Did you actually write that Junior Lake is something of value? A box of Kleenex would have had more value than Junior Lake. I would have preferred Senior Lake. He strikes out a lot and never walks. He will fit right in.

Jon Shepherd said...

A penny has value.

Unknown said...

Anon 1 - the Mike Olt thing was (mostly) a joke. If you're familiar with Arrested Development (the tv show), then click on the link and you'll understand what I'm talking about.

Anon 2 - Thanks. Totally possible (even probable) that the $$ is the main reason they dealt Hunter

Anon 3 - Lake has more value to the Orioles than Hunter in the he gives them depth at a position where they lack it. This may have been mostly about saving money added with the Parra trade, but I think it would be unfair to call it a straight salary dump