19 July 2018

The Next 1,000 Wins After Machado

The Orioles finally found their franchise player that they had been long waiting for.  In his short time in Baltimore, he dazzled.  People literally would tune in to see what sort of feats he could accomplish next.  Yes, there were injuries.  Yes, his demeanor and contribution was less than some of the other players on the team, but he was in his team control years and, typically, a player waits for his first long term contract before setting down roots.  And, yeah, the trade process was excruciatingly long with a great deal of frustration on whether or not it would ever happen, whether he would just walk, or maybe, just maybe, the Orioles would offer a real long term contract.  In the end, Erik Bedard was traded for centerfield prospect Adam Jones, fringe MLB reliever George Sherrill, promising Chris Tillman, fireballer Kam Mickolio, and Tony Butler, a pitcher who was defying the odds.

Adam Jones is the face of the that trade that launched 1,000 wins.  He became the franchise as he grew more settled into Baltimore and as the franchise dedicated themselves to him.  That deal led to the opportunity for the Orioles to go deep into the post-season and almost bring back that great prize.  Although the first few years looked a bit rough, it is hard to say anything other than that trade was a smashing success.  In fact, the main opinion outside of Baltimore was that the Mariners absolutely blew that trade.  The Orioles fleeced them.

Ten years later, well, things are different and, yet, still, kind of the same.  Erik Bedard looked (and was at times) otherworldly, but Manny Machado literally is.  No, Machado has not reached the heights of someone like Mike Trout, but Machado is at worst the second coming of Scott Rolen which is a very good thing.  But, I am more interested in the prospect packages.  Let us take a look.\

Adam of San Diego, 2006
Adam Jones vs. Yusniel Diaz
Coming into their age 21 seasons, Adam Jones was seen as a fringe-y centerfielder.  He had begun his career at shortstop, but he had difficulty fitting in there.  The Mariners instead put him out into centerfield the year before and you could see that his pure athleticism was making up for a lot of mistakes.  Baseball Prospectus had him then as the 44th best prospect before he lost his prospect status that year with the Mariners.  Baseball America was a little rosier, calling him the 28th best prospect.  Jones had very good speed, obvious power, and an arm that would let him settle into right field if center field did not work out.  Jones wound up hitting his ceiling projection as a multiple All Star centerfielder.

Yusniel Diaz strangely looks similar.  While Jones trumps him in pure athleticism, what happens between the lines is roughly the same.  Diaz has been a bit shaky in the field at times, but looks like he can probably handle centerfield.  If that fails, then he should easily settle into right field.  FanGraphs is the lone publication who claims he is a definitive left fielder, but that seems to be a minority opinion not only among the media but also among the actual scouts I talk to.  He also has good speed and power, but those do not play all that well in-game.  That was also a knock on Jones who was able to translate his power eventually, but never could figure out how to get his speed to work on the basepaths.  Diaz gets more out of his skills, but has a more limited upside here.  To see a frequent 20+ home run bat, he would need to make major changes to his swing and for those changes to actually work, which is unlikely because his approach already works well.

When you look to how the industry at large sees him, it is one where there is a mixed view.  Diaz, a Cuban defector, has had a magnifying glass on him since the Dodgers signed him for 31 MM.  That magnifying glass usually means that teams know him well and that his troubles are highly magnified.  Diaz came into this season, his age 21 season, as the 73rd best prospect according to Baseball Prospectus, which is a fairly common placement from that part of the season.  Helium has attached to Diaz as he has begun to actual work well at the plate.  Mid-season rankings put him at 47th for Baseball America, 31st for Baseball Prospectus, and 43rd for 2080 Baseball.

I think if you want to think of things on a 20-80 scale.  Jones seemed to be someone who would fall into a 50-65 range.  With Diaz, he looks much more like a 45-60.  Diaz will get his cup of coffee.  He will get several hundred plate appearances.  He might settled into being a backup outfielder at all three positions or he could well be a first division centerfielder who finds himself once or twice as a representative of Baltimore in the All Star game.

Chris Tillman vs. Dean Kremer
Tillman was an attractive player going into his draft class, which is shown by his second round selection.  Kremer, not so much, as he was not taken until 14th round, but it should be noted he was an overslot signing there.  Still, he was not given all that much attention as he seemed to be a fastball pitcher with some poor secondary offerings.  Tillman on the other hand could touch the upper 90s and had a dizzying curveball that he could not control for the life of him.  Tillman's first two years saw him hit very, very hard, but he handled it well and his stuff flashed great potential.  It earned him a 67th ranking by Baseball America before he was dealt to the Orioles.

Kremer is several years older than Tillman was at the time, but Kremer is finding himself.  The Dodgers analytics team reconfigured Kremer and turned him from being a sinker/slider mix pitcher to a four seam/curve mix due to some indications provided by spin rates and other metrics.  he has taken off with 13.1 k/9 strikeout rate over hiA and AA competition.  He works in the mid to low 90s, but can reach up to a high 90s fastball.  That reach gives him some projection as a reliever if things fall apart.  As it stands, he looks to me to be a fringe top 100 arm depending on how his season plays out at Bowie.  He certainly does not have that 2 slot potential Tillman had as a prospect, but he could reach Tillman's actual height as a 3 slot starter.

As you can see, there seems to be a bit of a similarity where the players kind of match each other, but the Bedard package had more upside so far.

George Sherrill vs. Breyvic Valera
Let us take a breather for a moment and discuss the throw in pieces.  These guys both had value, but not exceptionally so.  Sherrill was a guy to scratched and clawed his way up from the Indy leagues.  He eeked out a few seasons with the Mariners as a decent middle reliever.  Nothing particularly special and the Orioles wanted him to beef up their relief core and letting him challenge for the closer position.  Meanwhile, Breyvic Valera is a utility infielder type whose advanced approach in the minors has taken a beating at the MLB level where pitchers can more effectively nibble corners and challenge his hitting.  Valera could potentially become a regular, but he and, really, Sherrill too are more about collecting bodies than finding diamonds.

Kam Mickolio vs. Zach Pop
Mickolio was an after thought in his draft. No one paid much attention to him coming out of Montana and he went through his college career without much fanfare.  The Mariners drafted him in the 18th round and minor league hitters could not figure him out.  As he went to Baltimore, he had finished up at AAA Tacoma on a high note and was ready to battle it out in the Orioles' pen.  Pop is similar, yet different.  Pop also has an awesome name for a baseball player.  Pop comes with a bit more prestige.  Pop got a bonus similar to Kremer's.  What Pop has done is show a style and performance quite similar to Mychal Givens with almost as much ease.  It took Givens three seasons to really break out with his pitching, maybe Pop has another gear.  That all said, I think these two pieces come across as similar, but I think Pop has the higher upside here.

Tony Butler vs. Rylan Bannon
Butler was a 19yo pitcher with low 90s fastbal and curveball pitcher.  There was hope that he would mature and would grow into his projection.  The performance was not their and before their last seasons together in the Mariners system, some thought Butler might be the better pitcher.  However, Butler continued to struggle and Tillman flashed some incredible work in his last year there before being dealt to the Orioles.

Bannon is not your typical infield prospect.  The undersized infielder uses an extreme uppercut to tap into all the power he can muster, which has flourished into a 20 home run first half this year.  However, that uppercut swing tends to mean you have to have your timing just right, so he also has put up a strikeout rate of about 30% in high A ball.  That is a little alarming for a player who should be fairly polished in his approach as a 22 year old who went through college.  That said, he has positional flexibility at 2B and 3B and, if any of his offensive productivity survives as he is challenged against better competition, he might well be a solid second division starter in Baltimore.  That was also the hope with Butler, a second division-ish starter ceiling (read: 4th/5th slot starter).

The primary take away should be this: Bill Bavasi and the Mariners made a terrible deal that was not comparable to the talent they were acquiring while the Dodgers made a deal that was more in line with what one should expect when you are acquiring a difference maker.  In comparison, I think the deals are similar.  Jones is a slight upgrade as a prospect from Diaz.  Tillman is an upgrade from Diaz in that he possessed obvious carrying tools at a younger age.  The rest are all pushes.  Perhaps what was most stunning about that Bedard deal was that Jones hit his ceiling and Tillman almost did.  That rarely happens.

There is about a 22% chance that someone with Jones' or Diaz' ranking would turn into a player with star quality seasons.  There is an 18% chance that Tillman turned out to be a solid starting pitcher.  The odds of both things happening were 5%.  In other words, the outcome that the Orioles saw from the Bedard trade would have been expected to occur one out of 20 times.  The Mariners got fleeced, yes, but that obvious fleecing still faced a 95% chance of something worse happening than what happened.

This is sobering.  The deal that launched a 1,000 wins should have wound up dashed upon a rocky outcropping not far from where the deal was made.  Likewise, as solid as this current deal looks, it probably will end in failure.  For the Orioles to see something similar, they are probably looking at a 1 in 50 opportunity just looking at Diaz and Kremer.


Unknown said...

I have chosen to believe Diaz will be a stud, as in 20HR/.800+ OPS, with the possibility of 20SB. Irrational optimism perhaps, but I am running with it until proven otherwise, which is at least years away. Nice content here btw.

John Morgan said...

Sherrill was a solid reliever for the Orioles for two years, including a great AllStar appearance in 2008. He returned two reasonable (but ultimately fringe) players in a trade with the Dodgers in 2009. Deserves a little more love here.

Jon Shepherd said...

I think you do not remember 2008 well.