2017 MLB Winter Meetings in Review: Tuesday
Originally posted on December 13, 2017-The Breach Report
Monday's slow day at the 2017 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings carried over into a groggy Tuesday. Just four notable deals were made, as the second-tier relief arm market appears to be the most desirable shopping ground. I expect the logjam of "splashy deals" to break with Yu Darvish and J.D. Martinez signing in the next 48 hours. That being said, let's begin with clearly the most exciting Yankees trade of the offseason...
New York sends 3B Chase Headley and RP Bryan Mitchell to San Diego in exchange
for OF Jabari Blash
This is a nice supplemental trade for the Yankees. After taking on the massive Giancarlo Stanton contract, the team wanted to shed some payroll. They do so in this deal, as the Friars picked up the entirety of the $13 million owed to Headley. I'm not sold on the idea that New York will attempt to trade for Manny Machado with third base open. It's more likely that they turn to #5 prospect Miguel Andujar or Ronald Torreyes to begin the season at the hot corner, depending on Gleyber Torres' readiness to seize the second base job. Todd Frazier makes some sense to return for the Yankees, as long as he's willing to sign a one year deal (probably not). Jabari Blash is interesting, but his long-term position is the right handed side of a DH platoon. He swings and misses way too much, with a 17..8% career whiff rate. In comparison, that number would appear third in the 2017 whiff leaders, right behind notorious free swingers Joey Gallo and Javier Baez. His has impressive power (42% hard hit rate in 2017) and hits fly balls at a comfortable rate (40% over his career). His obscene 35.8% strikeout percentage holds him back as a hitter. I'd be interested to see his full season production in a platoon role, as his MLB triple slash is a rather impressive .256/.354/.453 against southpaws, compared to a .168/.306/.268 output facing righties. Granted, he's only had 280 career plate appearances, so it's a very small sample size. If anything, New York frees themselves up to make a run at one more starting pitcher. I don't expect Headley to turn back the clock in San Diego, but he'll be an improvement over the Cory Spangenberg/Ryan Schimpf (since traded to the Rays) experiment at the position in 2017. Headley brings lackluster defense, middling power, and a decent OBP to the Padres lineup. Bryan Mitchell throws hard (96.1 on the heater), but is allergic to striking out hitters (4.68 K/9 in 2017, actually an improvement over his disgusting 3.96 mark in 2016) and has walked nearly 10% of the batters he has faced over his career.
Yankees grade: B-
Padres grade: C
Cubs agree with SP Drew Smyly on 2 year, $10 million deal
Smyly went under the knife this past summer, so he likely won't throw for the Cubs until 2019. When healthy, Smyly has been a very effective strikeout/flyball pitcher. His fastball has outstanding rising action, getting 11.5 inches of vertical movement in 2016, second-most behind Mr. Deception himself, Marco Estrada. His swinging strike rate that year was 10.5, coincidentally tied with Jake Arrieta for 25th best in the league. He also doesn't walk many, putting up a career BB/9 rate of 2.54. The crafty lefty doesn't throw very hard, but with a return to full health in 2019 could potentially be the best value signing of 2017.
Rockies sign RP Bryan Shaw to 3 year contract worth around $9 per season
This is about the price range I'd expect for a highly effective setup man/potential closer. Shaw's cutter is the stuff of legends, as it's 2017 linear value of 19.7 runs was second-best among relievers, trailing only Kenley Jansen. Shaw's BABiP rose nearly 30 points in 2017, yet he still managed to cut his FIP down nearly a full run to 2.96, thanks in large part to a 3% drop in walk rate. Shaw needn't worry about pitching in Colorado, his outstanding 54.9% groundball rate depreciates the Coors effect on fly balls. Shaw does a great job of getting both righties and lefties out (.298 and .252 wOBA respectively), which also is a good signifier for success in a closing role.
Phillies ink RP Tommy Hunter to 2 year, $18 million deal
If you told me at this time last year that Tommy Hunter would be getting $9 million AAV this winter, I wouldn't have believed you. It's truly amazing what a 12% jump in strikeout rate can do for a pitcher. Hunter changed his approach in attacking hitters in 2017 by throwing a career-low 42.6% of his pitches in the zone, down from a >50% mark each of the previous seasons. Right on cue, hitters chased 4.3% more often, and Hunter's swinging strike rate jumped 2.2%. Perhaps his largest change was more of an emphasis on his cutter. He slashed his fourseamer usage from 63.2% in 2016 to just 42.3% this past season, while almost doubling his cutter usage to 32%. As you can see in the below graph, from the pitcher's vantage point, Hunter used his fastball-cutter-curve package down and away from hitters to get those extra whiffs. 2016 is on the left, while 2017 is on the right.
Batters hit below .050 against Hunter on pitches on the outer third of the plate. The righthander's cutter developed into a great weapon gloveside, as it put up a linear value of 5.9 runs. In fact, all three of his offerings were worth at least 3.2 runs. Hunter should fit in well with Pat Neshek to help solidify a Phillies bullpen that ranked fourth-worst in bullpen ERA last year, as well as bridging the gap to Hector Neris.
HeatMaps courtesy of FanGraphs