Analyzing the Cliff Lee trade

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Phillies acquire LHP Cliff Lee and OF Ben Francisco from the Indians for RHP Carlos Carrasco, C Lou Marson, RHP Jason Knapp, INF Jason Donald
Not much figuring out to do here. The only question is whether the Indians got enough in return for the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner.
Lee isn’t looked at as being on quite the same level as Roy Halladay, but he has posted a 3.14 ERA this year without a defense as good as Toronto’s helping him along. Also, he’s far cheaper than Halladay at just over $2 million for the rest of 2009 and $9 million next year. A rotation of Cole Hamels, Lee, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ would seem to match up pretty well with those of the rest of the NL contenders come playoff time.
Francisco is the right-handed-hitting reserve outfielder the Phillies have been looking for. He’ll replace John Mayberry Jr. and serve primarily as a pinch-hitter. While he was miscast as a regular, he should be a very good reserve going forward, and since he’ll earn the minimum again next year, he’s a fairly valuable property. He was hitting .250/.336/.422 with 13 steals in 308 at-bats for the Indians.
In return, the Indians get four prospects, all of whom I’d rank somewhere between 40th and 80th in an updated top 100 prospects. I’m very surprised that the team didn’t hold out for one from the group of Kyle Drabek, Dominic Brown and Michael Taylor, all of whom would have ranked higher, but they did get four intriguing pieces, three of which should contribute next year.
Carrasco, 22, was 6-9 with a 5.18 ERA for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but his K/BB ratio was still quite strong at 112/38 in 114 2/3 IP. He spent years ranked as the Phillies’ top pitching prospect before being passed by a much improved Drabek early on this year. He has a strong fastball-changeup combo with a curve that still needs improvement — he doesn’t throw it for strikes very often, yet he also doesn’t get hitters to chase it. He hasn’t come as quickly as hoped, but he still projects as a No. 3 starter.
Marson and Donald were both 2008 U.S. Olympians. Marson is a very unusual prospect in that he’s a catcher known for his on-base ability. There was hope that he’d eventually deliver 10-12 homers per season, but he had just one in 211 at-bats while hitting .294/.382/.370 in Triple-A this season. His defense is sound. He doesn’t have the arm to contend for Gold Gloves, but he should have a long career behind the plate. I’m not sure what the Indians will do with him. He could share time with Kelly Shoppach if Victor Martinez follows Lee out the door, but the position should belong to top prospect Carlos Santana as soon as mid-2010. I could see Marson being moved again this winter
Knapp is just 18 and he’s fanned 111 in 85 1/3 innings in the Sally League. However, he’s experienced shoulder problem of late and hasn’t pitched since July 11. The Indians must be convinced that it’s just tendinitis. Many projected Knapp as a future reliever when the Phillies made him a second-round pick out of high school last year, but his performance this year has changed that. He really might have ace potential with his mid-90s fastball and hard slider. However, even the best pitching prospects are no better than 50-50 bets and Knapp faces longer odds given that he’s already experiencing arm issues and he has subpar command.
Donald has struggled this year. He only returned Tuesday after missing nearly seven weeks following knee surgery, and he’s hit just .236/.297/.332 in 208 at-bats in Triple-A. Last year, he batted .307/.391/.497 in Double-A. I see him as a .360-OBP guy with 15-homer ability. However, he lacks the range to last at shortstop and will end up at either second or third. Assuming that they keep Jhonny Peralta at the hot corner, the Indians could have Donald battle Luis Valbuena for the starting job at second next year. Some view him as a future utilityman, but I see him spending several years as a regular.
I think Indians fans are right to be rather disappointed right now. The team had a chance to get right back into contention with Lee and Martinez around in 2010, but this makes another fourth-place finish more likely and there are no probable stars coming back in return. That said, I do like all four pieces here and I’d rather have that group than one from the Drabek-Brown-Taylor tier and only lesser pieces completing the deal.

Andrelton Simmons is absolutely freaking ridiculous

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I’ve been watching Andrelton Simmons play shortstop since he came up with the Braves back in 2012. From the moment he burst onto the scene it was clear that he was an otherworldly defensive talent. His arm was incredible. His range was astonishing. His sense of where he was on the field and his instincts about what to do with the ball were unmatched.

I’ll admit, however, that I’ve seen him less in the past couple of seasons than I used to. It’s understandable: he no longer plays for my favorite team and he now plays most of his games after old men like me go to bed back east. The numbers have shown that he’s still the best defensive shortstop around and the highlights which get circulated are still astounding, but I’ve not appreciated him on a day-to-day level like I once did.

But that just makes me more grateful for the highlights when I miss him in action. Like this one, from last night’s game against the Astros. You can see it in high resolution here, but if you can’t click over there, here’s the play as it was tweeted around:

I didn’t see last night’s game, but my friend Dan Lewis tweeted this out a bit. His observations about it in this thread explain why what Simmons is doing here is so amazing:

The lay-outs, the bobble-saves, the jump-throws and all of that spectacular stuff are understandably appreciated, but the various skills Simmons displayed in just this one play — not to mention the freakin’ hustle he displays backing up third base after it all — is just astounding.

There hasn’t been one like him for a while. We should all appreciate him while he’s still in his prime.

The Braves are leaning toward keeping Brian Snitker as manager

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Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported over the weekend that the Braves are leaning toward keeping Brian Snitker as manager. Part of that comes after team meetings between Snitker and top brass. Some of it, however, is likely attributable to player sentiment, with Bob Nightengale of USA Today reporting this morning that Freddie Freeman and several Braves players have told the Braves front office that they want Snitker back.

Is it a good idea to bring Snitker back? Eh, I’m leaning no, with the caveat that it probably doesn’t make a huge difference in the short term.

The “no” is based mostly on the fact that Snitker has had a disturbing trend of preferring veterans over young players, as Bradley explains in detail here. For a brief moment this summer the Braves seemed surprisingly competitive. Not truly competitive if anyone was being honest, but they were hovering around .500 and were arguably in the wild card race. Around that time he made a number of questionable decisions that favored marginal and/or injured veterans over some young players who will be a part of the next truly competitive Braves team, likely messing with their confidence and possibly messing with their development.

These moves were not damaging, ultimately, to the 2017 Braves on the field — they were going to be under .500 regardless — but it was the sort of short-term thinking that a manager for a rebuilding team should not be employing. Part of the blame for this, by the way, can be put on the front office, who only gave Snitker a one-year contract when they made him the permanent manager last year, creating an incentive for him to win in 2017 rather than manage the club the way a guy who knows when the team will truly be competitive should manage it. Then again, if Snitker was so great a candidate in the front office’s mind, why did they only give him a one-year contract?

I suspect a lot of it has to do with loyalty. Snitker has been an admirable Braves company man for decades, and that was certainly worthy of respect by the club. That he got the gig was likewise due in part to the players liking him — the veteran players — and they now are weighing in with their support once again. At some point, however, loyalty and respect of veterans has to take a back seat to a determination of who is the best person to bring the team from rebuilding to competitiveness, and Snitker has not made the case why he is that man.

Earlier, of course, I said it probably doesn’t matter all that much if they do, in fact, bring Snitker back. I say this because he will, in all likelihood, be given a short leash again, probably in the form of a one-year extension. It would not surprise me at all if, in the extraordinarily likely event the Braves look to be outclassed in the division by the Nationals again in 2018, they made a managerial switch midseason, as they did in 2016. If that is, indeed, the plan, it seems like the front office is almost planning on losing again in 2018 and using the future firing of Snitker as a time-buying exercise. Not that I’m cynical or anything.

Either way, I don’t think Snitker is the right guy for the job. Seems, though, that he’ll get at least an offseason and a couple of months to prove me wrong.