Getty Images

Trevor Bauer-Yasiel Puig trade was weird

19 Comments

Let’s start out by noting how very strange it is for a team pushing for a playoff spot to trade away a front line starting pitcher. A team, mind you, which has had a lot of injuries to its starting pitching. The Indians have lost ace Corey Kluber to a broken arm, near-ace Carlos Carrasco to friggin’ cancer and have seen a couple of their other starters felled by various injuries. Trevor Bauer has been basically the only guy who has taken the ball every fifth day and . . . Cleveland sent him packing. That is not the sort of thing that happens very often.

Yet this is not the white flag trade it may have seemed to be if you brought it up a few weeks ago (as we did). Indeed, a couple of things happened which make this a far more defensible trade than it may have seemed to be before: (1) the Indians’ displeasure with Bauer became far more apparent; and (2) the Indians got a pretty decent return for the guy.

I don’t think Bauer’s “throw the ball over the fence” thing from Sunday was not some sort of tipping point when it came to his attitude. His attitude and general disposition have been pretty well known for a while and no one connected to the Indians has suggested that they were totally cool with him until that happened. But just how little effort anyone with the Indians made to defend Bauer after Sunday was pretty telling. You get the sense that they were just barely tolerating him to begin with and that, at some point, too much is too much.

Still, you don’t deal him unless your team gets better by doing so or, at the very least, no worse. And I think the Indians accomplished that.

Yasiel Puig is not what we all thought he might become five or six years ago. He’s an above average defender with some pop who can go on hot streaks but, in the long run, he can be pitched to. We’ve seen that this year. It’s his worst offensive year by OPS+ so far but he raked in June (.287/.340/.609) and in the first half of July. He’s been cold again since the break. The Indians only have him for August, September and however long they go in the playoffs. The bet is that they can get one or two hot streaks from him. The sort of hot streaks, of which he is very much capable, in which he can win a few games single-handedly. That’s a plus for the stretch for a team that has the worst offense of all of the American League contenders. Especially given that he can play all three outfield positions and DH, allowing Terry Francona to cover up holes and platoon as needed.

But it’s not just Puig, of course. In Franmil Reyes the Indians got even more power. Reyes is hitting .263/.312/.535 with 27 homers with half of his games coming at Petco Park. While he doesn’t have the overall value of Puig thanks to his defensive shortcomings, the Indians desperately need that pop. They’ll have it for the stretch and for several years given that Reyes is only in his second season. All of that amounts to the Indians, yes, trading a sometimes ace but getting no worse for doing so. Indeed, I think they probably got a little better.

As for the other two teams in this deal:

  • The Padres did well for themselves. The prospect the Reds sent them — Taylor Trammell — is a good one. He’s having some issues at Double-A this year but he is still just 21. In the long run he’s a far better fit for the Padres outfield due to his speed and glove (though his arm is suspect). Yes, it’s something of a gut punch for Padres fans who have come to love Reyes and his power and who really, really want to contend next year — Trammell will not be in the bigs until 2021 at the absolute earliest, I suspect — but the Padres should want to make themselves good for the next decade, not just for the next year or two before Reyes becomes a serious liability in the outfield. Prospects can bust, but as I sit here right now I’d rather have Trammell for the next several years than Reyes. At least if I’m not in contention right at this moment, which the Padres are not;
  • The Reds end of this is weird. Yes, Bauer is a big improvement for their rotation, but (a) he’s moving to a homer-happy park and will be facing far tougher divisional opponents than he did in the AL Central; and (b) he’s a free agent after the 2020 season. If the Reds are going to try to gear up and go for it in 2020, great. I suppose it could happen. In the event they are not in a playoff race this time next year, though, the best they can do is flip Bauer at the deadline in which he’ll bring back far less than Taylor Trammell. The Reds are always interesting and if you squint you can almost see them making a big jump next year, but that’s only if you squint. The odds favor them having, in the long run, traded a good prospect for a marginal one and about a year of Trevor Bauer. That kind of thing won’t break them but I don’t really see why they wouldn’t have been better served simply doing nothing and not involving themselves in this deal.

So, that’s where it stands now. Let’s check back in October to see how it worked out for Cleveland. And in, I dunno, 2023 or something to see how it worked out for the Padres and Reds.

Whitewash: Rob Manfred says he doesn’t think sign stealing extends beyond the Astros

Getty Images
25 Comments

Rob Manfred said today that he believes the sign-stealing scandal which has taken over the news in the past week does not extend beyond the Houston Astros. His exact words, via Jeff Passan of ESPN:

“Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros. I’m not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We’ll deal with that if it happens, but I’m not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time.”

This is simply incredible. As in literally not credible.

It’s not credible because, just last week, in the original story in The Athletic, it was reported that the Astros system was set up by two players, one of whom was “a hitter who was struggling at the plate and had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team, according to club sources . . . they were said to strongly believe that some opposing teams were already up to no good. They wanted to devise their own system in Houston. And they did.”

The very next day Passan reported that Major League Baseball would not limit its focus to the Astros. Rather, the league’s probe was also include members of the 2019 Astros and would extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentioned the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Add into this the Red Sox’ pre-Cora sign-stealing with Apple Watches and widespread, informed speculation on the part of players and people around the game that many teams do this sort of thing, and one can’t reasonably suggest that only the Houston Astros are doing this.

Which, as I noted at the time, made perfect sense. These schemes cannot, logically, operate in isolation because players and coaches change teams constantly. In light of this, players have to know that their sign-stealing would be found out by other teams eventually. They continue to do it, however, because they know other teams do it too. As is the case with pitchers using pine tar or what have you, they don’t rat out the other team so they, themselves, will not be ratted out. It’s a mutually-assured destruction that only exists and only works if, in fact, other teams are also stealing signs.

So why is Major League Baseball content to only hang the Astros here? I can think of two reasons.

One is practical. They had the Astros fall in their lap via former Astro Mike Fiers — obviously not himself concerned with his current team being busted for whatever reason — going on the record with his accusation. That’s not likely to repeat itself across baseball and thus it’d be quite difficult for Major League Baseball to easily conduct a wide investigation. Who is going to talk? How can baseball make them talk? It’d be a pretty big undertaking.

But there’s also the optics. Major League Baseball has had a week to think about the report of the Astros sign-stealing and, I suspect, they’ve realized, like everyone else has realized, that this is a major scandal in the making. Do they really want to spend the entire offseason — and longer, I suspect, if they want a thorough investigation — digging up unflattering news about cheating in the sport? Do they really want to be in the bad news creation business? I doubt they do, so they decided to fence off the Astros, hit them hard with penalties, declare victory and move on.

Which is to say, it’s a whitewash.

It’s something the league has tried to do before. They did it with steroids and it didn’t work particularly well.

In 1998 Mark McGwire, that game’s biggest star at the time, was found to have the PED androstenedione in his locker. It was a big freakin’ deal. Except . . . nothing happened. Major League Baseball planned to “study” the drug but most of the fallout was visited upon the reporter who made it public. It was accompanied by some shameful conduct by both Major League Baseball and the baseball press corps who eagerly went after the messenger rather than cover the story properly.

Four years later Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco went public with their PED use and said drug use was widespread. MLB’s response was slow and, again, sought to isolated the known offenders, singling out Caminiti as a troubled figure — which he was — and Canseco as a kook — which he kind of is — but doing them and the story a disservice all the same.

The league eventually created a rather toothless testing and penalty regime. Congress and outside investigative reporters filled the void created by the league’s inaction, calling hearings and publishing damning stories about how wide PED use was in the game. Eventually Bud Selig commissioned the Mitchell Report. Some ten years after the McGwire incident baseball had at least the beginnings of a sane approach to PEDs and a more effective testing plan, but it was pulled to it kicking and screaming, mostly because doing anything about it was too hard and not very appetizing from a business and P.R. perspective.

And so here we are again. Baseball has a major scandal on its hands. After some initially promising words about how serious it planned to take it, the league seems content to cordon off the known crime scene and refuses to canvass the neighborhood. Sure, if someone gratuitously hands them evidence they’ll look into it, but it sure sounds like Rob Manfred plans to react rather than act here.

That should work. At least until the next time evidence of cheating comes up and they have to start this all over again.