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April 7, 2016

Transaction Analysis

Catchers, Man

by Matthew Trueblood and Bryan Grosnick

IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired C-S Carlos Corporan from the Yankees in exchange for cash. [4/3]

Already armed with a Triple-A depth option (Luke Maile) whose profile was just a worse version of that of their backup big-league catcher (Curt Casali), the Rays decided to find a similarly inferior iteration of their starter (Hank Conger). Corporan is a switch-hitter who has sometimes looked capable at the plate, but mostly hits like a backup catcher, and didn't even attain that level in 2015. He's posted really, really good framing numbers in the past, but last season, he was below average in that regard. His arm is below average, too. As non-roster catching depth goes, he’s okay. If it's me running a franchise, though, I'm not acquiring the guy most famous for doing this on the eve of the season. Bad juju. —Matthew Trueblood

Acquired 1B/OF-L Jake Goebbert from the Pirates (waiver claim) [4/6]

Perhaps a dozen seasons ago, Goebbert might have been one of those high-OBP, low-power first basemen that was wildly undervalued due to a curious selection of skills. After all, in over 100 major league plate appearances in 2014 for San Diego, Goebbert only knocked one dinger, which came off Jair Jurrjens in Colorado—the baseball equivalent to shooting fish in a barrel. Still, he put up good numbers last year in the PCL—his .300 TAv is solid and PECOTA projects him to be an average-ish hitter in the big leagues this year.

But playing time for sketchy corner guys in Tampa won’t come easy, as James Loney can probably attest. In fact, if the Rays had any real desire to field an okay hitter at first base, they probably would’ve kept Loney, whom they were already paying good money to. The bright side? Things change rather quickly in Tampa, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that come September, Goebbert could be receiving big-league playing time, especially if the team is out of contention and being sold off for parts. More likely, though, is that he toils away in Durham for a season, before playing roster hopscotch again in the first few months of 2017. —Bryan Grosnick

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Selected the contract of RHP Kyle Drabek from the Reno Aces [4/5]

“Everything dies. You, me, everyone on this planet. Our sun, our galaxy, and eventually our universe itself. This is simply how things are.”

This is a quote lifted wholesale from a comic book, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I’m not sure how long I can afford to consider it, before losing my personal sense of contentment, but everything crumbles around us—including us. And while baseball is often a sweet respite from considering our own mortality (thanks, Ben and Sam!), sometimes it reminds us of it instead.

Pitching prospects, man.

Their prospect status is born to die, blazing bright on top-100 lists and trade rumors, but ultimately destined to bloom into real-live players with real-live faults or, at worst, to wither on the vine. Drabek was one of those really, really fun pitching prospects. First, he had the bloodline—his father Doug Drabek was a Cy Young winner—then the prospect cache. He was traded for Roy Halladay, the foundational piece in a deal for a Hall-of-Fame-caliber pitcher. He had a killer curveball and a vicious fastball. According to the 2010 BP Annual, he “instantly and decisively became the best prospect in the Jays’ system.” In the 2016 BP Annual, he didn’t even register a lineout.

“I believe we endure… Everything lives.”

Every so often, they come back. Maybe it’s as a spot starter like Mike Montgomery with the Mariners last year. Maybe it’s as a little-used reliever at the end of the bullpen, like Drabek projects to be for the Diamondbacks. Maybe it’s as Rich Hill. It almost doesn’t matter. What matters is that for a few weeks, or months, or even years, they come back to the public eye. They put off the years of toiling in Triple-A towns, or car dealerships, or high school gymnasiums. Before everything dies, everything lives, even the pitching prospects that get forgotten a decade down the line. Enjoy your time, Kyle Drabek. It’s all we’ve got.

(Quotes from Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers #1 and Secret Wars #9.) —Bryan Grosnick

NEW YORK METS
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Signed C-R Rene Rivera to a minor-league contract [4/5]

If I told you that Rivera was 32 years old—not 37—would you have believed me? After all, this is a catcher who has done a remarkable late-career Jose Molina impersonation over the past few seasons. He’d latched on with the Rays, posted bonkers pitch-framing numbers, and completely and utterly failed to hit, save one magical season with the Padres in 2014. He even debuted in the big leagues back in 2004! There’s no way that he’s just 32 and also not the long-lost fourth Molina.

Rivera’s second act—his first, with the Mariners, is worthy of precious little fanfare—began with a career renaissance in San Diego in 2013 as a little-used backup and aligned just brilliantly with the advent of pitch framing metrics in the public eye. In 2014 he had a season that defied all expectations. While always a good framer, Rivera posted a defensive season worth 22.5 framing runs (FRAA) in 2014, a league-leading number he couldn’t replicate in Tampa the following year. He also—for the first time in his history—hit. A .276 TAv was miles from his career mark, which stands at .218 after a disappointing 2015. Seriously though, his .176 TAv in 2015 was a sign that no matter how strong the arm or savvy the glove, being an automatic out is a great way to lose your job in baseball.

Despite being one of baseball’s worst hitters in 2015, he’s back for another go-round as the backup to the backup in New York. Given the Mets’ talk about giving Kevin Plawecki more regular plate appearances in Triple-A during the spring, there’s a chance he’ll see the big leagues as the team’s third-string backstop. And given that the team’s regular catcher is the talented-but-fragile Travis d’Arnaud, you’ll definitely see him behind the plate for New York sometime this year. He’ll provide the framing and throwing skills he always does, as one of the league’s best defensive catchers…just don’t expect him to hit much, if at all. That’s just not his game. He’s here to impersonate Jose Molina and chew bubblegum, and if that’s the case, the Mets probably won’t give him any bubblegum. —Bryan Grosnick

Matthew Trueblood is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here
Bryan Grosnick is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bryan's other articles. You can contact Bryan by clicking here

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