Released RHP Mat Latos. [6/16]
It seemed like a good idea at the time, no? Ink Latos to a short, relatively affordable deal to come in and provide depth at the back of a competing team’s rotation, and reap the benefits of a guy who hardly ever pitched worse than average, even despite a recent history of injuries and ineffectiveness. Despite his struggles at the close of the 2015 season–a period in which he was unceremoniously dumped from the Dodgers prior to their postseason–Latos had average peripherals in his time with Miami to start his 2015 year. For $3 million, he’s exactly the type of 28-year-old performance risk that teams take in the hopes of things paying off big. If he replicated his Miami start, the Sox would be big winners in this offseason gamble.
Of course, Latos was miserable, striking out virtually no one (4.8 strikeouts per nine) and tacking approximately two full runs onto his career FIP and DRA numbers. Now, even without a good backup plan in place (sorry, James Shields) the Sox DFA’d and eventually cut Latos rather than letting him continue to allow a world’s worth of baserunners. If this team has any hope of staying afloat in an AL Central--where they’re quickly sinking--they’ll have to find a way to jettison any dead weight pulling them downward. With a 32-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio, this new Latos certainly qualified as an anchor.
Expect him to be the third in a trifecta of veteran starters cut from the White Sox this year. First it was John Danks, then Latos, and finally Shields when and if he’s unable to turn things around. Latos was an injury, performance, and clubhouse risk prior to the season, and with the veteran righty looking as bad as he was in Los Angeles last year, it may be wise to credit the Sox with a willingness to cut bait once it became obvious that things weren’t working out. —Bryan Grosnick
Acquired RHP Zach Lee from Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for INF-R Chris Taylor. [6/19]
Lee might be more famous for what he isn't than what he is. He was a highly-recruited quarterback coming out of McKinney High School in Texas. In order to keep him from becoming the next JaMarcus Russell at LSU, the Dodgers selected him with the 28th overall pick of the 2010 draft and they were so enamored with his talent they gave him a whopping $5.25 million to keep him from attending college.
Over his five-plus years, Lee has seen his stock drop--precipitously--but that doesn't mean he can't have a big-league future. The fastball is no longer plus and he relies more on his ability to place it, although he will get it up to 93 mph when he reaches back for more. Whether you call his slider a cutter or his cutter a slider it doesn't matter; it's a solid-average offering that gets into the hands of left-handed hitters, and he can bury it when he's ahead in the count. The curveball is a fringe-average offering at best, lacking depth or the tight spin you'd want from a 50-grade breaking ball. The changeup has made progress in his time with the Dodgers, as it's gained some firmness and it comes from quality arm-speed.
It would be unfair to say Lee's ability to throw strikes "overcomes" the lack of stuff, but it sure doesn't hurt. He throws strikes with all four pitches from an easy-to-repeat delivery without red flags from effort. The margin of error is very thin, but because Lee hits his spots with four different pitches, he does have a chance to pitch in the very back of a rotation, and he should help Seattle's pitching woes in the near future. —Christopher Crawford
Purchased the contract of RHP Adrian Sampson from Triple-A Tacoma. [6/18]
Acquired at the deadline last year in the deal that saw J.A. Happ
move to Pittsburgh, Sampson is a pitcher without huge stuff, but has a chance to be a back-end starter because of how it comes together. The fastball is a tick above average at 90-93 mph with the ever-so-rare bump into the mid-90s. His slider is his best pitch at times; a pitch that has cut-like action, but also has some depth while throwing it for strikes. The changeup is very firm, but it comes from good arm speed, so it does have enough deception to call it a fringe-average offering.
The big improvement for Sampson in 2016 has not been the stuff, but rather his ability to locate it. His fastball comment has taken the biggest upswing, but because there is less effort in the delivery than when he was in Pittsburgh, he does a better job of keeping his release point and throwing all three pitches for strikes. It's not going to be elite control/command, but his ability to limit self-inflicted damage keeps him from being organizational fodder.
Don't expect a ton out of Sampson because of the lack of an out-pitch, but if he keeps throwing strikes like he did in Tacoma with all three pitches, he has a chance to be a usable fifth starter. There are worse things in life. —Christopher Crawford
Recalled RHP Tyrell Jenkins from Triple-A Gwinnett. [6/16]
Tyrell Jenkins was the second piece in the November of 2014 trade that sent Jason Heyward to St. Louis--with Shelby Miller being the headliner--and was likely only acquirable there due to a troublesome right shoulder. He features both two- and four-seam fastballs, usually sitting in the low-90s, but also showing the ability to get as high as 96 in viewings this season.
The Braves have shifted him to relief due to command woes and the lack of a third pitch. His best secondary offering is his curveball with good, late break at 78-80 mph. He has shown the propensity to miss his spots with it, though. His confidence in his changeup is nonexistent, and commanding it is a struggle for him. Jenkins should see an uptick in sitting velocity thanks to his move to the pen, and will be able throw his curveball with more regularity. He has the upside of being a late-inning reliever if they choose to keep him in this role long term. —Grant Jones
Acquired INF-R Chris Taylor from Seattle Mariners in exchange for RHP Zach Lee. [6/19]
Seattle Mariners shortstops: can’t live with them, can’t trade them all to the Rays. Taylor was the third in a series of four highly-touted Mariners shortstops who’ve failed to live up to expectations in Seattle after solid starts. (Sorry, Ketel Marte. At least you’ll have 2015.) As Nick Franklin begat Brad Miller, Miller begat Taylor, who eventually lost his job to Marte. The hope was that Taylor could do a little of everything–gap power, on-base ability, fielding, and running–well enough to have a Kyle Seager-esque emergence in regular playing time.
The prototype for that dream was a very solid showing in 2014: his .297 True Average looked good for a corner guy, and exceptional for a shortstop. In 151 plate appearances, he hit for little power–his .346 slugging percentage was outstripped by his .347 on-base percentage–but he was worth 4.0 Fielding Runs Above Average and 2.4 baserunning runs despite not having exceptional speed. It was the kind of performance where you could squint and see the blurry figure of Marco Scutaro doing a perfectly adequate job in the middle for several years.
Unfortunately, Taylor’s 2015 showing was as bad (-0.7 WARP) as 2014 was good (1.8 WARP). After Marte unseated him, Taylor went back to his day job–dominating Triple-A as Tacoma’s on-base machine. His offensive stats have looked great in the squishy PCL, but it would probably be his all-round ability to run a little, field a little, and hopefully hit a little that might make the Dodgers excited to use him as an infield depth piece. While there’s literally no chance that he’ll unseat Corey Seager as the Dodgers’ everyday shortstop, Los Angeles values infield depth behind their open questions in Justin Turner, Chase Utley, and Howie Kendrick. —Bryan Grosnick
Claimed RHP Phil Klein off waivers from Texas Rangers. [6/19]
Klein is a bit of an enigma, the type of pitcher who has never rated more than a line-out in the BP Annual, and doesn’t get much fanfare in any sort of write-up on the internet. An up-and-down relief arm with a powerful strikeout rate when in the bullpen, Klein appears to have been miscast in the occasional spot start, and now reaches his age-27 season without an extensive track record of major-league success, zero prospect profile and just 45 innings of work in Arlington.
Yes, he’s had an ugly homer rate in the majors (1.8 dingers per nine innings) and scouting the minor-league stat line may give us an inflated value of his worth, but when the Rangers put him on waivers, the Phillies pounced in a perfect move for a rebuilding club. Klein appears to have a legit weapon against righties–a slider that’s led him to 12 strikeouts and two walks in eight-plus innings in the majors this year.
Despite perhaps maxing out as a ROOGY in a big-league bullpen, the Phillies had great success dealing a whiff-inducing reliever for long-term help this offseason. As a rebuilding team, they have nothing but room to see if Klein could become either a reasonable part of their own bullpen, or a trade chip down the line to bring in more young talent. —Bryan Grosnick
Optioned OF-R Randal Grichuk to Triple-A Memphis; recalled OF-R Tommy Pham from Triple-A Memphis. [6/18]
Coming into the season the Cardinals dealt Jon Jay, leaving center field entirely and capably in the hands of Grichuk, who emerged in 2015 as a surprising semi-star. Though he puttered through an arm injury that threatened his playing time and made him a net negative in the outfield, he established himself as a true power threat and a potential heir to Matt Holliday as a doubles-and-homers anchor in the middle of a potent St. Louis lineup.
Though Tommy Pham lurked in Memphis and Jeremy Hazelbaker popped up in spring training, Grichuk had earned his spot … for all of two ugly months in 2016. According to BP’s stats, Grichuk wasn’t bad, he was just not good. Eight homers is fine in two months, but not great when paired with a just-barely-Mendoza-topping .206 batting average. His .251 True Average reflects just-below-average overall offense, but his defense has been no great shakes (-2.2 FRAA so far this season). But as the Cardinals look to wring every last win out of a run to the NL
Central title Wild Card, the team made the change to send him down to Memphis to figure things out while Tommy Pham moves into the short side of a center field platoon to replace him.
Pham had kind of a breakout in 2015 as well, despite never being much of a heralded prospect. (I know! The Cardinals developed another non-prospect into a sufficient big leaguer!) After fighting injuries for the better part of a decade, he received a longer look in the big leagues during last season, and thrived offensively. He had 17 extra-base hits in just 173 plate appearances--including five triples and five homers--and played solid defense in center field. He’ll pair up as the unlikely partner of another unlikely center fielder (Kolten Wong) in the St. Louis outfield ... at least until the Cardinals develop another quality big-leaguer out of nowhere. —Bryan Grosnick