Acquired RHP Drew Storen from Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for RHP Joaquin Benoit. [7/27]
For years, Storen was the under-loved stalwart of the Washington bullpen. He was reliable in the long term, if occasionally shaky in the short, but his career 3.02 ERA and 3.09 FIP during those years were in the top 10 percent of all relievers. Sure, he had some issues in the closer role occasionally, but he hardly deserved his ousting in 2015 at the hands of Jonathan Papelbon. When he found his way to the Blue Jays as part of an offseason swap for Ben Revere, it was thought that the change of scenery might allow for a new chapter in his career, and perhaps a chance for him to grab his own share of the spotlight on a surging Jays team.
Instead, Storen got off to an ugly Blue Jays debut, allowing three homers and nine total runs in his first eight innings. His average fastball velocity dipped more than 1.5 mph, according to Brooks Baseball. There was little to no chance he’d ever find himself back in the closer role for the Jays, and he’d spent much of the season trying to pitch himself back into the conversation as one of the big free agent relievers of the coming offseason. It didn’t take. More balls were hit (.363 BABIP) and more balls were hit hard (11.6 hits per nine), culminating in a 6.21 ERA before the Jays cut bait and swapped him out to the Mariners for their own disappointing fireman.
Now, there’s hope in Seattle that Storen may make a comeback. First, home run problems can be assuaged thanks to the proportions of Safeco Field. If Jerry Dipoto knows one thing, it’s that there’s potential to save a relief pitcher by moving him to the happier home of Seattle. Also, the peripherals aren’t quite so dire as Storen’s ERA may have you believe. His DRA is 3.99–unworthy of a setup man, but hardly the disaster that his ERA is. There’s an off chance that, just like this offseason, perhaps Storen is simply a change-of-scenery candidate, ready to find his footing with a new team. Then again, he gave up four runs in 1.1 innings during his Mariners debut. Perhaps a change of scenery isn’t the solution, but rather the problem. —Bryan Grosnick
Acquired LHP Dario Alvarez and RHP Lucas Harrell from Atlanta Braves in exchange for 2B-R Travis Demeritte. [7/27]; recalled 3B/1B-L Joey Gallo from Triple-A Round Rock, [7/26]
In honor of summer blockbuster season, I’d like to use the titles of Kurt Russell films to describe the seasons of the two pitchers the Rangers acquired in exchange for their power-hitting middle-infield prospect. First, there’s Alvarez, the left-handed reliever. The easy answer for the Kurt Russell film that most aligns with his season is "Escape from New York"–his season came alive once the Braves picked him off waivers from the Mets this year. Possessed of sneaky-high strikeout rates once upon the time in the Mets system, he was blocked by other lefties in New York and never shone in his brief appearances with the big club. This year, after struggling a bit with walks in Triple-A, he has shoved in both Gwinnett and Atlanta, getting whiffs but lowering his walk rate just a bit at every stop. At the time of the trade, Alvarez has an elite 67 cFIP, meaning that his true talent for the season has been that of one of the game’s elite southpaw relievers. This may not keep up, but even if it doesn’t, this is likely an upgrade for the Rangers as a second lefty behind Jake Diekman.
Harrell is a bit more questionable of a pickup, and doesn’t rate a Kurt Russell blockbuster or cult hit as his film du jour. This guy is the equivalent of "The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit." Harrell is reliable, but reliably bad–the type of player I pick for my HACKING MASS team each season. To wit: he moved over to the Korean Baseball Organization last season, and pitched to a 4.93 ERA over 171 innings in a far inferior professional league. He’s the boring replacement-level pitcher who you slot in as the fifth starter when you have to, not because you want to. Sure, his 2016 numbers have ticked up a little from his career stats, but his 3.38 ERA with Atlanta doesn’t reflect his 4.84 DRA nor his 112 cFIP. He has managed to harness his oft-untenable walk rate–down to 3.7 BB/9 from more than five per nine over 2013 and 2014–and limited hits, but PECOTA can’t see him worth much more than a run over replacement for the rest of the year.
Giving up a potentially solid middle-of-the-infield hitter in Demeritte for a potential seventh-inning lefty and replacement-level starter might not be seen as a huge value play, but this is the kind of transitional move that the Rangers may have needed to make in order to stay in the AL West hunt. The way their starting pitchers have fought injury (and lost), the need for another handful of starts from someone like Harrell feels like an inevitability, even if it’s best to expect about three runs over five innings every time he takes the hill. And Alvarez could be a fine reliever both now and in the long term. The Rangers have plenty of prospect depth to absorb the loss of boom-or-bust Demeritte (let’s say he’s "Swing Shift" in keeping with our Russell comparisons) and these two pitchers, though not big names or likely stars, fill important roles today for this team. —Bryan Grosnick
By all accounts, Prince Fielder is a good dude. A nice man. A pleasant vegetarian. But I doubt too many in Arlington are crying over the neck injury that’s taking him out of the game for the rest of the season. As the team’s struggling designated hitter steps aside, room is made for one of the game’s most dynamic slugging prospects in Gallo. More digital prospect ink has been spent on the powerful 22-year-old than most anyone still playing in the minors, so you already know the cliff notes: 80 raw power, all the strikeouts in the world. His skills and flaws were on full display during his first game up with Rangers: after striking out in his first plate appearance, he brutalized a Sonny Gray fastball in the fifth inning, sending the opposite-field bomb out at something like 110 miles per hour.
And as of this writing … that’s been it. He’s hit a massive homer, struck out a couple of times, and made no other productive contact. He’s the accelerated version of Russell Branyan, perhaps … though his walk rate has risen and his strikeout rate fallen during his last pass through Triple-A this season. Nevertheless, a 30 percent punch-out rate at Triple-A could still translate to too many whiffs at the big-league level to let his power play up. Somehow, he’ll have to run into enough balls to let all that power free. Now, and perhaps for the next few years, he’ll start to have that opportunity in Arlington. —Bryan Grosnick
Acquired RHP Joaquin Benoit from Seattle Mariners in exchange for RHP Drew Storen. [7/27]
Coming into 2016, it felt like Benoit was this great secret that people were only finally starting to pick up on. It seemed like the trade between the Padres and Mariners that sent him to Seattle for a pair of middling prospects brought new attention to the fact that between 2003 and 2015, Benoit only had two seasons in which he was worth less than 1.0 WARP: 2008 and 2009. Despite Jerry Dipoto’s odd insistence that the team’s new and best reliever was certainly not the team’s closer, the deal seemed like a brilliant no-brainer of a move to bring in a reliever with both consistency and top-shelf performance.
Like many of Dipoto’s offseason acquisitions, the Benoit trade wasn’t exactly a win, however. Instead of a stabilizing bullpen force, Benoit destabilized the system by walking the park. His walk rate nearly doubled from the previous year in San Diego, jumping to 5.5 BB/9 in 2016 from 3.2 BB/9 in 2015. His velocity was also down to begin the season from his previous year, and hitters were having more success against his slider, hitting it for better average and power than in previous years. His 4.25 DRA was bad, but his 5.14 ERA was worse, especially for a Mariners team needing each possible run to stay in the AL West race.
So the Blue Jays acquired him in a challenge trade, betting that the similarly-paid reliever couldn’t be quite as bad as incumbent disappointment Drew Storen. And in one regard, this may be a smart move. After all, Benoit appears to have been less bad than Storen was in terms of pure run prevention, and he doesn’t have Storen’s missing velocity. (Plus, it’s tough to discount the psychic benefit of having such a solid French-pronunication name in the Great White North.) While Benoit’s ceiling, especially after over a dozen years in the bigs, may not be quite as high as Storen’s–it may be, if he can recapture his 2014-2015 form–the floor is quite possibly higher. Acquiring Benoit over Storen may have been a better move prior to both pitchers’ recent meltdowns, and it could be a better move now. —Bryan Grosnick
Acquired 2B-R Travis Demeritte from Texas Rangers in exchange for LHP Dario Alvarez and RHP Lucas Harrell. [7/27]; Signed C-R Michael McKenry to a minor-league contract. [7/23]
It’s canned analysis to some degree, but Demeritte really will go as far as his hit tool takes him. His skill set is otherwise quite well-rounded, highlighted by plus raw power to all fields. The swing is max-effort and geared entirely towards that end, with lift, plus bat speed, and enough strength to drive the ball out from pole to pole. But boy, does his present approach limit projection for its game utility. You can find a more in-depth breakdown in my Eyewitness Report, but there isn’t a whole lot of consistency with the barrel delivery right now, and he hasn’t tracked or laid off spin well in any of my looks. There isn’t much of any two-strike approach, either, and combined with a tendency to chase and swing through velocity, there’s a lot of whiff and weak aerial contact in his game. He’s young enough, and possesses enough fluidity and bat speed to where the potential for improvement certainly shouldn’t be discounted, but it’s tough to envision more than a below-average outcome as a best-case scenario.
He’s runs well; he’s not a burner, per se, but it‘s average raw speed that plays up on the bases with quality base-running instincts. And where the bat is boom-or-bust, the defensive profile is steady and impressive. His athleticism plays well at second, with quality range and body control that aids him going to the ground and working the turn. There’s plenty of arm strength, too, and if the hit tool doesn’t quite ever develop enough consistency to warrant a starting role, he’d have a puncher’s chance to try the glove at other spots on the dirt and develop a utility profile. —Wilson Karaman
Hello there, old friend. For a team on the border between simply bad and laughingstock, the Braves sure do like to collect Triple-A catchers. McKenry, formerly of the Cardinals, joins George Kottaras, Blake Lalli, and Jordan Pacheco on the Gwinnett Braves, forming something like a One Direction-style collective of individually flawed performers in the hopes of creating some kind of catching supergroup. (In this awful metaphor, the recently-promoted Anthony Recker is probably either Zayn or Harry. Your call.)
At any rate, McKenry is an interesting pickup only in that his abilities as a hitter make for a lovely backstop at the highest minor-league level, but an ineffective one in the bigs. Sure, he can hit a bit, but he’s got a history as an awful framer … not exactly the best trait for an Atlanta team looking to grow a host of young pitchers. Then again, the Braves use A.J. Pierzynski as their everyday starter, so framing doesn’t appear to be too much of a priority. Chances are that McKenry will tear up pitching in the International League for a few months, then return to the carousel that is the third- and fourth-catcher lifecycle in today’s MLB. —Bryan Grosnick