December 17, 2015
Chi-Town Goes Frazier
Like virtually every other team in the American League, the White Sox entered this winter with several avenues available to them. With the field so wide-open, the Sox quickly hand-waved the ideas of a full-scale rebuild or a liquidation of their four premier assets—though I did recommend biting the bullet and making such a sell-off, not long ago. They were going to at least make an effort to compete in the very winnable AL Central.
For a long time, though, they left open for themselves a middle road. The replacement of Tyler Flowers with Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro was a low-stakes maneuver, and the addition of Brett Lawrie cost very little—surprisingly little, really, even for those of us who don’t believe hugely in Lawrie. There was an opportunity for them to go into 2016 with their organizational depth totally intact, allowing the development of Avisail Garcia, Carlos Rodon, Thompson, Johnson, Montas, Carlos Sanchez, and Tim Anderson to steer them either toward buyer or seller status at the trade deadline. As discouraging as some of those players’ 2015 campaigns were, they are each young and tooled-up enough to offer real upside for 2016, and if they realize that upside, they could form a strong supporting cast for the Chris Sale-Jose Abreu-Jose Quintana-Adam Eaton core and the David Robertson-Melky Cabrera-Adam LaRoche buttress they put in place last winter.
This deal, in my opinion, closes that path to the Sox. Though it’s by no means a staggering blow to the team’s farm system, it takes three functional depth pieces off the 2016 roster, and it probably takes at least one above-average contributor off of the 2018 roster. The best player they surrendered in the deal was Montas, which is good, because pitching depth is the franchise’s strength, now as ever. Still, the medium-term future of the team takes a meaningful hit here. This deal has to pay off over the next two years, after which time Frazier (like Lawrie) will become a free agent, and after which Abreu, Eaton, Sale, and Quintana will all be more expensive and slightly past their primes. Whatever you think of this deal for Chicago, you’ll know how right (or wrong) you are within 23 months.
Obviously, this is a significant upgrade for the Sox over that term. Frazier has big power and is a fine fielder at third base. He’ll turn 30 in February, but he’s coming off two strong seasons and doesn’t carry a Mark Reynolds-like strikeout rate or Pedro Alvarez’s arm or anything. At $7.5 million, he’s a bargain for 2016, though not a steal. If either of Cabrera or LaRoche can hold up their end of the bargain in 2016, Frazier rounds out a fine leading quartet in the batting order, though hardly an elite one.
There are red flags here, though. Mostly, there’s one red flag: Frazier’s swing rate. He was aggressive to the point of madness in 2015, and it only got worse as the season progressed. Of the 300 batters who saw at least 1,000 pitches this season, Frazier had the 35th-highest swing rate and 46th-highest chase rate (swing rate on pitches outside the zone). If you want to split his 44 walks this season into chronological halves, the dividing line comes on June 19.
Todd Frazier, Batting, 2015
If his struggles to maintain plate discipline over those 400 plate appearances are indicative of his future, that’s a big problem. If it’s a blip, well, the White Sox pounced at just the right time, because the price they’re paying for two years of a borderline All-Star third baseman is actually quite low. Only time will tell which one is true. Increases in swing rate are so much a reflection of active choice, though, that they rarely turn out to be completely illusory. —Matt Trueblood
It seemed like a fait accompli that the rebuilding Reds were going to move Frazier, but the concern for his fantasy owners was that a move out of the Great American Ballpark would siphon some of the value out of Frazier’s powerful bat. Thankfully for them, U.S. Cellular Field is a park-neutral move for right-handed batters for the most part. Much will be made of Frazier’s home run swoon after the All-Star Break and the (groan) Home Run Derby, but the corollary between a long term power drain and participating in the derby is dubious, at best. Most of Frazier’s stats should translate to the South Side. The steals could drop a little bit, as the Reds were running fools in 2015 and the White Sox were not, but moving from the desiccated carcass of Cincinnati’s offense to the robust lineup of Chicago should give Frazier enough of a boost in RBI and runs to make up for this. Frazier’s value changes little in 2016, but moving to a superior team and away from facing the Pirates, Cubs, and Cardinals’ rotations 54 times a year bump him up just a little bit.
Most of the White Sox lineup
The hitters in front of and behind Frazier will benefit slightly from having a legitimate bat at third base as opposed to the cavalcade of warm bodies that the White Sox dragged out there all season long in 2015. This won’t have much of an impact in fantasy, but feel free to add a dollar to most of the White Sox hitters in AL-only and deeper mixed auction formats. Adam Eaton might be worthy of a two-dollar bump. Additionally, Brett Lawrie now seems a bit more locked into 2B eligibility beyond 2016.
Mike Olt, Carlos Sanchez
Olt and Sanchez go from being AL-only endgame plays to stashes in leagues with very deep reserve lists. If you play in a 15-team mixed leagues and your eyes are glazed over at that sentence, it is completely understandable.
If you put a waiver claim on Davidson in the hopes that he’d have a hot spring and reclaim his top prospect sheen, nice try, but the Frazier acquisition makes this long shot a moon shot. Feel free to drop Davidson everywhere. —Mike Gianella
Peraza is the big prospect name here, and he has a very good chance of becoming an everyday shortstop. His short, quick swing along with excellent hand-eye coordination allow him to make consistent contact, with enough plane and wrist strength to make it count to all fields. There's very little power here, however, so he's going to have to rely on his on-base skills and ability to steal 20 to 25 bags a season to make up for it.
Defensively, Peraza was moved over to second base because of circumstance, but he's certainly competent on the other side of the bag. His arm action is unorthodox, but the arm strength is fine, and his range is above-average. He's a plus-plus defender at second, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Reds give him a chance to be an above-average regular at the more valuable position.
Schebler held his own as a bench outfielder for the Dodgers in his cup of coffee this September, and that's very likely to be his role with the Reds going forward. There's plus raw power in his left-handed bat, but his swing length and lack of bat speed make the hit tool below-average, and drag the power down a tick as well. He's a solid-average runner who can hold his own at all three outfield spots, although he's certainly best suited for a corner position.
Dixon was considered a reach of a third round pick coming out of Arizona in the 2013 draft, and outside of a not even 200 plate appearance sample in the friendly confines of the Cal League, he hasn't done much to justify a top 100 selection. There's some pop in his bat from solid-average bat speed and some loft, but his approach is abysmal, and his contact issues are bad enough that his hit tool is closer to 30 than 50. He also doesn't have a true position, as he can't play second base and he doesn't have the arm you'd be looking for in a right fielder. If he ended up being anything but organizational fodder, I'd be very surprised. —Christopher Crawford
The presumption in most circles is that the Reds are going to trade Brandon Phillips and Peraza will get a shot at the second base job in Spring Training. But even if this doesn’t happen, the timetable for Peraza moves up somewhat and he has a greater chance for fantasy relevance in 2016 than he did with the Dodgers. After being somewhat overrated in fantasy entering last year, Peraza is now being maligned too much for not being more than what he is. Real life limitations are irrelevant in fantasy as long as Peraza can hang onto a major league job. A 35-40 stolen base ceiling is realistic if Peraza plays, and even if he does virtually nothing in home runs and RBI, Peraza instantly will have relevance in all but the shallowest of formats when he does get the call.
Before the Frazier trade, it appeared that Suarez would either have to fight Zack Cozart for playing time or make his way as a utility infielder backing up three positions and hoping for 300-350 plate appearances in a best case scenario. Now Suarez should be the regular third sacker barring another trade. Suarez can’t necessarily be counted on to duplicate his .167 ISO from 2015, but the power isn’t a complete mirage either. A 10-15 home run season isn’t an impossibility, and unless Suarez’s batting average completely collapses, he will provide NL-only and deeper mixed even if he only hits .240 or so.
While it is certainly an open competition for leftfield in Cincinnati, Schebler has to be considered the early line favorite to at least be on the good side of a platoon and could win the job outright. In NL-only, this is the kind of medium risk/high reward pick that could win you a championship if he plays all year. A .241 batting average at Oklahoma City is brutal, but the potential power/speed combination that Schebler offers can’t be ignored in fantasy. A 15/15 season isn’t out of the question and even if Schebler can only manage to duplicate the .250 he hit for the Dodgers in 2015, there’s value in that almost everywhere. The risk is palpable, though. It doesn’t matter how thin the Reds offense is; if Schebler strikes out as prodigiously as he did for Los Angeles, he could lose the job. And regardless of how he does, Jesse Winker will push Schebler at some point unless Jay Bruce gets traded.
None of these players was anything more than NL-only back end players, but now all three of them go into the one dollar bin or reserve phase of the draft barring another deal. —Mike Gianella
Acquired RHP Frankie Montas, OF-R Trayce Thompson and 2B-L Micah Johnson from the White Sox in exchange for 2B-R Jose Peraza, OF-L Scott Schebler and 2B-R Brandon Dixon [12/16]
If one were to chip away at a few of Peraza’s scouting grades, flip him around at the plate, replace his defense with Daniel Murphy's, and tack three years on to his age, you might come away with a finished product similar to Micah Johnson. Both are players where speed is their greatest asset, power is no great shakes, and in desperate need to activate a hit tool in order to turn them into a big league regular. Yet where Johnson differs is that he actually had some very, very good performance in Triple-A last year.
Of course, that Triple-A performance was overshadowed by a weak-sauce start (.631 OPS up to May) to the season as the Sox’s starting second baseman, and an awful showing (.426 OPS) in his brief September call-up. In the minors, Johnson leveraged a double-digit walk rate and a moderate amount of strikeouts to supplement his hit tool and make him an on-base threat. In the majors, so far Johnson has looked overmatched, striking out more than a quarter of the time at the plate. With no power, that won’t work. And he’s no great shakes with the glove either; so he’ll need his bat to play, even to pass as a utility option.
Maybe the Dodgers figure that Johnson has more offensive upside than Peraza, but this looks like a likely downgrade from the higher-ceiling second sacker they gave up. Unless Johnson somehow engages his inner Dee Gordon, he’s unlikely to contribute to a Dodgers team with Chase Utley and Enrique Hernandez as the lead options up the middle, unless the team desperately needs a pinch-runner or Utley comes down with a terminal case of old-itis. Like Gandalf the Grey visiting Rohan, he may appear only in L.A. as a bearer of bad tidings.
It is required by law to mention that Thompson’s brother is Klay Thompson, the All-Star shooting guard for the Golden State Warriors, so now I have done that. Like his brother, Thompson is a gifted natural athlete. Unlike his brother, Thompson is unlikely to be a starter in California. He's more likely to take after his father (former NBA star Mychal) and find himself in a backup role upon moving to L.A.
Physically imposing and with above-average raw power, you can see how a team like the Dodgers could find something to love in Thompson as a Joc Pederson-lite. His debut in the majors last season was heartening, as he demonstrated a well-rounded skill set of power, speed, and defense in a 44-game stretch. His biggest weakness in the minors was making contact with breaking stuff, like so many young players, and given his lack of top-end tools (save his power, which hasn’t broken out in game action yet), he profiles as something like a solid fourth outfielder.
There’s upside here, though; if he could maintain the production demonstrated in his small White Sox sample (1.1 WARP) for a full season, as unlikely that is, he’d be posting All-Star levels of performance of his own. Just don’t expect him to unseat Yasiel Puig any time soon.
So why did the Dodgers make this move? Speculation persists that the team added this particular prospect package in order to flip pieces in another deal, something that totally fits with what we know about Andrew Friedman’s run in L.A. so far. If this move allowed the Dodgers to get the right jigsaw pieces to finish the puzzle, that’s good for them.
But if they’re not going in that direction…if this is simply a way to swap out one fleet-footed second base prospect for another, while adding a high-ceiling pitching prospect and a fourth outfielder with access to Warriors season tickets, then it’s a strange move, but hardly a bad one. In exchange for three near-to-the-majors prospect-y guys, the team got three near-to-the-majors prospect-y guys the team wanted more.
This isn’t shifting deck chairs on the Titanic, it’s shifting deck chairs on your private yacht off the French Riviera, hoping to get just a little more sunlight for your perfect tan. Unlike the Reds and White Sox, who appear to have a lot riding on their returns, the Dodgers may have gotten a little bit of value in working as a prospect facilitator. If they get a mild sunburn and miss on one of these guys, who cares? They’re still rich as hell. —Bryan Grosnick
Montas throws really, really hard, and had the highest radar readings of any pitcher at the 2015 Futures Game (101 mph). While the velocity makes it a plus-plus pitch, it isn't an 80 offering because the pitch doesn't have much movement, and it's fairly easy to time. He also throws an above-average-to-plus slider with hard downward tilt, and while it's rarely a strike there's enough deception to call it a swing-and-miss pitch. The change lacks, and there's that word again, deception and doesn't have great, there's that word again too, movement, though it has seen some improvement since joining the White Sox. He throws enough strikes to make his two out pitches useful, but the command hasn't yet developed into what's required for someone who pitches in a rotation.
Ultimately, this is likely a high-leverage reliever—perhaps a closer if he can throw more consistent strikes—and one who can help the Los Angeles bullpen this season and beyond. —Christopher Crawford
Johnson goes from being one of a handful contestants for the starting second base job in Chicago to all but having his ticket punched to Triple-A in April. Chase Utley and Enrique Hernandez aren’t insurmountable obstacles, but if Andrew Friedman’s remarks from earlier today are indicative, Johnson is going to be behind both on the depth chart, at least to start out.
As a prospect, Montas has a good deal more upside than Johnson. But in the short term, Montas’ value takes at least as much of a hit as Johnson’s does if not more. It is unclear is the Dodgers are going to continue using Montas as a reliever or try stretching him out as a starting pitcher but either way it seems that more time in the minors is in the offing for the promising flamethrower. Montas’ value actually might tick up a little bit in dynasty in the long term, but for 2016 alone the arrow is pointing down just a little bit. —Mike Gianella
Matthew Trueblood is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @MATrueblood