A week after the reported Aroldis Chapman deal hit a very public snag, the Dodgers and Reds have finally pulled off a trade, though one of a very different nature. On Wednesday, Los Angeles and Cincinnati joined with the Chicago White Sox for a three-team trade in which All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier goes from the Reds to the White Sox. In exchange, Cincinnati gets a trio of Dodgers prospects, led by second baseman Jose Peraza, with three more young players, headed by fireballer Frankie Montas, going from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Frazier is the latest piece in a continuing attempt by the White Sox to build a winning team around ace Chris Sale and first baseman Jose Abreu, both of whom are under team control through the 2019 season. While Frazier is due to be a free agent after the 2017 campaign, he is a massive upgrade at third base for Chicago. This past season, the White Sox' third basemen—a group that included Tyler Saladino, Conor Gillaspie and Gordon Beckham—hit a combined .226/.277/.345, which translates to a 66 sOPS+ (adjusted OPS compared to the average at the position; league-average at third base is 100). Frazier, meanwhile, put up a 115 sOPS+ over the last two seasons, hitting .264/.322/.479 in that span and averaging 32 home runs and 84 RBIs per year, all with above-average defense. That performance was worth a combined 9.3 Wins Above Replacement, according to baseball-reference.com.
With Frazier just entering his age-30 season and moving from a hitter-friendly ballpark in Cincinnati to one with similar park factors for righthanders in Chicago, the White Sox can reasonably expect a similar output from him over the next two seasons. That would make Frazier almost a four-win upgrade for the coming season over his predecessors. Even better, all of that comes for the low price of $7.5 million in 2016 and whatever Frazier will make through arbitration in his final team-controlled season of '17.
Still, even with Frazier in the fold, it takes considerable optimism to see the White Sox as contenders in the American League Central. Chicago still needs big steps forward by young starting pitchers Carlos Rodon, a former top-five pick who struggled with his control as a 22-year-old rookie this past season, and soon-to-be 26-year-old righty Erik Johnson, who reemerged in September after salvaging his career by fixing his mechanics. Two of last winter’s big additions, outfielder Melky Cabrera and first baseman Adam LaRoche, need to have bounce-back seasons, and the recently acquired Brett Lawrie (who will move to second base) and rightfielder Avisail Garcia must live up to their prospect hype after years of injury, frustration and disappointment.
At shortstop, the White Sox need a better option than Saladino. At catcher, perhaps they should have stuck with Tyler Flowers, a good defensive backstop who was non-tendered and replaced with a pair of declining veterans in Dioner Navarro, who will be 32 in February, and Alex Avila, who has a lengthy history of concussions. Chicago won 76 games last year, and Pythagorean and third-order record suggested they were closer to a 72-win team; a four-win upgrade at third base alone won’t be enough to get them over .500.
The key piece Chicago gave up to get Frazier is Montas, a Dominican righthander who made his major league debut in early September, will turn 23 in March and can hit triple digits on the radar gun. Montas is an exciting arm, but he’s not an elite prospect: Neither Baseball America nor Baseball Prospectus had him on their respective top-100 prospects list prior to this past season. And while Montas has been a starter to this point in his career, he seems likely to wind up being a short reliever given his shallow repertoire (mostly a fastball and a slider, though he’ll occasionally mix in a changeup). That said, he does have closer potential and could well find a home in the Dodgers' end-game as early as next season.
In addition to Montas, L.A. will get second baseman Micah Johnson and centerfielder Trayce Thompson, both of whom made their major league debuts this past year and will be 25 in the coming season. Neither is terribly compelling. Thompson, a second-round pick in 2009 and the son of former Lakers forward Mychal Thompson (and the brother of current Warriors star Klay Thompson), has the skill-set of a 20-homer, 20-steal centerfielder, but he has been plagued by contact problems that will likely limit him to a fourth-outfielder role. In other words, he’s older than and vastly inferior to Joc Pederson. Johnson is a contract-hitting speedster with limited power and patience and a below-average glove, the last of which rendered him a sub–replacement-level player in his brief tenure as the White Sox’ second baseman this past season.
For that trio of relative youngsters, the Dodgers are sending the Reds the package of Peraza, 25-year-old corner outfielder Scott Schebler and minor league second baseman Brandon Dixon. Peraza is the key player here and the best prospect in this deal: He was the only one included on Baseball America's or Baseball Prospectus’ preseason top-100 or midseason top-50 lists (he made all four). Acquired by Los Angeles in its massive 13-player, three-team deadline deal with the Braves and Marlins, Peraza was expected to be the second baseman of the future for the Dodgers, but he is now positioned to succeed Brandon Phillips (who has been the subject of recent trade rumors involving the Nationals) at the keystone in Cincinnati.
Part of what made the Venezuelan-born Peraza so highly regarded is his consistently strong work against players several years his senior. Peraza, who won’t turn 22 until the end of April, made his major league debut with L.A. in August and hit .302/.342/.387 in parts of five minor-league seasons prior to that. A fine defender, he has outstanding speed—he's averaged 74 steals per 162 games in his career and has swiped them at an 81% success rate—and makes a lot of contact at the plate, striking out in just 10% of his career plate appearances. Peraza lacks power and patience, but the things he does well, combined with his youth and the amount of development time he has left for a player who has already reached the majors, give him the profile of a solid everyday middle infielder, a role he could fill in Cincinnati immediately.
Schebler, who made his major league debut in August and turned 25 in October, has hit .272/.338/.490 across parts of six minor league seasons, belying his status as a 26th-round pick out of an Iowa community college in 2010. A lefthanded-hitting corner outfielder with good power and a solid plate approach, he profiles as a league-average leftfielder—a role he could fill in Cincinnati right away. As an average corner man, he’s less of an essential building block than Peraza, but both could be regulars in the Reds’ lineup into the next decade.
Dixon, who will turn 24 in January and has yet to play above Double A, is far less likely to have in impact in Cincinnati. He did hit 19 home runs with 26 steals this past season between high Class A and Double A, but his brutal plate approach (.281 career on-base percentage and 6.1 career strikeout-to-walk ratio) and flirtations with a move to the outfield this past season don’t portend well for a meaningful major league career.
There are sure to be those who think the Reds could have done better than that trio in a trade for Frazier, but it looks like they did just fine. Peraza, who was reportedly the key piece in the failed Chapman trade, is a significant prospect at an up-the-middle position, and Schebler could be a productive middle-of-the-order bat with production comparable to Frazier’s, albeit without his defensive value. The White Sox also did well, landing an All-Star at a key position for a pair of expendable non-prospects and an unrefined arm likely headed for a relief role. That leaves the Dodgers as the likely losers here, though a slight variation in the futures of Peraza and Montas could tell a very different story by the end of the decade.
Regardless of the returns in this deal, one thing seems sure: Both Cincinnati and Los Angeles have moved on from the aborted Chapman trade, and we can expect both to be busier over the remainder of the off-season than they have been to this point.