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The Strike Zone

D-backs meet needs, but Reds, Indians benefit most from 9-player swap

Shin-Soo Choo hit 16 homers and tallied 67 RBIs last season for the Indians.(AP) Shin-Soo Choo hit 16 homers and tallied 67 RBIs last season for the Indians. (AP)

After weeks of rumors, the Diamondbacks finally executed a three-way trade for a shortstop Tuesday night, but it was the other two teams in the deal, the Reds and Indians, who appear to have benefited most from the swap. The core of the nine-player deal sends Indians right fielder Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati to play center field, Diamondbacks starting pitching prospect Trevor Bauer and Reds’ center fielder Drew Stubbs to Cleveland, and Reds shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius to Arizona. To complete the deal, the Indians get right-handed Diamondbacks relievers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw, the Diamondbacks get lefty reliever Tony Sipp and Triple-A first baseman Lars Anderson, and the Reds get Indians utility infielder Jason Donald and approximately $3.5 million to offset Choo’s 2013 salary.

In the short term, the defending National League Central Champion Reds, having filled the one glaring hole in their lineup, look to be the big winner in this deal. By replacing Stubbs and allowing the Reds to drop shortstop Zack Cozart to eighth in the batting order, Choo should improve the on-base and slugging percentages of the Reds’ leadoff position by more than 100 points each in the coming season (Reds leadoff hitters hit .208/.254/.327 in 2012).

Choo has played just 10 games in center field in the major leagues, the last coming in 2009, but he has been a superlative defensive right fielder with good speed (Choo has stolen 76 bags at a 78 percent success rate over the last four seasons, topping 20 steals in his three healthy campaigns) and one of the best throwing arms in the major leagues, and he’s a massive upgrade in the lineup over Stubbs, whose performance at the plate cratered in 2012. Despite playing his home games at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park, Stubbs’ hit a pathetic .213/.277/.333 in 2012, resulting in an OPS+ of 61 (against a league average of 100), by far the worst of any of the 144 qualified batters this past season. Choo, by comparison, rebounded from an injury-plagued 2011 season to largely replicate his career marks at .283/.373/.441, good for a 131 OPS+.

Leaving aside speculation about Choo’s performance in center field and looking only at the two players' run production, Choo was three and a half wins better than Stubbs in 2012 according to Baseball Prospectus’s Value Over Replacement Player (VORP, which measures all of a player’s offensive contributions in runs relative to replacement level at his position), and that’s comparing Choo to the higher standard set by the league’s right fielders. Measured against center fielders, Choo’s 2012 production would surely be worth more. As for fielding, despite earning rave reviews for his defense in the minor leagues, Stubbs’ defense regressed significantly in the last two seasons, making it entirely possible that Choo could break even in the field, making him close to a pure four-win upgrade for the Reds.

With perennial MVP candidate Joey Votto’s surgically repaired left knee expected to be back to full strength by Opening Day, sophomore Todd Frazier replacing the retiring Scott Rolen at third base and Mat Latos and Homer Bailey both having excelled in the second half of last season, adding Choo after a 97-win season makes the Reds look like the prohibitive favorite to repeat as Central Division champions.

The Indians, meanwhile, traded Choo’s walk year for all six team-controlled seasons of Bauer, a pitcher who was drafted out of UCLA with the third overall pick in 2011 and rated the ninth-best prospect in baseball prior to the 2012 season. In 2012, his first full professional season, Bauer went 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA, and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 22 starts split between Double- and Triple-A. He even got a try-out in the Diamondback’s rotation mid-season, but failed to stick after four starts despite one of them being an impressive outing at home against the Dodgers (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K).

Bauer has great stuff. He has a mid-90s fastball which he can cut and sink and a curve, slider, and changeup, all of which are above average to excellent, but his high-effort delivery, which some have compared to Tim Lincecum’s due to his long stride, can get out of synch resulting in some of the control issues that he’s already exhibited as a professional (4.2 walks per nine innings in the minors plus 13 walks in 16 1/3 major league innings). He’s also a bit of a character with a famously elaborate and protracted warm-up routine which includes 400-foot long tosses and throws from the mound preceded by a running start.

The Diamondbacks reportedly soured on Bauer and felt that with the younger, left-handed and comparably talented Tyler Skaggs ready to break into a major league rotation that already features righties Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill, sophomore lefties Wade Miley and sophomore Patrick Corbin and new addition Brandon McCarthy, not to mention swing-man Josh Collmenter, they could afford to part with Bauer, but the fact remains that Bauer could still emerge as the best of that bunch within the time that he’s under the Indians’ control, and the key player the Diamondbacks got in return for him, former Red Gregorius, is not guaranteed to fix their shortstop problems.

Gregorius, an Amsterdam native who will turn 23 in February, is a year older than Bauer and a career .271/.323/.376 hitter in the minor leagues. A left-handed hitter, he posted a very similar line between Double- and Triple-A in 2012, failed to collect a walk or an extra-base hit in 21 major league plate appearances in September, and has thus far proven incapable of hitting left-handed pitching. Gregorius has received high marks for his play in the field, with scouts praising his athleticism and his throwing arm, but he’s more of the sort of shortstop prospect that one hopes can hit enough to start in the majors, not a guaranteed full-time player, and certainly not a star.

That, not Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who remains on the trading block, is the player the Diamondbacks got for Bauer. They also got lefty reliever Sipp, but gave up two right-handed relievers who are as good or better in Albers and Shaw. First baseman Anderson is a busted former Red Sox prospect who turned 25 in September and has failed to post an OPS above .791 in three seasons at Triple-A. It’s difficult to see the Diamondbacks as having come out ahead in this deal, but other big loser here could be the Texas Rangers, who, if the Diamondbacks really feel as though they’ve solved their shortstop problem, no longer are a match for a potential trade for Arizona right-fielder Justin Upton, who has reportedly emerged as Texas general manager Jon Daniels’ white whale this offseason.

As for the other players in the deal, Donald is a replacement level utility infielder, but despite his disastrous 2012 season, Stubbs still holds some promise as a speedy player (he has stolen 100 bases at an 81 percent success rate over the last three seasons) with power at the plate (he hit 22 home runs in 2010, his first full major league season), and the tools to be an excellent defensive center fielder. He’s 28 and has only regressed in the majors, but there’s some hope that a different coaching staff could make the difference. The Indians own him for the next three years and won’t likely have to give him that much of a raise via arbitration coming off this past season. Anything the Indians get from Stubbs is gravy, however, as Bauer is a major prize and goes a long way toward making up for the wrong-headed Ubaldo Jimenez trade which saw the Tribe trade its two top pitching prospects at the 2011 trading deadline based on the misconception that they were ready to contend.

-- Cliff Corcoran

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