Angels' Victorino, Mets' Clippard are small, but crucial, roster additions
The trade market continued to stay busy on Monday, as two contenders pulled off deals that seemed small on the surface but could have a big impact on the playoff races. Early in the evening, the Angels announced that they had acquired outfielder Shane Victorino from the Red Sox for infielder Josh Rutledge. Just minutes later, the Mets announced that they were picking up reliever Tyler Clippard from the Athletics, sending minor-league pitcher Casey Meisner to Oakland.
While neither move is on the level of the biggest so far this deadline—the Royals' acquisition of Johnny Cueto on Sunday—each deal helps bolster a roster without costing parts that could be used for a bigger upgrade. In Victorino, the Angels get a useful righthanded bat who can provide a spark to a struggling outfield. The Mets, meanwhile, add Clippard to a top-heavy bullpen in need of depth, particularly in the later innings.
Victorino, who will turn 35 in November, is in the final season of a three-year, $39 million pact with the Red Sox, one that got off to a brilliant start when the Hawaiian hit .294/.351/.451 with 15 homers, 61 RBIs and 21 steals in 24 chances for the 2013 World Champions. That combination of offense, top-flight baserunning and excellent defense in rightfield (he clocked in at +24 Defensive Runs Saved that year) made Victorino worth a whopping 6.1 bWAR, fifth-highest among all outfielders that season. But injuries ruined Victorino's '14 season, as he was limited to just 30 games due to a right hamstring strain and back surgery at the end of July. When he did play, he looked every bit his age, posting a mere .268/.303/.382 line. He's been even worse in '15, hitting .245/.324/.298 in 106 plate appearances and once again losing time to injuries, this time with another right hamstring strain and a left calf strain.
Nonetheless, Victorino has his value when deployed properly. A switch-hitter who abandoned batting from the left side of the plate in late 2013, Victorino isn't much against righthanders (.186/.250/.203 this season, .241/.289/.361 in '14), but he's more than adequate facing lefties, hitting .343/.439/.457 against them this year and .325/.333/.425 last season. Defensively, Victorino has fallen from those lofty heights of two years ago, but he still grades out positively by DRS (+5 this season, albeit in just 234 1/3 innings in the field). In other words, he's a fourth outfielder and complementary player.
With Mike Trout ensconced in centerfield in Anaheim and Kole Calhoun (.276/.329/.432, 117 OPS+, 1.9 WAR) performing ably in right, the majority of Victorino's playing time will come in left, which has been a disaster zone for the Angels. On the season, Los Angeles leftfielders are hitting a putrid .212/.277/.312; that resulting .589 OPS is the worst among all teams in baseball. Manager Mike Scioscia has shuttled players in and out of the position all season. Seven men have started in left this year, with Matt Joyce (58 games) getting the brunt of the time, not that he's done much with it. The 30-year-old has hit a mere .178/.274/.298 in 278 plate appearances, with a team-low 65 OPS+. What's more, the lefty's struggles against southpaws (one hit in 21 at-bats against them this year) has forced Scioscia to find a platoon mate for him. Currently occupying that role is Dan Robertson, a 29-year-old slap hitter offering speed and little else offensively; he has just two extra-base hits in 69 at-bats this season.
If healthy (and granted, that's a big if), Victorino should easily slide into Robertson's role as the righthanded half of a platoon in left. But don't expect Joyce to be the lefty side of that pairing. According to The Los Angeles Times's Mike DiGiovanna, the Angels will go forward with a duo of Victorino and Efren Navarro in left for the time being, with CBS Sports's Jon Heyman reporting that the team still hopes to add a lefty outfield bat before the deadline. Heyman names the Reds' Jay Bruce, the Indians' David Murphy and the Phillies' Ben Revere as players who have been linked to Los Angeles, with Bruce representing the biggest possible upgrade. The 28-year-old has a .253/.341/.484 line on the season but is a career .231/.302/.432 hitter against lefties. Combined with Victorino, he would give the Angels a potent combo in left.
Just as the Angels made a move to fix a glaring weakness, the Mets smartly went out and addressed one ahead of time with Clippard. The 30-year-old righthander has filled in as the Athletics' closer this season in the absence of Sean Doolittle and done well in the role, striking out 38 in 38 2/3 innings with 17 saves. Although Clippard's peripherals have taken a fall from last season's excellent numbers—he's gone from a 10.5 strikeout-per-nine ratio and 2.9 walks per nine to 8.8 and 4.9, respectively, this year—he's now working on his sixth straight season of above-average work in the bullpen and is just three years removed from a 32-save season with the Nationals.
The Mets won't be asking Clippard to finish games, barring an injury to Jeurys Familia (1.70 ERA, 27 saves, 49 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings), but he will most likely get a chance to set up New York's closer. The Mets' current late-inning options, Jenrry Mejia and Bobby Parnell, are serviceable but far from dependable. Mejia, who was the team's closer last year but lost the job in April due to the one-two punch of right elbow inflammation and an 80-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs, has been excellent in his return, with seven whiffs in 7 1/3 scoreless innings across seven games. But that positive PED test will keep him from pitching in the postseason, should New York make it that far. Parnell, meanwhile, recently made his return from April 2013 Tommy John surgery, and his numbers in 14 games and 13 1/3 innings haven't been reassuring, either on the mound (nine strikeouts and six walks) or on the radar gun (his fastball is averaging just 92.3 mph so far, down from 95 in '13).
With Mejia unavailable in October and Parnell better left to lower-leverage situations until he finds his control and velocity, Clippard should make for a fine setup man, a role in which he has plenty of experience. What's more, he can give Familia a blow when needed in the ninth, something that manager Terry Collins would be wise to do. Familia has been scored upon in two of his last four appearances, and he's been asked to get four outs or more eight times in 45 appearances. Among regular closers, only the Blue Jays' Roberto Osuna has done the same as many times or more.
Best for the Angels and Mets, neither team gave up much of consequence in either deal. Rutledge is a 26-year-old righthanded hitter who has played second base and shortstop across a three-year major-league career. Acquired from the Rockies in the off-season, Rutledge was given a chance to win Los Angeles's open second base job and flunked it, and has subsequently spent the entire season at Triple A Salt Lake, where he's hit a mere .274/.323/.403 in 337 PA. Never much of a hitter due to his poor plate discipline, despite getting to play in Coors Field, Rutledge will be lucky to carve out a career as a utility infielder. With that said, he's not the focus of the deal for Boston. Dealing Victorino opens up rightfield in Fenway Park for Rusney Castillo, who will get all the playing time he can handle as the Red Sox try to figure out whether he's a piece for the future.
As for the Mets, they lose Meisner, a 20-year-old righty and third-round pick from the 2013 draft. Despite standing an imposing 6'7" (at just 190 pounds), Meisner has shown good command, with a career walk rate of 2.6 per nine in the minors, and has decent stuff, boasting a fastball that sits 90–93 mph, a curve and a changeup. Most scouts, however, project him as a back-end-of-the-rotation starter with a mid-rotation ceiling, and he didn't make New York's top-10 prospect list for either Baseball Prospectus or Baseball America. He's not a bad get for Billy Beane and the A's, but Meisner is an easy piece for the Mets to sacrifice in exchange for a needed bit of bullpen depth, and not one who likely would impact any other potential trade they may make before Friday, particularly as they search for help for their lineup.
There are still three full days of shopping for the Angels and Mets ahead of the deadline, and there's plenty of time for both to snag the necessary parts needed to build a true contender. But with Monday's moves, Los Angeles and New York each made itself a little bit stronger at little to no cost. What looks small on the surface could end up being crucial down the stretch.