|The Indians turned their final year of team control of Shin-Soo Choo into Trevor Bauer, one of baseball’s elite pitching prospects and a potential ace.
Cleveland’s lack of starting pitching at both the major and minor league levels had been one of the most glaring holes in any organization. The Indians ranked 29th in ERA in 2012, with little help on the way from the farm system, a problem this trade helps to address. The deal makes the Indians better in both the long-term and arguably the short-term too, as Bauer could provide a substantial immediate upgrade in their rotation. Choo likely would have been traded at midseason, and they did not have to part with Asdrubal Cabrera.
The key to pulling off the three-team deal was the Indians trading Choo to the Reds to acquire shortstop Didi Gregorius, a player Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers has coveted. Gregorius improved his stock last season and is one of the better shortstop prospects in the game in large part because of his defense and proximity to the big leagues, but Bauer is the better prospect, so it’s a high price to pay.
The Reds, meanwhile, fill a hole in center field through an out-of-the-box means, as they shipped off Drew Stubbs to the Indians and appear intent on moving Choo from right field to center field, even though he’s played just 10 games at the position in the big leagues. Jay Bruce might even be a better fit in center field than Choo, although the Reds probably wouldn’t want to mess with their star right fielder. Choo will be a free agent after next season, so he’s most likely going to be one-and-done in Cincinnati until Billy Hamilton is ready to take over center in 2014.
|Trevor Bauer, rhp
Age: 21. Born: Jan. 17, 1991 in North Hollywood, Calif.
Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185.
Bats: R. Throws: R.
Career Transactions: Selected by Diamondbacks in first round (third overall) of 2011 draft; signed July 25, 2011.
Much has been made of Bauer’s struggles this past season in the major leagues—all 16 1/3 innings of them—for a guy who dominated the minor leagues and has frontline stuff. Bauer excelled in Triple-A, averaged 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings in the minors and has the upside of a No. 1 starter, a guy who could annually rank among the league leaders in strikeouts and contend for a Cy Young award.
Why did the Diamondbacks trade him? The relationship between team and pitcher deteriorated quickly. Bauer has worked out his own throwing and training program for years, and the Diamondbacks have said publicly they did not feel he was receptive to making changes they suggested.
The Diamondbacks’ frustration is the Indians’ gain. Bauer’s fastball is a plus pitch that sits in the low-90s and touches 96, while his curveball is a wipeout offering that earns 70 grades on the 20-80 scale from some scouts. He rounds out his repertoire with a splitter, a slider and a changeup, all of which could be average or better pitches. Bauer does need better command, which got him into trouble once he reached Arizona, but his delivery is fine and he should be able to make improvements in that area. Bauer could start the year in Cleveland’s rotation and might immediately be its best starting pitcher.
|Bryan Shaw, rhp
Age: 24. Born: Nov. 8, 1987 in Livermore, Calif.
Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 210.
Bats: B. Throws: R.
School: Long Beach State.
Career Transactions: Selected by Diamondbacks in second round of 2008 draft; signed June 11, 2008.
Shaw operates primarily off of a very good cutter that comes out of his hand in the low 90s. He doesn’t have a true put-away pitch, but his lively cutter helps him keep the ball off the barrel, getting plenty of weak contact and groundballs. He should work as a middle reliever in Cleveland.
|Drew Stubbs, cf
Age: 27. Bats: R. Remaining Commitment: Arbitration-eligible for 2013-15 seasons ($527,500 salary in 2012).
All contract details courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
The Indians internally often emphasize a player’s “bat-to-ball” ability, which reflects in several of their high draft picks, trade targets and other acquisitions. Stubbs, to put it mildly, doesn’t fit that profile. He’s an extreme strikeout hitter whose big swing and contact issues are too much of a liability to be able to count on him for an everyday job, despite his defense. His .290 average on balls in play was down 35 points form his career mark entering the 2012 season, so perhaps with his speed there’s going to be some rebound there, but his swing and his approach aren’t going in the right direction. He’s still an excellent defender and a weapon on the basepaths, but he can’t repeat his 2012 offensive production if he’s going to play every day.
|Matt Albers, rhp
Age: 29. Remaining Commitment: Arbitration-eligible for 2013 season ($1.075 million salary in 2012)
Albers is coming off a year in which he posted the lowest ERA (2.39) of his career, though his .226 BABIP is a sign that he might have had some good fortune mixed in there. He has shown an increase in velocity in recent years, however, and took a slice out of his walk rate last year.
|Didi Gregorius, ss
Age: 22. Born: Feb 18, 1990 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185.
Bats: L. Throws: R.
Career Transactions: Signed as international free agent by Reds, Aug. 6, 2007.
Gregorius is a solid prospect who the Diamondbacks highly valued, and perhaps overvalued. Gregorius ranked as the No. 15 prospect in the Double-A Southern League and the No. 7 prospect in the Triple-A International League this season, as he rose through two levels before making his major league debut. Gregorius is 22, athletic and offers plus defense with good range and a plus arm. He doesn’t have much power, but he’s a contact-oriented hitter who produces line drives, though he could benefit from a more patient approach. Gregorius has enough upside to be a solid everyday shortstop with a defense-first profile, though there’s also enough risk with his bat that some scouts project him to be more of a utility man.
|Lars Anderson, 1b
Age: 24. Born: Sep 25, 1987 in Oakland.
Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215.
Bats: L. Throws: L.
School: Jesuit HS, Carmichael, Calif.
Career Transactions: Selected by Red Sox in 18th round of 2006 draft; signed Aug. 8, 2006 … Traded by Red Sox to Indians for RHP Steve Wright, July 31, 2012.
A former top prospect with the Red Sox , Anderson is now 25 and his stock has tumbled considerably since then. His 2012 season ended shortly after he was traded to Cleveland after he was hit on the head by an Andy Oliver pitch in late August. He’s a solid Triple-A hitter, but it’s unlikely that he’ll develop into much more.
|Tony Sipp, lhp
Age: 28. Remaining Commitment: Arbitration-eligible for 2013-15 seasons ($504,900 salary in 2012).
Sipp has been a steady middle reliever for the Indians and should continue to fill that role in Arizona. His strikeout rate and his velocity have been on the decline the past few seasons, but he’ll sit around 90-92 mph with his fastball and mix in a solid slider.
|Shin-Soo Choo, rf
Age: 29. Bats: L. Remaining Commitment: 1 year, $4.9 million.
Choo would probably be one of the worst defensive center fielders in the big leagues, but the offense he’ll provide would be a major upgrade over Stubbs. Choo has hit .284/.378/.446 over the past three seasons, posting strong years in 2010 and 2012 sandwiched around a disappointing 2011. Choo has excellent on-base skills and average power, so depending on how the center-field experiment goes, he could be a three-win improvement for the Reds, but he’s going to be stretched thin defensively.
|Jason Donald, ss/3b
Age: 27. Bats: R. Remaining Commitment: Under club control for five more seasons, 2013-17 (no minor league options remaining).
Donald is fringe big leaguer who can serve in a utility role if necessary, but at 28 his game he’s already reached his peak. He’s bounced between Triple-A Columbus and Cleveland the last three years, but his bat isn’t good enough for a starter’s job and while he has the versatility to play several infield spots, his defense isn’t an ideal fit at shortstop.