In this week’s Ask BA, we’ll take a look at a now-complete trade, plus arguably the best defender in the South Atlantic League. As always, if you have a question you want answered, you can send it to askba@baseballamerica, or you can also Tweet it to J.J. Cooper @jjcoop36. Please incude your name and hometown.
Q: How’d the Mets do in the Ike Davis trade (now that it’s complete)?
Chris Waldendin, Boston
BA:At the end of spring training, the Mets faced a logjam at first base. They could choose Lucas Duda or Ike Davis. The Mets delayed making a decision, but after watching Davis hit .208/.367/.375 in his first 12 games this year, they swung a deal to send Davis to the Pirates, picking up righthander Zach Thornton and a player to named in exchange for Davis.
As is often the case when a player to be named remains unidentified for months, it is because it was a recent draftee. Draftees cannot be traded until one year after they signed their first pro contract. In Blake Taylor’s case, he signed with the Pirates on June 14, 2013. So on June 15, 2014, the Pirates and Mets were able to finally finalize their trade.
Even though we are years from seeing the final results of this trade—Taylor will spend this season in short-season ball—this does look like a solid haul for the Mets. Trades like this are all about probabilities. There was a small chance that Davis would figure out a way to regain the power he showed in 2012 (32 home runs) combined with the on-base skills he showed in flashes. If that happened, this would be a bad trade for the Mets, but the likelihood of that happening was small.
On the other hand, New York was acquiring a potential middle reliever in Thornton and a lottery ticket in Taylor. Again, the likelihood of either of them becoming stars is small, but when you’re trading away a player that everyone around the league knows you don’t have room for on your roster, the return isn’t going to be large.
Thornton is a low-risk, low-upside pickup while Taylor is a high-risk, high-upside acquisition.
Thornton is a potential seventh-inning option whose value will largely be tied to inexpensive contracts and roster flexibility. The 26-year-old hasn’t been as successful since joining the Mets’ Triple-A Las Vegas club, but some of that can be explained away as the problems of adjusting to the difficult pitching environments of the western edges of the Pacific Coast League. He went unpicked in last winter’s Rule 5 draft, so it’s fair to say that no team saw him as a big league-ready contributor. But as a righthander with all three options remaining (if he’s ever promoted to the big leagues and added to the Mets’ 40-man roster), Thornton is the kind of cheap but useful Triple-A reliever that’s helpful to have around. The risk for the Mets is that they would face the same Rule 5 roulette next winter if they decide not to add him to the 40-man roster this year.
Taylor was the Pirates’ No. 18 prospect coming into the season. The lefthander was a second-round pick out of a California high school last June. He’ll likely join the Mets’ New York-Penn League club in Brooklyn, although as of Monday morning he’s yet to be added to either Brooklyn or Kingsport’s roster. Taylor was an extremely young draftee last year and will pitch most of this season as an 18-year-old. His success will depend on adding velocity to the 89-91 mph fastball he’s shown, sharpening his curveball and improving his control. He’s so far away that there’s a pretty good shot that he will never even make the majors, but there is also a chance he could develop into a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter as he has a good frame, athleticism and the makings of three pitches. The further away from the big leagues you go when acquiring a player in a trade, the bigger upside you can get for less cost. In this case, the Mets decided they’d rather take a chance at making this deal a major win for them rather than getting lesser return with more certainty.
So how is the deal working out for the Pirates? Davis has been an adequate fill-in for the Pirates. He’s hitting .245/.350/.371. After hitting 32 home runs in 2012, his power has largely disappeared, but he’s compensated by getting on-base at a better clip. He’s a borderline regular at best and is a candidate to get nontendered this offseason as he heads into his second year of arbitration. Probably the best thing Davis has done for the Pirates is allow Gaby Sanchez to move back into a platoon role. For his career, Sanchez has hit .303/.398/.507 against lefthanders but has always had trouble against righthanders. It’s hard to make a living as a first baseman who feasts on lefties however, and the Pirates still need better production from the first base position. Neither Sanchez or Davis is likely to be their long-term answer. On the farm, Josh Bell looks like the best hope for a long-term in-house solution. With an outfield of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, Bell isn’t going to be finding a spot in the outfield in Pittsburgh anytime soon. With a bounce-back year in the Florida State League (.318/.368/.512), Bell is showing the kind of bat that could potentially handle a move to a more offensively demanding position.
Q: Greetings from Venezuela, What are your thoughts on Cleuluis Rondon (SS Kannapolis)?
Carlos Camejo, Maracay, Venezuela
BA:If you’re looking for the best defensive shortstops in the South Atlantic League, Rondon is going to be near the top of the list. Range factor is an admittedly crude stat, but Luis’ 5.4 total chances per game is half-a-chance more per game than any other regular South Atlantic League shortstop. He’s also leading the league in double plays and double plays per game. The scouting report matches up with that, as Rondon has outstanding hands, an above-average arm and the shortstop actions (fluidity, body control) that scouts dream of seeing.
The question with Rondon, as it is with many defensive wizards, is will he hit enough to allow his defensive skills to play? So far, the answer is no.
Rondon simply lacks the strength to make pitchers fear him. He has four home runs in more than 800 minor league at-bats and a career .282 slugging percentage. Rondon’s batting eye is actually good. He draws his share of walks, but with no reason to fear him, pitchers know they can simply blow him away more often than not, and if they make a mistake, he’s not going to do anything more than bloop a single. Rondon, like many young switch-hitters, is a much better threat from his natural righthanded side than from the left. Of course, he ends up with a lot more lefthanded at-bats than righthanded, so his overall numbers suffer as he tries to get the hang of switch-hitting.
There are many scouts who believe that a player with the hand-eye coordination to be as skilled defensively as Rondon has a chance to figure things out at the plate. He’s good enough defensively that he just has to be adequate offensively to get a big league shot. The Tigers’ Jose Iglesias, a part of the same three-team trade that sent Rondon from the Red Sox to the White Sox, showed offensive improvement last year, giving an example of the hope the White Sox have for Rondon. He’s a long way from the majors, but his glove makes him a name worth remembering.