Reviewing MLB National Transaction Day, Part One: Trades

Former Padres' reliever Luke Gregerson was one of many players dealt

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 ought to become a national holiday based on the amount of baseball transactions that occurred on that day. From signings to rumors to trades, December 3rd had it all. Since the moves are far too numerous to analyze in the same depth as the Fister and Johnson trades, I will give a brief recap of each of the days’ events.

Rather than playing teacher and assigning grades to transactions, I'll explain why each team was motivated to make the moves that they did. We may not agree with every side of every deal, but each of these teams did at the time of the transaction.

This will be a two part series, with the first part covering the trades. Part two will be posted shortly after, reviewing the free agent signings.

Astros Receive: CF Dexter Fowler
Rockies Receive: OF Brandon Barnes and SP Jordan Lyles

Why it works for the Astros: The Astros of the future can't be built entirely from prospects, and at some point, GM Jeff Luhnow was going to have to acquire a few veterans to compliment his young players. Dexter Fowler is the first of many such acquisitions. He brings a nice power/speed combo to Houston in addition to a good walk rate and the ability to play a competent center field. Barring an extension, the Astros control Fowler at a reasonable cost for the next two seasons.

Much concern has been made about Fowler’s home/road splits, but the Astros sabermetrically-inclined front office does not see them as much of a factor. Coors Field tends to skew statistics, and even after considering statistical measures in place to correct that, Rockies players always seem to come with a bit of a question mark. Nevertheless, Fowler’s power, speed, and ability to take a walk will work just fine at any altitude in addition to a likelihood that his defensive metrics, specifically range factors, will be better in an outfield that is not as spacious.

Why it works for the Rockies: Former top prospect Jordan Lyles is given a fresh start and will look for better results with Colorado. Lyles has been underwhelming thus far in his major league career, but was also rushed to the big leagues, hindering his development. The Rockies believe that Lyles could still fulfill his promise from his prospect days, although Coors Field will be a tough place to do it. He's not eligible for free agency until after the 2017 season.

Brandon Barnes, also an outfielder who has power and speed, has posted poor career offensive numbers but is a tremendous defender. Assuming he does not win the centerfield job, Barnes will have good value as a fourth outfielder who is cheap, controllable, plays great defense, can pinch run, and has occasional pop.

Rays Receive: C Ryan Hanigan, RP Heath Bell
Reds Receive: SP David Holmberg
Diamondbacks Receive: RP Justin Choate, PTBNL

Why it works for the Rays: Of all the teams to take on Heath Bell, the low-budget Rays seem like an unlikely fit. However, agreeing to take on Bell and his $5.5 million salary is the main price to acquiring elite defensive catcher Ryan Hanigan. Despite poor career offensive numbers, Hanigan gets high marks for his defensive abilities, especially pitch framing. Immediately following the trade, Hanigan signed a three-year extension with the Rays worth $10.75 million.

Why it works for the Reds: The signing of free agent Brayan Pena as the backup to Devin Mesoraco pushed Hanigan out of a roster spot in Cincinnati. From the Reds’ perspective, this deal is seen as turning a spare part in Hanigan into an MLB-ready left-handed innings eater. Young, cheap pitchers such as David Holmberg who can eat innings, even at the back of a rotation, have good value. Holmberg has a chance to contribute to the 2014 club.

Why it works for the Diamondbacks: The Heath Bell experiment largely failed in Arizona, and the Snakes are certainly glad to be rid of all but $500k of his salary. Since Bell had negative trade value, the Diamondbacks also had to surrender Holmberg, but Holmberg did not have a spot in the 2014 rotation. The Diamondbacks also acquired low-A ball reliever Justin Choate and a player to be named later, who is rumored to be somewhat significant, from the Rays.

Athletics Receive: RP Luke Gregerson
Padres Receive: OF Seth Smith

Why it works for the Athletics: Evidently the new market inefficiency is somewhere in relief pitchers because the A’s have been furiously acquiring them. Within a 24 hour period, Billy Beane added Jim Johnson, Josh Lindblom, and Luke Gregerson to his relief corps. Gregerson immediately slots as the Athletics' setup man to Johnson, a position in which he has excelled. Gregerson's projected to make roughly $4.9 million dollars through arbitration next season, after which he will be eligible for free agency.

Why it works for the Padres: Corner outfielder Seth Smith provides value for the Padres defensively and against right-handed pitching, but is best suited for a platoon role. His .279/.357/.487 line against right-handers is far superior to his paltry .201/.269/.313 line against lefties, but when used properly, he is effective. Smith is slated to earn roughly $4.3 million next season before hitting free agency next winter.

Rangers Receive: OF Michael Choice, INF Chris Bostick
Athletics Receive: OF Craig Gentry, P Josh Lindblom

Why it works for the Rangers: The Rangers' once-powerful lineup has endured numerous departures since their 2011 Worlds Series appearance, but the addition of Michael Choice gives them a chance to have a young, cost-controlled, power-hitting corner outfielder for the next six seasons. Choice will be expected play everyday possibly as soon as this season in the currently vacant left field. Bostick has a future as a utility player in the Rangers’ crowded infield.

Why it works for the Athletics: The underrated Craig Gentry provides Billy Beane’s club with quality defense in centerfield, speed on the bases, and a high OBP. Coco Crisp is slated to be the everyday center fielder for the A’s with Yoenis Cespedes in left, but if Josh Reddick continues to struggle, manager Bob Melvin will certainly be able to get Gentry in the lineup. Swingman Josh Lindblom adds depth to the Athletics staff.

Phillies Receive: RP Brad Lincoln
Blue Jays Receive: C Erik Kratz, P Rob Rasmussen

Why it works for the Phillies: Adding cheap relief depth is generally a good idea and Brad Lincoln fits that bill. Lincoln’s walk rate was elevated last season but he still managed to post a 3.98 ERA, a mark which his FIP suggests he was fortunate to post. Former backup catcher Erik Kratz was replaced later in the day by free agent Wil Nieves.

Why it works for the Blue Jays: This move gives the Jays a quality third catcher in Kratz and a potential major league arm in Rob Rasmussen. Rasmussen’s ceiling is a back end starter or middle reliever but that type of arm on a league minimum salary would provide good value to the Blue Jays.