The Toronto Blue Jays dominated the headlines, once again, on Tuesday, swinging four moves in total. The first, and most notable, was the trade that sent outfielder Kevin Pillar to the San Francisco Giants for utility player Alen Hanson, righty reliever Derek Law, and right-handed pitching prospect Juan De Paula. Michael Reed was designated for assignment by the Giants to accommodate the move.
I think the Giants have an overwhelming win on their hands here. They were able to acquire a guy who is an elite defender in the outfield with two years of team control in exchange for two guys who they had designated for assignment over the preceding months, and a High-A lottery ticket. Pillar seems likely to man the corners while Steven Duggar takes most of the reps in center, and could very well be flipped if (and when) the Giants decide to break things down. While he doesn’t offer much with the bat, he has shown double-digit home run power and double-digit stolen base speed in the not-so-distant past. With any offensive success, they Giants should be able to get more than they traded back.
As for the pieces headed north, Alen Hanson is the only one that will be placed on the active roster immediately, as he is out of options. The 26-year-old super utility guy finished 2018 with a .252/.274/.425 batting line to go along with eight homers and seven stolen bases. His offensive profile is similar to that of Pillar, and while he’s not quite as solid as Pillar defensively, he offers more versatility. He seems likely to come off of the bench out of the gate and could potentially earn himself more playing time. He has the ceiling of a Freddy Galvis type super utility guy.
Derek Law is a 28-year-old reliever who had an excellent rookie season with the Giants, posting a 2.13 ERA with a 2.53 FIP over 55 innings pitched in 2016, but was never able to regain his footing, posing a 5.06 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 2017 and a 7.43 ERA (5.34 FIP) in 2018 watching his control suffer and his ground ball rates drop. That being said, he has a pretty big fastball and has even seen his velocity increase over the past few seasons. I can also see getting out of the Pacific Coast League having a positive impact on his minor league numbers, and therefore his confidence. The ceiling for Law is that of a solid set-up man, but I think the more likely outcome is a cameo relief call-up.
Juan De Paula is an interesting prospect. He’s just 21 years old and expected to begin the season in Class A as he joins his fourth organization since 2015. While his bottom line results have been excellent, it should be noted that he’s only pitched five innings in full season ball, and has seen his control worsen with every level, but he can hit the upper 90’s and does a nice job inducing ground balls. I would put his ETA at around 2022. Prospect sites have been polar on him, with some considering him among the Giants top-20 prospects, with others leaving him outside of the top 30. I would imagine that he has the ceiling of a mid-rotation starter and the more likely outcome as a fire balling reliever, who sometimes struggles with his control. He’s a guy who should be interesting to watch this season.
Michael Reed was designated for assignment to accommodate the move. I would imagine that he clears waivers, seeing as how he’s out of minor league options and appeared to be completely over-matched in a small sample size in the majors.
The Jays also swung a trade with another NL-West team, as they acquired outfielder Socrates Brito from the Padres in exchange for outfield prospect Rodrigo Orozco. I like the Jays’ side on this deal a bit more. While Brito is out of options, the 26-year-old outfielder brings with him double-digit home run power, double-digit stolen base speed and an excellent glove. He could very well eventually force himself into the conversation for starts in the Toronto outfield.
As for the Padres, Orozco slashed a very solid .304/.375/.389 with 18 stolen bases and 23 doubles in Class A Advanced, but it should be noted that he is playing against younger competition, as he turned 24 years old yesterday. Overall, he brings solid speed and excellent plate discipline, but has a limited ceiling based on a poor glove, a back of power and the fact that he’s rather old for his level. I would put his ceiling at a fourth outfielder at some point, with the more likely outcome of an emergency call-up depth outfielder.
Bud Norris was released by Toronto, which was an unexpected move, as he was re-signed by the organization for the purpose of having the opportunity to rehab from his injury. He should be picked up in no time, and could be pitching out of a major league bullpen by June.
Finally, Toronto locked up Randal Grichuk for five-years and $52 million. Last season, he slashed .245/.301/.502 with 25 home runs with most of his production coming in the second half. He also played a very solid right field, while eating some innings in center, at a slightly below average clip. I, personally, wouldn’t have given Grichuk $52 million based on the state of the franchise. The Blue Jays are on the cusp of a nearly complete tear down, opening up spaces for future stars such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. With Grichuk’s original contract expiring after 2020, I would have traded him and put that $52 million toward locking up one of the guys who are currently on pace to hit free agency by the time they are 25 to 26 years old.
The Braves did just that today, as they gave superstar outfielder Ronald Acuna an 8-year extension worth $100 million that also contains two option years. This contract could lock him up through his age 30 season and it is broken down as follows:
2019 (age-21 season): $1 million
2020 (22): $1 million
2021 (23): $5 million
2022 (24): $15 million
2023 (25) through 2026 (28): $17 million
2027 (29) and 2028 (30): $17 million option with a $10 million buyout
Acuna was excellent in his rookie year posting a 4.1 bWAR while boasting a .293/.366/.552 slashline with 25 home runs and 16 stolen bases. He has been everything that the Braves could have hoped for, and this is an excellent move to lock down a player that seems likely to carry the franchise for the next decade.
Grichuk and Acuna weren’t the only extensions, however, as the Rockies locked up starting pitcher German Marquez on a 5-year extension worth $43 million. The deal also includes a club option for a sixth season that would turn into a mutual option if he finishes in the top-3 for Cy Young voting over the life of the contract. Since being acquired in 2016, Marquez has posted a 4.07 ERA over 384.2 innings pitched with a 3.89 FIP. This also includes an excellent 2018 in which he posted a 3.77 ERA with a 3.40 FIP over 196 innings pitched. This is a very solid move for an organization that has difficulty acquiring pitching that can find success in the unfriendly confines of Coors Field, and at an average of $8.6 million a year, the upside is enormous. Marquez has developed into a very strong middle of the rotation stalwart for the Rockies after being acquired with Jake McGee in the deal that sent Corey Dickerson to the Rays.
McGee was also in the news as he was placed on the 10-day injured list with a knee sprain, and was replaced with Carlos Estevez. The veteran lefty has looked solid over his first pair of appearances, not allowing a run over 2.1 innings. He’ll look to further his attempt to rebound from an ugly 2018 season that saw him throw 51.1 innings of 6.49 ERA ball when he returns, a date for which there isn’t yet a timetable.
Estevez didn’t pitch in the majors during the 2018 season, and struggled to a 6.35 ERA over 28.1 innings in Triple-A. While he has a big arm, with the ability to reach triple digits, he has had a tendency to struggle with his command at times. While his major league ERA of 5.36 isn’t necessarily encouraging, his 4.08 FIP suggests that he’s actually been much better than the traditional bottom line stats suggest. He should function in a middle relief capacity.
The Rockies got a bit more bad news, as it was announced that Daniel Murphy would miss “at least a month” with his fractured finger. Mark Reynolds and Ryan McMahon will continue to see the vast majority of innings at first.
Also going down to a finger injury, Trea Turner is expected to miss some time, after a getting hit by a pitch in the hand during a bunt attempt. He was unable to continue the at-bat after sustaining the injury and was replaced with Wilmer Difo. Top prospect Carter Kieboom could be a candidate to receive a call-up, which could be a better alternative to keeping a nearly completely defensive player in Difo in the line-up.
Fellow star shortstop Francisco Lindor will also be out a bit longer than expected, as he isn’t expected to return until at least the end of April. He was diagnosed with a mild high ankle sprain and won’t run again for at least a week. The Indians are expected to give us a more solid estimate on a potential return tomorrow.
In other Indians news, reliever Ben Taylor, who had been designated for assignment on Opening Day, was surprisingly released by the Tribe. It wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see him re-sign with the Indians in the coming days. It seemed likely that Taylor would have been claimed off of waivers had been been exposed, but it’s not the worse result for the 26-year-old, as he can become a free agent if he doesn’t receive a call-up in 2019. Had he simply cleared waivers, he would have remainder under team control, as a non-roster, through 2021, as he was drafted in 2015. Even if Cleveland doesn’t re-sign him, he won’t be unemployed for very long, as he posted a 2.51 ERA over 57.1 innings in Triple-A last season.
A pair of prospects were the subject of some injury news on Tuesday, as well. On the bright side, Padres left-handed pitching prospect Jacob Nix will not undergo Tommy John surgery and will attempt to rehab his UCL injury himself. Unfortunately, Reds’ top prospect Hunter Greene will go under the knife and is expected to be out through the first half of the 2020 season.
The former first round pick didn’t quite live up to the pre-draft hype over his first full season in professional ball, but certainly flashed some encouraging numbers. He posted a 4.48 ERA over 68.1 innings at Class A, but that figure seems to be a bit misleading, as he also posted a 3.29 FIP with an 11.72 K/9 and a 3.03 BB/9. He still has plenty of time to right the ship, as he’s still just 19.
In other Cincinnati Reds’ news, Brandon Finnegan cleared waivers and is expected to accept outright assignment. Finnegan was acquired in the Johnny Cueto trade after being selected by the Royals in the first round of the 2014 draft, and made it to the majors exceptionally quickly. Originally, he was a fireballer who struggled with control, but had the stuff to get away with it to an extent, but after dealing with a myriad of injuries, he has lost two miles per hour on his average fastball, which has greatly decreased his margin for error. Since his return, his numbers have ballooned in both Triple-A and the majors. 2018 saw him post a 7.05 ERA with a 5.65 FIP in Triple-A and a 7.40 ERA with a 7.13 FIP in the majors. He will serve as depth in Louisville for the time being.
Finnegan’s former team, the Kansas City Royals, purchased catcher Andrew Susac from the Orioles today. As it currently stands, the O’s have Jesus Sucre and Pedro Severino holding it down in the majors, while Chance Sisco receives most of the playing time in Norfolk and Carlos Perez backs him up. There simply just weren’t enough at-bats and innings to go around. Susac now seems likely to serve as top prospect Meibrys Viloria‘s back-up in Triple-A Omaha, and could see considerable success, as he moves to the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. Susac is 29 years old, but has a decent bat and could be a reasonably solid back-up catcher for the Royals if they wind up dealing with injuries or trade Maldonado mid-season.
Finally, the Los Angeles Dodgers brought back right-handed reliever Zach McAllister on a minor league deal. The veteran spent the last month of the 2018 season with the Oklahoma City Dodgers, posting a 9.00 ERA over six innings, before departing as a free agent. He signed on with the Rangers over the offseason, and looked rather solid in camp, posting a 3.00 ERA over 12 innings. He joins an Oklahoma City bullpen that also includes JT Chargois, Jaime Schultz, Donnie Hart, Justin Grimm, Josh Smoker, Rob Zastryzny and Kevin Quackenbush, therefore, he will need to stand out in order to receive an opportunity.