Breaking down the big trades thus far

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JD Martinez was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks    Photo Credit: Otto Greule Jr. (Getty Images)

Did teams get the memo that the trade deadline is in fact on July 31st? Though we’re still 12 days from that date, we’ve seen three major trades shake up the MLB landscape over the past week. Below is an analysis of each one, complete with arbitrary letter grades for the team’s involved:

Chicago Cubs acquire Jose Quintana from Chicago White Sox

Cubs Grade: C
White Sox Grade: A

The Cubs’ desire to improve their starting rotation was the worst kept secret in the MLB heading into trade season. Although their rotation remained largely in tact from 2016, when they posted an MLB best 3.15 ERA and absurd 76 ERA- (meaning that their rotation’s ERA was 76% of the MLB average), every starter has regressed this season. Their 2017 staff ERA of 4.03, though still eighth in the league, was not going to cut it in the playoffs against the Dodgers’ 3.09 and Diamondbacks’ 3.51.

The White Sox, in the midst of the Great Chicago FireSale, were deadset on dealing their ace Jose Quintana for a prospect haul. And boy did they get one from the Cubs. The full package included outfielder Eloy Jimenez, MLB.com’s eighth ranked prospect, starter Dylan Cease (63rd on MLB.com) and infielders Matt Rose and Bryant Flete. Jimenez raked to the tune of a 133 wRC+ in high-A for the Cubs this season and looks like a future stud. Meanwhile Cease, a 21-year old right-handed pitcher, put up a sparkling 2.79 ERA in A-ball. Both players represented the Cubs’ best prospects in a system that is now largely devoid of talent after dealing Gleyber Torres last season and the graduation of Ian Happ and Wilson Contreras to the MLB.

The Cubs paid a hefty price. Too hefty in my mind. Jose Quintana has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the game, posting an ERA of 3.51 or lower every season from 2013 to 2016. However, nothing about Quintana’s profile is exceptional. His strikeout rates were good but not great, his control solid but not pristine and his batted profile yielded a lot of flyballs. Quintana was able to suppress home runs at an above average level for most of the aforementioned years, but I’m skeptical of his ability to do that going forward given the juiced ball and increased league-wide home run rates. Sure enough, Quintana’s HR/FB rate and ERA are at career worsts (12.4% and 4.20) in 2017.

Quintana’s value was certainly inflated due to his incredibly favorable contract. He’s due $30 million over the three years from 2018 to 2021, one of the most team-friendly contracts in baseball. He could be a 4.00 ERA pitcher going forward and still provide surplus value. However, the price of Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease is too steep.

Arizona Diamondbacks acquire JD Martinez from Detroit Tigers

Diamondbacks Grade: A
Tigers Grade: D

The Tigers, with a bloated payroll, aging roster and poor on-field performance, were likely candidates to sell at the 2017 deadline. JD Martinez, their 28-year old left fielder, was an impending free agent heading into the offseason and it was unlikely that Detroit could saddle their roster with another bloated contract (seriously, take a look. 2018 features a $30 million Cabrera, $28 million Verlander, $24 million Zimmermann, $22 million Upton and $18  million Martinez).

Arizona, probably baseball’s biggest surprise team this season, are on pace for 94 wins and have a wild card spot in the bag. Their starting rotation is the second best in baseball measured by ERA and their offense, headlined by Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb, is no slouch. But Arizona’s success to date has been in spite of middling production from their left fielders.

Enter JD Martinez, the eighth best hitter in baseball since 2014 according to wRC+. Martinez instantly becomes Arizona’s second best hitter and adds significant heft to the middle of their order. Better yet, the Diamondbacks acquired Martinez without giving up much of value.

Detroit received Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King, only one of whom ranked in Arizona’s top 10 prospects prior to the season. Lugo, a third baseman who also plays a bit of short, looks to be a solid player, with back to back strong seasons in AA. With that said, he’s more of a slap, high average hitter who will struggle to put up big numbers in the big leagues. Alcantara is a defense-first shortstop with decent plate discipline, yet he has never managed an isolated slugging percentage .082 in the minors. Jose King is an 18-year old dart throw who has yet to hit a home run in over 320 plate appearances in rookie ball.

New York Yankees acquire Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from Chicago White Sox

Yankees Grade: B
White Sox Grade: B

The Yankees’ bullpen, despite housing two of baseball’s best relief pitchers in Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, looked increasingly shaky over the last month of the season. Both Betances and Chapman, normally untouchable, were suddenly touchable, while a lack of bullpen depth forced over-reliance on unreliable arms like Tyler Clippard.

But after yesterday’s trade with the Chicago White Sox, which brought relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to New York, the Yankees might boast one of the best bullpens ever assembled. Robertson, who pitched admirably for the Yankees from 2008 to 2014, has a 2.70 ERA and 35.6% strikeout rate this season for Chicago. If that wasn’t enough, bullpen-mate Tommy Kahnle, hurler of 100mph fastballs, has a 2.50 ERA and 42.6% strikeout rate. Kahnle has been so dominant that his 1.62 xFIP is second in the MLB among relief pitchers, ahead of the likes of Kenley Jansen and Roberto Osuna. Robertson through 2018 while Kahnle possesses three more years of team control.

The Yankees also acquired White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier, who will likely play first base going forward for New York. While Frazier owns consistent 30-home run power, his overall offensive impact is muted by a deplorable average, largely the result of of tons of infield flyballs and weakly pulled groundballs. But the Yankees’ production from first base was so poor this season that Frazier will provide a large upgrade if he can maintain his performance with the White Sox.

What did the Yankees give up for a power hitting first baseman and two of the best relievers in baseball, one of whom is under team control for three seasons? A decent package of prospects, but nothing blue-chip. Center fielder Blake Rutherford, who is MLB.com’s 30th ranked prospect, headlined the return to Chicago. Rutherford was the Yankees’ first round pick in 2016 and has acclimated well in his first season of professional ball, but has displayed a concerning lack of power, with only two home runs in 304 plate appearances in A-ball. Yankees’ 2013 first round pick Ian Clarkin, a lefty starting pitcher, is the second best piece going back to Chicago. Clarkin, 22, has put up solid ERAs the last two seasons in the minors but with unspectacular strikeout rates below 7.00/9. The White Sox also received AA outfielder Tito Polo, who flashes an intriguing combo of power and speed, and MLB reliever Tyler Clippard. 

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