|Don't forget Shin-Soo Choo's glove. (Getty Images)|
While complaints -- yours and mine -- about the strength of the current free-agent class are duly noted, there's no disputing the impact of the trades we've seen this offseason. The latest, of course, is the nine-player behemoth among the Indians, Reds and Diamondbacks.
By way of reminder, here are the particulars:
First, the bad news: It's hard to understand Arizona's motivation. Yes, the Diamondbacks have long coveted a shortstop, but there's little evidence that Gregorius, while a skilled defender, is going to be able to handle major-league pitching. In the here and now, he's not an upgrade over Cliff Pennington in any meaningful sense. And to land a player of Gregorius's limited skills, you part with Bauer, one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball? Anderson is old for a prospect and struggles in the high minors have dropped his stock dramatically. While Sipp is useful, he's a lefty specialist and thus of extremely limited value. GM Kevin Towers is a skilled and decorated operator, but it's hard to grok his angle here.
On the winning side of things, you have -- all of Ohio.
The Indians, as implied, add a high-ceiling arm in Bauer (he's a potential No. 1 starter if he refines his secondary offerings and stays healthy), a plus defensive center fielder and plus base-runner in Stubbs (who also has a 22-homer season in his recent past), and a pair of useful bullpen arms (especially the 25-year-old Shaw) -- at a cost of Choo, who was bound for free agency at season's end. That's a very nice haul. As well, they managed all of this without parting with Asdrubal Cabrera, the shortstop everyone expected the Tribe to include as part of a deal such as this. He remains a valuable trading chip.
As for the Reds, they're pretty clearly sacrificing outfield defense for the sake of a significant offensive upgrade. Last season, the outgoing Stubbs authored a .610 OPS. His defensive and base-running chops have already been admitted into evidence, but they aren't enough to make up for a .277 OBP. Choo, meanwhile, batted .283/.373/.441 last season and is a .289/.381/.465 hitter for his career. As for the change in playing environment, Progressive Field in Cleveland is a very good park for left-handed home run hitters, but Choo's power is more of the gap-to-gap variant (45 non-HR extra-base hits last season). On that front, Great American Ballpark is actually a bit stingier when it comes to doubles and triples. It is, however, a better park for lefty bombs, so the change in venues may well even out for Choo.
Defense: Choo has one of the best throwing arms you'll see, but his advanced defensive indicators hint at a pattern of decline. Given that, can a guy who hasn't played up the middle since 2009 and has only 83 career defensive innings in center pass muster? Probably not. I'd say it's entirely possible that Jay Bruce winds up in center instead. Regardless of the alignment, the Reds will suffer a significant downgrade in terms of outfield defense. Choo's bat will more than make up for it, but the Reds will almost certainly open the season without a legitimate center fielder in the lineup.
As for how this defensive downgrade dovetails with the tendencies of the Cincy pitching staff, it's a mixed bag. On the one hand, Reds pitchers last season logged the the third-highest fly-ball percentage in the NL. On the other hand, they ranked fifth in the 16-team NL in strikeouts as a percentage of plate appearances, so they miss bats. Manager Dusty Baker will need to be creative in how he works around this weakness -- late-inning defensive subs will be a must, perhaps a legit center fielder should be in the lineup when Bronson Arroyo is starting or a fly-ball-inclined lineup opposes the Reds, etc. Choo's a net gain, to be sure, but he compromises an outfield defense that was a manifest strength in 2012.
So, in conclusion, your post-trade rankings (in reverse order for maximum narrative drama): 4 - Diamondbacks, 3- Reds, 2 - Indians, 1 - Ohio ...