Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Analyzing the Cubs/Dodgers trade

Jim Hendry had to trade Ted Lilly, and he did. That Ryan Theriot was included in the deal with the Dodgers was a bit of a surprise, but not an altogether bad one. But was the move good or bad overall? How'd Hendry do?

First of all, no one will know the answer to that question for sure until several years from now. Analyzing trades at the time they happen, especially when prospects are involved, is always a guessing game. Ricky Nolasco was something of a throw-in in the trade for Juan Pierre, but he has 12 wins this year. On the other hand, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was a key piece of the Mark Teixeira trade three years ago, yet he was still stuck in the Rangers' minor league system until he was traded to the Red Sox on Saturday (not because of struggles at the plate, but rather a mental block preventing him from consistently throwing the ball back to the pitcher accurately). So, you know, who knows?

But on the surface I'd say the trade was solid from Jim Hendry's standpoint. Let's break it into two parts:

1) Lilly for Brett Wallach and Kyle Smit

Once again, Lilly simply had to go. The Cubs would have gotten nothing for him had he left as a free agent at the end of the season, so it made sense to shop him around. While the Cubs had to pay a portion of his remaining salary, the trade netted two minor league pitchers. From Bleed Cubbie Blue:

While neither one is a Top Ten Prospect with either the Dodgers or us, both of them are potentially very useful players.

The bigger prospect of the two is Brett Wallach, the son of former major leaguer and current Albuquerque manager Tim Wallach. Wallach was a third-round pick last season for the Dodgers who throws a hard, 89-91 mph sinker. He's also got an above-average fastball, a good changeup and promising breaking ball. His biggest issue is that he hasn't been able to get the breaking pitches over the plate for strikes. He didn't concentrate on pitching until after he turned pro, so he's still raw. But like Chris Archer before him, the Cubs think that they can fix his control problems. His upside is probably a mid-rotation starter. I've also been told that the Cubs have had their eye on Wallach for some time now. I'm not saying he was the key to the deal or anything, but they do like him a lot.

The other pitcher is Kyle Smit, who was a fifth-round pick of the Dodgers in 2006. Smit struggled as a starting pitcher in their system for four seasons. This year they made him a reliever and he's thrived in that role. He's got a 5-3 record with a 2.49 ERA and six saves for Inland Empire in the Cal League, and if you know anything about the Cal League you know how tough it is to pitch there. He's got a 91-93 mph fastball and a hard curve. He's also been working on a splitter. Unlike Wallach, Smit throws strikes already: he's walked only ten batters in 53.2 innings this year. He was promoted to AA just before the trade, so I'd expect to see him start in Tennessee. His upside is probably middle-reliever, but potentially a good one.

Nothing fantastic, but two solid prospects. Given that the Diamondbacks didn't get any sure things for Dan Haren, it's understandable that Hendry couldn't get any studs in return for a (hard-luck) pitcher with just three wins. Given the Cubs' bullpen woes this season, they could use a couple more prospects in the system.

2) Theriot for Blake DeWitt

A swap of second basemen, though DeWitt has played third about as much as second in his career. DeWitt is definitely not a huge upgrade over Theriot, but the upsides are his age and his contract status.

Whereas Theriot is 30 and probably won't get much better than his career .287/.350/.362, DeWitt is just 24 and at least has the potential to improve upon his very similar-looking .277/.357/.381 slash line. DeWitt also hit double-digit home runs all five years he was in the minors. He probably won't ever hit for much power, but his OPS is over 70 points higher than Theriot's this season. From MLB Trade Rumors:

Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein calls his the "prettiest swing you'll see never turned into results," calling DeWitt a "constant source of disappointment" for the Dodgers.

Well that's not great, but again, the potential seems to be there.

DeWitt's defensive Zone Rating (don't ask) is also significantly higher than Theriot's (3.8 compared to 2.9).

And while Theriot is already in his first year of arbitration and is only locked up through 2012, DeWitt is under team control through 2014, meaning the Cubs have found a cheap, long-term solution at second base and won't have to scour the free agent market this offseason. Given that DeWitt is a lefty, there may be a chance that Fontenot will get dealt after the season.

This trade certainly didn't blow anyone away, but it's nice to have a couple more arms in the minors and I have to appreciate Hendry's creativity as he found a way to not simply make the obvious trade, but to fill a future need (second base) in the process.


  1. Has Lilly made a start yet? And is Theriot playing? Wondering how they are doing.