It’s certainly been a busy July on the trade front, and it got busier earlier today, as the Toronto Blue Jays shipped SS Alex Gonzalez, LHP Tim Collins, and SS Tyler Pastornicky to the Atlanta Braves for SS Yunel Escobar and LHP Jo-Jo Reyes.
It’s an interesting deal in several senses. First, it’s not that often that you see two established MLB starters at the same position traded for each other. Second, this is the rare deal that sees both teams adding established major league talent and minor leaguers.
As such, the proper way to evaluate this deal is to look at it in two components–the swap of major league shortstops and the trade of other players.
Let’s get to analyzing after the jump.
Gonzalez and Escobar are both established players at short. Gonzalez is going to hack away (career 4.9% walk rate), but he makes up for it with good power for a shortstop, as he’s knocked out 17 homers this year and has a .238 ISO.
Escobar’s having a poor year (.238/.334/.294), but he does have a great 31/37 K/BB, and a BABIP drop is the main reason for his low average. There isn’t much in his batted ball profile that says it should’ve dropped much, so I’d expect Escobar to continue to hit in the .280-.290 range, where he was prior to 2010.
Escobar has, however, gone homerless this year, so maybe he just isn’t hitting the ball as hard. Still, players slump for half a year all the time.
Gonzalez and Escobar are similarly above-average defensively, although it’s worth noting that Escobar, 27, is improving, while the 33-year-old Gonzalez is declining.
Going along with that age factor are a slew of other things in Escobar’s favor:
1.) He’s entering his prime, while Gonzalez is past his.
2.) He’s under team control for longer (Gonzalez has a 2011 team option, while Escobar is still in his pre-arbitration days).
3.) He’s cheaper.
So here, Toronto is buying low on Escobar and selling high on Gonzalez. Escobar was a demonstrably better player in 2007, 2008, and 2009 than Gonzalez, and he has the three aforementioned factors in his favor as well, so Toronto is betting that the two players revert to form, with Gonzalez going back to being a defense-only player who just socks an occasional homer from the bottom of the order and Escobar resuming his excellent table-setting for a power-filled Toronto lineup.
There is the possibility that Escobar becomes another Angel Berroa flash-in-the-pan type and just never rights the ship, making this deal a big loss for Toronto, but as risks go, that’s not a huge one given that there’s little in his statistical profile from 2010 that suggests Escobar really can’t consistently hit in the upper .200s.
The rather disastrous career of Jo-Jo Reyes will continue in Toronto.
The 43rd overall pick in 2003, Reyes was a great prospect as late as 2007, when he put up an absurd 1.00 ERA in six Triple-A starts before moving to the majors late in the year.
He just hasn’t been the same since reaching the majors. He’s got a 6.40 ERA in 194 career MLB innings, and was bombed for nine earned runs in 3 1/3 MLB innings this year. His fastball, curve, and slider have all been hit around, leaving just his infrequently-used changeup as an effective pitch in the majors. He lacks plus movement, velocity, command, or pitch sequencing ability.
More problematic than his MLB issues is Reyes’ minor league struggles. He pitched well in Triple-A in 2008, but then could only strike out 32 batters in 66 innings there last year. He recovered the strikeout ability this year, only to allow eight homers in 47 innings and see his ERA inflate to 5.70.
Still just 25, Reyes has time to find himself, but the potential for him to be any sort of solid MLB starter seems to have passed. At this point, he’s probably more likely to help out in relief/swing work. He’s not much of a catch.
The Braves ship out Reyes and get a far more interesting lefty in Tim Collins.
Collins is already a reliever, but he has both incredible numbers and a fascinating backstory. He was undrafted out of high school despite fantastic numbers, mainly because he’s generously listed at 5’7″. However, he went to high school in J.P. Ricciardi’s hometown, and word got around to the former Blue Jays GM that Collins was worth looking at. After a tryout with the team, Collins was signed, and he’s dominated ever since.
Collins, just 20 years of age, has struck out a whopping 294 batters in just 194 2/3 innings, including 73 in 43 Double-A frames this year. He’s allowed just ten homers in his career and sports a 2.40 career ERA. He’s working on a 17-inning shutout streak in Double-A right now, and has nothing to prove there despite his age.
Collins operates with an 88-92 mph fastball and a big curveball. Hitters get a sort of cognitive dissonance effect facing him, shocked at the good quality of the pitches coming from such a small pitcher. Collins also gets great extension on his delivery, sort of like Tim Lincecum, that allows him better leverage than his height suggests.
Collins could help the Braves’ bullpen as soon as, well, now, but he’s more likely to see the majors in 2011. He could get a taste of Triple-A down the stretch and could become one of baseball’s best lefty relievers.
Also 20, Pastornicky was hitting .258/.348/.376 in High-A. He stole 57 bases last year, has 24 this year, and has the speed to be a 30 or 40 SB guy in the majors. He’s also a plus defensive shortstop with good plate discipline, contact skills, and gap power–sort of like a faster, less polished version of Escobar, actually.
Collins and Pastornicky are both young for their levels and have done a nice job where they are, so they have plenty of time to realize their potential.
It’s clear that Collins and Pastornicky have far, far more upside than Jo-Jo Reyes does, so Atlanta clearly wins that part of the deal. Toronto will need a rebound from Escobar to even the deal out–if he really has lost his ability to drive the ball, then the Blue Jays just traded a solid everyday player and two good prospects for a utility player and a fringy swingman.
As I said earlier, Escobar is likely to rebound, so Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos and his front office likely won’t be left looking like fools. Still, Collins and Pastornicky is a fairly steep price to throw in to that deal. The way I see it, Toronto needs Escobar to round into 2009 form just to break even on the deal.
On the other side, this trade makes a world of sense for Atlanta, as Gonzalez could be the starting shortstop for the next year and a half, and Pastornicky could start at short for many years after that. The acquisition of Collins adds even more value to that.