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Indians/Tigers Trade Analysis: Jhonny Peralta for Giovanni Soto

We’re not quite at the deadline, but two AL Central teams apparently couldn’t wait until July 31st to consummate their trade, as the Cleveland Indians have shipped third baseman Jhonny Peralta to the Detroit Tigers for minor league lefthander Giovanni Soto and cash considerations.

That’s Giovanni Soto, not Cubs catcher Geovany Soto, in case you’re confused.

Ostensibly, this is a rebuilding move for the Indians, while the Tigers get a third baseman to replace the injured Brandon Inge as they try to get into the playoffs.

How smart is this move from both sides? Follow me after the jump to take a look.

The Obvious

The Cleveland Indians are a very bad team.

How bad?

Well, they play in the same division as the Kansas City Royals, a team that has wasted a combined 427 2/3 innings on the following pitchers: Brian Bannister (5.73 ERA), Kyle Davies (5.52 ERA), Bruce Chen (Bruce Chen), Gil Meche (6.66 ERA, no shoulder), Victor Marte (9.76 ERA), Anthony Lerew (8.54 ERA), Brad Thompson (6.41 ERA), Josh Rupe (5.59 ERA), Luis Mendoza (22.50 ERA), and Roman Colon (18.00 ERA). That’s 48.41% of the team’s innings–almost half–going to pitchers that didn’t/don’t belong in the majors in 2010. The Royals also start Yuniesky Betancourt, Chris Getz, and Jason Kendall.

And that Kansas City team has as many wins (42) as Cleveland does.

So, yeah, Cleveland isn’t exactly contending. They need to rebuild, and they understand that.

There are three types of players that are useful to rebuilding teams:

1.) Young players with upside.
2.) Older stars who give the fans a reason to watch in the tough times.
3.) Older players signed to team-friendly contracts.

Peralta falls in none of the three categories, and thus isn’t of much use to Cleveland. He’s 28 years old, and thus is likely to be in decline by the time the Indians contend. He obviously is nobody’s idea of a star–nobody in Cleveland goes to 2010 Indians games to watch him play, and nobody cares if his contributions make the team win 71 games instead of 68. He’s also in the final year of his contract, and is making almost $5 million this year, so he isn’t exactly playing for peanuts.

It certainly makes sense to deal him and get a young player in return.

Detroit sits four games out of the AL Central, behind the White Sox and Twins. They’ve been starting punchless types like Scott Sizemore and Don Kelly at third base, and neither of the two is the sort of player you want to have in your lineup if you’re going to contend. Peralta’s .246/.308/.389 line will be an improvement on Sizemore’s .204/.283/.283 by quite a bit, and an A-ball lefty isn’t too steep a price.

The Not-So-Obvious

While this move makes sense for both teams on paper, paper doesn’t win championships, and this move speaks to some organizational issues for both clubs.

First of all, of all the prospects for Cleveland to get back, they got Soto?

Don’t get me wrong: Giovanni Soto has some things going for him. He has a 2.61 ERA in Low-A at age 19, after all. He throws strikes and keeps the ball down in the zone, and is very polished for his age.

Soto, however, isn’t likely to get too much better. He lacks deception in his delivery, and he doesn’t have premium velocity. He relies instead on throwing five or six different pitches, which is the sort of thing that gives Midwest League hitters fits but doesn’t work too well once you get to Double-A and above. He doesn’t really have an out pitch, and his strikeout rate is good-not-great as it is, so he can’t afford to lose that many whiffs.

You just have to wonder about the Cleveland regime’s judgment here. Under Mark Shapiro’s watch, how many finesse lefties have impressed in Cleveland’s low minors, only to struggle in the bigs? Jeremy Sowers is the most high-profile, but there’s also Aaron Laffey, David Huff, Scott Lewis

The team went out of their way to get another player in that mold, Zach Jackson, in a trade a couple of years ago. He failed too.

Suffice it to say that an endorsement from Cleveland’s scouting department on a finesse lefty doesn’t exactly convince me that pitcher is going to be anything other than an extra arm in the majors. You’d think after being burned by this sort of player time and time again, they’d look for other types just for the sake of change, but they don’t seem to have learned their lesson: Very few of these guys turn into Mark Buehrle, and becoming even Mike Bacsik is an accomplishment for this type of prospect.

The White Sox used to subscribe to a similar idea in favoring finesse pitchers, but after first-round draft pick Kyle McCulloch flamed out badly, Kenny Williams instructed his scouting department to focus more on high-upside power pitchers, which led to the drafting and acquisition of more promising arms. The White Sox are better off for the change, as they were able to package several power arms to get Jake Peavy (which didn’t work out too well, but still speaks to the amount of good arms they had) while also developing pitchers like Dan Hudson and trading for power lefty Santos Rodriguez, not to mention converting Sergio Santos into a flamethrowing reliever.

So, it’s not Soto himself that bugs me, so much as the fact that Shapiro & Co. still seem to think groundballing lefties with-88 mph fastballs are going to morph into some sort of quality big league rotation. Maybe Soto breaks the mold of Cleveland finesse lefties and succeeds, but if he does, that might give the Indians ideas about getting more of these guys, which would not be a good thing.

And Detroit? Meh.

Again, it’s an upgrade, and turning their 21st-round draftee from 2009 (Soto) into a major league third baseman in 2010 is certainly nice use of resources, so kudos on that front.

Two months of Peralta is fair value for Soto and cash considerations, and vice versa. But this move really lacks creativity.

Third base isn’t exactly a tough hole to fill. It’s largely a hitter’s position, and there are plenty of guys around who can hit. Therefore, there’s no excuse to be running weak middle-infield bats like Sizemore or Kelly out at third base in the first place.

Yes, Peralta’s hit in the past, but his three good years were 2005, 2007, and 2008. He’s posted OPS marks of .708 or below five times in his eight-year career, including the last two seasons. Not the premium bat you want at third. He’s also a slightly-below-average glove at the position.

Peralta’s been worth all of 2 wins (according to WAR) in 242 games in 2009-10. The likelihood he makes even a one-win difference the rest of the way is thus fairly small.

This isn’t to say it’s stupid to make a small upgrade. What I’m saying is that, if you’re going to make a small upgrade, don’t get a “name” player like Peralta. The Tigers should have learned their lesson from Brennan Boesch, and even the 2008 season from Armando Galarraga showed that it’s not hard to find help from rather nondescript minor leaguers.

Here’s a quick list I made of “non-prospect” Triple-A third basemen who could very easily put up a .700 OPS in the majors right now (click the links to look at their stats):

Wes Timmons
Chad Tracy
Chase Lambin
Dan Johnson
Kyle Phillips
Russ Mitchell
Hector Luna
Matt Mangini
Ruben Gotay
Jesus Guzman
Ed Lucas

If you’ve heard of many of those guys (save for Tracy, Johnson, Luna, or Gotay, who all got extensive MLB time in years past), I’d be surprised. They’re all older guys who carry little trade value and are just seen as organizational depth, mainly because few teams actually care to look at a .750 OPS third baseman in his late twenties or early thirties.

But hell, it works. The A’s got Jack Cust for nothing in 2007. He was a better hitter than anyone on that list, and still, all it took to get him was “cash considerations.” He’s put up four solid years for Oakland since.

Want a 2010 third base example? How about we turn back to those lowly Royals, who called up Wilson Betemit from Triple-A a few weeks back? Betemit was hitting .265/.358/.407–he wouldn’t have even made that list if he were there today.

And yet, he’s gone on a tear with the Royals, hitting .350/.416/.613 in 30 games. In those 30 games, he’s been worth 1.1 wins…0.4 more than Peralta’s put up in three times the number of games.

So Peralta is indeed an upgrade, but he could well turn out worse than the acquisiton of any of the above 11 “free talent” players while also costing the Tigers a moderately interesting prospect in Soto. Thus, as with the Indians’ side of the deal, it’s a sideways move–it’s fair enough, but it comes out of the sort of thinking that doesn’t lead to championships. The Tigers, having gotten a huge free-talent boost from Boesch, should know better.

Conclusions

This trade, by itself, is fair and even for both sides: the Indians get a prospect for a player they had no use for, and the Tigers get an upgrade at a weak spot as they try to contend.

Beneath the surface, though, analysis reveals the continuation of troubling motives from both sides. Cleveland continues to favor the sort of pitchers that have failed at Progressive Field in recent years, while Detroit is getting a .700 OPS-quality OPS for two months for the price of a decent prospect rather than getting one for six years for the price of essentially nothing. If this move is accurately reflective of the trains of thought in Cleveland and Detroit, the two teams could face trouble in the future.

I apologize if I’m sounding too harsh about a rather nondescript trade, but these tendencies are definitely something to keep an eye on for fans of both teams. For one move, they’re harmless, but if they continue into the future, that should signal a real inefficiency in the way they’re building their ballclubs.

Topics: Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Giovanni Soto, Jhonny Peralta

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  • http://motorcitybengals.com John Parent

    “Third base isn’t exactly a tough hole to fill. It’s largely a hitter’s position, and there are plenty of guys around who can hit. Therefore, there’s no excuse to be running weak middle-infield bats like Sizemore or Kelly out at third base in the first place.”

    Isn’t THAT the whole point of this trade? If you take a look at the Tigers organization, it is completely devoid of anyone who could adequately fill-in for Inge at third. That’s why you had Sizemore and Kelly playing there. Peralta is certainly not a great player, but he really doesn’t have to be as he’s only keeping the spot warm for Inge to return in a few weeks. At that point, expect to see Peralta playing some shortstop for the Tigers, a place where his bat plays very well in that lineup.

    I agree that the trade won’t (and shouldn’t) blow anyone away, but when you consider that Peralta could very well be the shortstop for the Tigers down the stretch, he provides the versatility that someone like a Chad Tracy simply does not. This move fills the short-term hole at third, and also the hole at shortstop for the rest of the year.

    • http://bleacherreport.com/users/10925-nathaniel-stoltz Nathaniel Stoltz

      Hmm…

      I haven’t read anything about Peralta possibly moving to short later, but you’re more in the know on the Tigers than I, so I’ll assume you’re correct on that.

      Even so, though, there are two problems. First, Peralta was moved off of short for a reason–he isn’t very good there defensively. Second, while Chad Tracy can’t play short, at least three other players on that list I made can–Timmons, Gotay, and especially Lambin. Elliot Johnson of the Rays and Steve Tolleson of the A’s would also be cheaper options than Peralta, if you wanted to go with a strict shortstop.

      But if the Tigers simply want Peralta to plug infield holes for two months, that’s fine–so long as they don’t start overpaying (financially or prospect-wise) for veterans consistently. They lucked out that most of the players in the Miguel Cabrera deal ultimately flopped (although Dontrelle flopped too), so at least their blockbuster veteran acquisition didn’t kill them. It’s just something to keep an eye on in the future, rather than getting angry about this particular move.

      Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.deepleftfield.com Ed Carroll

    I really don’t understand this move for the Tigers. He’s a marginal upgrade at best at third base, and no, he can’t play short for an extended period of time anymore. He will just kill you. While part of the reason for his move was the emergence of Asdrubal Cabrera, another big part was his decline defensively.

    Nathaniel, I also disagree with what seems to be your inference that the Indians could have (and should have) received more for Peralta, given his diminishing production, his looming option (which I hear the Tigers are responsible for), and that most of the contenders are set at third base. I think the return was pretty adequate for what the Tribe gave up.

    • http://bleacherreport.com/users/10925-nathaniel-stoltz Nathaniel Stoltz

      Thanks for the commment, Ed.

      Oh, I think a C/C+-grade prospect like Soto is a reasonable return for Peralta. As I said in the article, it’s “fair value.” Just frustrating to see Shapiro, in looking through the C-grade prospects, went for one that looks destined to be another Sowers/Laffey/Huff type rather than maybe someone a bit less polished but with more upside. I do agree that getting much of a warm body for Peralta is nice for the Indians, though. It’s sensible to get something for the guy.

      Thanks for chiming in on Peralta’s defense–your opinion echoes that of just about every other Indians fan I’ve met/read.

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