The Cincinnati Reds have acquired outfielder Shin-Soo Choo from the Cleveland Indians, according to Jon Heyman of CBS. The deal is part of a three-team trade that also involves the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The names in this trade may not be as well-known as the Royals/Rays trade of this past weekend, but the talent level is just as high.
In addition to Choo, the Reds get utility infielder Jason Donald from Cleveland. The Indians receive shortstop Didi Gregorius and center fielder Drew Stubbs. Gregorius then goes to the Diamondbacks, giving them the shortstop they’ve been coveting, along with pitcher Tony Sipp and first baseman Lars Anderson. Right hander Trevor Bauer heads to the Indians with pitchers Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers.
My initial reaction to this trade is that is seems incredibly well-balanced. Every team involved filled a need and each team gave up talent to get talent.
The Reds have been seeking a center fielder who hits lead-off and while Choo may not be the idea fit defensively, he showed last season that he can thrive at the top of the order. Though he’d previously been a middle-of-the-order bat, Choo was moved to the lead-off spot last season in an attempt to jump start the Cleveland offense. In 453 plate appearances in the role, Choo posted a .310/.389/.493 line.
While he is prone to strikeouts, he couples them with a very good walk rate. Over the past five seasons, Choo has a combined on base percentage of .384. The only significant concern is that he hasn’t played much center field. In fact, Choo has played just 83 career innings in center. He does have good speed and a very good arm, so he should be able to get by in Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark. When the Reds travel to some of the bigger parks in the NL, Choo’s comparative lack of ideal range could become a bigger issue. What they give up defensively should be more than overcome by the offensive boost Choo should provide.
Reds lead-off hitters reached base at a .254 clip last season, and their center fielders had a combined OPS of just .621. Choo should blow those numbers out of the water. That they get him by moving their former center fielder and a shortstop prospect means that the rest of the major league roster goes unchanged. This is how prospects are supposed to be used.
Arizona seemed to have their choice of either taking Gregorius or Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera in the trade. The Tribe had been working on a deal with Arizona that would have sent Cabrera to the desert during the Winter Meetings, but the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. In that proposed deal, Cabrera would have cost the D-backs two young pitchers. In this trade, they get Gregorius for the cost of one arm.
That arm, Bauer, is one of the most highly-regarded young pitchers in baseball, though he struggled in his first taste of the big leagues in 2012. In 130 minor league innings in 2012, Bauer was 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA and 157 strikeouts on just 130 innings of work. Walks were a problem he was able to overcome while overpowering minor league hitters, but he didn’t get away with them in 16 big league innings. I don’t love this deal for the D-backs.
Gregorius is a 22-year-old who is absolutely major-league ready as a defender. The real question is whether he can hit enough to be a productive regular. He’s posted a .271/.323/.376 line in over 1700 minor league at bats. He struggles to reach base with regularity and he offers virtually no power at all. I love his glove and he has good speed, but I think the D-backs would have done better to give up the second arm to land Cabrera.
Which brings us to Cleveland’s part of the haul. The Tribe get Stubbs, a defensive whiz in center field who has issues making consistent contact at the plate. He has loads of talent, however, and good power to go along with above average speed. He’s a guy who could really benefit from a change of scenery. I think he had become a bit of a whipping boy for Reds fans over the past couple of years and no doubt that weighed on him. Stubbs was supposed to have matured into the kind of impact bat that would have joined Jay Bruce and Joey Votto in forming the core of the next Reds Championship club, but it didn’t happen for him. Still, the talent remains. He’ll slot in as the center fielder in Cleveland with Michael Brantley moving back to his more natural left field.
In deals like this you typically see one team building for the future in some way, shape, or form. In this case, however, the D-backs dealt from a surplus to fill a need with a player of similar age and team control. The Indians moved a great player, but managed to keep Cabrera while still getting Bauer, who should step in and help right away. Cleveland desperately needed pitching and Choo was probably not sticking around beyond 2013 anyway.
The Reds only get one season of Choo, but get him by moving the guy he’s replacing and one of their two shortstops. By 2014, Billy Hamilton should be ready to step in to center field anyway.