Let’s Make a Deal

The Red Sox headed into this offseason with clear needs. They have a glut of outfielders (Shane Victorino, Rusney Castillo, Allen Craig, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Yoenis Cespedes, Daniel Nava, Mookie Betts), but after trading ace Jon Lester and John Lackey during the season, they need to restock their pitching staff. Given this situation, it was sort of a head scratcher when Boston announced the signing of Hanley Ramirez to a 4 year, $88 mil deal (with an option) to play left field. That makes eight viable outfielders on the 40 man roster, while leaving Joe Kelly and Clay Buchholz as the only proven starters on the staff. While the Red Sox currently have made an offer to bring Lester back to Boston, they should look to trade from their strength in the outfield in order to further solidify their staff.

That’s where the Brewers come in.

The Brewers also had clear needs coming into this offseason. They needed to address first base, which they did with the acquisition of Adam Lind from Toronto. They also need to improve a bench that was among the worst in the league last season, and lost its best two players in Rickie Weeks and Lyle Overbay. Subtract those two, and the rest of the team posted a .180 pinch hitting average. After outrighting Jeff Bianchi, the Brewers have only Martin Maldonado, Gerardo Parra, Elian Herrera, and Logan Schafer as bench players on the 40 man roster that had more than 100 at bats last year. While Maldonado posted a 0.8 bWAR as backup catcher, the other three combined for -0.6 bWAR. With those issues as well as platoon issues with Lind and Scooter Gennett, the bench is a position the Brewers cannot afford to overlook again if they truly want to contend next year.

In a report earlier this week, ESPN baseball insider Buster Olney suggested that given the Brewers current rotation depth, the team could be “listening” on pitchers Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo, who are both free agents after 2015. In addition to those two, the Brewers have Wily Peralta, Matt Garza, Mike Fiers, Jimmy Nelson, Tyler Thornburg, and Taylor Jungmann as options to plug into the rotation.

Reminiscent of the Brett Lawrie for Shawn Marcum deal prior to the 2011 season, the Brewers should trade Yovani Gallardo straight up for Mookie Betts.

Yovani Gallardo will make $13 mil in 2015, the option year of the extension he signed in 2010. He’s coming off a season in which he posted a career best 3.51 ERA across 192.1 innings, which was supported by a 3.64 xFIP and 3.70 SIERA. Gallardo struggled in 2013 while dealing with diminished fastball velocity, but was able to reinvent himself in 2014. From 2007-2012, Gallardo averaged around a strikeout per inning while throwing his four seam fastball 50.7% of the time. In 2014, with his velocity down to 91.3 MPH from a high of 92.6 in ’10 and ’11, Yovani threw his four seam fastball only 24.1% of the time. Relying instead on his two seam fastball (30.5% of pitches) and slider (24.5%), Gallardo achieved a career high 50.8 ground ball percentage that would play well hitter’s haven Fenway Park.

Gallardo would slot in nicely as a number two or three starter, depending on who the Sox bring in during the offseason. Beyond the Big 3 of Shields, Sherzer, and Lester, Yo stands out when considering the “mid-tier” pitchers on the free agent market. Still only 28, Gallardo should be entering the prime of his career. Given his track record of consistency, durability, and the possibility that he still has unreached upside, he provides a more attractive option than the likes of Jason Hammel, Brandon McCarthy, and Francisco Liriano. Yovani is only on a one year deal and is much less of a financial risk, though should he perform well the Red Sox could easily wield their financial might to extend him.

Mookie Betts is 22 and was a fifth round pick in 2011. Betts hit .291/.368/.444 in 358 at bats for Boston last year, adding 5 home runs and stealing 7 bases. He played mostly center field, but also appeared at second base and right field. Unfortunately, he is blocked at every position in the outfield by someone making significantly more money, and is blocked at second base by former MVP Dustin Pedroia and his $110 mil contract. Though Boston have been said to be hesitant to move him, Betts doesn’t seem to have a place on the 2015 Red Sox.

Betts would have an immediate impact on the Brewers. While many consider Scooter Gennett to have had a strong season in his first full year in the majors, the fact remains that he slashed .103/.125/.128 off left-handed pitchers last year, good enough for a wOBA of .116. Betts, a righty, hit .328/.361/.483 off lefties last season and would pair nicely with Gennett, as Rickie Weeks did last year. Betts also has some minor league experience at shortstop, so he can be the primary backup for Jean Segura (who is coming off a poor season and still has to prove he is the answer at short going forward). This limits the need to push at bats to the light hitting Herrera. He has experience at every outfield spot at some level, providing insurance should Ryan Braun miss extended time with his thumb or if Khris Davis struggles. Beyond his impact of the 2015 Brewers, Betts also comes with six years of club control and could be a long term fixture. For a team that will likely lose Carlos Gomez in two years when he hits free agency and signs his mega deal, Mookie could become the solution in center for years to come. Given the age and relative inexperience of Khris Davis, Scooter Gennett, and Jean Segura, Mookie could also take over for any of them should they falter.

The Red Sox need pitching. The Brewers need a bench bat a controllable player going forward. These issues could be addressed with a simple trade of Yovani Gallardo for Mookie Betts. Gallardo slots in behind whichever ace the Sox lure to Boston and would either open up a spot for Taylor Jungman, Tyler Thornburg, or Jimmy Nelson to prove their worth (Mike Fiers is now past that point) or frees up $13 mil to bring someone in. Betts provides a platoon-mate for Scooter and depth across the diamond, while also becoming a possible long term solution at a number of positions. If everyone wins, why not pull the trigger?

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs

Advertisements

Buying Low: Ryan Lavarnway

Yesterday, the Boston Red Sox announced the signings of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to multi-year deals that will add up to nearly $200 million. In order to make room on their 40 man roster, Boston designated two players for assignment: former Brewer Juan Francisco and catcher Ryan Lavarnway. The Brewers would be smart to jump on Lavarnway.

While catcher may not seem like a glaring need for the Brewers given the MVP-caliber year Jonathon Lucroy had, the Brewers have little depth behind Luc and the arbitration eligible Martin Maldonado. Juan Centeno was claimed earlier this offseason from the Mets and is the only other catcher on the 40 man roster.

Given Lavarnway’s age and minor league track record, he would be a low-risk/high-reward player for the Brewers to have stashed in the cupboard. Lavarnway is only 27 years old and is a former top 100 prospect, ranking 93rd as late as 2012 by MLB.com. Since being drafted out of Yale in 2008, Lavarnway has consistently produced across all levels of the minors, with a career .283/.375/.479 slash line with three seasons of 20+ home runs, topping out at 32 in 116 games between AA and AAA in 2011. While he may no longer have the same power upside, his consistent approach and ability to get on base would be valuable assets to a Brewers franchise with an overwhelming history of all or nothing hitters.

The knock on Lavarnway has been his work behind the plate, but he has improved over the course of his career. Over his last 3 full minor league seasons behind the plate, he threw out 32%, 37%, and 33% of possible base stealers (MLB average in 2014 was 28%). His minor league career fielding percentage behind the plate is .993, which has been the Major League average the past two seasons. While Ryan is certainly not the Gold Glove caliber defender fans used to seeing in Luc and Maldy, he has shown he can be at least serviceable.

Ryan has never really been given a consistent opportunity to contribute every day at the big league level, appearing in only 97 games across the last 4 seasons. He struggled significantly during his largest sample size, slashing .157/.211/.248 across 153 at bats in 2012 while striking out nearly 27% of the time, five points higher than his minor league career rate. He showed much more promise in 25 games in 2013, hitting .299/.329/.429 in 77 at bats at the major league level. His OPS+ over that short sample was 106, a more than acceptable number for a catcher. He had only 10 plate appearances last season as he fell out of favor with the Boston front office.

Jonathon Lucroy is controlled on a VERY team friendly through 2016 with a team option for 2017. Given the current free agent landscape and the deals that keep getting handed out, Luc could very well price himself out of the Brewers budget at that point. Martin Maldonado is eligible for arbitration as a Super 2 player and is projected to earn a cool $1 mil this year (according to MLB Trade Rumors). With his extra year of arbitration eligibility, Maldy could soon become more expensive than his .225/.291/.360 career line is worth as a backup. Lavarnway, on the other hand, is younger than Maldonado and only has slightly over a year of combined service time. He wouldn’t likely be eligible for arbitration until he completes another 2 full seasons in the bigs, and won’t be eligible for free agency after at least another 5 years.

With Ryan Lavarnway being designated for assignment by the Red Sox, his time with Boston is likely at its close. The Brewers should take advantage of the fact that he could be had for a low level minor leaguer and solidify their catching depth going forward. Given Lavarnway’s upside, parting with a lower level minor leaguer (Kyle Heckathorn?) should be a no brainer.

 

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference