M’s Trade for Joaquin Benoit; Angels Lock Up a SS

marc w · November 12, 2015 at 8:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The M’s added 38 year old reliever Joaquin Benoit in a trade with San Diego. Heading south are RHP prospect Enyel de los Santos and IF Nelson Ward. Jeff Sullivan has a great post on the veteran Benoit at Fangraphs, noting that Benoit seems to have the ability to induce weak contact and thus post consistently low BABIPs. It’s an important part of his skillset, and one that hasn’t shown any signs of age-related decline. Benoit’s velocity’s been remarkably stable as well, but his BABIP has been remarkable ever since 2010, and his solitary season with Tampa.

Tampa, as you may recall, has made a habit of picking up talented-but-struggling closers, making minor adjustments, and letting them walk after big years. Hell, Benoit wasn’t even the only example on the Rays in 2010 – they also had Rafael Soriano that year, who put up a career best BABIP and ERA and turned it into a huge payday with the Yankees the following year. Fernando Rodney was DFA’d by Anaheim in 2011, then turned up at the repair shop in the Trop and turned in a walk rate that’s almost 1/2 of his next-lowest campaign AND a career low BABIP. He couldn’t sustain it the following year, but he was still a very good reliever, and his two-year stint got him a good contract offer from Seattle in 2014. Grant Balfour was a minor-league journeyman before washing ashore in Tampa in 2008.

Despite the similarity, Benoit seems to have learned something that stuck, while the rest turned in volatile performances like normal relievers. Rafael Soriano become a walking cautionary tale. Fernando Rodney had a great year in Seattle, before imploding in 2015. Balfour enjoyed success in Oakland before melting down in a return to the Rays. The key to Benoit’s success at limiting hits is in his command of up-and-away pitches. Benoit uses his 95mph fastball to induce whiffs by keeping it up or even out of the strike zone, and he’s able to keep it away from righties and lefties alike.

As a result, his results aren’t bad, even if batters make contact. In his *career*, which stretches over 4,000+ plate appearances, Benoit’s given up a BABIP of .203 on grounders and .078 on fly balls. His tOPS+ (OPS relative to all other pitchers) is 27 for the former and 80 for the latter. All the elevated fastballs have traditionally meant a fly-ball heavy batted ball profile, though this was less true last year in San Diego. He posted a career high GB% last year, and that was driven in large part by a carer high GB rate on his fastball. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course; remember, he’s been even better at managing GB contact than flies over his career. Still, any time a successful reliever’s peripherals start changing – for any reason, and in any direction – you wonder. Relievers are strange beasts. Here’s hoping Benoit stays strange for another year or two.

The cost was two low-minors semi-prospects. Enyel de los Santos, a lanky 6’3″ righty is the prize. He pitched well in rookie-level Arizona and moved up to Everett this season, pitching pretty well over 8 starts, striking out 42 in 37 2/3 innings. Jason Churchill reported a 89-92mph fastball, a slow curve and a change-up after seeing him in July (and coming away impressed). Statistically, he’s somewhat similar to recent Evertt hurlers like Seon-Gi Kim, Jose Valdivia or Stephen Landazuri and a clear notch behind the likes of Jose Campos or Victor Sanchez. Nelson Ward was a 12th round pick in 2014 out of the University of Georgia, and after a slow start to his pro career, showed decent pop and a good eye from the left side…for a 2B in the Cal League. Splitting time between Clinton and Bakersfield, Ward hit 39 extra-base hits, including 9 HRs. It’s a perfectly decent line, though at 23, time’s getting short. He also struck out in nearly 1/4 of his plate appearances. The odds are low, but to his credit, he was the only thing approaching a decent hitter on the Clinton roster for large swaths of 2015.

This deal got lost in the national shuffle, though, when the Angels and Braves stole the headlines by swapping shortstops. Erick Aybar’s been a solid but inconsistent shortstop for years, showing a plus glove and solid contact skills. The rest of the offensive profile, though, has been in flux. In 2011 and 2012, Aybar had enough power to be a plus hitter overall, posting 16 batting runs to go along with his great defense. Since then, though, his power – even gap power – has all but disappeared. His ISO by year has gone from .142 in 2011 to .126 in 2012 and dropped in every year since, down to .069 last year. At that level, a hitter who doesn’t walk (and Aybar does *not* walk) needs to post really high averages to get by, and Aybar’s has been merely good, not great. That resulted in a wRC+ of just 80. With one year left on his deal, the Angels needed to upgrade SS soon. Luckily for them, the Braves were shopping all-world defender Andrelton Simmons.

Simmons’ ISO was in an Aybar-like free fall, too, dropping from .149 to .073 from 2013-2015, and while he strikes out less often than Aybar and walks a bit more, he’s been a decidedly below-average hitter for the past two seasons. The Braves evidently thought he wouldn’t improve and made their intent to shop him quite public. This is somewhat remarkable, given the Braves locked him up through 2020 in 2014, paying $58m over 7 years. Given the ramp-ups, he’ll make only $6m next year, but the Angels are on the hook for $53m in total. The Braves are in full-on rebuild mode, but they’re somewhat unique in that they’ve sold low on young players like Simmons and Jason Heyward. Clearly, they’ve been able to restock their club and farm systems with these trades, but it’s still odd to see a team so eager to trade off players as talented as Simmons and doing so when poor seasons have driven down their value. And despite his age,

The big return for Atlanta isn’t Aybar, though, it’s Anaheim’s top two pitching prospects, Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. Newcomb was GM Jerry Dipoto’s first-round pick in 2014, and shot up the ladder in 2015. As LA Times beatwriter Mike DiGiovanna tweeted, the Angels got plenty of offers for Newcomb at the deadline last year, but Dipoto turned them all down:

Just as we’ve seen in Seattle, a new GM often has a much different view of his new MiLB assets than his predecessor.

That said, just as I’m a bit surprised at the Braves willingness to part with Simmons (even if you’re down on advanced defensive metrics, you KNOW he’s adding value defensively), it’s somewhat surprising to see the Angels decide to flip Newcomb. Pitching at 3 levels this year, Newcomb struck out more than a batter an inning and posted great runs-allowed totals. He’s physically huge, and possesses a plus fastball and a good slider, and the results have been there. Command, however, is still a work in progress. The Angels – and most prospect watchers – weren’t too concerned, given Newcomb’s northeast background and limited experience on the mound. New GM Billy Eppler may see this as a way to sell high on a strong-armed question mark. Ellis has his own issues. With fewer Ks, command problems of his own, and odd HR struggles, Ellis will be something of a project. That’s OK, as a terrible junior year meant he fell to the Angels in the 3rd round, and they were able to make some adjustments that made him a legitimate prospect – I don’t want to overstate his “problems” based on a so-so 1/2 season in AA.

So, the AL West added the best defensive shortstop since Omar Vizquel, but the Angels top 30 prospect list might actually include peanut vendors or like-new iPhone chargers. The Braves now have very little payroll committed as the prepare to move into a new suburban ballpark. They’ve acquired a plethora of pitching prospects, but they are still absolutely terrible. With payroll flexibility and lots of pre-arb assets, they could make a move in free agency, but may wait a few years to do so. In the meantime, being a Braves fan seems to be a pretty dour experience, and I realize this is a bit of a pot/kettle thing to say, given my baseballing proclivities. The thing that’s striking isn’t how each team view defensive metrics or minor league pitchers’ value or any of that – it’s just a reminder that reasonable people can disagree substantially on how to value players. There really *IS* a kind of tunnel vision or preference for one’s own prospects, and that’s something a healthy org needs to work against. Remember that Jack Zduriencik shipped out the M’s previous top prospect, Jeff Clement, for a package of Ian Snell and Jack Wilson…and “won” the trade.


13 Responses to “M’s Trade for Joaquin Benoit; Angels Lock Up a SS”

  1. Westside guy on November 12th, 2015 8:59 pm

    Thanks for mentioning Ian Snell at the end there, Marc – I had successfully managed to completely forget he ever existed until just now. πŸ˜‰

    Benoit looks interesting. I’m guessing that low BABIP is why his ERA routinely out-performs his xFIP. I’m a little concerned about the uptick in both last year, however – but it was only one year, and he is a reliever so it doesn’t take much to skew his stats. I do wonder how Tampa bottles the magic so often, though.

  2. Dennisss on November 13th, 2015 7:57 am

    From the video clips I see on Fangraphs, Simmons looks like a freak of nature. You would swear some of his plays aren’t really possible. I actually look forward to seeing him play.

    Benoit looks like a solid enough pickup. We just have to hope he turns out to be more Rodney 2014 than Rodney 2015.

  3. Westside guy on November 13th, 2015 9:39 am

    I agree with Dennis – just as I enjoy watching Trout play whenever the Mariners face the Angels – even when he’s stealing home runs from Mariners’ hitters – it will be fun to watch Simmons and his ridiculous fielding skills.

    Great baseball is great baseball, even when it’s the other team.

  4. JMB on November 13th, 2015 4:29 pm

    I live in Atlanta. Simmons is really, really good with the glove. Bat really fell off though.

  5. bongo on November 14th, 2015 8:17 am

    I don’t see why the Benoit deal makes sense. His salary is $7.5 million in 2016, which is more than we paid Rodney (for whom we gave up no prospects). Having a high priced (older) reliever is a bet against decline and creates pressure to keep them on the roster even if they are not pitching well. Spending the money on several (younger) relievers limits the odds of decline, increases the odds that the best in the group will contribute as well as making it easier to let the poor performers go.

    So this deal actually seems to have less logic behind it than the Rodney signing.

  6. eponymous coward on November 14th, 2015 9:57 am

    I don’t see why the Benoit deal makes sense. His salary is $7.5 million in 2016, which is more than we paid Rodney (for whom we gave up no prospects).

    … except Rodney was signed to a two year deal in 2013.

    Benoit has a one year deal. If he blows it, we’re done here.

  7. Westside guy on November 14th, 2015 11:31 am

    Benoit also put together better numbers than Rodney the past few years.

  8. Longgeorge1 on November 14th, 2015 1:58 pm

    Last 4 years Rodney had 149 saves, Benoit 39. Last two years Rodney 64, Benoit 13. That includes 2015 “disaster” for Rodney were he had 16 saves in 23 opps. Benoit had 2 saves in 6 opportunities. Benoit was a TOP set-up guy. Rodney WAS a TOP closer. Not really the same position. Hard to compare stats realistically.

  9. californiamariner on November 14th, 2015 2:17 pm

    If you want to “compare stats” start by not using saves and save opportunities and look at stuff that matters. Benoit is a solid reliever.

  10. Notfromboise on November 14th, 2015 3:38 pm

    Red Sox snagged Kimbrel from San Diego today. Even thought we basically got Benoit for peanuts, would have been nice to snag a legit closer.

    As for ‘spreading it out’, that is exactly what the M’s did with Smith, Medina, Farraquar, Furbush, the Bartender, Lafromboise, et al… All we really have taken away from the last couple years in the pen is that Carson Smith is a great setup man, Furbush is a solid LOOGY when healthy, Bartender scares the daylights out of us, and well…

    Coming into camp we got some serious bullpen holes to fill. We’ve invested heavily in Felix, Iwakuma (hopefully), Cruz, Cano, and Seager. Seager is the only one in that mix who’s on the right side of 30 with breathing room.

    Dipoto has to rebuild a farm system, but he’s also got to make some attempts to win now. Our core only has a couple years left of anything approaching peak production. Have to strike while the iron is hot. This is why you see Benoit targeted.. and it is also why you’ll see us make a serious run at another outfielder. Who knows, you might even see a catcher via FA too, giving Zunino the time in AAA he missed when he was fast tracked to the big leagues because of team need.

  11. seattleslew on November 14th, 2015 3:48 pm

    These moves make sense. It’s nice to have a GM that has common sense. The move to sign Iannetta is also encouraging. I’m not particularly hopeful of a deal for Brett Gardner when we have O’Malley and options to sign Ruggiano or Rajai Davis.

  12. Westside guy on November 14th, 2015 3:55 pm

    “Who knows, you might even see a catcher via FA too, giving Zunino the time in AAA he missed when he was fast tracked to the big leagues because of team need.”

    Well if by “team need” you mean “general manager need” I agree with you. πŸ˜‰ If there was a need, it was artificially created by Zduriencik.

    There was no good reason to rush Zunino, and it was seen as a bad move by most people (including other front offices) at the time. There were adequate catchers available at the time for cheap. Heck, the Mariners even had one or two… before they chose to discard them.

  13. Notfromboise on November 15th, 2015 10:35 pm

    Well, yeah, the need was created by trading John Jaso for two practice bats and a locker room towel, and compounded by letting Castillo slip through JackZ’s fingers…

    At least he got to face major league pitching, if there was one bright spot. Taking occasional pitches and learning how to hit major league breaking pitches is stuff he knows he needs to work on. Hopefully either Edgar or Brosius (depending on wheres Zunino ends up) will help him unlock those mysteries.

    On a side note, multiple sources are saying the Yanks want James Paxton for Gardner. Anyone got thoughts on this? Paxton has basically managed 26 starts in two years, but he’s had flashes of brilliance when healthy and has a couple more years of team control left. If the M’s do that trade, they’ll really need to make a run at keeping Iwakuma one would think..

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