Evaluating the Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes for Alex Gonzalez, Tyler Pastornicky, and Tim Collins
Last July, the Jays sent SS Alex Gonzalez, who was having a career year after signing with the Jays as a FA, as well as SS prospect Tyler Pastornicky and LHP relief prospect Tim Collins to the Braves in return for SS Yunel Escobar and LHP Jo-Jo Reyes. At the time, only 2 of the players were considered core pieces (Escobar and Gonzalez) because they were the only pieces playing full-time in the majors. Today, all of them aside from Pastornicky are in the majors, which allows for an interesting comparison of both sides of the deal.
In order to get a better grip on the deal altogether, I’ll separate it into 2 portions: the SS portion and the pitching portion.
Part 1: Yunel Escobar for Alex Gonzalez Tyler Pastornicky
Let’s remember this about Alex Gonzalez: The Red Sox really wanted to bring him back to Boston, but were waiting for other pieces to fall in place before making him an offer. Well he, and the Jays, didn’t want to wait around and he signed a $2,750,000 1-year deal with the Jays. Not only did this give the Jays an all-star caliber defensive SS, but it also forced their hand in signing Marco Scutaro to a much more lucrative deal, or $12,500,000 over a 2-year deal. Their only other option, at the time, seemed to be the untested Jed Lowry. Scutaro’s signing also ensured the Jays would get a compensation picks for “losing him” in FA, 1 of which came right from Boston’s draft vault. Who did they draft with those picks? None other than RHP Aaron Sanchez (34th overall, an automatic compensation in sandwich rd for losing Scutaro), and LHP Justin Nicolino (80th overall, later than expected due to the Red Sox signing higher rated Type A FA John Lackey), both of which are very highly touted pitching prospects. So, even before the Jays traded Alex Gonzalez, they won by forcing the Red Sox hand in signing Scutaro.
Gonzalez arrived in Toronto and promptly hit 43 extra base hits in only 348 plate appearances, an 8% extra base hit rate. He hit 25 doubles, 1 triple, and 17 HRs before being traded to Atlanta, and had shown off his usual above-average fielding skills with a .972 fielding % and 0.7 dWAR. His combined WAR with the Jays of 2.7 (2.0 oWAR) was 1.2 above his previous career high (1.5 WAR in 2007 with the Reds), and therefore leads us to believe that the Jays sold high, very high, on Alex Gonzalez. His WAR rating since the move to Atlanta? He had a 0.9 WAR for the remainder of 2010 and a 1.3 WAR so far in 2011. So, the Braves didn’t lose out on that portion of the deal since they’re still getting above-average play from him across the board, with exactly the kind of offensive support they expected to get from him when the deal was made. To compare apples to apples, Yunel Escobar provided the Braves with a 0.9 WAR rating in 2010 when the deal was made (0.3 oWAR and 0.6 dWAR), but were unhappy with his lack of power at the plate (12 doubles compared to the 43 extra base hits provided by Gonzalez, albeit in fewer PAs – 301) and overall attitude and style of play.
The 34-year old Gonzalez has the following stats in 2011:
181 PA / 44 hits / 7 doubles / 1 triple / 5 HR / 16 RBI / 8 BB / 35 SO / .256 AVG / .289 OBP / .395 SLG / 1.3 WAR
He will be a FA at the end of the season. If he qualifies as a Type A or B, he could sign elsewhere, garnering the Braves a, or some, draft picks as a result. That shouldn’t be overlooked when evaluating the trade.
Talk about needing a change of scenery! By the time Escobar left Atlanta, it was more than evident that it was directly related to his “not fitting into” the clubhouse and style of play that was demanded from Braves Manager and icon Bobby Cox. At the time, the Jays were hitting HRs at an alarming rate, but they were also having a very hard time doing so with runners on base. So, the higher OBP provided by Escobar (.334 at the time of the trade compared to .296 from Gonzalez) which was also expected to rise as he got comfortable on a new team as it returned to his previous highs of .385 or so, were the perfect fit for the Jays. They immediately slotted Escobar in the 2-hole, and he responded well by hitting with higher average (.275 compared to .238) and slightly higher OBP (.340 compared to .334) than he had accomplished in Atlanta during the first-half of the season. His briliant defensive plays were drawing raves from Jays fans and provided highly-reel footage, but his dWAR was lower in Toronto than it had been in Atlanta (0.1 dWAR in Toronto compared to 0.6 dWAR in Atlanta). So, the Jays got an overall WAR of 1.0 from Escobar, mainly due to his performance at the plate being better than it had been, leading to a 0.9 oWAR.
In 2011, the 28 year old Escobar has the following stats:
186 PA / 44 hits / 4 doubles / 2 triples / 3 HRs / 13 RBI / 20 BB / 24 SO / .277 AVG / .353 OBP / .384 SLG / 1.2 WAR
The similarities between his value and that of Gonzalez are uncanny. Although the Jays are getting exactly what they wanted in terms of a high in the lineup base runner due to his better BB and OBP rates, the Braves are getting more power and slightly better defensive abilities from Gonzalez. The big difference? Escobar is 6 years younger and is under control through 2013. Meanwhile, Gonzalez will either become a FA after this season or will need to be re-signed as a 35-year old SS.
However, this portion of the deal doesn’t end here. We can’t forget about Tyler Pastornicky, who was most likely asked for by the Braves with the pending FA of Gonzalez in mind. Although the Jays would get the edge in terms of this portion of the deal simply due to the longevity of Escobar and most likely an ability to garner draft picks if and when he leaves via FA, or by acquiring other assets if he is dealt, the deal changes in its entirety if Pastornicky becomes a full-time well-performing SS in Atlanta.
The then 20-year old Pastornicky, selected in the 5th rd of the 2008 draft by the Jays (signed for $175,000), was sent to Atlanta after hitting 16 doubles, 6 HRs, stealing 24 bases, and hitting .258/.348/.376 in HiA Dunedin. He had played 30 games at 2B and 46 at SS, showing off some versatility by doing well at both positions. He continued on a very similar performance level while playing for Atlanta’s affiliates in 2010, but the difference was that he was sent to their AA Mississippi affiliate, not their HiA affiliate. He proceeded to hit 5 doubles, 2 triples, 2 HRs, and steal 11 bases all while maintaining a very similar .254/.333/.366 line. While in Mississippi, he only played SS and has only played that position in 2011.
The 21 year old’s stats while in AA in 2011 are as follows:
174 PA / 49 hits / 6 doubles / 3 triples / 3 HRs / 21 RBI / 7 SB / .310 AVG / .357 OBP / .443 SLG
In short, Pastornicky has blossomed offensively speaking into a slightly above-average offensive minded SS. When you look around MLB at the lack of impact bats at the SS position, you see the value of the potential in Pastornicky. The problem? It also comes with 12 errors at the SS position, good for a .923 fielding %, the worst of his minors career. His range factor per game has also gone down to the lowest levels of his career at 3.67. Not a good sign, but something that could point to his coming up as a 2B, possibly, instead of a SS. In either case, he’s only 21 playing in AA, and could provide the Braves with a very good option in the middle of the infield and therefore acts as the perfect “equalizer” in the Escobar for Gonzalez portion of the trade.
Evaluation of this portion of the trade: A Very Predictable Draw.
Both teams got what they were looking for, and both teams will continue to benefit from this deal well into the future. There is a possibility that both teams will garner picks if and when they lose their current SS to FA, and since it’s likely to happen sooner for the Braves, they also have a replacement in hand in Pastornicky. It’s a win-win portion of the deal.
Part 2: LHP Tim Collins for LHP Jo-Jo Reyes
Although the Braves later flipped Collins to the KC Royals, along with Gregor Blanco and Jesse Chavez in return for Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth, he can still be evaluated as what the Jays gave up in order to receive Jo-Jo Reyes. Collins was not drafted by the Jays. Instead, he was signed as an amateur FA in 2007, having been previously undrafted. He quickly showed stuff well above what’s expected of someone who measures 5’7″ 170 lbs and is an inspiration top anyone who was ever told “you’re too small to make it to The Show”.
At the time of the trade, Collins was throwing thunder and lightning in the New Hampshire pen, good enough for a 2.51 ERA, 1.00 Whip, a whopping 73 Ks in only 43 IP, and 9 saves to his credit. He was my favorite Jays relief prospect, by far. The keys to his success have been his strange delivery, his ability to pitch down in the zone (helped by a wicked 12-6 curve), his overall location of his stuff, and his deception.
He only made 6 appearances for the Braves in 2010 before heading to Omaha (KC AAA affiliate), where he threw 20.1 innings, and wound up with a 1.33 ERA, 0.836 whip, 4 saves, and 21 Ks along with 8 walks. Collins was still dominant, despite being only 20 and pitching in AAA for the first time.
Collins was so impressive during spring training this year, that he made the Royals right from the beginning of the season. Although not the most impressive pen to make, at 21 years old it remains a very impressive feat. Here are his stats so far in 2011:
24 SP (most in the A.L.) / 2.96 ERA / 16 HA/ 17 BB / 27 Ks / 1.356 ERA / 0.5 WAR
When you’re talking about a 21 year old lefty doing this well at the major league level, you know you’re talking about a special person and a special arm. Yes, the walks are fairly high, but it’s also obvious that his stuff plays very well at the major league level, something that many people doubted would happen once he got promoted. There were many people who believed that although dominant in the minors, major league hitters would be able to get past the delivery and would therefore not be deceived in the same way that minor league hitters tended to be.
Although the Royals have Joakim Soria in-house to close the door on games, I wouldn’t put it past Collins to earn that role once he gets a shot. Until then, he’ll continue to work on becoming one of the A.L.’s most dominant lefty relievers.
If I were writing this 2 weeks ago, the write up on Reyes would be entirely different than it will be today. Yes, Reyes has had a hard time getting his arsenal up to the quality of his arm, but it seems like he has finally found a few pitches – his change up and sinker – that have become the bread and butter pitches he needs to keep hitters off balance. The change up in particular has impressed me most over his last 2 starts, and the results have been there to show its effectiveness.
Rewinding back to the time of the trade, however, the Jays were obtaining a pitcher who had never had an ERA under 5.81 in the majors through 4 seasons and 37 starts of work, had a whip above 1.6 in 3 of the 4 seasons, and had walked 97 batters through 194 IP. Talk about taking your chances! His WAR rating was a cumulative -3.2 over that span, and still, Alex Anthopoulos had to have him included in the deal.
If you read what you just read above, and then read this, “Jo-Jo Reyes has walked only 6 batters over his last 6 starts”, what would you think? A lot’s changed over that time, that’s what. And that’s exactly what’s happened over his term with the Jays. Not only did he only walk 6 batters over his last 6 starts, he did so while working against TB twice, TEX, DET, MIN, and most recently HOU. So the opponents have been potent the majority of the time, but the walks remained low. Over that span, he has brought his ERA down from 6.20 to 4.07, and was able to limit the damage to 4 ER or less in all but one of those starts. His latest start was his best as a Jays pitcher, going 7 strong with 5 HA, 1 BB, and 7 Ks. Despite not earning the win, he is finally proving what the Jays saw in him actually existed, and the Jays could reap the benefits of their patience for quite a while yet.
Reyes is under control through 2014 and currently makes $439,100. He’ll be eligible for arbitration for the first time after this season is over, and has 3 years of arbitration eligibility overall. In comparison, Tim Collins is under Royals control through at least 2017 and won’t be arbitration eligible for a while yet. He is making $414,000 this season.
In either case, it’s hard to get quality LHP in MLB. Whether it’s in the pen, or in the rotation, lefties are just very highly sought after if they throw quality stuff. In this case, the Braves dealt a lefty each time and winds up losing out on what could have been either a quality starter (if Reyes continues to build on the progress he has made), or a quality setup/closer LHP. The 2 players they got when they dealt Collins, Ankiel and Farnsworth, are no longer in Atlanta. Therefore, I place them as the loser in this equation overall. But, suppose they had kept Collins around and were getting similar quality stuff from him in the pen, I would have to call it a Braves win…..for now.
Until Reyes proves that he can be consistent and can become a viable #3 or #4 pitcher, the Royals have obtained the best part of this deal in terms of pitching. Collins has a shot at being a true shut down lefty out of the pen, while right now, Reyes is a #5 starter. So, in terms of value of the trade overall, I have to give a slight edge to the Braves in this deal – had they kept Collins around. in reality, they lost overall because they dealt the one edge they had in the deal.
There is no doubt in my mind that Alex Anthopoulos already knew why he was dealing so many RP arms from the minors when he dealt Tim Collins, Danny Farquhar, and Trystan Magnuson in 2 deals only a short time apart. He knew that he was going to target veteran RP arms in the draft, and that many of the Jays pitching depth pitchers were going to need to move to the pen. Therefore, dealing Collins makes more sense when you look at it from that point of view. Would he unseat Marc Rzepczynski from the role in the pen, for example? No. What about Carlos Villanueva? No. They obtained Reyes in hopes that he would give them some depth in the rotation where others had failed, and he seems to be coming around into that role. Is it enough to make me like him more than Collins? Not yet, but it’s beginning to shift that way ever so slightly over his last 2 starts. If Reyes does become a steady arm in the rotation, we have to give the win to the Jays and Alex Anthopoulos. If he doesn’t make it, then the Jays at the very least gave it their best shot and still have Escobar to lean on as the integral part of the trade in their point of view.
Still, because we currently have both pitchers enjoying success at the major league level, I have to call this one a draw today. That will likely change at the end of the season, or perhaps half-way through, but today, both teams stood to benefit just as much as the other from the deal.
FINAL RESULT: A DRAW
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