Transaction Report: Rays Hook Up With Los Angeles Again

Transaction Report 6/27/06

The Move-The Devil Rays completed a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers as follows:

Los Angeles Gets:
LHP Mark Hendrickson
C Toby Hall
$1,000,000

RAYS Get:
RHP Jae Seo
C Dioner Navarro
Player to be Named Later

What We Gave Up

The Rays dealt one player at the peak of his value, and one at just about the lowest point his value could possibly be.

First off, the centerpiece, you could say, of the trade from the Rays was SP Mark Hendrickson. Hendrickson is what the Dodgers wanted. With Los Angeles and San Diego in a statistical tie for first place right now, they felt they needed to upgrade the pitching staff to put them over the top for the stretch run. Now, where Mark Hendrickson fits into that picture as an "upgrade", I do not know. I have been clamoring for weeks that Hendrickson should be dealt. His trade value continues to soar with each start, despite his peripherals continuing to suck, and with each start I kept worrying 'this is gonna be the start where Hendrickson pitches like Hendrickson'. But it never came, thankfully, and we were able to jettison him to Los Angeles at his peak value.

Seriously, Hendrickson's year was not going to last. Be real. His walk rate was at 3.41, the highest of his career, and while that is not terrible, Hendrickson is not someone with overpowering stuff. He has got to have control, and this compared to a 5.12 K/9, which isn't dominating by any stretch of the imagination, and when you combine his strikeouts and walks, the ratio comes out to 1.50, not stellar and the worst of Hendrickson's career. Fact is, Hendrickson was not performing above the level of his previous seasons, he was succeeding in spite of himself, and his home run rate is at 1.00 per nine innings, not bad, but certainly not wonderful. Further, Hendrickson's opponent's BABIP was at .260, which indicates that he was just getting borderline lucky on some of the balls put into play, and that number indicates he will indeed come back to earth a bit. All of that leads to a FIP of 4.72, a number above his career average, and it isn't like Hendrickson has had a stellar career.

In short, Hendrickson was having a fluke season. He would have been nice to have for a team like us at the back end of the rotation, but the fact is that some teams like LA were just blinded by his 3.81 ERA, and thought "Gee, he must be good". So, to his credit, Friedman took advantage of the naive Ned Coletti in trading Hendrickson at his highest value to Los Angeles.

The other player in the deal, Toby Hall, was simply not cutting it. That was the bottom line. He was just not performing well, by any metric you choose to measure him by. He was likely a thrown-in to the deal, because he sure wasn't a hot trading chip. Either LA wanted him to back up Russ Martin and relieve themselves of the horror that is Sandy Alomar, or the Rays forced him to be included in the deal to rid themselves of him. Either way, Toby was just not cutting it. Hitting .231/.261/.398 is just not good enough to maintain a spot on any team as the starting catcher, no matter how good his defense and handling of the pitching staff is. He just never lived up to the promise that his performance in the minor leagues built up. After hitting .310/.357/.462 in his minor league career and winning the 2001 International League MVP award, he was promoted to the major leagues in late 2001 for good, taking over the catcher's job from John Flahrety for what everyone thought would be a long time in the future. But after finishing 2001 hitting .298/.321/.447, it was downhill from there. Hall never put up an OPS higher than .685 in his career after that season, and is hitting .262/.298/.382 for his major league career.

As much as I like Hall for all he does in the community, for the fans, for the team as a leader, he simply was not cutting it as the starting catcher offensively, and a team like the Rays just cannot afford to keep a $2 million backup at catcher. He was just not going to return next season, it was just better to get value for him now.

As the third part of the trade, the Rays sent $1 million to the Dodgers. Now, there is one of two possible explanations for sending that dollar amount out West, or a combination of the two. One, they were sending it to the Dodgers to cover Hall's salary. Two, they were sending it over as compensation for the Player to be Named Later on the Los Angeles side, a prospect that is either injured, or whom the Rays have not decided upon. Either way, to cover Hall's salary, the expenditure was worth it, and if the PTBNL turns out to be an excellent prospect, it will have paid for itself in that regard as well. But how about this for irony? The Rays sending cash to another team. Remember all those times it was the other way around? The Fred McGriff trade, the Albie Lopez trade, etc. during the period we sold off players in salary dumps. I'm glad to see the team actually loosen up the purse strings to improve a trade.

What We Got

So while the loss of Hall and Hendrickson wouldn't be a major blow, to make the trade, we have got to get something in return, and indeed Andrew Friedman did.

The "headline" acquisition in the trade was Dodger catching prospect Dioner Navarro. In him, the Rays acquire a former top catching prospect, the former No. 1 overall prospect in the New York organization, and No. 41 overall according to Baseball America. Simply put, the Rays were able to get a guy from Los Angeles blocked by Russ Martin who should be able to develop 15-20 homer power due to his compact swing. And he obviously has no issues with plate patience, as his OBP is one skill he has right now that is plain to see in stats, and his knowledge of the strike zone already is very impressive for someone only 22 years of age.

On defense, he should be able to bring to the table a lot of what Hall offered. As a former infielder, he has a strong arm, and has quick footwork while doing a good job at framing pitches for strikes and blocking balls in the dirt. The only part of his game that should be a significant downgrade from Hall is his ability to call a game. He is young, and has not gained the confidence of pitchers in the Dodger organization with his game-calling skills.

With that said, that is something that should develop in time. Now, I know you're saying "well, they said Hall's power would develop, his minor league numbers were great too, why will this guy be any different?" And that is a very good question. It was shocking to me that Toby's power did not, indeed, develop and that his average did not get into at least the .270 range. I could have sworn it would based off of his rookie campaign and minor league numbers.

Because of that, there is no guarantee Navarro's numbers will develop. But a few things that lead me to believe that Navarro will become a successful player.

  1. Plate Patience-Navarro has something a lot of young hitters (especially young Devil Rays) do not have. And that is a unique awareness of the strikezone. And Navarro has capitalized on that knowledge by developing a keen eye for the strikezone and taking walks. That is extremely unique for a young player. And one thing with players that you rarely see fade of change much is that intangible. Power can be lost, defensive skills can erode, speed can be lost. But knowledge of the strikezone does not fade, it is only built upon. I'm going to realistically say that Navarro's career average will be no higher than .270, he is just not the type of player that projects to be a Joe Mauer-type. But his plate discipline and strikezone knowledge make him an easy bet to pour on a load of points above his average to his OBP, and if he can keep his OBP over .350, and develop even half of the 15-20 home run potential, he could be a keeper behind the dish for many years to come.
  2. Age-When Hall came up, he was already 26 years old. At that point, his development time and room for improvement was largely maxed out. Navarro is different. Signed when he was just 16, Navarro is still just 22, and still a bit raw, having originally been an infielder. And he is working off of that great discipline. That means he has at least four years to work on his game and improve it. When you look at Toby Hall at age 22, he was not nearly what Navarro was. He's got time to build power, time to build his game-calling and leadership, which are qualities that can and always do develop over time. Hell, he may even surprise me and hit for a higher average that I expect. The bottom line is Navarro is still young, but is still better than Hall at any point right now. Potential to improve off of a good foundation already there, that is what I like.
  3. Stats-Sure, when you look at his minor league track record, it doesn't exactly light up, a .275/.355/.400 career line going into this season doesn't exactly scream "dominance", but keep in mind, being developed in the Yankees organization, he went through Greensboro, Tampa, Trenton, and Columbus, not exactly hitter's havens, and in Tampa, was playing in the most pitcher-friendly league in the minors, and still hit decently. I am a bit concerned about the rather average year he had in hitter-friendly Las Vegas last year, and in a small sample size there this year, but his major league returns in cavernous Dodger Stadium have been promising. In 86 plate appearances with LA this season, Navarro hit .280/.372/.387 before being injured and subsequently replaced by Russ Martin as the Dodger's backstop. Add that to his .279/.356/.377 major league career average going into this season, and there is reason to believe Navarro will improve getting out of Dodger Stadium.
Those are but three of the reasons I like Dioner Navarro in this trade. In my opinion, he is a significant upgrade over Hall in the present, and an even better upgrade over the long term. He nearly pays for Mark Hendrickson and Hall in himself, but wait, there's more.

Also acquired in the deal was Dodgers starter Jae Seo. To be honest, Seo was having a very disappointing year in Los Angeles this season. In ten starts and nine bullpen appearances, Seo went 2-4 with a 5.78 ERA for Los Angeles. However let's look at his peripherals. Seo had a 6.59 K/9. Better than Hendrickson. A 3.36 BB/9. Better than Hendrickson. A 1.96 K/BB. Better than Hendrickson. His peripherals just don't add up to the ERA. His BABIP, while not what you would call "unlucky", is not doing him any favors, and he does need to keep the ball down, as evidenced by his 1.88 HR/9. But his strikeout and walk stats are better than Hendrickson, and these are two pitchers with a history of giving up lots of hits. They mostly rely on their control for help, and this season, Seo has outpaced Hendrickson in those categories.

Now, I'm not going to say he is having a good season, he certainly is not, but he will not be a downgrade at all over Hendrickson, he should be better, and Dioner Navarro makes it worth it. This is a guy, after all, with a 4.13 ERA and 2.66 BB/9, to go along with a 1.99 K/BB over his career. His home run rate is also significantly lower, within .01 of Lurch's, he has a better career WHIP, and he did put up a 2.59 ERA last year with the Mets in 14 starts, in a larger sample size than his numbers this season.

He is, by no means, going to dominate you, but he isn't J.P. Howell. His fastball sits in at 88-91mph, and he has a nasty offspeed pitch in his curve that is his best pitch which sits in the low 70s, to go along with a change, slider, and split-finger. And, like a lot of Japanese imports, he has a funky windup which allots him some points based on confusion alone. And he can command all of his pitches. Personally, I think Seo is an upgrade over Hendrickson easily, no matter what the stats this year say. Our "big loss" in this deal is not even better than our secondary pickup from the other side.

And one final note on this trade is the mysterious "Player to be Named Later". This elusive term can often mean one of a number of players the DRO has not yet decided on, an injured player, or otherwise. But if the $1 million being sent by "Western Union" to LA is any indication, it will be someone good. And even if it is a nothing, Jayson Werth even, it won't bring down the value of the trade, we have nothing to lose. In my personal opinion, this is by far the best move that Andrew Friedman has made yet.

Resources
Jae Seo Major League Stats [Fan Graphs]
Mark Hendrickson Major League Stats [Fan Graphs]
Dioner Navarro Major League Stats [Fan Graphs]
Toby Hall Major League Stats [Fan Graphs]
Toby Hall Career Stats [The Baseball Cube]
Dioner Navarro Career Stats [The Baseball Cube]
Story [DevilRays.com]

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