No need to wait any longer for its arrival. The summer trade season in Major League Baseball is here.
As reported by ESPN's Keith Law, the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs struck the first notable deal of the summer on Tuesday:
Worth clarifying real quick: "Tony Clevenger" would indeed be Steve Clevenger, the backup catcher who's played in 79 games over the last three seasons.
That aside, what we have here is your typical July trade: a contending team acquiring a needed piece from a non-contending team in exchange for expendable pieces that might prove to be a boon for the non-contending team down the road.
That's the big-picture nature of this trade, but we can break it down further than that and come up with some grades to assess how each club made out in this deal.
Baltimore Orioles: B
The key piece of this deal for Baltimore, obviously, is Scott Feldman. In him, what the Orioles are getting is precisely what they needed: a reliable starting pitcher.
Starting pitching was an issue for the Orioles last year, as their starters finished 21st in MLB with a 4.42 ERA, according to FanGraphs. This year, their starters are doing even worse with a 4.79 ERA that's 27th in MLB and ahead of only the last-place Toronto Blue Jays among AL East clubs.
On top of that, the Orioles lack able bodies for their starting rotation at the moment. Steve Johnson and Wei-Yin Chen are both on the disabled list, and top prospect Dylan Bundy has been lost for the year due to Tommy John surgery. Fellow top prospect Kevin Gausman has been unimpressive at the major league level, and veteran hurler Freddy Garcia was optioned to Triple-A last week.
Feldman's an able body at the very least, but he should be more than just that for the Orioles.
Very quietly, the 30-year-old right-hander has been having a solid campaign in 2013. Feldman has made 15 starts and has racked up a 3.46 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP in 91 innings. His defense-independent stats are good too, as he owns a solid 3.93 FIP and 3.89 xFIP, according to FanGraphs.
These numbers look good enough on their own. They look even better next to some of the numbers compiled by the starters Feldman is about to join. The only Orioles starter with an ERA below 3.50 is the injured Chen, and he's also the only Orioles starter with a FIP under 4.00.
The move over to the American League could end up inflating Feldman's numbers, a la what happened to Ryan Dempster when the Cubs traded him to the Texas Rangers last year. But the Orioles will gladly take the innings he can provide, and they frankly don't need Feldman to be an ace to get to the postseason. With a 47-36 record and a wild-card spot already well in their grasp, the Orioles just need their rotation to keep from falling apart in order to be in good shape.
As for Clevenger, he's the throw-in part of this deal. The Orioles are set at catcher with Matt Wieters, but the good news for Clevenger is that the Orioles don't have many reasons to stay committed to Taylor Teagarden as a primary backup. He's a solid defender, but this year he has a .387 OPS.
Going the other way to Chicago, meanwhile, are a couple pieces the Orioles aren't going to miss in the short term.
Jake Arrieta was once one of the club's top prospects, but the Orioles have tried and failed repeatedly to turn him into a productive major leaguer. Pedro Strop throws hard, but the 2.44 ERA he posted last year masked his lack of control. That same problem has contributed to the 7.25 ERA he has this year, not to mention Buck Showalter's wariness of using Strop in high-leverage situations.
The international bonus money is something the Orioles could miss in the long run, but it's something they can afford to part with at this juncture. They're in win-now mode, and the deal they made is one that should aid their ability to do so. With guys like Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Bundy locked up for the long haul, it's not as if their future is on thin ice either.
In all, not a bad bit of wheeling and dealing by Dan Duquette.
The same can be said for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.
Chicago Cubs: A-
When the Cubs signed Feldman to a one-year contract worth $6 million over the winter, it wasn't hard to see where they were coming from.
The Cubs were taking a chance on a guy who had won 17 games in 2009 before running into various issues in the next three seasons. If he were to find his rhythm again in Chicago, the Cubs would have a nice piece of trade bait on their hands that they could potentially turn into a boost for the organization's long-term future.
Dealing Feldman and Clevenger for Arrieta, Strop and the bonus money has the potential to do just that.
Arrieta is a classic change-of-scenery candidate. The Orioles were unable to make anything out of him, but he's hardly a lost cause just yet. Especially not with several years of club control left, as Arrieta isn't due for free agency until after 2016.
Arrieta had elbow surgery in 2011, but Baseball Info Solutions (by way of FanGraphs) says he's actually been throwing harder after the surgery than he was before. He averaged under 93 miles per hour with his hard stuff in 2010 and 2011, but was at 93.3 last year and 93.9 in 2013.
Arrieta's problem has more to do with his inability to pitch. He's had a hard time keeping his walks down, and he's never been able to miss as many bats as his stuff says he should be able to.
If the Cubs succeed where the Orioles failed and find ways to correct these things, they could get at least three years of solid production out of Arrieta. That would be a terrific return on a deal that saw them send away a mere rental pitcher and a catcher they didn't need.
Strop is another change-of-scenery candidate. In fact, he needed to get out of Baltimore more than Arrieta did. The poor guy just couldn't take the boos. If Strop is able to relax in Chicago, maybe he'll be able to throw some more strikes. If he starts missing bats too, then the Cubs will have found themselves four-plus years of a solid reliever.
The real prize of this trade for the Cubs, however, is the international bonus pool money. They need it more than the Orioles do, and now they have a lot of it.
Ben Badler of Baseball America reported in April that the Cubs had the second-most bonus money to spend this year. After making the deal with the Orioles, the Cubs subsequently traded Carlos Marmol to the Dodgers for Matt Guerrier, as Carrie Muskat of MLB.com reported. The Dodgers announced on Twitter that they also got an international signing bonus slot from the Cubs valued at $209,700.
But then the Cubs turned around and traded minor league infielder Ronald Torreys to the Houston Astros for more international money, as Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
The dust is settled now, and Hoyer told Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com precisely where the Cubs' bonus pool stands after all the deals:
Good stuff for a team in the middle of a rebuild. The Cubs have already loaded up in the last two drafts, and now they have a chance to go load up in a big way during the international signing window—which, for the record, opened today.
Much more so for the Cubs than the Orioles, time is going to tell with this trade. If Arrieta and Strop fail to pan out and the international money ends up going down the drain, it's going to be a lot of cleverness for nothing.
But there's a fair chance the exact opposite is going to happen, giving this trade the potential to be a steal of steals for the Cubs.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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