Trading Yovani Gallardo was inevitable, and frankly, it was overdue. He should have been moved prior to the 2014 season. He would have garnered more interest from teams and therefore, been worth more than just a couple of question-mark prospects.
Everybody wants to judge and put a grade on a trade the minute it happens. We live in a world of instant gratification. So, to appease the masses, here’s what I think: The Texas Rangers won this trade, but only if we’re talking about the 2015 season. The Brewers are a worse team without Gallardo. The Rangers are a better team with him and without Corey Knebel, Luis Sardinas and Marcos Diplan. Again, I’m only talking about the 2015 season. If Gallardo leaves the Lone Star State after the season, and the prospects Texas gave up turn out to be at least league-average players, then Milwaukee will probably come out on top. But that’s a ways down the road, and even though Knebel and Sardinas have a legitimate shot at making the Brewers’ Opening Day roster, their true value won’t be realized in just one season. What’s more important is what the Brewers do with the $9 million that Gallardo left behind.
Let’s start by going over what the Brewers gave up in Gallardo, and why the team believes so strongly in Jimmy Nelson, the man who will be replacing Gallardo in the starting rotation.
Gallardo is not the pitcher he used to be. His peripherals have been suffering for some time now (see Tweet below), despite him entering what is usually the prime of a player’s career (he’ll be 29 in February).
— Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) January 18, 2015
From 2011 to 2012, Gallardo was worth 5.7 WAR. From 2013 to 2014, he was worth 3.5 WAR. Walks have always been an issue for Gallardo, along with high pitch counts, and for a pitcher who was thought of as Milwaukee’s ace, he only has four complete games in his career. Justin Verlander had six in 2012 alone. Additionally, Gallardo’s strikeout rate has decreased every season since 2009. That’s five straight years of decline. Luckily, though, his ground ball percentage has been trending upward, and if he’s not striking out hitters anymore, forcing ground balls is a nice alternative.
Gallardo should no longer be viewed as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, but more of a very solid No. 3 starter, and that’s who the Rangers traded for. The Brewers, on the other hand, were aware of Gallardo’s diminishing value and received all they could for him (probably). Like I said earlier, they should have traded him sooner, but that’s water under the bridge now.
The Brewers wouldn’t have traded Gallardo if it weren’t for Triple-A stud Jimmy Nelson. The club believes strongly in the hard-throwing righty, despite minimal major league experience. Nelson has just 18 major league appearances under his belt, earning a 4.42 ERA and a 3.68 FIP along the way. But maybe more importantly, are his minor league numbers. He was an absolute monster in the minors last season. Using his power fastball and power slider almost exclusively, his ERA was below two and his FIP was below three, which is outstanding in case you don’t know what baseball is. Yet, he isn’t without question marks, while, with Gallardo, you know what you’re going to get. The question marks make Nelson a risk, but a necessary one for the Brewers.
The Brewers didn’t want Nelson in the bullpen as a long reliever, and since he has all but earned the right for a shot at the rotation, Gallardo became expendable. It’s safe to say Milwaukee is looking toward the future, hoping Nelson is a key part of it. This is especially true with Doug Melvin’s recent comments about how the Brewers have had no dialogue with James Shields or with the Washington Nationals about Jordan Zimmermann. Nelson is the guy and the job is his until he loses it. He’ll need to develop an effective changeup in order to take the next step, but that line of thought is for another article.
Now, let’s look at the players coming to Milwaukee.
Corey Knebel is an thrilling prospect, and someone who could make this trade worth it for the Brewers. He’s a young guy with an indomitable heater (94 mph+) and a slow curveball (80 mph). He hasn’t had much experience in either the minors or majors (just two years combined), but in the time he’s been a professional, the results have been promising. In 14 games with the Detroit Tigers Triple-A squad, he accumulated a 1.96 ERA and 2.98 FIP, striking out 29% of batters and holding hitters to a .103 batting average. His ERA ballooned in 2014 when he made his major league debut with the Rangers, but as you should know by now, ERA is misleading. But before I tell you what his FIP was during his first taste of major league action, let’s look at his other peripherals first. Knebel allowed a .440 BABIP (league average was .295), his strand rate was 50% (league average was 73%) and he forced more ground balls than the average pitcher. It’s safe to say he was a tad unlucky, and as a result, his ERA was 6.23. But his FIP ( 1.63) and xFIP (2.92) were considerably lower and a more telling sign of his performance. If that doesn’t tell you enough, maybe this will; in just 8.2 innings, he was worth 0.2 WAR. In other words, he was worth more wins than Brandon Kintzler and Francisco Rodriguez.
There are two issues that surround Knebel: Walks and elbow problems. Yet, Knebel doesn’t seem too worried about the latter:
Everything is good now. I’m at 100% and ready to go. It was late in the season and there wasn’t any reason to push it. The MRI showed it wasn’t serious.
But even the slightest elbow issue is a cause for concern, and a slight ligament tear, like the one in Knebel’s shoulder, is a real red flag. Texas likely would have been more reluctant to trade him if he had a clean bill of health.
Control has also plagued Knebel during his short career.
Keep in mind that his track record is shorter than Lou Piniella’s temper, so it may be unfair to label him as a wild pitcher. Time will tell.
Now, while I think Knebel has a bright future in Milwaukee, Luis Sardinas is a player that doesn’t make much sense to the Brewers organization. In all honesty, I don’t get this part of the trade.
Sardinas is a defense-first shortstop who makes contact with the ball, has nearly no power and doesn’t walk. Sounds like we’re entering familiar territory, doesn’t it? It should, because I just described Jean Segura. That means if Sardinas makes the roster, there will be two Jean Seguras on the team; two players who can field better than they hit with one backing up the other. And to make matters worse, the Brewers already have Hector Gomez, who is admittedly a worse fielder, but definitely has more power than both the alternatives. Sardinas feels like overkill.
Sardinas never hit in the minors, and so far the majors have been the same story. He made 125 major league plate appearances in 2014, posting a .279 wOBA and 70 wRC+.
Luis Sardinas is one of those prospects that I don’t get. Track record says he can’t hit. Nice trade, Texas.
— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) January 19, 2015
David Cameron of FanGraphs agrees with me, but more realistically, I agree with him. Most scouting reports have pegged Sardinas as either a fringe starter or a trustworthy bench player. His defense is gold-glove fantastic, but his hitting ceiling is low. Could the Brewers have gotten someone better than Sardinas? I don’t know, but Sardinas doesn’t do much for me.
On the other hand, Marcos Diplan is an interesting prospect. Here’s what Derek Harvey of Brew Crew Ball wrote about him:
He has a fastball that currently sits anywhere from 89-92 mph and can hit as high as 96. As he grows and adds more strength that fastball should consistently hit that 92 mark, perhaps even better. He is also said to have a curveball and changeup that flash average at times.
Despite noting some inconsistencies with his pitches (understandable at 17/18 years old) Kiley McDaniel (Fangraphs), Ben Badler (Baseball America), and Mark Anderson (Baseball Prospectus) all remarked that Diplan showed an advanced fell for pitching relative to his age.
We haven’t seen much of Diplan, but he is an exciting young pitcher and it’ll be fun watching him progress in the minors. Unfortunately, he’s still four or five years away from even sniffing the majors (waiting is tough).
This trade was a necessity for both clubs. The Rangers are better for it, at least in the immediate future, and as for the Brewers, well, it’s too early to tell. Getting rid of Gallardo gave the Brewers the luxury of going after quality relief help, but the prospects they received don’t necessarily reflect Gallardo’s worth.