Report: Didi Gregorius will join the Yankees in a three-team deal that sends Shane Greene to Detroit and Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba to Arizona. We had heard that teams had more interest in Gregorius than in the D-backs’ other three major league shortstops, but I had taken that to mean that they liked Gregorius more as a value proposition. Turns out he is the shortstop moved by the team, but not at a discount. And because all is at peace in the universe, the player famously likened by Kevin Towers to Derek Jeter will indeed be the one particular player to take Jeter’s place.

If the D-backs had confidence that they could move Gregorius at a tolerable price, it may have helped with their recent decision to tender Cliff Pennington a contract for his final arbitration year. The way things stand, we can anticipate Chris Owings at short, Aaron Hill at second, Pennington backing them both up, and Nick Ahmed shuttling between Reno and Phoenix while waiting to take over for Pennington (or for Owings, if Hill eventually gets moved and Owings shifts to second).

In some respects, trading Gregorius is a lost opportunity. He is an extremely rare thing: an infielder (non-1B, I mean) who bats exclusively from the left side. He has also sported an uncommon platoon split, even as a lefty. And as a player who is particularly useful at particular times, he could be used in such a way that his production could surpass his skills — on a rate basis, at least. In September, Gregorius looked like the linchpin of an effective 4-man, 3-position time share:

Career, Gregorius has been an above-average hitter against righties (102 wRC+) but tremendously awful against lefties (33 wRC+). The difference is even more pronounced this year (92 wRC+ against RHP, 10 wRC+ against LHP). Gregorius is caught in the middle between being a full-time starter and being a part-time player. Fortunately for us, we can make the most of Didi’s strengths while minimizing the effect of his one very significant weakness…That sets the stage for a 4-man, 3-position time share, with Gregorius getting most of the starts at shortstop, Owings splitting time between short and second, Aaron Hill starting most days at second but getting some starts at third, and Lamb starting most days at third base.

Against right-handers, Gregorius seems to be an average hitter, at worst. And while that makes him useful to a team with multiple options and an openness to platoon, he has shown enough in his major league career, regardless of its brevity, for us to know that he’s never going to be an asset against left-handed pitching.

In addition, advanced defensive statistics never quite bought into Gregorius’s reputation as an above-average defender. His UZR/150 pegged him at slightly below average for his career (-3.3), and he did not seem to improve there. It’s a small sample (the equivalent of one year’s worth), and I don’t want to discount the possibility that intermittent playing time could have wreaked havoc on his fielding — these guys are human beings. Nonetheless, we use statistics like batting average because our memories (by definition, weighted toward certain events) can be misleading.

All in all, Gregorius’s track record in the majors paints a picture of a helpful, good-not-great player, but one who will cause some stress on his team’s roster. In trade, you would expect to get something of value for multiple cheap years of such a player. But you wouldn’t expect to get a lot.

The return of Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba is less than a lot, but more than a little. Where they fit into the D-backs system and what we can expect from them I leave to Jeff (and make sure to grab Episode 8 of The Pool Shot tonight or tomorrow), but there’s enough public information to know that the D-backs made out well.

Leyba just turned 19, and from what I can gather, he’s a long way away. Pushed to Low A quickly, he was excellent there in a small 116 at bat sample (.914 OPS), but he’s still got some physical growth to accomplish before moving up the ladder. He’s been called a “potential utility player” with a ceiling of “second-division regular” (Jordan Gorosh) and “one dimensional” with an “uncanny knack for getting the bat to the ball” (Mark Anderson). If his ceiling is fringy and his ETA is more like 2019, Baseball America’s recent ranking of him as #5 in the Tigers organization probably says more about the Tigers than about Leyba; still, he’s welcome depth, and any prospect with a plus tool is worth something real.

Ray is the player around which this trade really revolves. Say what you will about Kevin Towers’s offseason last year, but the most acrimony in saber circles last winter was reserved for Detroit’s trade of Doug Fister to the Nationals. Reports surfaced that there were uncontacted teams out there willing to better the Nationals’ offer for Fister, which may or may not be true; what we can say is that many were very underwhelmed by the return the Tigers received, which was headed by Ray. Also in there was Ian Krol, a lefty reliever with limited upside, and Steve Lombardozzi, a fringy utility infielder with almost no value. In other words: Ray.

Either the Tigers really liked Ray, or they didn’t like Fister nearly as much as just about everyone else; the latter seems strange, because the Tigers had traded for Fister just two years prior. The real answer is probably “some of both,” but one is still left with the conclusion that just one year ago, Robbie Ray was enough to two cost-controlled years of a solid #2 pitcher. That’s a high endorsement.

It’s hard to square that with Detroit’s apparent current evaluation of Ray, which is that he’s not quite as valuable as Shane Greene, who was roughly average as an old rookie with the Yankees last year, and who has mediocre minor league numbers. Maybe Greene’s improvement, simultaneous with his promotion, is legit. But chances are it’s not, and that should have affected his market value. (By the way: apparently the D-backs turned down a Gregorius/Greene swap. Well played by the D-backs, I think, as they really do not need an extra Vidal Nuno, especially after acquiring Jeremy Hellickson.)

So at this point, who is Ray? Ray’s minor league walk rates are right on that border between “troubling” and “trouble,” and whether he’s able to keep it under 4 walks per 9 innings could determine whether he sticks as a starter. He managed 160 strikeouts in 142 innings (10.14 K/9) in 2013 at High-A and Double-A with the Nationals, but that dipped to just 94 strikeouts in 129 innings (6.56 K/9) between Triple-A and the majors with Detroit. The “Pitch Values” stats at FanGraphs indicate that all four of Robbie Ray’s pitches were severely below average in his limited time in the majors in 2014, which is not a good sign. Fringy control like Ray’s can play, but only if he’s missing bats.

That doesn’t mean he’s not still a good pitching prospect (although maybe the D-backs should send him back to Double-A, where Chase Anderson caught lightning in a bottle, rather than trot him out in Reno). Control can be taught, and the stats are so erratic on his strikeout rates that it’s hard to draw any conclusions. What the D-backs have in Ray now is a decent shot at a productive starter (30%?), and on top of that, a chance of being a helpful reliever (40%). In other words, he’s Andrew Chafin, but with a little less control and a little more “stuff.” With waves of starting pitching due in D-backs uniforms next summer, it’s unlikely that Ray will be “needed.” But even if that comes to pass, I’d much rather see Ray get those innings than to see them thrown by Zeke Spruill or a similarly low-ceiling’ed prospect.

Ultimately, this trade was about kicking the can. The D-backs have needs, but it also had two big logjams: at short, and in its overstuffed current and future relief corps. The first was the situation most at a head, especially given the efforts I assume the D-backs made over the last 12 months to sort it out. It may be that by solving this logjam the D-backs added to the second one, but that’s okay; it doesn’t matter how often you trade if you’re not paying a transaction cost. Gregorius for Ray straight up would have felt like a loss, but with Leyba tossed in to help make up for the loss of Andrew Velazquez, this trade seems very fair.

If the D-backs weren’t open to platooning Gregorius in 2015, trading him away doesn’t make the 2015 worse, regardless of whether they were going to play him full time or not at all. Just as the D-backs would be better off grabbing a high risk/high reward pitcher in free agency, they did well to grab a lottery ticket in Ray. In hindsight, this trade will either look really good (if Ray pans out) or really bad (if he doesn’t). Right now, it looks like the D-backs got a solid deal, 100 cents on the dollar. Considering that the D-backs may have felt like they needed to make a move, not doing so at a loss is a win all by itself.

13 Responses to D-backs Do Well to Get 100 Cents on the Dollar for Didi Gregorius

  1. Tony says:

    Just the kind of baseline, roster-balancing trade that so often seemed to allude Kevin Towers. And yes, ironic Didi was dealt to replace Derek Jeter after KT compared him to Jeter. Although Towers also compared 3B Chris Johnson to Chase Headley when he was acquired, and I guess he was a little bit in 2013, after he was shipped off to Atlanta and the D-Bax were frantically searching for a third baseman.

    My goodness, the more I think about Kevin Towers and his disjointed and inconsistent approach to building a roster and payroll the more confused I get. I need to stop doing that now!

  2. Jeff says:

    Lets also keep in mind that the dbacks new scouting director comes to us from the nationals (Ray’s former team)so he has a very good idea of what Ray brings to the table. I definately trust his judgement more than I trust a lot of the other sources out there who continually bash on the 23 year old. Lets not rule out the finding of a “diamond” in the rough just yet.

  3. BobJ says:

    Robbie Ray’s walk rates and strikeout rates make him look like a left-handed Archie Bradley. I don’t think either one will see major league time until they can throw strike one consistently and stop pitching from behind. You can’t be 2-1 or 3-2 on every major league hitter and be successful. That being said, there is plenty of time for corrections to occur. Robbie Ray is only 23 years old. The year that Clayton Kershaw was 23 saw him lower his ERA from 3.61 to 2.95. His win-loss went from 13-10 to 21-5. The extra wins were probably more about better team play than better pitching. And yet they happened. I am certainly not saying that Robbie Ray can become Clayton Kershaw. But improvement at his age can certainly make this a sweet deal, if it happens.

    • rotofan says:

      This was a terrible deal for Arizona and the comparison to Kershaw is absurd because it shows a fundamental lack of understanding of pitching statistics.

      Kershaw’s big jump in performance did not come when he was 23; it came when he was had just turned 21.

      In 2009, Kershaw, who had just turned 21 in March, established himself as an elite pitcher, with a moving 94 mph fastball that was nearly 30 runs above average, the second best mark among all MLB starters, and a slider (26th best in MLB) and curve ball (17th best) that were both well above average. Overall, he produce the 18th most WAR among starting pitchers and would have been even higher if his innings hadn’t be capped at 170.

      Over the following four years, he moved up to 13th, 3rd, 3rd and 1st, so he did improve, but he did so having already established himself as elite at age 21.

      In the year Ray turned 21 (2012) he was among the worst starting pitchers in high-A ball, with an ERA of 6.56. He had to repeat high-A ball at age 22, when he was close to league average. This past year he struggles in AAA, with a terrible K-rate and K/BB ratio, then got lit up in Detroit, showing a fastball that was only 91.3, a swinging strike rate that was abysmal (5.3% – lower than every MLB starter but one with at least 100 IP).

      So while its true every prospect has some chance of improvement, Ray would have to improve at an incredible pace just to be a middle reliever and his stuff and track record provide very little evidence that he will even amount to that.

  4. edie says:

    Noah Syndergaard would have been a better catch.

  5. Johnny Ringo says:

    Really don’t think Ray becomes anything and it doesn’t look like the Diamondbacks are done making head scratching trades. With SS being a premium in the major leagues, are you really telling me the best you could get back for Didi was Ray? I doubt they tried hard enough or had the patience to wait out the market.

  6. […] D-backs Do Well to Get 100 Cents on the Dollar for Didi Gregorius […]

  7. I’m with Johnny Ringo and rotofan. Robbie Ray (great name) got lit up last year in a pitchers park! This is Larussas genius? I hope Tony proves everyone wrong…..

  8. B. says:

    Ray (fringe reliever, more fringe starter) and Leyba (super fringe) do not equal an in demand position young, affordable, above league average against righties player. If this was selling high why did we get players that most likely will not contribute to the club?
    I would rather have had the 4-3 man rotation from last year over no contribution (Ray, Leyba).

    The trade for Hellikson made some sense because he could rebound in the NL West and I thought finally we had some logic guiding decisions. With the current trade, I’m back to being concerned. Here’s hoping I’m wrong…

  9. BobJ says:

    Hey rotofan, you are so off base !! The statistics I quoted are indeed from Kershaw’s age 23 year. That was 2011, not 2009. In no way am I comparing Ray to Kershaw. I merely pointed out that marked improvement is on the table for 23 year old pitchers with some experience. Ray does not have much experience, but has a little, even if it isn’t good. Look up Kershaw’s numbers and you will see that his ERA numbers I quoted and win numbers I quoted are accurate for 2011 (age 23). The point is that Ray MAY improve this year compared to last year. It has happened before.

  10. […] been well-chronicled here but it was finally (somewhat) cleared up winter when Didi Gregorius was jettisoned to the Yankees. A few in the game feel that he was never given enough of a shot and we’ll have to […]

  11. […] and pertain to this website are concerned, this one takes the cake. In case you don’t recall our coverage of the deal when it took place, here’s a brief […]

  12. […] donned Sedona Red, he’s been covered here at length. Initially it was talking about the trade that brought him to Arizona. Then it was talk of his new breaking ball and how he was getting the job done with fly balls. Ryan […]

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