It was no secret the rebuilding Mariners were shopping closer J.J. Putz and the Mets had been inquiring about every available closer at the Winter Meetings before signing Francisco Rodriguez. Tribe GM Mark Shapiro had been in discussions with
Obviously the Mets main goal was to further bolster their bullpen, although some might argue that acquiring a second closer to go with Rodriguez’s new contract borders on overkill. Omar Minaya has some guts in trading for Putz and relegating him to the setup role. Putz had explicitly stated before the trade that he wanted to remain a closer, so he couldn’t have been too happy about becoming K-Rod’s sidekick. On the plus side, Putz will get to play for a contender again and may be in line for a big payday in two years depending on his performance.
After compiling a 1.86 ERA and 76 saves the past two seasons, Putz’s 2008 season jumped the track when he suffered a rib injury in April and a hyperextended right elbow in June. Putz’s trademark is the strikeout, backing up his 95 MPH fastball with an 11.04 K/9 average the past three seasons. If Putz makes a 100% recovery from his elbow injury, the Mets could have a ridiculous one-two punch to close out games. Putz’s two remaining contract years ($5 mil and an $8.6 mil club option) make him a pricey setup man, but he could turn out to be a bargain if he returns to form. There have been some questions regarding how sustainable Putz’s peripherals are and the recent injuries only compound the issue. It will be interesting to see how he bounces back from a sub-par 2008.
With the obvious exception of
Smith is expected to start the season in the
For what it’s worth, Smith’s 3.55 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 1.67 K/BB over 63.3 IP made him one of the best options in the Mets’ bullpen for 2008. Historically, Smith has struggled against left handed batters. Lefties compiled a .309 / .427 / .454 line in 23.2 IP versus Smith over his career. Smith is very effective against righties though, posting a .223 / .317 / .326 career line in 84.0 IP. Smith’s struggles against left handed batters are probably in large part due to his sidearm delivery (batters in the left side of the box are able to pick up on his delivery better). Until Smith develops a way to better deal with lefties, he will continue to be limited as a righty-specialist in the late innings.
Smith had a solid K/9 rate of 7.39 in 2008, but his 4.41 BB/9 rate points to occasional control issues (he still managed to throw over 60% of his pitches for strikes). His sidearm style allowed him to induce a ton of groundball outs, with 62.6% of his batted balls going for grounders. Being an extreme groundball pitcher probably helps him stay out of trouble despite a high walk rate. Overall, Smith was an above average reliever in 2008 with a 118 ERA+.
Smith’s trademark is his sidearm delivery and sinking fastball. According to Josh Kalk’s Pitch f/x database, Smith’s fastball has an average speed of 91.19 MPH and was used almost 68% of the time in 2008. His fastball has such a strong bite that Pitch f/x actually classifies it as a sinker. Smith’s secondary pitch is a slider with good movement and an average speed of 82.05 MPH.
Smith takes advantage of his deceptive delivery and extreme pitch movement by pounding right-handers inside with his fastball before pulling the string with the slider outside. He rarely went inside with the slider and used it about 32% of the time overall. The slider is Smith’s go-to pitch in potential strikeout situations where he is ahead in the count. While the slider shows up over 55% of the time in a favorable count, the fastball is utilized over 90% of the time when he’s fallen behind.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a video of Smith’s delivery, but his release point tends to fall between four and five feet off the ground (most pitchers have a release point of at least six feet). Smith switched to the sidearm delivery after his college coach recommended it as a way to improve his control. The suggestion worked so well that Smith went from a college baseball walk-on in 2004 to a 3rd round MLB draft pick in 2006. Smith describes how his delivery has evolved in a recent Washington Post interview:
"My delivery now is a little different than the way I threw in college. In college, the delivery was putting a lot more stress on my arm. Now, there's not as much stress on my arm, so I don't feel as sore. I'm still learning how to pitch to big league hitters. I don't think I'll ever stop trying to learn more about how to do this."
Smith has weathered a pretty rapid transition from college ball to the Majors. Considering he is still developing as a pitcher in both his delivery and approach, I think there is a lot of potential for improvement over the next few seasons. Tony Lastoria believes “the key to [Smith] becoming more effective against left-handers and a potential setup man is the development of a changeup.” Hopefully the Tribe can continue to improve Smith’s changeup (he used it sparingly in 2008) and allow him to emerge from his current specialist role.
With the addition of Kerry Wood and Joe Smith and prospects like Adam Miller, Tony Sipp, Jeff Stevens, and John Meloan waiting in the wings,
Valbuena is considered the centerpiece of
There are a few positive signs in Valbuena’s minor league performance. He spent the entire 2007 season toiling in AA and only had modest offensive numbers to show for it. He was striking out almost 19% of the time and did not show much patience at the plate. Valbuena took what he learned in 2007 and ran with it, becoming a much more disciplined hitter in the process. By honing his batting eye and showing more patience, Valbuena was able to reduce his strikeouts and collect more walks. Once he started to get on base more, his overall offensive production (represented here by wOBA) improved by .074 points compared to his previous season in AA. Valbuena also started to make better contact with the ball, pushing his ISO up from .140 to .179.
“The thing that excited me most about Valbuena, though, was his defense. Don't bother looking at his defensive statistics; given the sample size, they won't tell you anything. Trust your eyes. If you watched Valbuena around second base this past month, you saw him make a lot of plays deep to his right, along with a couple that required him to come charging in towards the plate. I don't recall seeing him go to his left very often, but that's kind of out of his control. What's important is that, in his limited playing time, Valbuena was able to showcase both above-average range and above-average instincts with a pretty good arm. That's big. This team [
Sounds good to me.
The adjustments Valbuena made between 2007 and 2008 look like they have a good chance of sticking and probably made him an appealing prospect to the Tribe. It took Valbuena one and a half seasons in AA before he was ready to move up, so one more season in AAA would seem like a logical move here. Unless he really catches fire (or Shapiro fails to land a new infielder), I doubt we’ll see Valbuena in
I like this trade in theory: dealing from an area of depth (corner outfielders) to fill in two definite needs elsewhere (bullpen and high level infield prospects). As a fan, Gutz was one of my favorite players to watch, but I think it was a smart move to trade him.