Trade Analysis: Dodgers Acquire Hanley Ramirez/Randy Choate For Nate Eovaldi/Scott McGough

Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports reported that the Dodgers have agreed to trade Nate Eovaldi and Scott McGough to the Marlins for Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate.

Surprised? So is basically everybody else.

The Miami Marlins’ shocking midseason rebuild continued with a blockbuster trade after 2 a.m. ET Wednesday: They sent mercurial star Hanley Ramirez and left-handed reliever Randy Choate to the Dodgers for young pitchers Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough, according to major-league sources.

The trade will have lasting ramifications for the entire National League. The Dodgers, 2 1/2 games behind the archrival Giants in the West, made clear their intent to reach the postseason in their first year under new ownership. The trade amounted to a show of financial might for the Dodgers; Ramirez, 28, is earning $15 million this season, and no cash was included in the deal.

I previously gave my general thoughts on the trade here, and upon further review of the numbers and the circumstances, I still feel similar, but with a tad bit more apprehension.

Hanley Ramirez

As a 22-year-old in 2006, Hanley won the National League Rookie Of The Year Award with an .833 OPS. In the three seasons following that, he posted a line of .325/.398/.549/.947 as a shortstop, deservingly attaining superstar billing. Starting in 2010 though, he saw his production decline and controversy over his hustle erupt. While he posted a still elite .853 OPS at the SS position, he was no longer one of the best hitters in the league.

Suffering from a shoulder injury and general ineffectiveness in 2011, he missed half the year and performed woefully below his standards when he was healthy. That trend continues into 2012, as he has now posted a .245/.328/.405/.732 line in his last 184 games. Making matters worse, he recently has been suffering from an infected hand … basically because he forgot to take medication for it.

With a bat that puts him around league average as a hitter, he would still be quite valuable at both SS and 3B if he could field his position. Unfortunately, using any metric you want, Hanley is not an average defender. For his career at shortstop, he averages -12.1 runs via Plus/Minus, -9.1 runs via UZR, and -11.8 runs via FRAA. In other words, he’s a bad defender there. In 2012, he moved to 3B but hasn’t shown to be any better there. He’s on pace for -17.1 runs via Plus/Minus, -11.2 runs via UZR, and -22.7 runs via FRAA at the hot corner. To be kind about it, he’s a mediocre defender no matter where he has played.

As I said though, he’ll be an improvement for the Dodgers at either position almost no matter what:

Regardless of what position he ends up playing, Hanley figures to be a gigantic improvement over the unholy combination of Juan Uribe, Dee Gordon, Adam Kennedy, Elian Herrera, and Luis Cruz. The production the Dodgers are getting from both 3B and SS is just terrible, and it’s not like they were playing quality defense either, so Hanley’s questionable glove shouldn’t burn the team too often.

Then there’s the issue of his contract. The Dodgers are paying him ~$40 million for two years and two months of his service, which puts ~7.5 WAR as the target where the Dodgers can get fair value just for what they have to pay him. At his peak, this would be a complete no-brainer, as he could put up a 7.5 WAR season in a single year; he was that great of a hitter. Now though? He’s amassed a little over ~2 WAR in 2011 and 2012 combined. Performing at levels similar to this, he’s a 2-3 WAR player, which would make the trade a poor deal for the Dodgers.

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Hanley is still an elite talent though, and the Dodgers took a risk in a market where elite talents are almost impossible to acquire without dropping a 10-year contract on them.

While nagging injuries is just one of the many explanations I’ve heard for Hanley’s decline, luck can also have an effect. Ramirez never posted a BABIP below .327 prior to 2011, but then posted a .275 BABIP in 2011 and has a .271 BABIP this year. It doesn’t explain away all of his poor performance, but even regression back to .310 or so would make him a well above average player again, so there’s reason to think that Ned Colletti bought low here (yes, you read that correctly).

Furthermore, in the context of the Dodgers current roster and farm system at SS and 3B, the team clearly can’t fill those positions internally, so Hanley being average there is worth more to the Dodgers than it might be to others. This is especially true due to the almost non-existent free agent market at those positions in the coming years.

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The Dodgers made this trade with the expectation that Hanley would do a lot more than he currently is, and he’ll have to be better just to make the trade fair for both sides. The Dodgers are banking that he can regain his old form with a change of scenery, a change of coaching staff, and perhaps a refreshed attitude. It’s far from impossible for him, as finding just one of those things can do wonders for a player.

Just ask Matt Kemp.

Randy Choate

Choate is a lefty reliever making $1.5 million this year and he will be a free agent at the end of 2012. He’s pitching well thus far, posting a 2.49 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 3.11 xFIP, and 2.68 SIERA. More importantly though, he’s dominating lefties to the tune of a .150/.200/.183/.383 line. It’s no fluke either, as lefties have hit .203/.277/.285/.562 off Choate over his career.

Is he an impact player? No, but he fills a need that the Dodgers have been seeking out since the start of Spring Training. Scott Elbert has been effective as the bullpen’s only lefty, but lefties have a .325 wOBA off him compared to a .251 wOBA for righties. That creates a problem for the Dodgers when they need a matchup lefty late in the game, and Choate fills that role for the team perfectly.

Nate Eovaldi

Over his 91 innings in the MLB, he has posted a 3.96 ERA and 4.18 FIP. As a player that can contribute to the Marlins immediately, he can already be seen as a ~2 WAR type of pitcher. Given that he has about five years of team control left after 2012, there’s no doubt he’s a valuable commodity.

As far as upside goes, I don’t think he’s done anything to acquit himself of the #3 label I gave him back in March, as he’s still fastball dominant with lagging off-speed pitches. However, he’s a productive, cheap player that’s one adjustment away from approaching his ceiling.

Despite his value, the Dodgers trading an arm like him makes sense:

From the Dodgers perspective though, they have a ton of arms in the system, and with both Rubby De La Rosa and Ted Lilly due back soon, plus a potential trade for Ryan Dempster/Matt Garza, Nate was an understandably expendable piece.

The surplus of arms in the system made him expendable if the Dodgers could get a quality return … and they did.

Scott McGough

I wrote about him back in February and nothing has changed since then, in my opinion.

I haven’t seen him get much attention but I liked him at the University Of Oregon and I think he has a chance at a bullpen role down the road. Sitting 91-93 and touching 95, there’s plenty of velocity to make it to the show. However, his low-80s slurve will need to improve, not so much the command like most young pitchers, but the break itself needs to be sharper or it’ll get hammered as he moves levels.

Or if you don’t believe me, then Kevin Goldstein posted a similar report a few hours back.

A fifth-round pick in 2011, McGough is an intriguing relief prospect who still has plenty to work on. At six feet tall and with a slight build, he’s on the small side, but he has an incredibly fast arm capable of firing 93-95-mph fastballs that touch 97, although there is some effort in his delivery. His command and control is no better than average, and his ultimate role as either a late-inning reliever or just another bullpen piece will come down to the development of his slider. He’ll flash a plus one with heavy break, but it’s a rarity, as he has a tendency to overthrow the pitch and has trouble keeping it in the strike zone.

I think McGough can contribute for the Marlins in the bullpen with some development, but I don’t see him as an elite arm that would fit as a closer or such. Therefore, I don’t mind his inclusion in the deal.

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At the current level of production for all the players involved, the Dodgers are paying around $40 million for about 6 WAR and are trading 8-10 WAR (Eovaldi) or more plus potentially six years of a solid reliever (McGough) to the Marlins. That reality is why the trade is a significant risk on the part of the Dodgers.

Even taking that into consideration though, the temptation of Hanley’s upside chart is what makes this deal. It represents what could happen if Hanley does round back into form (~15 WAR), and it’s significant because the Dodgers will then have managed to pick up a rare elite talent in a market that’s a bit bare at the moment.

So with money to burn and the Dodgers having no internal answers, the gamble seems to be worth taking.

About Chad Moriyama

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