Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Making Sense of Colorado's Crazy Trade

Dickerson has far more value to a team than McGee (Fox Sports)
It's been two weeks, and I'm still trying to make sense of the Corey Dickerson for Jake McGee exchange. Given how smart front offices have become, it still blows my mind when they make obviously one-sided trades like this one, or last winter's Doug Fister and Jason Heyward trades.

Only on the most basic level does this trade make any sense for Colorado. The Rockies have an abundance of hitting and need pitching. They had a crowded outfield and a terrible bullpen (terrible doesn't even begin to describe how bad it was). So they traded an outfielder for a pretty good reliever. Okay, makes sense.

Except that it doesn't at all. At least for the Rockies.

For the Rays, a team perpetually short on offense, this trade makes all the sense in the world. Tampa Bay ranked second-to-last in the AL in runs scored last year, largely because its outfielders combined for just 56 home runs, 175 RBI, and a .258/.327/.420 batting line. With a collective OPS+ of 100, Rays outfielders provided league average production at best.

Dickerson, however, has been well above average the last two years, posting a 141 OPS+ in 2014 followed by a 118 OPS+ last year. After leaving Coors Field (the best hitter's park in baseball) for Tropicana Field (one of the worst), he's not going to come close to matching his .309/.354/.556 line from 2014-2015, but he's still a solidly above average corner outfielder who's not even 27 yet. Tampa Bay would have been better off going after someone from a less extreme environment, but Dickerson still represents a clear upgrade in an outfield that saw way too much of David DeJesus and Steven Souza last year.

And it's not like the Rays gave up much to get him, either. Relievers are cheap and plentiful, which makes them expendable. Any failed starter can find second life as a reliever. Hard-hitting, in-their-prime outfielders are a rarity, however, especially these days. McGee is good, but he's going to be 30 in August and was hurt last year. His value may never be higher than it is right now.

Which is why the Rays were smart to move him. The timing made sense. For the Rockies, however, this was probably the worst time for them to trade Dickerson. He's not even arbitration-eligible yet and is still under team control for four more years, plus he's coming off an injury-riddled season in which he missed almost 100 games and was worth only 0.5 bWAR. Had they waited for him to rebuild his value a bit, they could have gotten more for him, like a starting pitcher (Colorado could really use one of those).

While dumb, this trade at least would have been more defensible had the Rockies been good, as sometimes it's necessary to sacrifice something valuable to address one of your weaknesses. But Colorado's entire pitching staff is a weakness, and 60 innings from Mr. McGee won't change that. Bad teams don't need ace relievers, because by the time they get in the game the score's already been decided. They need good, young starting pitchers and position players they can build around. The bullpen is often the last piece of the puzzle, and one that can be cobbled together on the cheap (never pay for saves).

McGee's going to be a free agent in two years, and nobody seriously expects Colorado to contend by then. They've endured five straight losing seasons and there's no light at the end of the tunnel, not until they're able to build what passes for a major league-caliber starting rotation. Dickerson could have helped them do that, but now he's gone.

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