Sunday::funday. While Wisconsin lives this phrase almost every week, January 18, 2015 was destined to be an especially epic one. The state’s sports crown jewel, the Green Bay Packers, were set to meet the Seattle Seahawks for the right to play in the Super Bowl. Most residents were glued to a TV; however, one Milwaukeean had his eyes turned to Texas.
Milwaukee Brewers’ General Manager Doug Melvin was working out a trade of the Brewers longest-tenured player, right-handed starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, along with $4 million in cash to the Texas Rangers in exchange for shortstop Luis Sardinas, right-handed relief pitcher Corey Knebel, and right-handed prospect Marco Diplan.
The news, as the Packers were about to start, was jarring. Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal jointly broke the news right before kickoff, Gallardo was set to go to his adopted hometown team. A Mexican native, Gallardo prepped at Trimble Technical High School in Fort Worth, just a 20-minute drive from the Ballpark in Arlington per Google Maps, and now resides in Fort Worth during the off season. Gallardo had been in the Brewers system since 2004, when the team selected him in the second round pick out of high school.
Gallardo, who turns 29 in February, has been a model of consistency for his MLB career. After breaking into the big leagues part way into the 2007, he has thrown between 185 and 207 innings every year, save for 2008 when he missed a large chunk of the season due to a torn ACL. Over that same time fame, he posted an ERA+ between 105 and 112 every year except 2013. The Rangers are picking up as solid, durable, mid-rotation starter, tough one with declining fastball velocity and strikeout rates.
When he first became a major leaguer, Gallardo easily sat in the lower-mid 90’s with his fastball and had the ability to ramp it up to 95-96 when needed. He threw it exclusively as a 4 seemer mixing in both a slider and curveball, with the latter being his preferred breaking pich, with an occasional change up. As he has aged and lost velocity, he has almost entirely scrapped the changeup, moved from a 4-seam to 2-seam fastball, and moved to the slider being his primary breaking pitch with the curve taking the role of the off-speed pitch. As his raw stuff has fallen off, so has his strike percentage. Always a bit of a nibbler, he fell under 40% strikes for two years in a row during 2012 and 2013 and was just over in 2014. Though this coincided with Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldanado, both noted low ball framers, taking over as the Brewers catchers, so it may have been a deliberate effort in homer happy Miller Park. Predictably, his groundball percentage has steadily risen, allowing him to offset the falling K-rates. With both Thomas Telis and Robinson Chirinos ranking in the bottom 16 of 105 catchers per Baseball Prospectus’ framing runs metrics, Gallardo’s walk and groundball rates are things to watch in 2015.
In return, the Brewers received the aforementioned three players. Sardinos, a switch hitter, is a former back end of a top-100 type prospect who had shown the ability to play a competent shortstop with good speed on the bases in his 2014 big league debut. However, he showed little power, posting just a .052 ISO, and no more on-base ability, a 4.0% BB rate, which both followed from his minor league results. His offensive value will likely be almost entirely driven by his ability to put the bat on the ball, which did result in above-average contact rates. Overall, he seems to be quite similar to the Brewers’ current SS Jean Segura. Being that Segura is already entrenched at the position, and has shown some ability to hit in his pro career, Sardinos will likely slot in as the Brewers utility man and is a potential candidate to be Scooter Gennett’s platoon partner at second base and replace Aramis Ramirez defensively late in games.
The second piece, Knebel, is a power righty who looks to be a potential late-inning flamethrower. The former supplemental first-round pick made his big league debut with the Detroit Tigers before being traded to the Rangers along with Jake Thompson in exchange for Joakim Soria. He sits in the mid-90’s with a power curve. Walks and a lack of a third pitch mean he will almost certainly never leave the pen, but the heat and bender should allow him to succeed in a setup role. There is additional risk as he was shut down with a sprained UCL in 2014, though he has to date avoided Tommy John Surgery. While Jonathan Broxton seems to be set in the closer role to start the season, Knebel could be a candidate to replace Broxton should he falter, assuming his elbow is healthy.
The final piece is also the least clear. The Rangers signed Diplan for $1.3 million in the J2 market in 2013, where he was ranked #6 overall by Baseball America and the #1 pitching prospect. The diminutive 18-year-old has little track record as a pro, pitching in the Dominica Summer League in 2014, but according to Kiley McDanial of FanGraphs, he has already shown big league potential stuff headlined by a low-90s fastball. The risk is enormous of course, as Diplan is yet to even make his stateside debut, but any upside in a Brewers system mostly devoid of high end talent is welcome. The Brewers don’t have much of a track record in the Latin American market recently, but the last two high school pitchers with similar talent that the team drafted both made their debuts in the Arizona Rookie League, so expect to see Diplan there if he does make it to the US this year.
All in all, this seems like a fairly even trade for both sides. The Rangers strengthen up their rotation without giving up one of their top prospects, while the Brewers were able to cut some salary, add bullpen and bench depth, and add a lottery ticket type prospect dealing from a position of strength.
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