On Wednesday, the Chicago White Sox announced they had acquired All Star third baseman Todd Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds in a seven-player, three-team trade that also involved the Los Angeles Dodgers. The rumors regarding a potential trade between the White Sox and the Reds involving Frazier began swirling with regularity during the Winter Meetings last week in Nashville. The inclusion of the Dodgers adds an unanticipated and interesting wrinkle. Here we will take a look at the pieces involved in the trade.
The New Reds Prospects
Jose Peraza: The highest ranked prospect in the trade, Peraza is unquestionably the prize for the Reds. Ranked as the top prospect in the Atlanta system prior to 2015, Peraza earned a Grade B+ from John last winter. He began 2015 at Triple A Gwinnett where he posted 97 wRC+ in 427 plate appearances before the Braves shipped him to the Dodgers in a July three-team deal including the Marlins. Peraza made his Major League debut during a brief August stint with the Dodgers appearing in seven games total with 22 games at Oklahoma City sprinkled in between big league callups.
Peraza features an intriguing blend of tools headlined by double-plus speed. Reports on his hit tool are typically at least average, and he is considered a solid, versatile defender as well. Peraza came up through the Braves system as a shortstop before switching mostly to second base in 2014 as the team prepared for the possibility that he would one day play alongside Andrelton Simmons (my, how things change). In addition to playing the middle infield, he was introduced to center field for this first time as a pro in 2015 making 17 total appearances in the grass. He lacks power and is not exactly patient, so his offensive game will be tied to his hit tool and speed.
This is the second time Peraza has been dealt in less than five months. Both times, the trading team possessed what they believed to be superior shortstop options on their respective Major League rosters. This is decidedly not the case in Cincinnati as Peraza will have to contend with the mediocrity of Zach Cozart and Eugenio Suarez for playing time in 2016. With the Reds now apparently in full-blown rebuilding mode, a Brandon Phillips trade would also seem to be a distinct possibility if they can find a taker. Peraza should have a great shot to continue his development at the Major League level in 2016 at age 22. His ceiling is that of an above-average regular.
Scott Schebler: Schebler is an intriguing secondary piece for the Reds. An outfielder that shows an interesting blend of tools, he was given a Grade B- from John last winter after a strong showing in Double A including 28 homers and a 154 wRC+ mark. He struggled with the adjustment to Triple A in 2015 as his strikeout rate ballooned to 32.5%, and his overall production was below average for the PCL. He played in 19 games for the Dodgers this year as well.
Schebler is likely a fourth outfielder at the Major League level. He has played all three outfield spots in the minors, although he profiles best in a corner. With the Reds also reportedly seeking a trade partner for veteran slugger Jay Bruce, the Cincinnati outfield could be fairly wide open in 2016. Schebler should have an opportunity to make the Reds roster on Opening Day as he competes with minor league slugger Adam Duvall, Rule 5 pick Jake Cave, fellow Triple A washout Kyle Waldrop, and top prospect Jesse Winker to establish himself for a rebuilding squad.
Brandon Dixon: Dixon is a curious choice for inclusion in a deal of this nature. A 3rd round pick out of Arizona in 2013, Dixon has been mostly unremarkable as a pro. Outside of a strong 45 game stint for Rancho Cucamonga in the California League this year, Dixon has struggled mightily at the plate to the tune of a .247/.281/.396 minor league line in 1189 plate appearances.
Drafted as a third baseman, Dixon has played increasingly more second base as his pro career has advanced. He started to pick up the outfield last season as well. All the position shifting would appear to be an effort to increase his flexibility and give him a path to a career as a utility player. Given his offensive struggles at Double A Tulsa last season including a 28.1% strikeout rate and 77 wRC+, even that would seem to be optimistic.
The New Dodgers Prospects
Frankie Montas: While Peraza is probably the top prospect in the trade, there is an argument to be made that Montas may have the most upside of any player involved here. With a fastball that tops out in triple digits and an increased level of polish, Montas was given a Grade B-/B from John last winter. He was solid in 112 innings for Double A Birmingham where he posted 8.68 K/9, 3.86 BB/9, and a 3.04 FIP. He pitched for the World Team in the 2015 Futures Game before making his Major League debut with the White Sox in September.
Montas represents yet another flamethrower entangled in the classic debate over his ultimate role. With an elite fastball and a plus slider, it's not hard to imagine Montas being any number of useful things for the Dodgers. Questions about his control and change up fuel the belief that he may be best suited as a dominant late-inning force. I could see him either heading to Triple A to continue smoothing the rough edges as a starter, or heading straight to the Dodgers bullpen and working towards high leverage duty. It will be interesting to see if the Dodgers tip their hand on their plans for him.
Trayce Thompson: Like Montas, Thompson is ready to contribute to the Dodgers Major League team in 2016. After earning a Grade C+ from John for the past two winters, Thompson broke out for the White Sox in 2015. In 104 games for Triple A Charlotte, Thompson hit .260/.304/.441 for 114 wRC+. He earned his way to Chicago in August where he got hot for 135 plate appearances including a .295/.363/.533 line and 144 wRC+.
Although his Major League line was well out of step with his career norms, Thompson's tools including above average power, speed, and outfield defense have never been in question. In his 2014 article for the White Sox Top-20 prospects, John said "I can't shake the impression that this is one raw tools athlete who will figure it out someday..."
It would seem the Dodgers are betting that Thompson's day has arrived. The most encouraging aspect of his big league performance last year is that his walk rate rose from 5.5% in Triple A to 9.6% with the White Sox. If that level of discipline is now a permanent part of his skill set, Thompson should have a chance to be a quality regular. If he regresses to his minor league levels, he likely settles in with a floor of solid fourth outfielder. With no clear path to playing time in Los Angeles at present, it seems possible Thompson could head back to Triple A to begin his age 25 season. Of course it's equally possible that the Dodgers have another deal coming down the line that could either clear a roster spot for Thompson or see him moved on to another team.
Micah Johnson: Johnson stands as the third Major League ready piece acquired by the Dodgers in this deal. After a strong showing split between Double A and Triple A in 2014, Johnson earned a Grade B- from John last off season. He then parlayed a strong Spring Training into an Opening Day start at second base for the White Sox. After struggling both offensively, and defensively, Johnson was sent back to Triple A in May where he returned to form. In 351 plate appearances for Charlotte, Johnson hit .315/.375/.466 for 145 wRC+.
The White Sox were on record as being critical of Johnson's glove work at the keystone. Most defensive metrics and scouting reports seem to agree that Johnson is a sub par defensive second baseman leading to persistent speculation that he may have to move to the outfield and take advantage of his excellent speed to establish himself in the Major Leagues. Yet, as Johnson prepares to enter his fourth full season as a pro, he has yet to play any position other than second base.
Despite his struggles to adjust in his first taste of Major League pitching, Johnson provides intriguing offensive upside fueled by dynamic speed, a solid hit tool, and good control of the strike zone. Given the current state of the Dodgers roster, it is difficult to see Johnson breaking camp with the team. Given the current state of his defensive profile, that may be justified. I am bullish on Johnson overall, but this move does not help his chances of establishing himself in the Majors.
The New White Sox Slugger
Todd Frazier: Speculation surrounding Frazier has been one of the more interesting elements of the off season for Reds fans. After back-to-back All Star appearances and his fantastic performance in front of the home town faithful in the 2015 Home Run Derby, Frazier seemed to be cementing himself as part of the identity of the Reds franchise. Alas, the Reds have wisely determined that they cannot compete in the loaded National League Central for the next few years and with his age and salary both headed in the wrong direction, it was time for Frazier to go.
The White Sox gain one of the top all around third baseman in the game with two seasons of team control remaining. Frazier should provide some much needed thump to support Jose Abreu in the middle of their lineup while solidifying what has been one of the worst third base situations in baseball for nearly a decade. Newly acquired Brett Lawrie will now move to second base, suddenly leaving the White Sox with three-quarters of a legitimate Major League infield.
From the White Sox point of view, the acquisition of Frazier speaks to the continued belief that they must look to capitalize on the outrageous production-versus-cost ratios of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, and Adam Eaton by improving the quality of the roster around them in an effort to win now. Entering his age 30 season, Frazier's best years could be behind him, but he represents such a massive upgrade over their internal options that he has a very low bar to clear to be considered a success.
Montas, Thompson, and Johnson are all solid prospects with fairly high floors. I consider all three to be legitimate Major Leaguers with similar questions regarding whether or not they can overcome their respective flaws and let their positive attributes carry them. If all three hit their ceilings, this trade will look awful for the White Sox in a few years. If all three operate closer to their floors, it will appear much more sensible. Your overall opinion of the deal at this point could well boil down to whether or not you agree with the team's overall plan to keep plowing ahead in an effort to contend.
From the Reds point of view, I struggle to understand this deal. I accept the need to rebuild and move Frazier, but I am not sold on the return. The Dodgers return features more depth and diversification than what the Reds received. This begs the question of whether or not the Reds would have been better off just dealing with the White Sox directly. The only reasonable assumption to make is that the Reds place a very high value on Peraza-- high enough to accept two fairly mediocre secondary pieces rather than take what the White Sox were offering for Frazier.
From the Dodgers point of view, I like this deal. I fully expect the combined future value of Montas, Thompson, and Johnson to exceed that of Peraza, Schebler, and Dixon. Whether that value comes in the form of on-field contributions to the Dodgers from those three, or a subsequent deal for a more established player facilitated by their overall depth, remains to be seen. Either way, I am impressed by their ability to sneak into this move and in the only part of the trade that features prospects for prospects, it feels like they clearly improved here.