Reviewing the Trade Deadline: Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth

Kyle Farnsworth had a solid 2010 in Kansas City, much to the surprise of just about everyone.  With a 2.42 ERA and 1.164 WHIP in 37 appearances, the soon-to-be free agent looked like a solid trade chip for the Royals as the deadline approached.

It was no surprise when Atlanta, looking to bolster their bullpen for the stretch drive, came calling.

The big surprise was that they also wanted Rick Ankiel, who’d spent most of his 2010 on the disabled list and even when healthy had struggled to do much of anything.  The Royals, I assume, were more than happy to oblige, sending Ankiel and the last two months of his one year, $3.25 million deal that he signed last winter.

In return, the Royals received outfielder Gregor Blanco – a career backup outfielder, and Jesse Chavez, a homer-prone reliever. Also in the deal was the centerpiece, lefty reliever Tim Collins, who’d only struck out 87 batters through 51 innings in Double A to that point in the Toronto and Atlanta organizations.

After the trade, Farnsworth was used mostly in low leverage situations (as he should be) and compiled a 5.40 ERA for the Braves in 23 appearances. He continued to strike out batters and held opponents to a .636 OPS, so he ran into a few situations where he left the game with runners on and those inherited runners scored off of his replacement. Still, he put the runners on in the first place, but in general, he got outs.

Ankiel had hit .261/.317/.467/.784 in 101 plate appearances for the Royals, hitting four homers and striking out 29 times. With the Braves, Ankiel hit even worse, but walked much more. For Kansas City, he walked less than 7% of the time, but nearly doubled his walkrate in the National League (though struck out at a higher rate in the NL, too).

Unlike the Dodgers and Angels who’d traded for pieces for a playoff push, the Braves did sneak in on the last day of the season, winning the wild card. While they’ve since been eliminated, Game 2 featured both Farnsworth and Ankiel, as Farnsworth came on late to kill a rally and got the win after Ankiel hit a 425 foot homer in to McCovey Cove to put the Braves ahead en route to their only playoff win in 2010.

On that alone, the Braves achieved their goal of reaching the playoffs, though Ankiel and Farnsworth weren’t vital cogs in that effort, but that’s enough to give them a short-term win in the trade.

What the Royals received was a speedy, walk-friendly centerfielder in Blanco and a live arm with homerun vulnerabilities in Chavez along with pint-sized strikeout machine Tim Collins. The Royals tried to play Blanco everyday and leading off and he did alright in that role, hitting .274/.348/.369/.717 and walked about 10% of the time.

Chavez didn’t fare as well, putting up a 5.88 ERA and a 16/11 K/BB ratio in 23 appearances. He also surrendered five homers. Opponents put up a .864 OPS against him. While Chavez can hit 96 on the radar gun, it’s a pretty straight fastball and he doesn’t change speeds very well, so his homerun problems aren’t likely to correct themselves. He might make the club next year, but as some of the relief arms make their way up the system, he’s an early candidate as a roster casualty.

Speaking of minor league relief arms, the Royals got a good one in Tim Collins. His 9.3 K/9 rate in Omaha was his lowest career strikeout rate. Prior to reaching Triple A, Collins had played no higher than Double A since signing with Toronto as an undrafted free agent in 2007 at the age of 17, so to see a dip in his strikeout rate (in a small sample size as well) isn’t alarming. A 9.3 K/9 rate isn’t anything to sneeze at either, especially when Collins has a reasonable career walkrate of 3.9 BB/9 (but a collective 3.4 BB/9 in 71.1 innings in 2010 across three minor league affiliates).

Collins is the key to the trade, and has already become a sort of phenom, making the American Pan Am Games roster and gaining momentum to make the roster in 2011 as a setup man. At only 5’7″ and 155 lbs (and that may be generous), Collins isn’t suited to hold up to anything more than a relief role, but he’s excelled in that role to this point. In 20.1 innings over 15 appearances for Omaha, Collins had an ERA of 1.33 and gave up no homers. In his career, Collins has surrendered only 11 homers over 223 innings pitched. Compare that to Jesse Chavez‘s 12 homers allowed in 168 innings pitched in Triple A (and 42 allowed in 486 career minor league innings), and Collins is looking pretty good.

The Royals dumped two players they weren’t going to retain and got a strong relief option who’ll be under team control for six years in return. I’d almost argue that getting Collins alone would be a long-term win. Blanco could be a reasonable fourth outfield option and part-time starter, so he has some value too. Chavez, unfortunately, isn’t a very attractive option beyond his velocity.

The trade fits Dayton Moore’s stated focus on getting young players who’ll be able to stay under team control. The Royals have cheap options to evaluate and aren’t really blocking anyone (though Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Maier may have to split time next season with Blanco).

Altogether, the Royals got some good minor league options for a group of players that weren’t going to be a part of any future contention. Maybe Tim Collins won’t be able to handle the rigors of the major league life. Maybe Will Smith will lose his control as he progresses through the minor leagues. Many scouts already see Luke May as a career backup option at best, and Elisaul Pimentel may never really break out.

But the Royals are at least trying, and for a crop of useless veterans, that’s a good deal.

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Tags: AL Central Atlanta Braves Baseball Gregor Blanco Jesse Chavez Kansas City Royals KC Kyle Farnsworth MLB Rick Ankiel Royals Tim Collins

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