Major League Baseball clubs make trades based on knowing the contents of their own hand and reasonable hypotheses concerning the contents of their opponents’ hand, not unlike a game of Euchre. The team trading away a prospect is privy to more detailed information regarding qualitative aspects, such as a player’s drive, adaptability, commitment, and so forth. This knowledge is akin to being aware of the cards within your own hand. Of course there are uncertainties, or your partner’s hand, within that particular gambit but the process of elimination and knowledge of the strength of your own hand can overcome those uncertainties.
On the other side of the coin is your opponent’s hands — a great unknown. Sure, you can utilize the process of elimination to make educated guesses, which is similar to scouring a player’s statistical outputs, but this only represents a degree of certainty that is difficult to pinpoint. In essence, trades are gambits that run parallel to choosing trump in Euchre, where the uncertainties may outweigh the certainties but we must rely on forecasting skills and chance.
The Indians entered into one such arrangement with the Tampa Bay Rays, parting with intriguing yet elder prospect Yandy Diaz. In exchange, they received some cash and a 23-year-old first baseman slash outfielder with some interesting tools. At this point, Indians brass can only hope that Jake Bauer is the right bower.
Parting with Yandy Diaz was a difficult decision. The 27-year-old was well known among the Indians fan base for biceps that were only exceeded by his exit velocities. Though he mastered the art of hitting the ball hard, he had yet to find an optimal lift angle, instead burying over half the balls he hit into the dirt. This fact, working with the knowledge that the Indians were never going to give him a legitimate opportunity for whatever reason, made it difficult to project any sort of power or future with the big league club. They opted to go for a guy with a project-able profile, albeit raw, in Jake Bauers.
Bauers is on the other side of the exit velocity spectrum. He hasn’t shown major gains in that department early in his career, sporting a pedestrian average exit velocity of 86.8 last season. Though that mark falls significantly below Diaz’s 92 mile per hour average, Bauers attains his value in a directional and disciplinary fashion.
His tendency to pull the ball offers a glimmer of hope in building on his 11 home run campaign as a 22-year-old making his first appearance in the majors. Over half of his batted balls were pulled, which offers hope in the left handed jet stream that is Progressive Field. In recent history there are few parks that offer greater extra base hit advantages to left handed hitters.
Beyond the ability to run into the occasional pulled multi-bagger, Bauers sports an elite level eye at the dish. His eye is as good as advertised as it is not easy to carry a 14 percent walk rate while swinging and missing more than the average hitter. A good eye plus wavering contact marks indicates that Bauers will get deep into counts with ease.
Jake Bauers launched his rookie year on a tear. This was largely supported by an inflated batting average on balls in play. In fact, there was no data more telling than Bauers’ BABIP in terms of predicting his success at the dish.
Throughout the season, Bauers was only as good as his luck permitted. This is anything but discouraging, though. It offers an effective baseline for his production level in the big leagues. If he can run a 100 wRC+ with league average BABIP skills, his walk rate and potential power breakout could offer significant paths to improvement and is the framework for a plus hitter.
The Diaz for Bauers exchange makes theoretical sense framed as a swap for high ceiling players. The Indians just opted for the route that netted them some cash and gave them a guy who probably would fit the lineup card better. It was clear they were not comfortable letting Diaz play the outfield. Bauers can be an adequate left fielder, especially at Progressive Field. If Michael Brantley can fake it well enough in that zone, Bauers should be just fine.
The only part of the gamble that terrifies the Indians is the potential for a Yandy Diaz breakout, which is not outside of the realm of possibilities. Jake Bauers has the profile to trump it, however. The Indians saw his tools as the safer wager, which is difficult to argue. Taking the younger guy with more team control who walks more is dependable procedure.