But this one had a few twists: It was a three-team deal -- the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds were the other two trade partners -- and in this one, the Diamondbacks dealt the prospect Bauer and weren't the ones to land Choo. Instead, Choo landed in Cincinnati, making the Diamondbacks' haul most curious. Oh, and what's more, it was an offseason trade, counter to the usual tendency of contender-pretender deals happening midseason near the trade deadline.
Let's first address the details:
• The Indians wound up trading Choo, infielder Jason Donald, left-handed reliever Tony Sipp and first baseman Lars Anderson plus $3.5 million, receiving Bauer, center fielder Drew Stubbs and right-handed relievers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw in exchange.
• The Reds traded Stubbs and shortstop Didi Gregorius and received Choo, Donald and that $3.5 million to offset Choo's and Stubbs' salaries.
• The Diamondbacks traded Bauer, Albers and Shaw and received Gregorius, Sipp and Anderson.
Choo, Stubbs and Bauer were by far the centerpieces of the deal from a fantasy perspective, and their trades thrust them under the microscope: Choo takes over as the leadoff man for the Reds, who have a deeper lineup than that of the 2012 Indians and play in a more hitting-friendly environment, and he'll shift to center field, replacing the strikeout-prone Stubbs. Stubbs takes over as an Indians starting outfielder, though it's unclear currently whether he or Michael Brantley would man center field in 2013; general manager Chris Antonetti said that decision has not been made. Bauer, meanwhile, has a vastly improved chance of spending the entire 2013 campaign in the major league rotation in Cleveland.
Choo is a brilliant lineup fit in Cincinnati, as the Reds had by far the major leagues' worst on-base percentage from their leadoff hitters in 2012 (.254). Choo, by comparison, ranked among the majors' top 20 qualified hitters in on-base percentage in each of his three batting title-eligible campaigns (2009-10 and 2012), and his walk rate ranked among the top 25 in both 2010 and 2012. Therefore, there's an excellent chance that the Reds will have their leadoff man on base a good 75 times more than they did in 2012, and that presents a huge advantage for projected middle-of-the-order sluggers Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips, who combined had 232 RBIs in 1,731 plate appearances (one per 7.46).
To say that the odds of the Reds boasting at least one 100-run scorer (Choo) and as many as two 100-RBI men (Votto and Bruce, the likely Nos. 3 and 5 hitters) are good is selling this lineup short. Surely Choo should be a .280-average, .375-OBP performer in 2013, and coupled with probable 100-run, 20-steal contributions, his value will improve. That he'll also experience a boost in home run potential in his new ballpark, which is good for left-handed power, means Choo deserves every bit of his boost in ranking, from my No. 86 overall player to 78th.
Defensively speaking, however, there are concerns for Reds pitchers following this deal. (And that's not because of anything Donald, a projected backup infielder for his new team, does to the team.) Choo as a center fielder is a puzzling experiment, as he has 10 career big league games at the position, only one in the past six seasons and only 161 total as a professional. The man he's replacing, Stubbs, had the third-best Ultimate Zone Rating (per FanGraphs) out of 20 qualified center fielders (6.8), while Choo had the worst UZR of 17 qualified right fielders (-17.0). With Ryan Ludwick in left field, Choo in center and Bruce in right, the Reds have an outstanding chance of placing all three outfield positions in the bottom five in the majors defensively in 2013 so good luck, Reds fly-ball pitchers.
Two Reds hurlers had higher than the major league average fly-ball rate in 2012, Bronson Arroyo with 38.3 percent (27th out of 88 qualifiers) and Homer Bailey with 37.6 percent (32nd), so don't count on either having as easy a time repeating what were solid ratios in 2012. Both lose a solid $1-2 in NL-only auction drafts as a result of Stubbs' departure and Choo's arrival.
By comparison, Stubbs' arrival in Cleveland considerably improves the outfield defense, and if the Indians are smart, they'll move Brantley back to left field. That's a plus for Ubaldo Jimenez, whose 40.8 percent fly-ball rate ranked 17th last season, and it means a potential $1-2 AL-only boost to their starters, which is important, because Indians pitchers haven't recently registered on the fantasy radar.
As a fantasy pick, Stubbs' own appeal decreases. He's one of the most strikeout-prone players in the game -- his 29.8 percent strikeout rate the past three years combined is 10th highest out of 389 qualifiers -- and he received a boost in his numbers thanks to Great American Ball Park, where he had .263/.332/.441 lifetime rates, compared to .221/.293/.337 rates on the road. Stubbs will need to adjust to a new set of pitchers in the American League, potentially feeding his streaky tendencies, and at best he might be a 15-homer, 40-steal late-rounder who tanks your team's batting average. (By the way, I think even those numbers are a stretch.) I don't recommend him, did not rank him among my initial top 250 players and would be less inclined to do so now.
Bauer is the Indians' prize in the deal. Though he struggled with walks in the minor leagues last season before having four poor starts for the Diamondbacks, he'll remain highly rated on any scout's ranking list -- he's arguably still one of the 10 best prospects in the game -- and has the skills to make an instant impact in ERA and strikeouts. Sometimes a change of scenery is beneficial to a youngster, and Bauer's chances of making 25-plus starts for the Indians are good. He now makes my top 75 starting pitchers, checking in at 74th.
Gregorius is the Diamondbacks' prize in this deal, and it's a perplexing fit to the definition before hearing "Derek Jeter" comparisons as a potential explanation for their interest. Jeter parallels don't serve fantasy owners; Gregorius is a defensive- minded player and not a hitter, possessing .271/.323/.376 triple-slash rates during his minor league career. Where fantasy owners might see benefits if Gregorius wins the Diamondbacks' starting shortstop role is on their pitching staff, most notably ground-baller Trevor Cahill. But Gregorius himself might be a fill-the-spot shortstop, at best, in NL-only leagues, chipping in a handful of stolen bases but little else.
Anderson lacks a place in Arizona, where Paul Goldschmidt has first base locked down. A former top prospect, Anderson is a so-so .259/.355/.416 career hitter in Triple-A. His best chance at NL-only value is if the Diamondbacks trade Justin Upton or Jason Kubel and give him some at-bats in left or right field.
As for the relievers, only Albers and Shaw warrant mention in fantasy, as both are coming off solid seasons and will now serve as bullpen depth in Cleveland. That's significant only in that closer Chris Perez has been the subject of trade rumors, though remember, the Indians still have Vinnie Pestano ready to fill in next.
A final thought regarding the trade: Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers said afterward that he's now unlikely to trade Upton, which is potentially detrimental to the young slugger's fantasy value. The subject of trade rumors for months, Upton might've thrived in new surroundings, particularly a ballpark like Texas' Rangers Ballpark, but keep tabs on him in the coming weeks. If Upton remains in Arizona, might those rumors have an adverse impact on his performance? Perhaps, and the mere chance of that only bolsters my current No. 26 overall ranking (10th among outfielders) instead of moving him any higher.