Tuesday, July 22, 2008

After Some Time... It's not a Boner-Facio, but I'm Underwhelmed

First, let me say, I'm no prospects expert. I've never even seen this kid play, not on TV, nothing. And even if I'd seen every move he's made since grade school, my opinion isn't worth a bucket of spit next to any pro scout's. So with THAT out of the way, here's my take.

Emilio Bonifacio is a 23-year-old switch-hitting 2B/SS currently hitting .302-.348-.387 with 17 SB in 85 games at AAA Tuscon. His primary assets are excellent speed and excellent defense at second. Clearly, the stolen bases are there--his career SB success rate is 78%. Defensive stats are hard, but his Baseball Prospectus Rate2 stat for 2007 is a very good 122 (100 is average, and 122 means he saves his team 22 runs for every 100 games played). As they say, speed and defense don't slump, so count on that much at least.

JimBo says:
"This trade brings us a quality, young player, who has the potential to develop into a solid leadoff hitter and outstanding defensive second baseman," general manager Jim Bowden said. "He is a high-energy player with a lot of potential, and we anticipate he'll fit nicely into our long-term plan of drafting, acquiring and developing a solid nucleus that will lead our club in the near future."
However, his OBP definitely isn't good enough to be the lead-off guy Bowden said he could be, and he'll need to see a pretty big jump just to be a useful everyday player of any kind because he's never going to develop any power. His career OBP is .338, and .348 this year. He strikes out (
15.9% of his PAs this year) more than twice as often as he walks (6.7%), which saps most of the value of his speed. The consensus seems to be that we can at least count on a good utility guy, with the high-end potential to be a very good defensive 2B and decent bottom of the order guy. Lead-off man seems like a pipe dream. The most favorable comparison I've seen anywhere is to Luis Castillo, but there are lots of comparisons that are much less favorable.

But there are the reasons to like the deal, should we choose to be optimistic:
  1. Rauch has pitched 226.1 relief innings since Opening Day 2006. The list of pitchers who have had that kind of workload and not gotten hurt isn't very long. Add in just the inherently erratic nature of relief pitchers' performance, and I wouldn't be shocked if the D'Backs don't get nearly as much from Rauch over the next two and a half years as we've gotten from the last.
  2. Rauch, who will be 30 at year's end and is under contract for one more year, with a club option for 2010, is highly unlikely to be a part of The First Great Nationals Team. If the goal is to win the World Series as soon and as many times as possible (as I think it should be), you traded a guy who almost surely won't be a part of that for someone who might be. From that perspective, it makes sense.
  3. Nationals AGM Mike Rizzo was the scouting director in Arizona when Bonifacio was signed as a minor league FA in 2001, and his track record there was pretty outstanding. If this was Bowden acquiring another one of his Cincy guys, we'd be howling. But Rizzo doesn't have Bowden's track record.
  4. The trade certainly gives us a leg-up on the Stephen Strasburg sweepstakes!
But still, I'm underwhelmed. I feel obliged to at least give a golf clap since I've been screaming for JimBo to move Rauch for youth, but this just doesn't seem like enough return. Maybe I was overrating Rauch's trade value, and maybe I just got a little too hyped reading rumors about Rauch for Rays' powerhouse Wade Davis (which I never believed, but this isn't within two counties of that), but it just seems like someone would have given more, and that if this was all we could get we should have waited.

And yes, I admit, I have a bad feeling just because Josh Byrnes is a way better GM than our guy.

Here are some of the comments from around the Internets:

Baseball America had him as the D'Backs' #6 prospect and the fastest baserunner and defensive infielder in their system. Here's Aaron Fitt's take on him today:
Bonifacio, 23, ranked as the No. 6 prospect in the Arizona system entering this year and has thrived in his Triple-A debut, batting .302/.348/.387 with one homer, 29 RBIs and 17 stolen bases for Tucson. That performance earned him his first taste of the big leagues, where he is 2-for-12 with a stolen base in eight games. Bonifacio, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2001, broke out in 2006 at high Class A Lancaster, batting .321/.449/.375 with seven homers, 50 RBIs and 61 steals. His well-above-average speed is his best tool, and he uses is effectively on the basepaths. He plays with energy and passion and is a plus defender at second, with reliable hands, great range and a strong arm. He earns comparisons to Luis Castillo, but he needs to cut down on his strikeouts.
And his take on the trade overall:
This trade is a win for both sides. The Diamondbacks get a reliable setup man for closer Brandon Lyon and bolster a bullpen that ranks eighth in the majors with a 3.97 ERA. On top of that, Rauch comes cheap and will be under Arizona's control until 2010. Bonifacio was blocked by Orlando Hudson in Arizona and was expendable.

The Nationals, meanwhile, are going nowhere this season and were able to parlay one of their few desirable major league commodities into a player who may become their second baseman of the future. Even in the short term, Bonifacio could supplant struggling second baseman Felipe Lopez and outsized veteran Ronnie Belliard.
John Sickels gave Bonifacio a C+ grade this past off season (which I think means he's a middling prospect, but I'll be damned if that website ever explains the rating system) and ranked him the D'Backs' 10th best prospect going into this season.

Baseball Prospectus's 2008 Annual says:
"Even though he didn't hit in the California League or at Double-A, it's too early to write off Bonifacio. Gifted with blazing speed and a certain brio, he's what some might call a gamer, but despite the slappy-speed-guy profile, the bat doesn't get knocked out if his hands in tight spots. His upside is something in the Tony Womack/Miguel Cairo range. His glovework at second is better than those two, but he's not able to handle shortstop as a regular.
Baseball Prospectus's take on the trade is here.

Baseball HQ said this about Bonifacio when he was called up briefly earlier this year:
The Diamondbacks called up Emilio Bonifacio to give them some infield depth on their bench. Bonifacio had a breakout season in 2006 when he hit .321 with 35 doubles, 7 home runs, and 61 SB at High-A Lancaster. Since then he has made steady progress and is among the speediest players in the minors. Defensively Bonifacio has a good glove, strong arm, and soft hands. For now Bonifacio will serve as a utility infielder.
The chatter at Baseball Think Factory
isn't positive. In particular, retired blogger Chris Needham's take is quite negative.

And it turns out they're going to Hanrahan to close. I think Saul is better at this point, but he doesn't have the dominating stuff you look for in a closer. Hanrahan does. So it makes sense that they would give Joel a chance to see if he can do it. And if he can, his value goes way up.
  • A few more reactions today. SI.com's Jon Heyman says: "The relief market looks a lot stronger than the starting market now. But a couple executives with relievers to sell expressed annoyance that the Nationals dealt Jon Rauch to the Diamondbacks for second-base prospect Emilio Bonifacio, claiming it wasn't enough for Rauch. "I was surprised that's all Washington got,'' one AL executive said. However, Bonifacio isn't bad (one exec likened him to former big leaguer Delino DeShields, who was a top stolen base threat for years), and if anyone knows the D'backs' prospects, it's Nats assistant GM Mike Rizzo. Bonifacio is said to be a fine defender with excellent speed."
  • Baseball Prospectus's Christina Kahrl says:
Why? Because crushing the spirit of any aspiring fan base just isn't enough for some teams. There's little rational explanation for why you would dump a cheaply-signed Rauch for a dubious middle infield prospect. Bonifacio's aspiration in life will be to fight guys like the thumb-gifted Felipe Lopez or Ronnie Belliard's aging toad act; it is perhaps a goal beyond his grasp. Last I checked, steals were a counting-stat category that counted in make-believe, and not so much in real-world baseball, but hey, at least Bonifacio will steal bases. Sort of—he's been caught eight times in 25 attempts with Tucson. Swell. But speed equals leadoff skills, right? Not so much, not when you've got a guy who's hitting a weak .302/.348/.387 for the Sidewinders. That sounds pretty good... except it's in Tucson, and translating that kind of production from him into what you might get from him at his peak gets you to a guy who might chip in at .269/.318/.347, or a .237 Equivalent Average. Maybe a slower, better-fielding edition of Tony Womack is what this team needs. If it is, you might wind up asking about what the actual goals are, because this is the kind of “prospect” who grows up to kill you because he's the real-world definition of what a replacement-level regular at second looks like.

So fans need something else to get excited about where the future's concerned, so why not repeat last winter's mistakes with Young and Belliard—not to mention the big mistake four years ago in spending top dollar in the first place—and shower the cooling Guzman with cash? How many low-OBP singles hitters will this team need? Is the new Deadball Era around the corner, and only Stan Kasten got the memo?

In the face of such overwhelming horrors, it's easy to lose sight of the happy bits of news. Getting back Zimmerman—the face of this franchise, however much money gets thrown at the likes of Guzman—is obviously good news, and pushes Belliard back to... first base? It's that or re-initiating the midget-wrestling contest over whether Belliard or Lopez is the team's second baseman. Mock's role will have to be sorted out, since he's done good work in the Columbus rotation, but other than Collin Balester (who Mock bettered in Triple-A), there isn't really a weak link in the big-league rotation, and Balester's made only three starts as of yet. However, given the time of year, there's plenty of speculation over whether or not somebody might trade for Odalis Perez or Tim Redding; if Ed Wade had enough prospects to pass around, you might have gotten something tasty.

6 comments:

Mike said...

Sickels' rankings:

Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.

Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.

Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don't make it at all.

Nationals Fan said...

Thanks. I knew someone would come through.

Steve Shoup said...

Very comprhensive post, i wish i read it before i posted my first comments on the initial blog post. I agree with you wholeheartedly with 1 and 2 and am in agreement with your 4th point why why to like the trade (sort of one of those, 'its funny cause its true' sort of statements. But I disagree with your third point that B/C Rizzo was in the system we should blindly trust him that he made the best deal possible, to me though thats the negative. He was in their scouting department, knows that Front Office up and down and built that farm system (now mostly Oaklands farm system) from the ground up. He should have had the inside knowledge to allow Bowden to play Byrnes and the D-backs not the other way around. He should have at least been able to add some lower level prospects that either are really young and have 'high upside' or Stop gap players like DAntona or Matt Torra guys who could fill out a roster or help allow us not to rush our own top prospects.

This in conjunction with keeping Guzman, which might be nice b/c they didn't have anyone in the pipeline, it prob is for a bit of a discount and thats solid production from a premium position, means the the Nats as we know them now are the Nats that we will know opening day 2009 there isn't going to be an influx of young talent. Guys that they can trade, Belliard, Perez, LoDuca are going to bring top end prospects in return.

I just feel that this team needs to continue to bring in an influx of talent. I thought they did a great job in 2007 and up until now in 2008. Their 2007 draft class was tops, adding Pena (so it didn't work out he has some talent absolutly worth Fruto for the chance) Flores, Milledge, Dukes, Clippard and the only thing of consequence they gave up was Glenn Gibson and he is struggling mightly now for the Rays.

Emilio is a nice addition I just don't think he is enough of one to warrent trading Rauch. I mean weren't we offering Rauch for Rickie Weeks this offseason? sure Weeks has struggled but he has way more upside than Emilio.

Nationals Fan said...

Thanks Steve. I want to give Rizzo the benefit of the doubt, partly because I'm looking for reasons to be hopeful, and it seems like he might be one. But who knows. Bottom line I think I agree, this seems like not enough return, but if the choice is to do this or do nothing and just hold onto Rauch? I dunno. I'm torn. Underwhelmed. Let's see the kid play, then I'll stop being such a wuss and get off the fence.

Mike said...

I think I agree with a lot of what Steve is saying here. A lot of the stories about EB involve anecdotes from Rizzo, including him going out to Tucson to scout him again. I have a feeling that this deal would have happened with Rizzo at the helm, too.

I don't understand the Luis Castillo comparisons either. Castillo had a decent enough bb:k ratio in the minor leagues, 253:246.

I think in a lot of ways, he's Guzman with the speed he used to have and maybe his defense is good.

So why not wait until closer to the deadline to see if anyone else gets injured? What if the Mets need someone at the back end to help Wagner? I think the reason they didn't wait is that they think this is a really good deal, and that scares me about what they'll put together offensively going forward.

Nationals Fan said...

I have a feeling that this deal would have happened with Rizzo at the helm, too.

I might go one step further and say that this deal wouldn't have happened if Rizzo wasn't AGM. And maybe even this is part of Rizzo rising in the pecking order as Bowden shifts out. I almost put a comment like that in the post, but I thought I'd better save the completely baseless conjecture for the comments section. :)