Deadline Eve Sleepers?

Of the five deals that went down on Deadline Eve, Sports Illustrated‘s Jay Jaffe, who also writes for Baseball Prospectus, seems most impressed with the one that sent Travis Snider to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who sent reliever Brad Lincoln to the Toronto Blue Jays to get Snider:

Snider.

Perhaps the most compelling move of the night was the liberation of the 24-year-old Snider from Toronto. A first-round pick out of a Washington state high school back in 2006, he reached the majors as a 20-year-old in late 2008 and hit a tantalizing .301/.338/.466 in 80 PA, numbers that pushed him into the top 10 of the Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus prospect lists coming into the 2009 season. Since then, he has struggled to a combined .243/.303/.425 line in 837 big league plate appearances — never more than 319 in a single season — while battling injuries and a seemingly endless series of promotions and demotions. While tearing up Triple-A Las Vegas on an annual basis (.333/.412/.565 combined) he has become something of a stathead cause célèbre whom fans of other teams covet — a classic “change of scenery” player.

Lincoln.

As I noted at Baseball Prospectus yesterday, the Pirates have gotten a Replacement-Level Killer-worthy production out of their leftfielders (.200/.243/.321) while their rightfielders haven’t been much better (.258/.297/.458). Both Opening Day starters, Alex Presley and Jose Tabata, have served minor league stints due to their struggles, with the latter still there. The team brought up Starling Marte for a look on Thursday, and had been discussing him as the key player in a potential trade for the Indians’ Shin-Soo Choo. The acquisition of Snider won’t necessarily stop that from going down, but note the contrast: Marte is 23, with two-thirds of a season at Triple-A and 22 big league plate appearances under his belt, while Snider is just eight months older, with a ton more upper-level experience. Because of his yo-yoing, he won’t even be arbitration eligible until after the 2013 season, making him somebody who should have a reasonable shot of becoming a lineup staple. Even matching his big league numbers to date (.248/.306/.429 ) would be an improvement upon the current situation, though Snider will have to improve upon a strikeout-to-walk ratio that was at 5.1 in 202 plate appearances last year.

In Lincoln, the Blue Jays get the fourth overall pick of the 2006 draft — 10 picks ahead of Snider — a player who looked like a bust coming into the year, having delivered a grand total of 100 1/3 major league innings with a 5.74 ERA. Now 27 years old, he has emerged as a useful reliever, delivering a microscopic 0.50 ERA and a 40/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 1/3 innings out of the bullpen, compared to a 6.08 ERA in five starts as a rotation patch. He’s got good control of a fastball that averages 93.8 MPH and a hard curveball that generates swings and misses, but lacking a reliable third pitch, he’s likely to stay in the bullpen.

Translation:

Snider’s up-and-down baseball life thus far has probably hurt him a little too much for his talents, but the Pirates need lineup help and Snider has the potential to become a fulltime outfield partner to Andrew McCutchen. I haven’t seen much of his defense, but statistically he looks reasonable enough in the field and the few times I did get to watch him he knew what he was doing in the outfield and seemed to make all the routine plays.

Lincoln has made himself into a solid bullpen bull with some very reasonable upside. You could look at him as a Blue Jays mainstay in the latter innings, potentially as a setup man equal to the Angels’ former longtime such bellwether Scot Shields, assuming Lincoln spends this season acclimating to his new club and gets regular work by season’s end and out of spring training 2013. He could even become a closing option if the Jays want to go to a tandem closing approach.

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