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Tony Watson Traded to Dodgers

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

According to Ken Rosenthal (via Twitter), the Pirates have traded left-handed reliever Tony Watson to the Los Angeles Dodgers, conditional on medical approval of Watson. Previous rumors had linked the Dodgers to another left-handed reliever, Zach Britton, and Jon Heyman suggests that Los Angeles plans to use Watson both as a situational lefty and to “spell kenley a bit so as to save him (once in a awhile)” (sic).

Watson originally entered the Pirates organization as a ninth-round draft pick out of the University of Nebraska in 2007. He first reached the majors in 2011, and spent several years as a top setup man, including a spot on the NL All-Star team in 2014. Watson assumed the mantle as the Pirates’ closer in 2016, following the trade of Mark Melancon to the Nationals, but struggled this spring and surrendered the role to Felipe Rivero. He concludes his time with the Pirates with a 2.68 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP, 30 saves, and 380 strikeouts in 450 ML games and 433 ML innings pitched.

The Pirates’ return in the deal has not been reported yet. Once it has been, this post will be updated.

Update 1: Joel Sherman indicates that the Pirates will receive two minor league players from the Dodgers in return for Watson.

Update 2: The Pirates have acquired Joaquin Benoit from the Phillies for High-A right-hander Seth McGarry and cash. (Ken Rosenthal broke the trade, Meghan Montemurro the return.)

Update 3: The Pirates have announced the return for Watson: Right-handed reliever Angel German and third baseman Oneil Cruz. Both players are low-minors prospects, teammates on the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons.

German is 21 years old, and is listed at 6’4’’ and 185 pounds, which makes him sound like he might have some physical projection. Baseball America ranked him as the Dodgers’ #27 prospect after the 2015 season, crediting him with a fastball that sat in the mid-90s and touched triple digits, along with rudimentary secondary stuff. His numbers weren’t anything special until this year, but it seems as though he has started to transform his potential into performance, with a 1.91 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP, a 37/14 K/BB in 33 innings pitched, and zero home runs allowed. There is a short clip of German pitching in 2016 here, and a slightly longer clip of him pitching in 2015 here. German will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this offseason if he isn’t added to the 40-man roster - which he might not be, since it seems as though he’s a long way from being ready for the majors.

Cruz is even younger and even taller than German: only 18 years old, and listed at 6’6’’ and 175 pounds. He was a high-profile signee for the Dodgers in 2015, getting $950,000 as a shortstop prospect, but he has largely outgrown the position since then, and could even end up as an outfielder after his body finishes developing. Baseball America ranked him as the Dodgers’ #27 prospect at the end of last season, citing his size, athleticism, feel for hitting, barrel control, and raw power. His raw numbers in 2017 are unimpressive (a .240/.293/.342 batting line, with a 28/110 BB/K in 342 AB), but it’s important to note that he was an 18-year-old in full-season ball, and thus one of the youngest players in the league. He performed much better against less advanced competition in the DSL in 2016. There is a fair amount of good recent film of Cruz available online, including this clip and this one.

In summary, the two players are fairly raw talents who are at least several years away from becoming contributors, but there are definite things to like about both.