Royals Trade JP Howell for Joey Gathright
The Royals' new GM made his first trade yesterday, trading lefty JP Howell for CF Joey Gathright and a middle infielder who doesn't matter. Howell has pitched fairly well at AAA, particularly before his shoulder problems began. The Devil Rays get a lefty who has had a solid track record in the minors, but also has some questionmarks with his stuff and possibly injuries. The Royals get a centerfielder who has struggling mightily at the plate, but might have the best speed in baseball.
Gathright's minor league track record: Gathright's minor league career line is .316/.390/.361. He's very much a singles hitter, but he does get on-base at a very good rate. Throughout his minor league career, Gathright has stolen 165 bases in 215 attempts (77 percent).
What the Royals get: Joey Gathright's excellent speed should give the Royals a great basestealer and improve the Royals' outfield defense. Gathright has a great track record of stealing bases. Gathright has stolen 38 bases in 47 attempts (81 percent) in 150 major-league games. It's not unreasonable to think that Gathright could steal 40 or 50 bases on a regular basis, something the Royals haven't seen since Vince Coleman/Tom Goodwin. Moving DeJesus to the No. 2 spot in the lineup probably suits him better, with his gap power, great on-base skills, and above-average speed. If Gathright can get on-base, the Royals should have much improved scoring ability at the top of the lineup.
Now the big question, can Gathright hit enough to make his speed a worthwhile asset to the Royals and be enough of an improvement of David DeJesus in CF? If you believe Gathright's defensive stats, he will be a slight improvement over DeJesus. In 135 games in CF, Gathright is 3 FRAA. DeJesus is a career 0 FRAA in CF. DeJesus will be an above-average corner outfielder defensively. However, he is likely to be a below-average corner outfielder offensively. So, here's another question for you, is Gathright's speed worth taking away a typical spot (LF) for one of your best hitters?
If his OBP is close to his minor-league numbers and he steals 40 or 50 bases, then I'd say so.
How this trade hurts the Royals: The Royals gave up a young lefty who has very solid minor league numbers in spite of the Royals' rushing him. Howell is rather unconventional since he doesn't throw very hard and few starters throw as softly as he does. However, his secondary stuff is very good and his sinker does a good job of getting grounders. So, if he can control his fastball and keep it out of the middle of the plate, he can become a mid-rotation guy at best and more likely a No. 4 or 5 starter. That said, the Royals have plenty of back-of-the-rotation fodder, so this isn't a big loss. Still, if he does turn out to be an average starter, he'll be a bargain for the next 6 years and be more valuable than Gathright.
My take on the trade: Overall, the trade seems like a worthwhile risk. I hate giving up young pitching talent, especially when you look at the Royals' current rotation. Howell has had very good minor league success, but I think big league hitters can hit his stuff. He can't afford to miss his spots, otherwise his stuff will get hit hard. The future of the Royals' rotation depends on guys like Greinke and Hockevar developing into frontline starters. So, they can afford to give up Howell at this point. There might be some behind the scenes info we don't know about, perhaps about Howell's arm.