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Andrew Cashner trade: Unexciting Colin Rea is key to Marlins trade

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The Marlins dealt first base prospect Josh Naylor along with a few other assets to the San Diego Padres to rent Andrew Cashner for half of the season and to get five years of team control over former prospect Colin Rea. But who is Rea?

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins made their trade deadline move, dealing again with the San Diego Padres and picking up 29-year-old starting pitcher Andrew Cashner and 26-year-old starter Colin Rea along with reliever Tayron Guerrero for top prospect Josh Naylor, starter Jarred Cosart, injured reliever Carter Capps, and prospect right-hander Luis Castillo.

It's an overpay, let's be pretty clear about that. It's not a drastic overpay like some Marlins fans are painting it to be, but the Fish paid more than was necessary to acquire a rental upgrade in Cashner. And if it were just Cashner and Naylor had to be included, this would probably be a negative deal. But as an aggregate, the deal hinges not on whether Cashner can retain his post-DL stint strikeout success, but whether Colin Rea can recover from a bad year on the mound in 2016.

Rea was a 12th-round draft pick in 2011 out of Indiana State, and he has not exactly climbed the ladder of success very quickly. He showed signs of being a passable player in 2014, when he pitched decently in High-A (3.88 ERA, 4.02 FIP) at age 23. Then in 2015, he had a strong Double-A season, throwing a 1.08 ERA and 2.35 FIP in 72 strong innings at age 24. This is not exactly top prospect work, as 24-year-olds are right on par with the Double-A average age, but Rea did well enough to earn a big-league promotion. He pitched adequately with a 19.6 percent strikeout rate and 8.3 percent walk rate. He posted a 4.26 ERA but a 3.45 FIP, and SIERA pegged him for an expected performance of a 4.16 ERA based on his peripherals. That is not bad for a guy who just turned 25 in July of last year.

In the offseason, there were a good number of prospect evaluators who were high on Rea despite a mediocre set of low minors numbers. Dan Farnsworth of FanGraphs praised his command over his primary offerings.

He knows how to spot his fastball, and showed on numerous occasions last year that he can run his two-seamer back over the plate on his glove side or pound the bottom of the zone for a ground ball. His cutter and curveball both have plus potential, though each requires some TLC to get there. He uses the cutter to keep hitters honest, but if he improves his ability to spot it, a plus grade may be light by a tick. The curve has sharp 12-6 break, though he hasn’t used it to induce swings and misses yet, instead opting for weak contact by dropping it into the zone. Throw in a potential average splitter, and you have an arsenal that can keep any big-league hitter from getting a good piece of the ball.

John Sickels of Minor League Ball had him at a B- ranking, fifth in a decent Padres system.

5) Colin Rea, RHP, Grade B-: Age 25, 12th round pick in 2011 from Indiana State, posted 1.95 ERA with 80/23 K/BB in 102 innings in Double-A/Triple-A; 79 hits; made six big league starts and held his own, 4.26 ERA with 26/11 K/BB in 32 innings; big guy at 6-5, 225 but easy heat in low-90s; took step forward after developing splitter to go with cutter and curveball; should be solid workhorse starter.

Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis of MLB.com said his stuff has played up according to San Diego officials.

Officials from San Diego's new front-office regime have tabbed Rea as one of their system's most pleasant surprises, noting that his stuff has made a jump from his previous scouting reports. He has added velocity to his fastball and holds it deeper into games, sitting in the low 90s and touching 96 mph. His upper-80s cutter can be nasty at times, and his curveball has picked up some power, too.

Rea's control and command have improved as well. If he can maintain his better stuff and refine his changeup, he could be a No. 3 or 4 starter.

Of course, this is before we had new information, and this season's information has not been good. Rea has, by all evaluations in 2016, had a bad season. But we cannot just judge him on 19 bad starts, nor can we just judge him on what evaluators were saying before this season. There needs to be a collective assessment.

Pitch F/X Basics

Trajectory and Movement - from 03/30/2007 to 07/29/2016

Pitch Type Count Freq Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Fourseam 223 33.99% 92.93 -4.49 9.61 -1.93 6.23
Sinker 170 25.91% 92.77 -7.24 7.85 -1.94 6.22
Change 31 4.73% 84.22 -6.18 6.56 -1.68 6.32
Slider 4 0.61% 83.99 -0.44 1.98 -1.67 6.08
Curve 142 21.65% 78.46 5.52 -6.62 -1.76 6.20
Cutter 85 12.96% 87.82 0.71 5.33 -2.03 6.16

You can see that Rea has a diverse arsenal of pitches, and the discussion is that he has strong command / control of three of them. The three over which he has reasonable command are his distinctly different two- and four-seam fastballs and his 87 mph cutter. The fastballs have different breaks, with the four-seamer running flatter and the two-seamer working with hard break inside to right-handers and with two inches more sink. The cutter has a unique break in that it runs flatter than other cut fastballs, which typically have vertical break akin to sliders. He has thrown it harder this year, with a velocity of 88.9 mph as compared to a 87 mph pitch last season.

The curveball is a 12-6 offering that dips low, but Rea has not gotten a lot of swings and misses off the pitch. Even in 2016, it is getting just a 24.1 percent whiff rate. The addition of a changeup has been a welcome sight in 2016, however, to help manage against lefties. Rea has only turned to the pitch eight percent of the time against lefties, but it is getting whiffs on 33 percent of swings. He is displaying decent control with the pitch as well, with a balls to called strike ratio of 2.1.

Control has been more of an issue this year for Rea, but he has not had significant problems with placing any one pitch in the strike zone. None of his pitches have a balls to called strike ratio greater than 3.0, and his fastballs are currently at an acceptable 1.6. He probably should locate the fastballs better, especially given the scouting report, but that is something that can be worked on. More concerning is the lack of whiffs, especially with a hard-breaking curveball. However, the advancement of the changeup as a seemingly reliable pitch may be the next step of development for Rea. Learning to use that pitch more often and perhaps more effectively could tick him up a notch, as that was not his initial arsenal.

Rea looks the part of a Marlins-style pitcher, however. He does not have swing-and-miss material, but he can hit the strike zone reasonably well with his pitches. The team has tried to do similar things with other starters to mixed success, and some instruction from pitching coach Juan Nieves about hitting low in the zone consistently may be in need. This may help Rea give up fewer hard-hit balls, as his average exit velocity of 90.9 mph this season would put him behind only Jose Fernandez in highest velocities allowed this year.

No doubt Rea needs work to remain an effective big leaguer. At this stage, he is probably less of a project than the team's current Triple-A shuttlers in Jose Urena and Justin Nicolino and he is more likely to retain this back-rotation level of value than Tom Koehler is going forward simply because of his age. But fans will probably ask what is the value of having another back-end starter on the roster? Take a look at the projections for various Marlins back-end options moving forward (all numbers taken from FanGraphs' average of Steamer and ZiPS projections).

Player, FG projections ROS K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP WAR/180 IP
Colin Rea 7.0 3.6 4.47 4.42 1.5
Tom Koehler 6.9 3.8 4.25 4.38 1.5
Jose Urena 6.0 3.0 4.29 4.25 1.3
Justin Nicolino 4.4 2.2 4.50 4.53 1.0

Rea's numbers are based off of Petco Park adjustments rather than Marlins Park adjustments, but you can see that the three back-end guys have similar projections. But while Koehler is heading into his second season of arbitration and will likely earn a $5 million paycheck next year, Rea is on the cheap, earning the league minimum for at least another two seasons. Urena is earning the same. The difference between those two is that while Urena is younger at just under 25 years old, Rea has actually pitched effectively in the majors during his career.

The combination of several factors gives Rea some semblance of value. To get a pitcher of that caliber in free agency, you would probably have to pay around $8 million a season or more for one season or dole out a two- or three-year deal for a little less per year. Consider that guys like Mike Pelfrey made more than that in the paltry free agent market. Even for just two seasons of that kind of value, you probably would have to pay $16 million in the open market at least. The Marlins are paying the league minimum, meaning technically he has something like $15 million in surplus/trade value even for just his pre-arbitration seasons, let alone any value from his arbitration years.

That is probably an overstatement of his value, and it is far more likely that a guy with some prospect sheen and some reasonable big league performance in his career has probably closer to $16 million in value overall. But that goes most of the way towards making up the value of Josh Naylor, a top-100 hitting prospect probably worth around $20 million in value according to the latest prospect valuation studies.

It is still an overpay, with the Marlins giving up too much for the small upside of Rea. But there are markers that point towards improvement, and if the Fish can indoctrinate him a little more in their style, they can help potentiate his varied pitching repertoire. Even back-end guys have value, especially proven ready big-leaguers, but Marlins fans will be cautiously watching Rea as the critical long-term piece in this latest Marlins trade.