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Mitch Talbot to Korea and Revisiting the Shoppach Deal

Good luck, Mitch.
Good luck, Mitch.

After two mediocre (at best) seasons with the Indians, Mitch Talbot is going to go pitch in Korea. Talbot was moved off the Indians 40 man roster in October, at which point he elected for free agency. Jay wondered at the time if Cleveland hadn't been a bit careless with Mitch, asking—

When we added him back to the roster in September, I assumed that meant they were planning to add him back prior to Rule 5 anyway. Now they are basically saying, we don’t care if this guy walks completely. Is he really not worth the roster spot as rotation depth?

There's some good back and forth on the issue in that thread, and InfiniteMonkeyTypists pretty much nailed what must be the thinking on the righty from Cedar City, UT:

His first 19 games of 2010 is the only time in his 2 years with Cleveland that he could have been considered healthy and/or moderately effective. Cherry-picking that stretch and ignoring the other 70% of the time, he’s a lucky-looking 4.08 ERA (roughly league-average) with 47 walks and 66 strikeouts over 119 innings. His peripherals would lead you to expect a much worse ERA.

I assume Talbot's agent spent a month calling around before he and the pitcher decided his best options were overseas. With his Korean salary supposedly only $300,000 (less than he made in either of his two seasons at the bottom of the Indians payroll), his options must have been limited.

Mitch arrived in Cleveland during the 2009 offseason as the PTBNL return in a trade with Tampa Bay that saw Kelly Shoppach leave Cleveland. Shoppach arrived in Cleveland as part of the Coco Crisp/Andy Marte trade, and ended up being the most valuable piece the Tribe got back (sorry Guillermo Mota and Andy Marte); Shoppach was sent out of Cleveland after a couple of really nice seasons as a backup to Victor Martinez, in which he flashed a lot of pop, the ability to pound lefties and stay afloat against righties.

2008 was Shoppach's big year, which lined up with his physical peak and his first big bunch of major league ABs. He still looked valuable in 2009 but has scuffled since, likely a reflection of both physical tool decline and pitchers preparing for him as a hitter. His power has really dried up, but not in the way you might expect—

2008 16.8 13 517
2009 22.6 19 399
2010 31.6 19 342
2011 20.1 73 339

This isn't the best way to present this data, but the story is basically:

2008: Very good HR + 2B rates = WOW! This is a player

2009: Ok HR + 2B rates = This is still a valuable piece.

2010: Terrible HR rate + OK 2B rate = We're sliding into replacement level

2011: OK HR rate + Absolutely cratered 2B rate = Yeah, I think we're stuck at replacement level.

[Note—this is all focused on Kelly's bat relative to position. I'm not going to pretend to be able to evaluate catcher defense.]

So, since his big breakout, Shoppach has been unable to have good years in both important power categories, which is the difference between him being quite useful and not very useful. I'm sure his career arc has a number of factors influencing it, but it seems clear that the 2Bs aren't coming back at this point—he's a 32 y/o catcher who's had knee issues. 2Bs were a big part of his game all the way up the chain, before he had serious HR power, and I suspect his body has just betrayed him on that front. Still, the pop that does remain means he's good for some dramatic moments in big spots if he gets lucky. Simultaneous to all this, Shoppach has become totally unplayable against right-handed pitching, which matters a lot, obviously.

The Indians effectively dealt high on Shoppach, and they did so while avoiding paying him. Cleveland paid just over $3M to get ~1000 PAs out of Kelly, while the Rays have paid $5,25M for 440. That escalating salary was part of the reason Kelly left Cleveland, though it was probably more important that both Marson and Santana were knocking on the door.

Even with selling high, the Indians didn't exactly get the world for Shoppach. Talbot was a PTBNL selected off a list, and at the time many thought the other likely choice was Joseph Cruz, a, at the time, higher ceiling pitcher than Talbot. Cruz' career never really got off the ground, so kudos to the front office on that choice (if that was even the choice).

Talbot came to the Indians as a more or less major league ready starter who was out of options, which is the only reason a major league ready starter was available. Not everyone was pleased at the time but, in retrospect, Talbot seems like a decent return. The Indians really needed someone to take the ball and throw it in 2010, and Talbot did that to great effect for a couple of months—the pitching staff was really in disarray. It seemed entirely possible that Justin Masterson would start the season in the bullpen, Fausto Carmona was coming off a horrendous 2009, Jake Westbrook was returning from Tommy John surgery, and David Huff was "penciled into the rotation" after a lousy debut in 2009. Also, though it wasn't part of any discussion that I remember, Talbot's mediocrity allowed the Indians to eventually deal away Westbrook (well, sort of), and maybe that was already in the offing.

Talbot had a terrific Cleveland debut in 2010, with a 2.05 ERA in his first month before settling into looking like an innings-eatery kind of guy, posting mediocre numbers across the board. Some things went wrong along the way, and by the end of May 2011, the Indians really needed to figure out what to do with him. He went on the DL with a bad back, though it was never obvious if it was his back that was bad or just his performance. The DL was a way for the Indians to get the option-less starter to AAA. He tried to figure some things out in Columbus and returned to the majors, where he was no more effective than before, ending the season with a 6.64 ERA. By the end of the season, he had slid way down the SP depth chart, behind a wave of younger Talbot-y guys: Tomlin, Gomez, McAllister, etc.

When he was coming up through the minors, the story on Talbot had two main themes. First, that he was totally lost in the Rays system, which was (and still is) loaded with arms that are a lot more interesting than Mitch Talbot's, and, second, that he had a usable arsenal and might eventually end up in relief. Neither of those second things appear to be really true at this point, but Talbot did well to get to the majors and hang on as a starter for a few months. For my absurd prediction, I wouldn't be at all shocked to see Talbot figure a few things out overseas and return to relative success in the majors, a la Colby Lewis. He just sort of has that look about him.

FanGraphs think Shoppach has been good for ~1.5 WAR since arriving in Tampa, while Talbot has clocked ~1.3 for the Indians. Shoppach is likely done as a Ray after his option was declined, and Talbot is clearly done as an Indian. Talbot was significantly cheaper, but the Indians sent an unknown amount of cash to the Rays in 2010. No one really won this trade, though both teams got something they needed for a while. Reading through those old threads is certainly interesting. Were you upset when Shoppach was dealt? Is this how you anticipated this all turning out?