In the heat of a pennant race, teams often let a rival’s actions shape their own decisions. As a result, when St. Louis fired a shot across the Brewers’ bow by bolstering their rotation, Milwaukee needed to make a countermove. Of course, Doug Melvin’s retort – gaining Gerardo Parra in exchange for two minor leaguers – stands stratospheres below the Cardinals’ acquisitions of Justin Masterson and John Lackey. Yet Melvin’s aggressiveness demonstrates his urgency for the current season. The trade should benefit the Brewers, as Parra has a phenomenal glove and an underrated bat.
Parra ranks among the best defensive outfielders in baseball. Such analysis hardly seems groundbreaking – Parra’s fielding prowess has earned him two Gold Gloves. Yet while toiling away in the Arizona desert, many fans likely under-appreciate the extent of his talent. Last season Parra posted a 32.3 UZR/150 and had 36 defensive runs saved, both totals good for third-best in the majors. Parra also helped Arizona with a cannon-like arm, as his 17 outfield assists tied Alex Gordon for the 2013 league lead. By comparison, Willy Mays surpassed 17 assists just once in his illustrious 23-year career. In all fairness, the 2014 season seems like a down year by Parra’s lofty standards. At -3.7, his UZR/150 stands as a career low. Similarly, his 3 defensive runs saved also pale in comparison with Parra’s usual totals. Yet Brewers fans acquainting themselves with Parra should look at the big picture, as opposed to focusing narrowly on the past four months. Over his career, Parra’s 12.6 UZR/150 still ranks 13th of all time (this stat has existed since 2002). Predicting future defense does present difficulties. Yet Parra has offered no reason to believe that he will not return to his lockdown defensive ways.
Fans should not overlook Parra’s hitting capabilities. Just as Jefferson’s political career tends to dwarf his architectural genius, Parra’s fielding ability overshadows his offensive talent. Yet Parra provides consistent, reliable hitting production. The last three seasons, Parra’s wRC+ totals of 106, 94, and 97 stood right near the league average. He even reached double-digit home runs last year, slamming 10 long balls. Yet just like on defense, Parra has slumped offensively in 2014. His 82 wRC+ before the trade would stand as a career low. Similarly, his .304 OBP and .359 slugging would each represent Parra’s worst-ever marks. This decline has three main causes. First, he has struggled with southpaws, barely scraping out a Mendoza-like .209 average against his fellow lefties. Secondly, Parra pulls the ball more frequently this year than in 2013. Yet Parra has more success when he does not pull. When he goes to the opposite field, he has posted an outstanding 152 wRC+. If Parra can resolve these two issues, he can once again become a productive offensive contributor.
Despite his talent, trading for Parra certainly offered the Brewers some risk. In Mitch Haniger (104 wRC+ in AA) and Anthony Banda (a 20-year-old left-handed pitcher), Milwaukee sacrificed two young prospects with significant potential. Parra doesn’t reach free agency until 2016, but it’s unclear if the Brewers will want to pay him over $4 million for 2015. As a result, Parra could be a trade or non-tender candidate after the 2014 season. Yet if Ron Roenicke finds the right spots for Parra – pinch hitting against righties or occasionally spelling Khris Davis - Parra can thrive. Parra figures to help the Brewers this year in their continued quest for the division title.