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November 13, 2009

Prospectus Today

Let's Make a Deal!

by Joe Sheehan

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The late start to the 2009 season and late end to it mean that we have a shortened offseason. Perhaps, then, I shouldn't have been surprised at how much activity we saw in the immediate aftermath of the World Series, with a trade being consummated even before the Yankee clubhouse had been cleaned. Still, the days following the Series feel like they've been busier than that period ever has been before. Let's get caught up:

  • I'm in the minority on this, but I think the J.J. Hardy/Carlos Gomez trade between the Brewers and Twins could work out for both teams. Maybe I'm just overly optimistic about Gomez, who was rushed to the majors in 2007 and hasn't recovered from that, but his defense alone is worth a couple of wins a season, and you don't have to be a great hitter to play when you have that kind of glove. Moreover, Gomez did improve in 2009, cutting his strikeout-to-walk rate in half, largely on the basis of walking more often (once every 16 PA, versus once every 24 PA in 2008). He'll be just 24 years old next season, which leaves him plenty of time to improve as he approaches his peak. He doesn't need to take big leaps forward, just to continue to make strides in his pitch recognition, plate discipline, and patience. A +15 center fielder who bats .270/.330/.380 with 10 net steals is a very good player.

    It could also be that I don't get the big deal about Hardy, who has had one strong season and one decent one in his five-year career. His career line of .262/.323/.428 is about what he is, and he backs that up with an above-average glove. He'll be the best shortstop the Twins have had in a very long time, and getting Hardy as he comes into his age-27 season makes him an upside play, but again, you're talking about a player who's had one strong year in his career, and who followed that up with a 659 OPS. Hardy isn't Barry Larkin.

    The Twins had a hole at shortstop and an extra outfielder. The Brewers had an extra shortstop and were due to lose their center fielder to free agency. This is a good trade for both teams, much better for the Brewers than it looks at first glance, as they get the younger player with more growth potential.

  • I wish I could see the benefit for both teams in last week's deal for Mark Teahen. The heavily right-handed White Sox add lineup balance in Teahen, who improves their third-base/second-base situation by being better than the Chris Getz/Jayson Nix platoon of last year. He'll play third as Gordon Beckham moves to second, an alignment that should provide better defense-Beckham, a shortstop by trade, did not play third base well.

    Now, the assumption here is that Teahen will find a way to arrest a decline that has seen his unintentional walk rate and K/BB slip steadily for three years, taking his OBP with it. His batting average and power are what they are-he's a .270 hitter who will slug .410-and the question is whether his OBP will be an asset if he walks 50 times, or a drag if he walks 30 times. He'll be 28 next year, and Kenny Williams is betting on the former. I am, too.

    Even at .270/.320/.410, Teahen might be worth the price paid. Getz is a useful bench player who isn't going to provide enough offense to be an everyday second baseman, although he could have a year in which enough balls fall in to provide the illusion that he is. His contact rate and K/BB last year showed him to be a bit overmatched at the plate. Josh Fields is the opposite type of player, an all-or-nothing power bat who has struck out in a third of his MLB at-bats. Fields is a lousy third baseman, which shouldn't matter since he's joining a team with Alex Gordon. He could have value as the short half of a DH platoon, since he's had success against left handers (.285/.356/.580), but that's about it. If part of the process is trading for decent bench players who'll be under team control for a while, so be it, but this trade doesn't add the kind of talent that will change the narrative around the Royals.

  • Speaking of left-handed batters who've never quite panned out, the Marlins dumped Jeremy Hermida on their old friends the Red Sox in exchange for two arms. It was a cost-cutting move to trade the arbitration-eligible Hermida, whose power has been going backwards for years. He slugged just .406 and .392 the last two seasons, with 30 homers in 931 at-bats. With Chris Coghlan, Cody Ross, and Cameron Maybin, the Marlins no doubt perceived a need to deal an outfielder. That reflects an optimism about Ross' future I do not share, as well as a commitment to Coghlan as an outfielder that is misguided. I can understand not wishing to pay Hermida a lot of money for 2010, however, the likelihood that he would do well in arbitration is tamped down by his performance, and at 26, he's still capable of development. Moreover, making this deal on November 5 seemed completely unnecessary.

    Enter the Red Sox, who have no reason to fear a $5 million fourth outfielder and have second-tier prospects to burn. Hunter Jones is a lefty specialist-in-training, having made his last start in 2006, but finishing just about 40 percent of the games he's pitched since then. He can pitch a little, with an 89/29 K/BB in 103 2/3 innings at Triple-A, and he won't even be arb-eligible until after 2012 at the earliest. He could be part of another low-cost, high-effectiveness bullpen next year. Jose Alvarez is the upside guy, a small, slight right-hander from Venezuela who won't turn 21 until May. He's struggled at times against older competition, but when dropped into the New York-Penn League this summer, he was arguably its best pitcher. The Marlins got some value back, but I'm not sure its enough to outweigh what Hermida could be for a team that has enough win-now to it to spend some money.

    For the Red Sox, Hermida becomes the fallback position in a world where they don't retain Jason Bay or sign his replacement. Hermida seems like a hitter who would benefit from Fenway Park, and I'm not convinced that spending an additional, say, $35 million over the next three seasons to improve upon Hermida is necessarily worth doing. No left fielder is capable of adding much defensive value in Fenway, so that cuts off some of Matt Holliday's worth, and Hermida will be playing through his peak over the next few seasons. He could be a .280/.350/.480 hitter as a Red Sox. Maybe this is designed as a fallback, but from here, it looks like a pretty good primary play.

  • The already-thin pool of outfielders took a hit when Bobby Abreu re-signed with the Angels for a total of $19.5 million over two seasons ($9 million for 2010 and 2011 with a 2012 option at that same amount paired with a million-dollar buyout). This seems like another bargain for a player who is in the midst of a slow, productive decline. Abreu is a critical part of the Angels' offense, a high-OBP player on a team that doesn't have many of them, and a left-handed batter in a lineup that can list a bit to the right. By signing Abreu so quickly, they ensure that at least one of last year's catalysts will be back in the fold, and as we saw in the playoffs, Abreu and Chone Figgins were critical to the team's run scoring.

  • Similarly, the Giants re-signed Freddy Sanchez to a two-year contract. The team seemed unlikely to return Eugenio Velez to second base, and the market didn't seem likely to provide a solution. Nevertheless, a signing like this shows that it's business as usual in San Francisco, where a mid-level veteran be paid well in his decline phase. Sanchez led the NL in batting at .344 in 2006, when he was 28. Since then, he's hit .289/.323/.410 with no speed and good defense. The glove is nice, but the Giants, with their high-strikeout staff, need to be trading gloves for bats wherever they can. This signing will hurt them more than it helps, especially if Sanchez occupies one of the top two spots in the lineup.

  • The Mariners re-signed Ken Griffey Jr., making it clear that they don't expect to contend in 2010 and that they don't have any need for 400 plate appearances on the major league level with which to develop or evaluate a prospect, so they can appease the madding crowds and fill some seats late in the year with yet another week of tributes to a player who made the League Championship Series once in his life, yet never, not once, has seen that fact back up on him.

    I wonder what would happen if Alex Rodriguez forced a trade from a good team to a bad one and then never made the postseason with the new team. Or if he went 4-for-25 with no extra-base hits in consecutive Division Series in which his team went 1-6. I just wonder.

  • The Arizona Diamondbacks correctly picked up the option on Brandon Webb. It will be costly, $8.5 million, but spending that money on Webb's innings and what he might bring back in trade is a better use of funds than just about anything else you can get for $8.5 million in today's market.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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