July 30, 2012
Prospectus Hit and Run
The Midsummer Replacement-Level Killers, Part II
Finishing what we started last week, we’ll complete our trip around the diamond to identify the most glaring issues at each position among contenders, the ones where teams standing pat at the July 31 trading deadline run the risk of torpedoing their chances at the playoffs via their complacency. Given the expansion of the postseason to include a second wild card, I'm defining that to mean every team within one game of .500 through the close of play Saturday, July 28—mainly due to the stubbornness of a certain carmine-hosed ballclub—which means that I have had to adjust my selections since I began working on this a week ago. Similar to last week, that adds up to 19 teams within 6 1/2 games of a playoff spot.
Note that while I'm using WARP here, the criterion isn't as strict as having a sub-zero WARP; salary and opportunity cost may also factor into the decision, as does the fact that a player’s overall line may be propped up by better performance in a smaller sample size at a different position. Except where noted, all stats are through Saturday.
Left Field: Alex Presley (.238 TAv, 0.3 WARP), Drew Sutton (.262, −0.1), Yamaico Navarro (.183, −0.3), Pirates
Remedy (?): On Thursday, the Pirates promoted Starling Marte, their second-best hitting prospect coming into the year. The 23-year-old center fielder, who ranked 56th on Kevin Goldstein's Top 101 Prospects list, was hitting .286/.347/.500 at Indy, albeit with a 91/28 K/BB ratio in 431 PA. While he has above-average speed and defense, Andrew McCutchen blocks Marte in center, and his bat isn't nearly as special in a corner spot. Indeed, his overly aggressive approach at the plate is cause enough for concern that Goldstein called him the top prospect among a group whose value as trade chips may exceed their actual value. He got off to a hot start with the Bucs by homering in his first plate appearance, but he's 3-for-17 without a walk since then. It's not an unreasonable shot for the Pirates to take before trading prospects for a more proven bat, but it’s possible Marte is being showcased for a trade; apparently, the Indians have discussed him as a possible return for Shin-Soo Choo (.295/.382/.489). How exactly the outfield alignment would shake out if such a deal were made is an open question, but Choo and primary right fielder Garrett Jones have experience in both corners.
Dishonorable Mention: Johnny Damon (.239, 0.0), Shelley Duncan (.261, 0.0), Indians. When Grady Sizemore went down in need of a microdiscectomy during the spring, the Indians figured they would require only a temporary solution, and chose to slide Michael Brantley over from center field while patching together a left field solution from parts on hand, with Duncan taking the lead. Alas, he hasn't been anything special with the stick (.219/.317/.421 overall), and Damon has looked like a man on his last legs (.226/.287/.337) since signing in mid-April. All told, Indians left fielders have hit .212/.290/.331. Sizemore has yet to progress beyond running drills in his latest setback.
Center Field: Drew Stubbs (.246, −0.3), Reds