Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Finding a Trading Partner

Now two weeks from Opening Day, the Nationals are still sitting on far too many corner outfielder / first-basemen types. The candidates to trade are probably Josh Willingham, Nick Johnson, or Lastings Milledge. Austin Kearns is untradable because of the contract, Adam Dunn has to play at least a few months to drive ticket sales, and Elijah Dukes is still more valuable to us than anyone else given him risk/reward factor.

For the sake of this post, let's assume that it's Willingham who goes. Personally, he's the guy I'd want to trade, mainly because I still lust after a full season of Nick the Stick, and Milledge obviously is a guy who has a chance to be a factor long-term. Also, since Willingham was just traded we have some sense of his trade value. There's been a lot of chest-beating among Nationals fans (and groaning among the Marlins') about how little value they got for Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham, but the reality is that if someone had offered more value, the Marlins would have taken it. Their track record for grading prospects is pretty darn good. P.J. Dean and Jake Smolinski became the #20 and #25 ranked prospects in the Marlins' very deep system, and although there are widely varying assessments of Emilio Bonifacio, he was traded straight up for Jon Rauch not long ago and at least some GMs still project him as a speedy, glove-first starting second baseman.

So evening all that out, let's assume that Willingham alone could fetch a low B-level prospect or a maybe couple Cs on the John Sickels scale. The ideal trading partner would be a contending team in need of a corner OF or 1B with a pitching or middle-infield prospects available. Here are some teams that jumped out at me:

Atlanta Braves
The Braves have one of the better farm systems in baseball, and, even after signing Garret Anderson, are in a pretty ugly state right now in the OF. They're banking on Jeff Francoeur, who was in Austin Kearns territory among the least valuable offensive cornder outfielders in baseball in 2008. If nothing else, Willingham could get 350 at bats platooning with the left-handed hitting Anderson and Casey Kotchman. If Anderson can't stay healthy (or stinks), he could become the first option in left.

We hardly need another outfielder and this is probably wishful thinking, but Gorkys Hernandez could make sense. He came to the Braves with Jair Jurrgens for Edgar Renteria and could be a true center-fielder to go with Dukes and Milledge down the road, or make one of them trade bait in the future if they all pan out. With Jordan Schafer and Jason Heyward ahead of him, he might be blocked in Atlanta, and it might be worth throwing in another guy to make it work. Otherwise, the Braves also have a whole slew of B-level pitching prospects, like Cole Rohrbough, Jeff Locke, Julio Tehran, Craig Kimbrel, Brett DeVall, Zeke Spruill, and Kris Medlen. Brandon Hicks, a 24-year-old middle-infielder with power, is another interesting name.

Arizona Diamondbacks
The Snakes badly need some more pop in their lineup. Willingham would represent an upgrade over Chad Tracy or Mark Reynolds (if Tracy could be moved to third). Eric Byrnes is probably done. They'd probably rather find a left-handed bat, but Rizz might be able to work something out with his old team.

Of course, their system isn't anything to write home about. Mark Hallberg is a 24-year-old second baseman who BA compares to Mark Loretta. Like the Braves, they have a batch of B-/C+ type pitchers who could be a match, like Kevin Eichhorn, Wade Miley, or Trevor Harden.

San Francisco Giants
No, they're probably not going to contend this year, but that never seems to stop Brian Sabean from acting like he's one or two pieces away, and Travis Ishikawa at first base just doesn't cut it.

You might not have noticed, but the Giants have built up a nice little farm system. Baseball America rated theirs the fifth best in baseball this year, and Keith Law had them at number nine. Ehire Adrianza is a soft-handed shortstop who fits Rizzo's affection for defensive middle-infielders. Otherwise, the Giants just keep stockpiling the power arms. Waldis Joaquin, Henry Sosa, Clayton Tanner, and Scott Barnes are a few.


Roberto said...

You may lust after a full season of Nick the Stick but, as is usually the case with lust, that can only lead to decisions that, however satisfying in the short-term, are bad news in the long-term.

IOW, Nick will almost certainly get hurt and Willingham is our best option as a capable offensive back-up. (His road numbers the past three seasons were .280/.373/.514.) Trade him and when the almost-inevitable happens, you will have to start Austin Kearns. I hope that the FO knows this.

Steven said...

Good line about the lusting. Still, as a fan I don't understand all the people who aren't rooting for a successful plan A with Nick. He's under contract for one more year. A healthy Nick is as valuable as Mark Teixeira--no exaggeratoin, compare their 2006 numbers.

If Nick gets hurt, Dunn would go to first, and then you have Dukes, Milledge, Harris, and Kearns to play in the OF, with Bernadina or Lnagerhans ready as a perfectly good 5th outfielder / defensive replacement. That's not so bad as plan B. I won't mention Wily Mo Painful, but theoretically some might.

Willingham is nearly as much of an injury risk as Nick, BTW.

Steven said...

Also at some point this season we may want to give Maxwell a look as an every day OF. Not before the all-star break, but if he's healthy and does well in AAA, he needs a shot.

Steve Shoup said...

I like the idea about the Giants, one name you didn't mention is Emmanuel Burris. He's in the mix for the 2nd baseman job their with Frandsen but I think could be a valuable addition to the Nats. The Giants signed Renteria and also have Velez their for the middle infield as well as a few other prospects so Burris is movable. He can play short and 2nd and is very similar to Bonafacio in terms of projection. He would be a valuable player allowing us to maybe move Belliard and not have to keep Alberto Gonzalez on the roster. Also another reason to look at his is it would be a good feel good story for the org. He grew up in DC so it would make for at least a little nice press for a change (not saying ESPN and SI are gonna do major stories but should be a nice feature for Chico)

Jon L said...

I would love to see Nick Johnson play a full season. I've been a fan of his since he was with the Yankees. I just don't think it's a realistic plan. I think at this point before the season, teams are generally still in a "let's see what we have" mode and probably unlikely to trade unless there's a glaring hole at first, and that probably includes the Nationals.

Also I still have nightmares of Belliard playing first last year.

Roberto said...

I agree about Nick's value when healthy -- it's just the "when healthy" part that's the stumbling block.

It's simply incorrect to say that JW is nearly as much of an injury risk. In 2006-2007, he played in 286 out of a possible 324 games. While he missed 50 games last year with back problems, there's no reason to think that this augurs anything long-term.

As I said, I think that an healthy NJ is arguably the third-best all-around first baseman in the NL behind Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez. Still, trading Willingham at this junction would be very improvident -- the baseball equivalent of a credit default swap on mortgage-backed securities.

mw said...

Steven, are you saying that we control NJ for the 2010 season. If that's the case, then I agree that trading Willingham makes sense. But I was under the impression that NJ's a free agent after next year and that we control Willingham because he doesn't have enough service time.

If NJ's a free agent after 2009, then I don't see the point in keeping him. Even if he's healthy this year, the team is a .500 ballculb at best, and he's likely to leave for a team that is either on the West Coast (where he still lives in the offseason) or is more likely to win. On the other hand, Willingham is likely to have at least marginal value down the road when we're trying to compete for the playoffs. What am I missing here?

Will said...

Why do you assume Kearns is unmovable? We could always eat some of his contract. Let's say we covered $3mil of his contract and got a prospect or two in return. That sounds good to me. We'd be saving $5mil and adding some depth to our farm system. Kearns' contract is way too large to be a 4th OF, so if there's any way to save some of that money and potentially get some players in return would be good business to me.

Despite that, apparently he still has some value. According to Peter Gammons, last year a team claimed Kearns off waivers, only to have Bowden pull him back. So there is some team out there willing to pay Kearns $8mil.

Steven said...

Nick is a FA after this year.

I think Kearns is less tradable than Willingham because of the contract and his recent performance.

Groundskeeper Willie said...

Who is Nick the Stick? Nick Johnson? If so, are you referring to his crutches?