Josh Willingham is in the midst of a career year. His trade value has been and never will be higher. There's never been a clearer example of a player that should be moved for prospects right now.
After Hammer's double-slammer, I'm reading a lot about how maybe we should keep him after all. It's an understandable reaction from fans. But it's wrong, and it's Rizzo's job to know better.
What exactly is the point of keeping him? Yes, he has two more years under team control, but he'll be playing on last place teams regardless. The Scats are at best two years from respectability, much less contention.
And, of course, he's solidly on the wrong side of 30. Forget this talk about him being a "young 30." Thirty is 30. He's having a career year this season, and usually that comes two or three years earlier, but regardless, his career is undoubtedly peaking now, and the only question is how fast and steep will he decline.
Some skill sets tend to age better than others. Willingham's (like Adam Dunn's) usually doesn't age very well.
The classic "old player skills," as defined by Bill James, are: power, walks, low average, and lack of speed. Players who exhibit these skill sets as a young player tend to age less well.
Sound familiar? Tom Brunansky is the classic young player with "old player skills." In Brunansky's age 29 season, he had an 11.3% walk rate, 22.2% K-rate, .164 ISO, and 5 SBs.
In Willingham's age 29 season, his last full season, he had a 12.0% walk rate, 23.4% K-rate, .217 ISO, and 3 SBs. He's Brunansky, except even more.
Here are Willingham's top PECOTA comps: Bubba Trammell (done at 31), Ryan Ludwick (TBD), Bill Renna (bench player at 31, retired at 34), and Leon Roberts (retired at 33).
And in case that wasn't all enough, he's blocking the second most talented player who would be on this team, Elijah Dukes.
Willingham has to be cashed in for what we can get now. Based on what Ryan Garko and Matt Holliday fetched in the last couple weeks, teams are ready to give up significant prospects for veteran help.
Baseball Prospectus speculated about a possible Dunn and Johnson for Tim Alderson deal. Presumably, if Willingham was substituted for Johnson, the package would be sweetened still further, but regardless anything withing two counties of that would be a huge win for the Nationals.
This team needs to sell high, buy low, and stockpile talent. Sitting on declining veterans playing for crummy teams until they have no value at all helps nothing.
We missed our chances to turn Nick Johnson into something premium three years ago. Ditto Chad Cordero and Felipe Lopez. Ronnie Belliard, Cristian Guzman, and Dmitri Young all had moments when they might have returned value from a contender. Instead, we rode them to their absolute lowest value and got (or are on our way to getting) nothing for them.
We can't afford to make the same mistake again.