Why Not Trading Ibanez Might Make Sense
As we head towards the trading deadline, the rumors will continue to push forward as the M’s take phone calls from contenders looking to improve themselves for the stretch run. The two free-agents-to-be (Ibanez and Rhodes) are the most likely to be moved, as most teams prefer the security of getting a name and a face in return for their walk year guys as opposed to the unknown potential draft picks that they would get if they leave as a free agent.
However, as I’ve noted in the past, it occasionally makes more sense to let a free agent leave during the winter than trading him at the deadline. For this to be the case, you basically need a case where you have a player who does things that the Elias Sports rankings consider highly valuable (plays a lot of games, racks up RBIs, gets Wins or Saves, posts low ERA) but, in general, isn’t all that helpful towards building a winning team. Because MLB teams have gotten smarter a lot faster than the free agent rankings system, there are often big disparities between what a team will offer in trade and how a team will be compensated if he leaves via free agency.
Ibanez is going to be one of these cases. He’s almost certainly going to be a Type A free agent at years end, thanks to the fact that he’s been in the line-up and racked up a lot of RBIs the last two years. The Elias Rankings love players like him. A Type A free agent, if offered arbitration and signing with another club, nets the team that lost him two high draft picks – a 16-30 first round pick (if the signing team finishes in the top half of MLB standings, otherwise, its a 1-15 second round pick) and a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds.
Those picks are quite valuable, and forfeiting the right to them by trading Ibanez away can’t be ignored. That is the baseline for what you have to receive in trade in order to justify the move. Would someone be willing to give up the equivalent of two high draft picks for Ibanez?
Not if they understand baseball, because despite what the local media around here thinks, Raul Ibanez is a below average baseball player. His .278/.343/.452 mark while playing half his games in Safeco translates to about +9 runs offensively over a league average hitter so far this year. Considering that an average LF is +5 over an average hitter in a full season, Ibanez is about +4 or +5 runs compared to the average AL left fielder offensively this year.
His defense is, of course, horrible. There’s no denying this – he’s one of the very worst defensive players still being allowed to carry a glove. Every advanced defensive metric shows this to be true. His Fielding Bible +/- is -14 plays (or about -12 runs) so far this year. His UZR is -18. This follows exactly in line with what we’d expect, considering how bad he’s been with the glove the last few years.
Even if you want to take a conservative estimate of his defensive value so far this year, the best you can claim is that he’s been 10 runs below average. It’s almost certainly more than that, but if you want to play devil’s advocate, you could argue for a 10 run defensive penalty and not be totally crazy.
+5 with the bat, -10 with the glove… you do the math. Raul Ibanez is less valuable than the average left fielder, and every good organization in baseball knows it. They aren’t giving up premium prospects for a below average player who, over the course of two months, won’t even add half a win over a replacement level player to a contender’s ledger.
That’s the predicament the M’s find themselves in. Raul Ibanez isn’t very good, and the smart teams in baseball realize that, but the free agent compensation system is so out of touch with reality that the M’s will be highly rewarded for letting him walk this winter. For what Ibanez is, you should expect at most a B- prospect in return, except that you’ll be getting the chance at something much better by just letting him leave via free agency.
The only way the M’s will get a real haul for Raul is if a team decided to take advantage of the system, trade a couple of solid prospects to get him, and then let him walk at years end in order to receive the draft picks to restock the farm. Oakland and Milwaukee have both done this well the last few years, but neither of them will be in the market for an LF in ten days, so I wouldn’t hold my breath that anyone will follow their footsteps.