Buying And Selling
Larry Stone has a good piece in the Times this morning, discussing the timing of when the Mariners need to decide whether they’re buyers or sellers. As you guys know, I advocated for an early selling position on Bedard and Washburn, calling them “volatile assets” whose value could drop precipitously with an injury or a regression in performance. With both of them nursing health problems and Washburn coming off a bad start in Coors Field, hopefully you can see what I was talking about – it would be harder for the M’s to get a good deal for either of them right now than it would have been 10 days ago.
So, now, the M’s have to wait and let those two re-establish their health, which they’ll hopefully do this weekend. In Bedard’s case, he probably has to string together several good outings in a row, showing he can handle a regular workload without having to skip starts every few weeks. Washburn has to continue to show that his two-seamer has given him an extra weapon to handle lefties, and his uptick in strikeout rate isn’t a fluke.
For today, I agree with Larry. The market for these two will grow if they can prove that last weekend was an aberration and pitch well for the next couple of weeks. For now, we probably need to wait before moving those two.
However, as I talked about a bit yesterday on 710/ESPN with Mike Salk, I am convinced that there is an option here beyond the normal “trade prospects for veterans to make a run” or “give up on the season and go with the kids”. Yes, historically, teams have divided themselves into those two camps after the July 31st deadline, but I think the M’s are in a unique situation, in a unique economic environment, and that they have a chance to do things differently this trading season.
The AL West isn’t good. The Rangers have stopped hitting of late, and despite their improved run prevention, they aren’t getting to the playoffs on the backs of their pitching and defense. The Angels were supposed to get a boost from the return of their walking wounded, but Kelvim Escobar just needed one start to prove he couldn’t handle a regular rotation spot anymore, while Ervin Santana hasn’t found his fastball and is going to miss his start tonight with forearm tightness. John Lackey hasn’t exactly been an all-star, either. The Angels still have issues, both offensively and on the pitching side of things.
So, despite the flaws on this M’s roster, I think the front office would be wise to make moves that would help keep the 2009 team afloat and potentially able to capitalize in the second half if Texas and Anaheim continue to struggle. However, at the same time, I think Bedard and Washburn fit the mold of overvalued assets in the mid-season trade market. Teams always overvalue pitching, especially left-handed pitching, as they gear up to make a playoff race. It’s the one thing that’s constantly in demand from multiple clubs and could bring a significant return in trade.
As Mike Salk pointed out yesterday, though, the common belief is that if you trade Bedard and Washburn, you’re done. You’ve just punted two starting pitchers who have been critical to your early season success, there’s no way this team can with without them. I disagree. I think the team can take a buy-and-sell approach to this deadline that would help them build for the future but also keep the 2009 team from going in the tank.
Here’s my suggestion.
The M’s badly need a shortstop. We all know that. The M’s rank 29th in wOBA (.242!) and 30th in UZR (-9.8!) from the SS position. The performances they’ve gotten from Betancourt/Cedeno have been worth about -1.5 wins less than a replacement level shortstop in about 40% of a season. That’s incredibly awful, the kind of gaping hole that no team can really overcome.
The M’s also need another left-handed hitter in the line-up, which we’ve covered ad nauseam here on the blog. The line-up is too right-handed, so when they face a righty with two-seam fastball (the pitch with the largest platoon split), they lack the left-handed bats to punish the opposing pitcher and they get shut down.
What the M’s need more than anything else is a left-handed hitting shortstop with some ability to hit and field. They need a stop-loss to prevent the massive sucking hole at shortstop from taking wins off the board. Upgrading from Betancourt/Cedeno to even a below average SS would be a massive improvement over what the M’s have gotten from the position this year. Where would they find such a player?
Meet Reid Brignac. He’s a 23-year-old left-handed hitting shortstop in the Tampa Bay Rays system. He spent the last few weeks filling in for Jason Bartlett while the Rays starting SS was on the DL, but now that Bartlett is back, it’s off to Durham again for some more time in Triple-A. With Bartlett ahead of him at SS and Ben Zobrist/Willy Aybar holding down second base (and then some) in Akinori Iwamura’s absence, Brignac doesn’t have a role with the Rays. He’s depth for them, an insurance policy in case Bartlett gets hurt again, but not a piece of their core now or going forward.
Now, maybe you look at his .271/.295/.390 mark that he posted over the last few weeks for the Rays and say “meh, another low OBP hacker”. However, look closer. In fact, look at his L/R splits.
Vs RHP: .357/.386/.524, 44 PA, 2 BB, 5 K
Vs LHP: .059/.059/.059, 17 PA, 0 BB, 7 K
To say that Brignac had problems with left-handed pitching would be a bit of an understatement. There’s definitely need for improvement there, and he’s not ready for an every day role in the majors. However, that performance versus lefties hides the fact that he hit the crap out of the ball against right-handed pitching during the last couple of weeks. This isn’t new, either. Here’s his minor league splits from Durham this year.
Vs RHP: .300/.370/.491, 124 PA, 14 BB, 17 K
Vs LHP: .258/.303/.355, 33 PA, 1 BB, 4 K
Brignac hasn’t figured out how to hit lefties yet. That’s okay – he’s 23. That can be improved upon later, and hidden now. The M’s could hide Brignac against lefties, platooning him with Cedeno in order to give both of them the best chance to succeed offensively. He won’t put up a .900 OPS against RHP all year, but he doesn’t have to. If he hits .270/.320/.400 and plays league average defense, the upgrade from Betancourt to Brignac would be larger than the downgrade from Bedard to Rowland-Smith/Jakubauskas/whoever.
Seriously, if the M’s swapped Erik Bedard for Reid Brignac, there’s a pretty good chance they wouldn’t see a significant drop-off in 2009 performance as a team. When you couple the magnitude of the problem that SS has been for the M’s this year with the general overrating of the impact of starting pitchers, you get a situation like this where a decent position player can be worth as much as a good starting pitcher.
Now, there’s a pretty good chance that the Rays wouldn’t swap Brignac for Bedard straight up. They don’t have a ton of budget flexibility, and they’re notoriously reluctant to trade young talent. That’s okay – the M’s have the pieces to make a deal work. They have the financial ability to pay Bedard’s contract through the end of ’09, eliminating the need for the Rays to increase their payroll. They have extraneous players like Jeff Clement, who would appeal to a Rays front office that likes that kind of player type, that could be added into a multi-player deal.
The pieces are there to make this work. Even if you can’t find a perfect fit with the Rays (maybe they don’t want to deal with Bedard’s health problems), the team should still pursue Brignac as a target. As we saw Jack do in the Putz deal, it’s quite possible to use players to acquire talent that another team wants in order to get the guy you’re after. If the Phillies are willing to overpay for Bedard (and it sounds like they probably are), then the M’s can target a player in that deal who would appeal to Tampa Bay in a Brignac trade.
Because they’ll be in demand this trading season, the M’s have the flexibility to use Bedard and Washburn as bait to pick up pieces that won’t just help them in the future, but can help them right now. There are players out there, like Brignac, who would be an immediate upgrade for the Mariners, while also providing some long term value. These are the kinds of players the M’s should be targeting.
Don’t get caught up thinking that it’s a trade-prospects or trade-for-prospects decision. The M’s are in the position to do both. Deal Bedard and Washburn to the highest bidder, or for the pieces that will allow you to go out and get guys like Brignac. Sell, yes, on those two players, but then buy us a left-handed hitting shortstop who can help the team right now and going forward.
This isn’t an either/or situation. Buy and sell, not buy or sell.