Over the weekend, the Padres acquired outfielder Carlos Quentin from the White Sox in exchange for a pair of prospects, and in the process, created something of a logjam of outfielders from players remaining on their roster. Quentin is expected to take over as the regular left fielder next to Cameron Maybin, and his presence turns right field into a job share between some combination of five players: Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, Kyle Blanks, Jesus Guzman, and Mark Kotsay.
In concert with the Yonder Alonso acquisition (which blocks off playing time at first base, where Blanks and Guzman could have also been utilized), Quentin’s presence essentially means that there won’t be room for two of those five players on San Diego’s roster, and in reality, only two of the remaining three will get much in the way of regular playing time. So, while the team could theoretically just send Blanks back to Triple-A to clear a roster spot, they probably are best off trading one of Venable, Denofria, or Guzman, since there won’t be enough at-bats to go around for all three, especially with Veteran Leader Mark Kotsay getting some playing time for unknown reasons.
Enter the Mariners, who are in need of another outfielder – preferably a left-handed hitter who could form a useful platoon with Casper Wells in left and offer enough defensive value to potentially earn some playing time in center field if Franklin Gutierrez doesn’t rebound from his disastrous 2011 season. It would also be nice if that player had a little bit of power, specifically to right field, in order to give the team an offensive boost against RHPs and to take advantage of how Safeco Field plays.
You may have already guessed, but I basically just described Will Venable to a tee. He’s not much of a household name, since he’s spent his entire career toiling in Petco Park, but the 28-year-old is probably one of the more underrated players in the sport. His raw numbers have been held down by the offensive sinkhole that is San Diego’s home park, but even a basic park adjustment shows that his .250/.321/.410 line is good for a 107 wRC+, meaning that his offensive performance has been seven percent better than average to date.
For left-handed pull-power guys playing in San Diego, though, a basic park adjustment isn’t the tool you want to use to project their performance upon changing teams. Petco is basically the inverse of Safeco, as its cavernous right field swallows up fly balls much in the same way that Safeco does balls to left-center, so LH hitters are disproportionately affected by the park. This is why the Padres traded for the right-handed Quentin and targeted Alonso – a left-handed batter with opposite fielder power – by the way. If you look deeper at Venable’s numbers, you can see potential for quite a bit more than he’s been to date.
Home: 622 PA, .226/.304/.383, 93 wRC+
Away: 682 PA, .272/.336/.435, 119 wRC+
When not hitting at Petco, he’s been about as productive as Nick Swisher (122 wRC+), Carlos Pena (119 wRC+), Andre Ethier (119 wRC+), or Jay Bruce (116 wRC+) was last year. I’m pretty sure everyone would be totally okay with the team acquiring any of those four to improve the offense, yes? While we can’t just take his road stats and extrapolate straight from that, especially given the somewhat small sample size, adding in Venable’s batted ball profile to our knowledge of what Petco and Safeco do to left-handed pull-power guys does offer additional confidence that he could thrive in Seattle.
Pull: 370 PA, .378/.377/.696, 195 wRC+
Center: 279 PA, .366/.360/.505, 140 wRC+
Opposite: 188 PA, .266/.259/.431, 85 wRC+
44% of his balls in play are hit to right field, and when he pulls the ball, he’s a fantastic hitter with a lot of power. Right field is the best place to hit the ball in Safeco, and the park has systematically rewarded players with this kind of skillset. For instance, Raul Ibanez has nearly this exact same profile on balls in play, and his career line at Safeco was .285/.357/.474.
Taking Venable out of Petco and putting him in Safeco would provide a significant boon to his home performance, and as noted, he’s already been a pretty good hitter on the road during his career. With continued judicious platooning (the Padres have ensured that 80% of his PAs have come against RHPs since he’s pretty lousy against southpaws, and the M’s would want to continue that trend), Venable could easily settle in as an Ibanez-caliber hitter.
Now, we weren’t exactly known for our Ibanez love during his tenure here, so why would I be advocating that the team bring in a 29-year-old on a similar career path? Well, our problem with Ibanez was primarily on defense, as his glove gave back a lot of the runs his bat created, and he probably should have been a DH for most of the latter part of his career. Venable, on the other hand, is a top notch athlete and a pretty terrific defensive outfielder – 23% of his career innings have come in center field, and every decent defensive metric rates him as well above average in a corner and good enough to handle center field.
Venable’s defensive value and ability to hit right-handed pitching make him a perfect fit for the Mariners roster. The team could essentially use him along with Wells and Gutierrez as a three-headed monster in LF/CF, splitting up the roughly 1,400 plate appearances that will go to those two positions based on the opposing pitcher’s handedness and Eric Wedge‘s desire to keep everyone fresh and rested. He’d also be a nice bat off the bench on days where a left-hander starts and the team needs a pinch-hit option when the opposing manager goes to the bullpen.
Venable doesn’t have superstar potential, but if you get him out of Petco Park and into an environment better suited for his overall abilities, he’s probably a +2.5 to +3.0 win player. As a super-two arbitration eligible player, he’ll likely make a little less than $2 million for 2012, and the team would control his rights through 2015. He’s exactly what this team should be shopping for right now – an undervalued asset with upside who could provide value both in the short term and down the road.
Venable will provide a substantial improvement and roster flexibility for a low salary and a moderate cost in terms of trade. Ideally, I’d like to see the team try to get a package of Venable and Anthony Rizzo, which would give them both legitimate 2012 value and a potential power-hitting 1B/DH for the future, but even just getting Venable would allow the team to use Mike Carp at DH, his natural position. I know, I know, it’s not signing Prince Fielder, but it’s the kind of move that pushes the organization forward, improves the roster on the field, and allows the team to continue to upgrade other positions rather than putting all their eggs in one overweight basket.
With the holidays behind us, the off-season movement should pick up traction again. The Mariners should look to pick up Venable before another intelligent organization picks him off and reaps the rewards of saving him from San Diego.