Friday, December 17, 2010

Moneyball Still Lives

Ken Rosenthal reports that the Washington Nationals have agreed to send outfielder Josh Willingham to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for relief pitcher Henry Rodriguez and outfield prospect Corey Brown. 

What does this mean for the Nationals?

The Nationals have been trying to unload Willingham for the past year and a half.  With Jayson Werth in the fold, it sort of makes sense that Willingham would be expendable.  That said, I'm having a hard time finding a left fielder, currently on the roster, that's worthy of receiving 600 plate appearances in 2011.  Roger Bernadina seems like the most obvious choice to replace Willingham in left field, but he's not exactly the ideal solution.  Last season, Bernadina hit .246/.307/.384 (.311 wOBA), while playing below average defense at his position.  Essentially, he was a replacement level player.  While Bernadina is going into his age-27 season, there's no reason to believe he'll improve too far beyond his current performance level.  The other option is to go with Michael Morse.  Right now, Morse is projected to be the Nationals starting first baseman, but if they sign Derrek Lee, he could slot into the left field slot.  Morse, 28, is a bit of a late bloomer.  He has above average on base and slugging ability (.289/.352/.519).  He's poor defensively, so putting him in left field would be a liability.  Outside of the internal options, the free agent market looks pretty bleak with Johnny Damon, Jose Guillen, Brad Hawpe, and Rick Ankiel as the best available.

So what did the Nationals get in return?  In Henry Rodriguez, the Nationals get the power bullpen arm they desperately need.  Rodriguez induces a lot of whiffs, and has average control.  He has a good fastball, but still needs some work on his secondary pitches.  Ultimately, he could grow into the seventh inning guy behind Clippard and Storen.  In Corey Brown, the Nationals get a solid prospect with raw power.  He's probably best suited for a corner outfield position, but does have the range to play CF.  He played in AAA last season, but could probably use another couple of months in AAA before getting promoted to the majors.

What does this mean for the Athletics?

The Athletics get a quintessential Moneyball type player.  Willingham works pitchers, draws walks, and hits for decent power.  He doesn't play great defense, but he's acceptable in left field.  Ultimately, he would work best in a righty/lefty platoon situation with Willingham playing against left-handers, and the defensively oriented Ryan Sweeney playing against right-handers.  Still, he should fit in well in an A's lineup in desperate need of some thump.  He's not going to hit 30-35 home runs a season, but he should provide at least +15-20 wRAA next season assuming at least 500 plate appearances. 

The Willingham trade blocks the A's top two outfield prospects, Michael Taylor and Chris Carter.  Per Keith Law's assessment, Taylor is a "mess right now at the plate," and Carter is "best stuck at first base or DH" (both of which are occupied at the moment).  Law predicts that one or both prospects will be traded within the next couple of weeks.  This wouldn't surprise me, as Billy Beane is not afraid to pull the trigger and make some moves.  These moves haven't always worked out ,as Beane has a history of trading away promising offensive oriented prospects who later blossom with other teams (see Andre Ethier and Carlos Gonzalez).  Plus, it might not be a bad move to hold onto at least one of these players, as Willingham is in his final season of arbitration eligibility and will be a free agent next season. 

All in all, this looks like a very good trade for the A's in the short term.  They get a cheap, undervalued piece to their offensive puzzle, while giving them an opportunity to allow their top prospects to develop further.

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