Wednesday, November 02, 2005

2005 Off-Season, Part III: I'll Trade You My Apple For Your Fruit Snacks

Now the fun begins. Well, kind of. Today is my scouring of the trading block thus far, and all I can say right off the bat is that I’m sure this topic will be revisited many times this off-season. The reason is simple: there aren’t many names being tossed around at this point. It’s not exactly top-notch PR to announce that a guy is up for bids while you still have free agents to sign and advance tickets to sell.

Four names top this list, and not because they’re the best players out there: Torii Hunter, Milton Bradley, Juan Pierre, Corey Patterson. Yep, the center fielder hunt is on, and with the free agent market bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, bartering is seemingly the best option.

Hunter is on the top of everyone’s wish list, since he provides the defense that Yankees fans pined for while watching Bernie come up short on seemingly routine fly balls in 2005. Unfortunately for those frothing at the mouth, Hunter is really nothing special at the plate. This presents an interesting situation, since I went on the record yesterday saying that we didn’t need a huge upgrade to improve upon Bernie’s 2005 contribution of a .288 non-out percentage and .427 efficiency rating.

Over the past three seasons, Hunter has averaged a non-out percentage of.283 and an efficiency rating of .510. So if you’re willing to forgive an out here and there, Hunter looks like a solid replacement, with his defense and all, right? I still don’t buy this one, mainly because I know that Twins GM Terry Ryan will not let him go on the cheap. Hunter’s defense isn’t worth a hoard of prospects and/or Robinson Cano. The best case scenario here is that the Yanks wait it out until right before Spring Training, where Hunter’s price tag will dwindle should he still be on the market (and not wearing an Angels jersey).

Next up: board game pioneer Milton Bradley. His future is rather uncertain now, as the old GM in LA said he wanted to trade Bradley. But he was fired and the GM position is up in the air. I’m going to make a prediction here: if the Dodgers hire a traditional “baseball guy,” – which I think they will, seeing as they terminated the DePodesta relationship rather quickly – Bradley will be out, and on the cheap. Traditional baseball guys don't care about the guy’s OBP or Slugging percentage; they care that he gets suspended for indecent behavior once a year, and they don’t want that kind of guy ruining clubhouse chemistry (they have Jeff Kent for that).

But if you’re building a team with no team chemistry consequences, Bradley is the guy. His NOP over the last three years is a bulbous .343, while his efficiency rating is .533. Combine that with some speed (read: defense) in center, and you have a complete upgrade over Bernie.

I would love it if Bradley was like Sheffield, and just needs an environment like New York to thrive. Sheffield was always notorious for having a bad attitude (wow, that makes me sound like a Little League coach), and was relocating every few years because of it. But he arrived in New York, and just seemed like a perfect fit. It’s almost like being on this team in this environment has humbled him in some slight way. Sure, he runs his mouth here and there, but that’s only to be expected.

Unfortunately, I don’t see Bradley making the transition. Of course, I have no hard evidence for this, just a gut feeling. Sheffield may have behaved badly in the past, but never to the degree of Bradley (at least not that I remember). Supposedly, jail and anger management taught Bradley a lesson, but he had that whole incident with Jeff Kent this year, which I have beef with. I just hate it when professional athlete publicly play the race card on a teammate, and Jeff Kent was just an easy target. I’m not saying that Kent doesn’t harbor contempt towards other races, but I’m saying that Bradley was wrong to bring anything of that nature to the public light.

As a relative compromise, I’m going to put my name under the Juan Pierre column. I was never really a fan of Pierre, especially after watching him struggle this year – at least more so than in years past. First off, he is a decent on-base guy, making an out in less than 70 percent of his plate appearances (.307 NOP). Second, he’s a singles machine. Usually, power is the key, but the Yankees have plenty of power to go around, so a true singles hitter/walk drawer is something the team could surely use.

Third, he’s a legitimate base swiping threat. Over the past three years, he’s been a 74 percent success rate, but augmented that with a 77 percent performance this year. Fourth, he’s only grounded into 28 double plays in 2212 plate appearances over the last three years. In my research of MLB players and their efficiency, I’ve come across a lot of leadoff hitters, and without any actual calculations, I think he has the lowest GPD rate in the league. Fifth, he has struck out once every NINETEEN at bats over the past three years. Once again, he did this as a leadoff hitter, which makes it an even more astounding feat. Remember, 2212 plate appearances, and he only struck out every nineteenth. And with an efficiency rating of .454, he’s even an improvement over Bernie in that category.

Finally, we get to Corey Patterson, who was demoted to Triple-A this season due to his free-swinging ways that led to an overt number of strikeouts. After a breakout 2003 in which he went .298/.329/.511 (traditional stats), he fell off the boat in ’04 and ’05. His 2005 line, .215/.254/.348, was particularly horrible, and he struck out 118 times, or roughly once every four plate appearances (read: once a game).

Still, I expect the asking price for Patterson to be relatively steep, probably in the area of an Eric Duncan. And as much as I don’t think Duncan has a real future with the Yanks, I don’t think he should be traded for Patterson. For starters, despite Duncan’s below expectations performance at Trenton this year, he still was able to draw a fair amount of walks (59 in 451 AB). Plus, he’s absolutely tearing up winter ball, at least through 20 games (82 AB), posting a line of .366/.416/.756.

If Patterson can be fetched for a similar price (a couple of relievers that most likely aren’t going to make it) to Chacon, I say go for it. Anything more expensive, however, will make the risk outweigh the cost, and while I’m an advocate of risk taking, this doesn’t seem like a high percentage one. Plus, if Damon splits from Boston, the Red Sox may be willing to part ways with more to get Patterson. And in that case, I’d shake Corey’s hand tell him to have fun in Beantown.

These four are merely the names being tossed around at the moment, and there is no guarantee as to the availability of them. And, as we all know from off-season experience, other names may pop up in the coming months. The guys I like that haven’t been mentioned yet, but might: Raul Ibanez, Rocco Baldelli. The guys I like but probably won’t be waved around as bait: David DeJesus, Frank Catalanotto, Coco Crisp, Aaron Rowand. And finally, guys I’m iffy on, but would probably be available for the right price: Gary Matthews, Emil Brown. I have a feeling that I’ll be getting to at least two of these guys later in the off-season.

Sure, there are other big names being floated in trade talks, but none of them will land in New York. Manny (Red Sox certainly won’t deal him to the Yanks, though they did offer him up for free in ’04), Wells (wants to play on the West Coast/still bitter feelings over the ’03 World Series), and Barry Zito (don’t have the goods to land him). So let’s keep the focus on center field with the trades, relief pitching and a backup first baseman/DH in free agency, which I will get to manana.