October 10, 2009 at 2:51 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Front Office, Transactions
First of all, let me start by saying I have no agenda here. In no way am I “lobbing” for the Braves to trade Nate McLouth for Carlos Quentin. I’m sure there are twenty better ways to acquire a right-handed power hitter and I bet Frank Wren is already diligently exploring nineteen of them. I doubt anyone of importance when it comes to baseball decisions reads this site. And even if they did, I doubt they would pay any attention to it. I’m not an insider to the game. I don’t really know what’s going on. In fact, everything I write in this space could be complete bullshit. I generally believe that the principles I accept are true, but how do I really know? How does anyone know without working in a front office? How do they even really know then?
But before I launch into an internal philosophical debate, I’d just like to step back and say that the reason I do these trade proposals I do from time to time is because they fascinate me. I like to examine them from every angle. I like to find that perfect match. It’s fun to me. Nothing more, not of any particularly useful quality other than entertainment. Though that’s why we watch and write about and study baseball, right?
Furthermore, it doesn’t bother me if you disagree. I don’t believe that things I write along these lines are inherently right (i.e. I don’t think the Braves absolutely should do what I say. They’re a lot more knowledgeable, intelligent, and capable than me). It’s the discussion and the debate I enjoy. The types of readers I’m lucky enough to have attracted are exactly the type that I had hoped to–rational, respectful, and intelligent people more concerned with the truth and the process than the product. And I certainly don’t believe my opinion is better or more important than their opinion is.
My point is, I’m just doing this for fun. I not only don’t think these trade proposals should be taken as dogmatic*, I don’t even think they should be taken seriously. I just want to encourage intelligent discussion. Because that’s fun to me.
*I don’t think anything I write should be taken as dogmatic, really. I’m just a blogger, not a cult leader or someone of vast knowledge and experience who really knows what he’s talking about.
With that said, I have a little bit more on the McLouth-Quentin swap I proposed yesterday.
When prompted by the argument that the said proposal wouldn’t work because neither team would be dealing from a position of depth and it would subsequently create new holes (it was a very fair and good argument. Probably better than the one I’m about to make), this was my response:
I still think Atlanta and Chicago would probably both like to get that type of deal done. Chicago is looking for a LH bat to the point that they’ll move a RH bat to get one. Their best offensive player last year was Jim Thome. He hit .249/.372/.493 with 23 HR and was subsequently dealt in August. He was actually 3rd on the team in HR, behind Jermaine Dye (27), a RH-bat that most likely won’t return, and the right-handed Paul Konerko (28), whose contract expires after next year (2010). Though other than Jim Thome–who will not return to the team in 2010, there was not a legitimate left-handed bat on the team. A.J. Pierzenski, but he’s A.J. Pierzenski. And he only hit .300/.311/.425 with 13 HR. Chris Getz, playing 2B and making 415 PA’s (they could use a 2B, perhaps the Braves could include Kelly/Prado/Infante and get something else useful in return. A bullpen arm, maybe?), posted a .670 OPS with 2 HR. Though he did steal 25 bases and was caught only twice, it’s hard to have much of an impact when you’re batting average is .261, your OBP is .324, and you hit only 2 HR (.347 SLG%). The other lefties they had in 2009 include Scott Podsednik, who, in an extremely hit-lucky season (.341 BABIP), hit .304/.353/.412 with 7 HR (exactly one fifth of his career total); DeWayne Wise, who had a .628 OPS and 2 HR in 153 PA’s before basically being released; Mark Kotsay, who looks like he probably should’ve retired in 2006; and Jerry Owens, who has a career minor league OPS of .732. Point is, the White Sox need a LH-bat. Bad.
Also, given their current financial situation, the White Sox are not in a position to be aggressive on the Free Agent market this Winter. Not that the Free Agent market this winter is particularly good with regards to left-handed bats–Adam LaRoche, Johnny Damon, Russell Branyan, Rick Ankiel, and Bobby Abreu are your best options–but they don’t have the financial flexibility to acquire one of those guys, anyway. Also, they seem fairly married to their veterans. After all, four of them were around in 2005 when they (albeit improbably) won a World Series (Podsednik, Konerko, Pierzenski, and Buehrle), and they just acquired a few new toys they’re in love with (Peavy and Rios). The White Sox think they can win with this group, especially with all the young talent currently emerging (Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, John Danks, Tyler Flowers and Gavin Floyd). So moving a veteran to provide financial flexibility isn’t really an option for them, I wouldn’t think.
But, with their veteran core departing soon, 2010 may be their last chance to win with this group. And they’ve got the pitching to do it (Peavy, Buehrle, Danks, Floyd, and Garcia is a pretty damn good rotation). To have a realistic shot of competing in the AL Central they need to do two things. First of all, they need to add a left-handed bat or two. The whole point about financial flexibility is this: they’re not going to be able to acquire a good left-handed bat unless they make a trade like the one I mentioned, a premium piece they can part with for a premium piece they need. Otherwise, they’ll be sifting through the scrap heap hoping they find the next David Ortiz or Marco Scutaro (he bats right-handed, but that’s not the point). Secondly, they need to minimize their question marks offensively. Quentin, while he has tremendous upside, represents a question mark. He’s had only one consistently good season, 2008, and that one ended a month early because he broke a bat over his wrist (or his wrist over a bat, or maybe they both broke). Additionally, he’s notoriously injury-prone. McLouth, while he doesn’t possess the upside Quentin does, is less of a question mark. The floor is rather high for McLouth. He doesn’t get injured a lot, takes his walks, and steals some bases. So, even in the bad times (when he’s not hitting or not hitting for power), he’s going to be a somewhat productive player. Additionally, he’s a left-handed bat. And we know how badly they need left-handed bats. I think–given they don’t have a lot of other options and want to win now–that McLouth’s left-handed-ness and consistency, for lack of a better word, surpasses Quentin’s upside for the White Sox.
And then there’s the Braves. Almost as bad as the White Sox need a LH bat, the Braves need a RH power bat. Quentin is certainly that. Bill James once said that teams have something they do well even in their losses. For example, the 2009 Atlanta Braves largely get strong performances from their starting staff, even in losses. The Boston Red Sox get on base at a fairly good rate even in their losses, the Yankees hit even in their losses, the Phillies hit home runs in their losses, etc.. I’m of the belief that players are the same way. That is–even when they’re struggling, they’re still good at the thing they do best. Carlos Quentin is good at hitting home runs even if he’s struggling in every other facet of his game. For example, in 2009 Quentin hit .238/.323/.456 in a hitters’ park. A very bad batting average, a fairly modest on-base percentage, and a rather pedestrian SLG%. Still, he managed to hit a HR in 5.3% of his PA’s, nearly twice the league average (2.7%). Even when he struggled, he was able to hit HR’s. So, while he represents a question mark, the Braves know they’re at least getting a prolific Home Run hitter from the right side–their biggest need. A sort of Dave Kingman floor, if you will. And while Dave Kingman certainly isn’t your first choice to supply your team’s right-handed power–given his other limitations, this team needs a right-handed home run hitter to the point that adding a Dave Kingman would have a disproportionate effect and drastically improve the lifeless offense. So Carlos Quentin is a player that the Braves can afford to take a chance on. If he works out, excellent. If not, they’re probably still going to be OK and significantly improved.
With other concerns, like keeping the starting staff together, acquiring a 1B or re-signing LaRoche (something I think they should do if they acquire a RH-hitting OF), and shoring up the back end of the bullpen, the Braves could certainly stand to make a salary-neutral or salary-beneficial move for a cheap, young player. In fact, they’ll probably have to if they want to acquire premium pieces. Otherwise you either have to a) pick your poison and do without the rest or b) sift through the scrap heap. I doubt Wren will want to take many chances off of the scrap heap, given their low success rates, Bobby Cox’s impending retirement, and the fact that this team is built to win now. So this is the type of move both sides not only can make, but need to make.
As far as losing McLouth, yeah, the Braves lose their CF’er and lead-off man. Their center fielder who put up a -1.5 UZR/150 and their lead-off hitter who hit .257/.354/.410 with 11 HR and stole 12 bases at a 66.67% success rate (below the break-even point) in 396 PA’s. I’m not talking about trading a Grady Sizemore or a Curtis Granderson or a Torii Hunter or a Rickey Henderson. Don’t get me wrong, McLouth is a nice complementary piece, but don’t be fooled into thinking he’s a super-star, he ain’t. Additionally, they’ve got a perfectly capable replacement–Ryan Church–who will do just fine until their real CF, the CF they’re planning on building with, Jordan Schafer, is ready for the bigs. The way I see it, having McLouth around is potentially going to do more harm than good when Schafer’s ready. McLouth is the kind of player who is too valuable to sit but who won’t really have a position if he can’t play Center. He wasn’t going to be playing CF and hitting lead-off for much longer, anyway, and if you can move him now to acquire a right-handed power bat, something you desperately need to compete in 2010, I think you do it.
For me, McLouth’s uncertainty is outweighed by Quentin’s right-handed-ness, ability to hit home runs, and upside. And I think a trade that involves McLouth for Quentin makes a lot of sense for both the Braves and White Sox.