I play sports video games a lot. Malcolm Gladwell wrote in Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become truly great at something, and I think I’m there with EA’s FIFA series. But what I like more than the gameplay itself is managing the team and making roster moves.
With all this Ryan Howard-to-the-Cardinals-for-Albert Pujols nonsense going on this week, I think it’d be fun to ask for some submissions from the audience on the following: Let’s say you suddenly become empowered with the ability to possess (like a demon) another human being’s body, and you now control Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s consciousness. I wouldn’t stay long because he’s a pescatarian and I’d need to stop out for a burger, but you get the idea. What trades do you pull off? Here are some ground rules:
1) It has to be something that would actually be accepted by the other team. Much as I’d like to trade Kyle Kendrick and Juan Castro to the Nationals for Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg, the Nats wouldn’t accept that trade.
2) It has to keep the Phillies competitive in 2010 without completely blowing up the future, and vice-versa.
3) Salary matters. You can get a big contract, but you have to dump some salary in return or get someone who would sell enough jerseys to pay for an eight-figure salary.
4) No one’s untouchable. Now’s the time to indulge those Utley-for-David Wright fantasies you’ve always had.
5) And before some smartass thinks this up, no undoing the Cliff Lee trade.
My suggestions, if you care, are after the jump.
OF Shane Victorino to the Nationals for OF Nyjer Morgan and SS Danny Espinosa
I love to fantasize about trading Shane Victorino, but this trade isn’t just about getting rid of a certain center fielder. Nyjer Morgan is a pretty darn good player, and he’s flown under the radar. He plays mid-bendingly good defense—one gets the impression that Morgan obviates the need for at least one, if not both, of the corner outfielders. And maybe the second baseman, too. Among people who know a lot more about advanced defensive metrics than I do, Morgan ranks second only to Franklin Gutierrez in breathless exultations of praise.
And while he doesn’t walk much or hit for any power, Morgan hits .300 and almost never strikes out. The only worrying bit about him is his basestealing. Morgan swiped 42 bases last year, but it took him 59 attempts to get there, a rate every bit as bad as Victorino’s, and just staggeringly bad. Morgan’s 71 percent is right around the break-even point for basestealers—he’d almost be better off not running at all.
Espinosa is a high-A shortstop with decent speed and power. I’d ask for him because the Phillies might need an heir presumptive to J-Roll in about two years, and the Nationals are higher on Ian Desmond as a shortstop prospect.
So why would the Nats give Morgan up for Victorino? Victorino, as I’ve said, is the test case for being overrated. He’s a flamboyant, charismatic specialist who plays for a good team in a big market. Ask about his speed—people will ignore his inability to read fly balls in the outfield and his alarming propensity to get thrown out stealing. All people know about his defense is his spate of diving catches and his rocket throwing arm.
Morgan has also, at age 30, never played a full major league season. His reputation as a career minor leaguer/journeyman (he was, after all, deemed so special that both the A’s and Pirates cashiered him last year) doesn’t make him seem as valuable to the Nats as, say, Adam Dunn or Ryan Zimmerman.
I’d take Morgan’s under-the-radar effectiveness, but a team as badly-managed over the years as the Nationals might not.
1B Ryan Howard, OF Jayson Werth, RHP Trevor May, and OF Anthony Gose to St. Louis for 1B Albert Pujols and 2B/OF Skip Schumaker
The trade rumor that inspired this would-be deal (Howard-for-Pujols straight up) is ridiculous. In fact, I think this trade would piss off both fan bases. Howard and Werth are two of the Phillies’ most popular players, and the Phillies would hate to lose them, even considering their impending free agency.
But Albert Pujols literally puts up the production of two all-stars. Let’s couch this in terms of WAR, my new favorite statistic. For a baseline, replacement-level players (interchangeable AAA homunculi) get 0 WAR, competent full-time players get about 1.5 or 2, good players get 3, All-Stars usually get close to 5, and anyone who gets 6 or more is usually in the MVP discussion.
Pujols has been in the league since 2001. FanGraphs has data for WAR back to 2002. Pujols’ worst season since 2002 was 6.1 WAR, an MVP-quality season. Last year he posted 8.5. Howard’s career-high was that ridiculous 2006 season, a 7-win season that was worthy of the MVP he won. That would have been Pujols’ second-worst season ever.
Werth and Howard were both rather uncontroversial All-Star picks last year and they combined for 9.5 WAR. So let’s say you lose the combined production of Werth and Howard, both excellent players, and replace them with Pujols and another right fielder. The new right fielder would need to be worth 1 WAR in order for the Phillies to break even. Here are some of the outfielders who posted 1 WAR last year: Cody Ross, Randy Winn, Chase Headley, and Jack Cust. I’m sure Disco Francisco or Greg Dobbs could handle that, and if not, 1 WAR outfielders almost literally grow on trees.
Ideally, the Phils would get back Skip Schumaker, a player with two employable skills: hitting for average and the ability to play multiple positions. He could fill the void until Dom Brown was ready to take over in right and be Chase Utley insurance once the Domonator takes over.
As for Gose and May, no prospect short of Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward, or Jesus Montero ought to keep a team from trading for a plalyer like Pujols. That’s why this package works for Philadelphia.
From the Cardinals’ side, I asked PN’s Paul Boye what he thought, and he said, “The Cardinals wouldn’t even listen to you without Howard and Dom Brown.”
Then, I asked my buddy Klump (yes, that’s his real name), the only Cardinals fan I know, what Phillies he’d want in return. I expected something like Utley, Hamels, Howard, and prospects. Here’s his response (via text): “He’s not tradeable to the Phillies. Albert is ours :)”
Ok. Well, then, I’d up the offer. There are three players in the Phillies’ organization I would not include in a package for Pujols: Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, and Cole Hamels (at least not with another regular contributor). So if the Cards want the longer-term cost control of Victorino, plus another top prospect, instead of Werth? Fine. Want Brown instead of Gose? Fine, I’ll hope that one of him or Tyson Gillies pans out. Want to replace Schumaker with another throw-in player? Go ahead.
For Pujols and, let’s say, David Freese, here’s the maximum that I’d offer the Cardinals: Howard, Werth, Brown, their choice of May or J.C. Ramirez, and their choice of Joe Blanton or J.A. Happ.
With two top-line starters and Pujols, you can contend for and win pennants with little else—the Cardinals have proven that. With another MVP-level player (Utley) and the rest of the Phillies’ parts, you can do more.
LHP J.A. Happ to San Diego for 3B James Darnell and OF Jaff Decker
Full disclosure on this one. The first trade would be feasible, the second would be exciting, and this one I just came up with because I was bored and needed a third.
While the value on most Phillies position players will never be higher, Happ is probably the only pitcher who’s overrated even a little. His BABIP and numbers with runners on base last year suggest that he’ll be an average to above-average pitcher going forward, not the 2.90 ERA, rookie-of-the-year-runner-up we saw last year. That’s fine. For the next three years, he’ll never have to be anything more than a No. 4 starter anyway, with Halladay, Hamels, and Blanton all wrapped up for the foreseeable future.
But if you can get a decent haul for him, why not?
Darnell’s a big-hitting third baseman who won the Padres’ minor league player of the year award last year. He’s probably due to start this year at AA.
The Padres would let him go because of their surfeit of minor league third basemen, and the Phillies would want him because he plays a position they’re going to need to fill in a couple seasons, as well as second base and the corner outfield positions. In a year and change in the minors, Darnell’s OPS is .970.
Darnell played his college ball at the University of South Carolina, on a team with Phillies pitching prospect Mike Cisco and eventual first-round picks Justin Smoak and Reese Havens, at the same time I was going to school there.
Now I find college baseball tremendously boring (during my time as a student reporter and fan mostly attending soccer and football games), but the one time I actually went to a game (I was a freshman and I didn’t know any better) a skinny, 19-year-old version of Darnell started at second and gave a thoroughly Dan Uggla-like performance in the field and booted pretty much everything that came to him.
I’m not sure what this says, except bully for Darnell that he learned how to field his position and hit well enough to be in a good position make it as a pro at age 23. Though he did make 30 errors at third base last year in A-ball.
I don’t know much about Jaff Decker, and neither do the Padres. He’s a fire hydrant-shaped outfielder who turned 20 last month who has decent (but not great) speed and phenomenal plate discipline (142 walks in 683 minor-league plate appearances). All signs point to a corner outfielder who doesn’t wow you in the field but is constantly on base. But going into his age-20 season, it’s impossible to know anything for sure about the guy.
Here’s what I do know about Jaff Decker. If I had a name like his, I’d have artfully-tousled hair, a five-o’clock shadow, and work as either a private eye or a bounty hunter. Why, Jaff Decker, would you waste a name like your own on a baseball player? Shouldn’t you be exploring the Serengetti with a horse, a fedora, and an elephant gun? Or chasing mob snitches through post-apocalyptic Glasgow with a stogie between your teeth and a crotch rocket between your legs?
I’d kill for a name like Jaff Decker. And I’d trade J.A. Happ for an outfielder like Jaff Decker.