Trade Option: Josh Willingham

We may have found an outfielder worthy of replacing Jayson Werth (that is, if Werth doesn’t return, of course). That’s not to say Josh Willingham is on the same level as Werth as a fielder or hitter – clearly, he’s not as the numbers will prove. Willingham is, however, an inexpensive option should the Phillies be forced to move on.

Over the past five seasons, Willingham has become a familiar face in these parts, stopping through with the Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals. Over those five years, he’s been remarkably consistent. Willingham’s 162-game average over his career his 25 home runs, 82 RBI, and a .268 average. Not bad for a guy who gets very little publicity throughout the major leagues.

Turns out, Jayson Werth’s 162-game average is extremely similar: 25 home runs, 85 RBI, and .272 average. “The Hammer” also has an OPS of .841 during his career, just seven points lower than Werth’s.

Topping out at 26 home runs in 2006 and 89 RBI in 2007, Willingham has some pop from the corner outfield position. Sure, you say – hitting for power is nice, but can he hit lefties? That’s been the offseason-old question thus far for anyone who would step into the Phillies lineup.

It turns out that Willingham has handled left-handed pitching nearly the same as he handles right-handed pitching. His .267 career average against southpaws is nothing to write home about unless you’re comparing that number to a guy like Carlos Quentin (.212 vs. lefties). That sort of stability against lefties from the right side is all the Phillies could ask for as they attempt to find a suitable right fielder.

Over the past two seasons, Werth has separated himself from the rest, becoming an elite outfielder. His .921 OPS was 73 points higher than The Hammer’s in 2010. The issue last season for Willingham was his knee. The 31-year old is expected to be ready for 2011 after having surgery to fix his left meniscus in August. He finished the ’10 season with a .268/16/58 stat line in only 114 games and 450 plate appearances for the 69-93 Nats.

The good news is, Willingham is still relatively young. Werth didn’t hit his stride until he was close to 30 and benefited from an insanely well-rounded offense to boost those overall numbers. Could Willingham use that same talented Phillies lineup to take the next step as a hitter and flourish? Never has he been part of an offense like the one seen in Philly over the past few seasons.

One thing Josh Willingham is not known for is his defensive prowess. He’ll never be mistaken for Jayson Werth with the glove which is why his UZR has been a negative number in four of his five full seasons in the outfield.  While not fleet of foot, Willingham doesn’t screw up in the field often. Last year he committed just one error, and in nearly 5,000 innings in the outfield he’s put up just 16 “E’s.”

“Five-tool player” and “defensive stalwart” are titles that will never be used as descriptors for Willingham, and that’s OK. You know what you get with the guy: a fairly potent bat from the right side and average defense in right field. The question is, will he become available?

Two weeks ago, Adam Kilgore of the Washintgon Post wrote that Willingham was unlikely to receive an extension from the Nationals, meaning they could offer him another one-year deal or trade him.

CHANCES: With his salary expected to rise from $4.6 million to somewhere around $6 million for the upcoming season, that’s still within Ruben Amaro’s wheelhouse. The prevailing thought is that Willingham could be available and might be a decent addition to the Phillies. He’s also a guy who can cost-effectively take over in left field after Raul Ibanez leaves town. I give this deal five out of 10 Ruben Head’s.

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