To discuss the Wilson Valdez trade to the Reds, we brought back an avid supporter of “Exxon,” former Phillies Nation contributor, Mike Baumann. He engaged in an email exchange with our own Ian Riccaboni, and this is what we have – a Blog Battle.
Do yourself a favor and check out Crashburn Alley, Mike Baumann’s new landing spot. Our old friend Paul Boye is also a writer there.
Ian Riccaboni, Phillies Nation: Wednesday, the Phils shipped super-utility infielder Wilson Valdez to the Reds for lefty reliever Jeremy Horst. Valdez, cited after the 2010 season as Charlie Manuel’s choice for team MVP, became a cult hero for retiring the heart of the Reds line-up in the 19th inning on Wednesday May 25/Thursday May 26, 2011. I am joined by Crashburn Alley‘s Michael Baumann to discuss what this means for the team and its effects on the fan base, as we swap emails back and forth.
Mike, as you may or may not know, last Friday, I inferred Valdez avoiding arbitration with the Phils for $930K signaled the end of Michael Martinez, as Valdez’s presence on the team made Mini-Mart redundant. I speculated that because Valdez was kept on the roster, Martinez no longer had a place and was squeezed out in a number’s crunch by the signings of Laynce Nix and Jim Thome and the trade for Ty Wigginton. This trade changes everything, however. It’s worth noting that while Martinez provides less value with the bat, it is a marginal difference in a small sample (0 fWAR v. -0.4) and Martinez out-fielded Valdez at every position over the course of last season according to UZR/150. Warm and gooey feelings for Valdez aside, this appears to be a cost-effective move that you stated in your Tuesday piece you wished to see the Phillies do more of, as the move saves the Phils around $1 mil as they inch closer to the luxury tax.
I ask you this: With the seemingly fragile health of the aging Phillies infield, is the value of the saving ~$1 million worth the difference between the relative consistency Valdez has provided and the more unknown entity that is Martinez?
Mike Baumann, Crashburn Alley: I don’t think Mini-Mart is the answer. He’s an even worse offensive player than Val dez, and while UZR favors him this year, I don’t know that one season of part-time duty is enough to say conclusively that he’s a better defender than Valdez. Utility infielder is perhaps a more important position on the Phillies than on most teams, because the Phillies, in Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Placido Polanco, have three good two-way players to start, but all three will need to be spelled for significant periods of time to prevent injury as they get older.
I’m kind of happy to be rid of the cult hero aspect of Valdez, but if the Phillies’ utility infielder is going to make, for the sake of argument, 50 starts in 2012 (20 each for Utley and Polanco, and 10 for Rollins), he’s going to have to be better offensively than Martinez’s career 48 OPS+ or Valdez’s 20 double plays in 2010. Out of the names Pat suggested, I would probably like Ryan Theriot the best. He’s a better hitter than either Valdez or Martinez, and while he leaves something to be desired both on the bases and in the field, he can be a C- at second, third, or short on an interim basis. Or they could just bring up Freddy Galvis for the major league minimum and accept that he’s going to field but can’t really hit that well. So what do you think: Theriot, Galvis, some other option? Or will we wish the Phillies had just stayed the course?
IR: The availability of Ryan Theriot stuns me. He’s got a career triple-slash of .283/.344/.353, plays a good-enough middle infield, and has above-average base-running skills. He has very little power, but his competent glove and ability to get base hits outweighs that for me. For the amount of teams that entered this year looking for budget solutions at short, it knocks me out that he is still available this late in the off-season and likely will have to settle for a one year deal. I think Theriot is the kind of utility player that adds value to the team on a multi-year deal instead of an outfielder like Nix. If he’s cheap enough, I would have his agent on the phone immediately and figure out how to get him to Clearwater.
Of the other names Pat suggested, for me, Aaron Miles, Bill Hall, Edgar Renteria, Miguel Tejada, and Felipe Lopez are nos for deteriorating skill sets and high price tags. The other intriguing name Pat posed was Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger, along with Theriot, still have the skill set to field their positions well as well as cover an outfield spot in a pinch if the Phillies choose not to go with Scott Podsednik, Dom Brown, or a veteran free agent. Keppinger’s ability to hit doubles is a really nice option off the bench and his .388 SLG could covertly add some pop off the bench and is an instant upgrade over Valdez and Martinez. I would let Galvis hit every day down in Lehigh Valley to see if his strong 2011 campaign was real but I would not hesitate to call him up should J-Rol see the DL for an extended period of time.
Of the last 10 World Series winners, only the 2007 Red Sox and 2009 Yankees lacked a true platoon or something very close to it. I’m not saying every World Series winner needs a platoon, but I do think that point illustrates the need for a deep bench. In that regard, I don’t think we will wish the Phils had stayed the course. Yet, a move like signing a Theriot or Keppinger may put the Phillies too close to the luxury tax to make a bigger splash at the trade deadline. My question is this: Knowing that, would a move to sign a Theriot or Keppinger be worth it or would you play the hand you have? And if you would sign an additional utility infielder, how would you free up more salary space, assuming nobody wants Joe Blanton?
MB: I have no idea how the Phillies would free up salary, apart from building a time machine to avoid paying Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, and Kyle Kendrick all that money. And if this team is serious about starting Laynce Nix in a corner outfield spot against right-handed pitchers, and putting Ty Wigginton at first base until Howard gets back, they’re going to need to keep Blanton, because that lineup ain’t going to score too many runs.
Keppinger made $2.3 million last year, Theriot $3.3 million. While both of them are coming off of comparatively down years, I honestly couldn’t tell you how much of a discount, if any, that would get the Phillies, even this deep into free agency. Plus, with Hunter Pence and the Phillies so far apart in arbitration, there’s some uncertainty regarding how much salary flexibility the Phillies are even going to have.
But we’re getting off-topic. This discussion is some indication of how tricky it can be to find a capable utility infielder, which Wilson Valdez was if you squinted hard enough. How do you evaluate the Valdez Era in Philly?
IR: I think there is definitely luck involved with finding a capable utility infielder. Take for instance, Eric Bruntlett who success even season-to-season varied wildly. The 2008 Bruntlett was not very good but was good enough to do the job. The same could not be said for the 2009 Bruntlett.
The inconsistencies of utility infielders is how we ended up with Valdez in the first place. The Phils had signed Juan Castro after a very good 2009 in a utility role for 2010 and his own inconsistencies prompted Valdez’s promotion. I think Valdez has definitely a special place for Phillies fans for the 19th inning game and his truly terrific-for-a-utility-player 2010 (.258/.306/.360 in 111 games). His 2011 was not a whole lot different from his 2011 (.249/.294/.341) but he will turn 34 in May. Valdez leaves the Phils as a fan-favorite who emerged out of relative obscurity to help hold the Phils together when they needed a breath of consistency. For that, I thank him. How would you classify his time here?
MB: Well, it’s complicated. On the one hand, he’s been involved in so many weird and fun moments for the Phillies that it’s hard not to like him. But on the other hand, there was that stretch in 2010 where he grounded into a double play every time he lifted the bat off his shoulder. I think there’s something to be said for him being a competent defender at three positions. When your infielders are dropping like flies, as a fan, it’s probably easier to watch an emergency starter 0-for-4 every night as long as he doesn’t make that crippling error in the field than to throw someone out there who might hit but could botch an easy pop-up. Given how quickly Domonic Brown and Luis Castillo were run out of town, I’d say I’m not alone.
I think the key to Exxon’s popularity was that the expectations were so low, and he had the propensity to exceed them, from time to time, in a manner that was entertaining in the extreme. Valdez drove me absolutely nuts as a player, but as you just said, he might be harder to replace than one might think.