You may have read my earlier article on Quadruple-A and the Garbage Player Phenomenon. In that article, I asserted that many Quad-A players can be as effective as average veterans for a fraction of the cost. As a sort of follow-up to that article, I decided to get slightly less rhetorical and actually give a concrete example.
One of the teams most guilty of exacerbating the GPP is the San Francisco Giants, who have opened 2008 with Bengie Molina, Randy Winn, Omar Vizquel, Ray Durham, and Dave Roberts in their midst. While their pitching staff holds some promise and they have a good center fielder, the Giants are throwing a combination of garbage-player veterans and organizational soldiers into the starting lineup. They are not a young team even after the departure of Barry Bonds, and their farm system was ranked just 23rd by Baseball America coming into 2008.
Please note that the term “garbage player” implies something less harsh than it sounds—these players are replaceable, not necessarily useless. I’m not implying that the Giants are running a bunch of zeroes on the field. I am, however, implying that every hitter on the team can easily be replaced or improved on for a fraction of the cost.
Therefore, I decided to conduct a sort of mock-teardown of the Giants at the big league level, and come up with a new big-league roster. Before we begin, I’d like to say that yes, I am aware that just because I say a trade can work doesn’t mean the other GM involved would agree, but I’ll try to sell you on all the moves from both sides. Also, keep in mind that Jack Cust was acquired by the A’s last year for “cash considerations,” a.k.a “nothing.” Therefore, there’s only two deals here that could possibly not work out, and I’ll explain why both would. Here we go.
• Recall 1B/3B Scott McClain, C Eliezer Alfonzo and SS Ivan Ochoa from AAA Fresno. I know, I bring up McClain in every article, and I really should stop talking about a 35-year-old minor league first baseman. Still, remember that the Giants have just one player—Aaron Rowand—who hit more than 20 homers last year, and he did that in Citizens Bank Bandbox. Say what you want about McClain, but he has 333 homers between the minors and Japan, so he can put the ball over the fence. Yes, he doesn’t make the team any younger, but first is the one position the Giants can afford to go short-term with. McClain is just keeping the seat warm for Angel Villalona. If he is installed at first for two years, he should hit 50-60 HR. He’s basically Richie Sexson with more defensive versatility (he can play 3B if needed, although not very well) and a league-minimum salary. Ochoa, who you may have read about in my article on Brian Bocock, is a good defensive shortstop with modest pop who will serve as a utility infielder. Alfonzo, Guillermo Rodriguez, and Steve Holm are all fine backup catcher options, but my taste runs toward Alfonzo. It doesn’t matter too much.
• Send INF Eugenio Velez, 1B/OF Dan Ortmeier, RHP Keiichi Yabu, OF Clay Timpner, and INF Jose Castillo to AAA Fresno, and SS Brian Bocock to High-A San Jose. These players all reinforce the new roster. Bocock needs more development time offensively; after his .621 OPS at San Jose last year, he should return there.
• Designate RHP Brad Hennessey, 2B Ray Durham, SS Omar Vizquel, OFs Dave Roberts and Randy Winn, and INF Rich Aurilia for assignment. As you’ll soon see, these players will be replaced or upgraded easily. The Giants should try to swing a trade for these guys after DFAing them to replenish the lower levels of the farm system. If not, just take the hit and move on. Hennessey should certainly bring something back in a trade, as should Winn and Roberts. These players should be DFAed rather than sent down because they can all refuse minor league assignments, and likely would.
• Trade LHP Jack Taschner to OAK for 2B Brooks Conrad. If you’ve read my minor league article, you may know that Conrad led the minors in extra-base hits in 2006, he switch-hits, and can play seven positions. Taschner is just an average bullpen lefty. Conrad will be in a battle for the 3B job on this roster rather than rotting in AAA for a third straight year.
• Trade C Bengie Molina to BOS for 2B Jeff Natale. All right, everyone, all together now: “WHO’S JEFF NATALE?” I’ll get to him in a second, but first I should address the reasons the Red Sox should make this deal. They don’t need Natale because they have Dustin Pedroia and Jed Lowrie, so he is expendable. They would want Molina because he is an offensive upgrade on Kevin Cash, great insurance if Jason Varitek gets hurt again, and he is known for being a great defender, which makes him a good candidate to be Tim Wakefield’s new personal catcher. Boston has enough financial power that they could swallow all, or at least a large portion, of Molina’s contract. As for Natale, he is a 25-year-old second baseman in Double-A who doesn’t play a good 2B and may have to move to left or first. Exciting, isn’t he? Not yet, but check this out: Natale's career K/BB ratio is 222/127 (nearly 2:1!!!) and his career OBP is .438. You’ve got to be kidding me with numbers like that. Yes, Natale is shaky on D, but you can use Ochoa creatively as a defensive replacement late in games. Furthermore, Ray Durham was horrible defensively last year, so the Giants don’t take an extra hit here; they just don’t upgrade defensively. Now for the blockbuster:
• Trade RHP Matt Cain to LAA for SS Brandon Wood, C Mike Napoli, and OF Reggie Willits. The Angels would do this. They need another starter to replace Kelvim Escobar, and Cain gives them that. Also, with young talent at short (Sean Rodriguez and Erick Aybar) and catcher (Bobby Wilson, Jeff Mathis, and Hank Conger) and five outfielders above Willits on the depth chart, the Angels trade their surplus for an ace. Why trade Cain? First off, the Giants have six good starters and a terrible lineup, so trading one of the starters to improve the lineup makes sense. Why Cain and not Tim Lincecum? Two reasons: First, Cain has less upside than Lincecum, and second, he has more trade value because he is perceived as more durable. Wood slides in at short instead of Vizquel, Napoli replaces Molina behind the plate, and Willits takes over left. At short, Wood obviously provides much more extra-base pop than Vizquel while keeping the plus defense of his predecessor. Yes, he doesn’t hit for average, but Rowand, Willits, and Natale all will take care of that. Napoli has a much better arm than Molina and is not a liability on the bases, and as with Wood, he is a downgrade in average but an upgrade in OBP and slugging. Willits is a fast slap hitter with a great eye at the plate. He and Rowand will combine to cover a lot of ground, which is important in the big parks of the NL West. With Rowand, Willits, Wood, and Napoli all wearing the—what is it, black and brown?—the Giants will have four great defenders, which will help mask the deficiencies of Natale and Conrad. Also, the pitching staff is fairly flyball-oriented, so the good outfield defense will help more and the bad infield defense will hurt less.
• Sign RHP Colter Bean. The big sidearmer with the incredible slider is a free agent, and if he ever gets signed and freed from Quad-A, he could be Pat Neshek, a big upgrade on Hennessey.
• Acquire LHP Mike Bacsik from WAS, 3B Marshall McDougall from SD, and OF Jon Knott from MIN for cash. Bacsik will serve as the swingman here after putting up a 5.11 ERA for the Nats last year. He’s not great, but he takes the ball in any role and doesn’t beat himself. He pitches to contact and would benefit from the good defense I’m assembling. McDougall would fight for playing time at third with Conrad, and they could wind up in a platoon. Whichever one on the bench is a valuable utility guy; they both have experience at seven positions. Knott, the player who I discussed at length in the Quad-A article, becomes the right fielder. He’ll strike out a lot, but he crushes fastballs and would be a cheap source of power.
I could do more to upgrade some things, but the point is that all I did was trade three players and made the Giants a lot better and a lot cheaper. The 25-man roster that results from these moves is this:
LF Reggie Willits
2B Jeff Natale
CF Aaron Rowand
C Mike Napoli
1B Scott McClain
RF Jon Knott
3B Brooks Conrad
SS Brandon Wood
C Eliezer Alfonzo
INF Ivan Ochoa
INF Marshall McDougall
OF Fred Lewis
OF Rajai Davis
RHP Tim Lincecum
LHP Barry Zito
LHP Jonathan Sanchez
RHP Kevin Correia
LHP Noah Lowry
Long Relief LHP Mike Bacsik
Middle Relief RHP Colter Bean
Middle Relief RHP Merkin Valdez
Middle Relief RHP Vinnie Chulk
Middle Relief LHP Erick Threets
Setup RHP Tyler Walker
Closer RHP Brian Wilson
I didn’t do much to change the pitching staff—I just effectively replaced Cain with Sanchez. Cain’s projected 2008 VORP, according to Baseball Prospectus, is 25.0; Sanchez’s is 11.9. Yes, the Giants lose 13 runs here, but Bacsik and Bean (who doesn’t have a projection) likely would get two or three of the runs back by replacing Taschner and Hennessey. But okay, I made the pitching 10 runs worse.
Let’s look at the lineup changes:
Brian Bocock’s projected VORP: -7.4
Ivan Ochoa’s: 3.2
Well, I made the Cain/Sanchez difference up just by changing utility infielders. Interesting how that works, huh?
Ray Durham’s projected VORP: 8.9
Jeff Natale’s: 9.0
This is expecting a big rebound from Durham, who was 15 runs worse than Natale last year. Notice that even if this optimistic projection is correct, they are equal in value. They’re sure not equal in salary.
Omar Vizquel’s projected VORP: 0.1
Brandon Wood’s: 14.5
Not even close. It’s worth noting that Wood’s also got a 12% chance at topping 50 VORP.
Jose Castillo’s projected VORP: 4.1
Brooks Conrad’s: 11.8
It just keeps getting better…
Bengie Molina’s projected VORP: 14.5
Mike Napoli’s: 11.2
Sure, but Napoli is projected to be three runs better on D, so it evens out.
The point is, this frees up a ton of salary for the Giants while making them younger and better. Remember in the VORP projections, younger hitters are more likely to overachieve, and older hitters are more likely to underachieve, so the offense is likely to be 30-40 runs better, if not more. Behind a still-solid pitching staff, the Giants all of a sudden go from “hopeless” to something less negative. They at least get into the 70s in wins, and in the NL, they could contend. Like I said, if I really wanted to, I could make more upgrades, but this gets the point across. Feel free to point out where I’m an idiot anywhere and I will do my best to defend myself. Also, if you’d like me to do this mock-teardown for any other teams, let me know and I’ll play around with it.