Could Ryan Church Be Headed To D.C. in a Josh Willingham Trade?

Farid RushdiAnalyst IDecember 9, 2009

DENVER - JULY 12:  Ryan Church #25 of the Atlanta Braves fields a fly ball as he plays defense against the Colorado Rockies during MLB action at Coors Field on July 12, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Braves 8-7.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

When the Washington Nationals traded Brian Schneider and Ryan Church to the New York Mets two seasons ago, I expected that Church, just 28 at the time, was ready to blossom into sold-if-unspectacular player for the Mets.


Injuries kept that from happening. But when the Atlanta Braves traded Jeff Francouer to New York to acquire Church, I thought his potential outweighed his performance, and that he would be with the Braves for some time.


So color me stunned when I read this afternoon that the Braves had designated Church for assignment after just 44 games. Atlanta now has 10 days to trade or release him before he becomes a free agent.


I have this strange feeling that maybe—just maybe—Ryan Church could be on his way back to the Washington Nationals.


The Braves have made it no secret that they have been interested in left fielder Josh Willingham since last season. They have a surplus of starting pitching and now have a spare outfielder that they don’t want.


If the Nationals trade Willingham, they are going to need a plan B in case Justin Maxwell isn’t successful as the team’s everyday left fielder. So if I was Atlanta, and I knew that was a concern for Washington, I’d sure want to allay that fear by including Church in the deal.


Of their starting five, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are the only untouchables. Javier Vazquez and Derek Lowe are available but their contracts ($15 million and $11.5 million respectively) are just too steep for the Nationals right now.


But Kenshin Kawakami would be ideal. Kawakami, a Japanese League import, went 7-12 last year but with a fine 3.68 ERA. He allowed 8.8 hits and 3.3 walks per nine innings last year while striking out 6.1. Kawakami had a .260 batting average-against and a .322 on base percentage-against.


In other words, he pitched well last year. Kawakami has two years remaining on his contract at a little more than $8 million per season.


Those are all numbers the Nationals can live with.


A Kenshin Kawakami for Josh Willingham trade straight-up would be fair, but if the Braves were willing to go that far, they would certainly be willing to throw in Church. He made $2.8 million last season and will likely earn about $3.5 million in 2010.


After saving $24 million by trading or not renewing the contracts of Ronnie Belliard, Dmitri Young, Austin Kearns, and Nick Johnson, the Nationals could easily take on both Kawakami’s and Church’s contracts.


Church’s best season came in 2007—his last in Washington—when he batted .272-15-70 with a .349 on-base percentage. Since the trade, Church has hit .274-16-89 in 678 at-bats.


The best scenario—assuming the Nationals were able to work out a deal with Atlanta—would be to platoon Church and Justin Maxwell in left, at least until Maxwell can prove he’s able to be an everyday player.


Based on his career numbers, here is what Church would hit facing right-handers (about 400 at-bats in a season): .280-15-61. .353 OBP, .460 SLG.


And based on Maxwell’s career stats, this is how he would fare against solely left-handed pitchers (about 200 at-bats): .286-8-27, .352 OBP, .449 SLG.


Add the two together, and you have a very nice offensive left fielder:


Hits: 175

2B: 39

3B: 4

HR: 23

RBI: 88

AVG: .283

OBP: .353

SLG: 455


I’ve always liked Ryan Church and would love to have him back on the team. He could be of great help as either a platoon player or a fourth outfielder. He is inexpensive and though his concussions might cause problems for an everyday player, playing 110-120 games should be no problem for Church.


This trade would make the Nationals a much better team. No, Ryan Church is not sexy. No, Kenshin Kawakami is not sexy. But both of them would make the team strong enough to be able to compete on a nightly basis.


And if the Nationals can do that, then most fans would be willing to wait for that “worst-to-first” thing for a while longer.


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