Angels' New Trade Target: Paul Konerko

Jarek BergaCorrespondent IJanuary 5, 2008

The Angels are reportedly interested in acquiring 32-year-old White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko.

The Angels pursued Konerko as a free agent in the winter of 2005, only to see him re-sign with the White Sox in November of that year.

It's no secret that the Angels have been trying to upgrade their offense this offseason, failing in an attempt to acquire a young impact bat in Miguel Cabrera. With the free agent market bare, the Angels are now turning their attention to acquiring talent via trades.

I've already started discussing what the Angels should do in this offseason, and I must admit I didn't see a need at first base.

Angels' first baseman Casey Kotchman enjoyed a very productive 2007, on offense as well as on defense. Kotchman absolutely excelled at first base, posting a league-best .918 zone rating. He was quietly solid at the plate too.

Kotchman's numbers don't pop out at first glance, as he hit only 11 home runs and drove in only 68 runs.  A more in-depth analysis, though, reveals that Kotchman was a valuable contributor on offense.

His .372 OBP was third on the team to Vladimir Guerrero (.403) and Chone Figgins (.393). He also had the second-best plate discipline on the team (behind Reggie Willits) with an above-average 10.5 percent walks per plate appearance rate.

Kotchman was able to do what few ballplayers can: He walked (53) more than he struck out (43). That takes exceptional skill, and leads to the conclusion that Kotchman could develop into a solid or even special hitter.

The bottom line is that Kotchman has one of the best approaches to hitting on the team. This is important to note, because if he's able to develop the power that his 6'3", 215-pound frame suggests, he'll be equipped to be a great player.

Ideally, Kotchman would blossom into a perennial .300/.380/.500 hitter. That's the kind of production the Angels have been lacking—and his youth (24) is only working in his favor.

Paul Konerko has been producing in that same .300/.380/.500 frame for several years now, but he's 32 and coming off a down season. Konerko and Kotchman are two players who may be heading in different directions, and last year their offensive production was eerily similar.

Kotchman posted an .839 OPS; Konerko posted an .841 OPS. If you adjust that OPS for the ballparks and other factors, Kotchman earns an 119 OPS+, while Konerko earned a 116 OPS+.

My point here is that the trade doesn't make much sense if it entails substituting Konerko for Kotchman at first base, especially when you factor in Kotchman's all-world defense.

In fact, there's only one scenario which would make this trade a clear upgrade opportunity for the Angels.

If you guessed unloading Gary Matthews Jr., then you've been reading my previous posts, and I thank you.

Including Matthews in the deal makes sense, as the White Sox don't have a great center field option, and the Angels are well stocked in the outfield. I realize that Matthews alone won't get it done, but I have no problems if the Angels ship an arm along with him.

Joe Saunders is a candidate, as he's only 26 and has a bit of upside. The fact that he's left-handed could appeal to the White Sox, and I think he could turn out to be a slightly better-than-average pitcher someday.

As it is, he's not invaluable to the Angels, and should be considered expendable in this potential deal.

The trade for Konerko should not, on the other hand, include any of the following players: Howie Kendrick, Ervin Santana, or Chone Figgins.

I think the Angels made a catastrophic mistake in not trading Kendrick for Miguel Cabrera. Kendrick has been overrated by the Angels, as he took a measly nine walks in 2007 and doesn't have a great approach at the plate. Until he learns to wait for his pitch, he 'll always be a step behind the great hitters.

He could no doubt become a great hitter, but his approach to hitting which doesn't convince me yet.

That said, I think the Angels should keep him now, unless they get another chance at a Miguel Cabrera/David Wright/Hanley Ramirez-type young talent (unlikely at best).

Kendrick is too good a pure hitter to trade at his age (24) for a player on the wrong side of 30 like Konerko, even if Kendrick is raw and may never become a great hitter.

Santana has too much potential, and his youth makes it more likely he'll recover from his 2007 performance, which wasn't as bad as most think. (Look at his K/BB, K rate, and his fielding-independent stats, which show he was unlucky with balls hit in play).

Figgins is not my ideal third baseman, but seeing as the Angels have no better options at the moment, he must stay. He's not as valuable to the team as he used to be, as the team is deep in outfield options—but he's still valuable as a leadoff man if he can repeat his 2007 OBP or come close to it.

I wouldn't mind at all if the Angels acquired Konerko...but it has to be for the right price. If the White Sox are willing to take a package of Matthews Jr. and a pitcher like Saunders, then this one is an easy deal to make.