In recent weeks, there has been speculation in the media, as well as on message boards and blogs suggesting that the Angels could consider acquiring Padres shortstop Khalil Greene to replace departed shortstop Orlando Cabrera.
Most of the speculation centers around an Angels offer of center fielder Reggie Willits, infielder Erick Aybar, and either pitcher Joe Saunders or Ervin Santana.
ANGELS SHORTSTOP BATTLE:
At this point in time, it's assumed that Erick Aybar has the inside track to become the Angels starting shortstop in 2008, but he will be battling it out with Maicer Izturis. Those two players present an interesting situation for the Angels, since both players seemed better suited to be utility players for different but equally valid reasons.
On one hand, Aybar represents the prospect that has yet to establish himself in limited opportunities. He began his professional career with a lightning start, posting a .326/.374/.469 line in 67 games, good for an impressive .843 OPS in his first year in rookie ball at age 18. He followed that season up with a nice season at A ball, posting a .308/.331/.436 line at a still very young 19 years old.
His third season has been his finest as a professional, posting a .330/.359/.485 line at high A ball. He counterbalanced a mediocre walk rate with a good contact rate of 88%, (A rate above 90% often, but not always, indicates a .300 hitter), and this was a recurring theme throughout his time in the minors.
I much prefer to see players with high walk rates and poor strikeout rates, as this can be indicative of a player who waits for his pitch and may strikeout as a result of working deep counts. Players like Adam Dunn and Jason Giambi are excellent data points to support this notion, so I'm not thrilled to see Aybar being the opposite. He's a player that may make contact at a higher rate, but is not necessarily hitting pitches he should be swinging at (see Kendrick, Howie).
Maicer Izturis, the Angels other internal option to play shortstop, has shown a better understanding of hitting in his major league service. Izturis is more disciplined at the plate, showing greater skill than Aybar in two key aspects of hitting: avoiding the strikeout and swinging at a pitch he can handle. The numbers support this, as he has a career contact rate of 88% and a career walk rate of 9%. (At the major league level, Aybar has posted a contact rate of 83% and a walk rate of 4%, although in a very small sample size),
Izturis has a problem staying healthy, as a result he's logged a season high of only 399 plate appearances. He's had extensive hamstring problems, and he seems stretched as a starting shortstop. That's not a knock against Izturis, as being able to plug a bench player into a lineup and know he has hitting ability as well as versatility (he plays multiple infield positions) is incredibly important. He's just a step below being good enough to be a starter for the Angels, but he's an excellent option during an injury or to come off the bench.
At this point, Aybar does not seem ready to be a full-time major league player. His stints in AAA and the major league club just haven't impressed enough to be confident in him as a starting shortstop for a club with World Series aspirations. He was below replacement level in 2007 with the Angels (.211 EQA, which is well below the .260 league average), and he also seems stretched as anything more than a utility player at this stage of his development. He is certainly capable of more, but he needs to develop and at the same time not be a 650 at-bat liability for a club that has spent money to win now.
KHALIL GREENE: POTENTIAL SOLUTION?
Khalil Greene has 2 years left on his contract, and according to a Foxsports.com update, " San Diego's efforts to sign Greene to a long-term deal have not been fruitful. He may leave for an East Coast team after the 2009 season, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports."
With this in mind, the Padres may try to trade him if they can't lock him up to a long-term deal, and the Angels appear to be a natural trade partner given excess of outfielders and infielders.
Reggie Willits appears to be a good fit for the Padres, as he can play all three outfield positions and be a flexible 4th outfielder. This can be invaluable for the Padres, as he could be backing up injury plagued Jim Edmonds and aging Brian Giles. Willits' offense will not suffer at all from being at Petco, as he is a singles hitter that walks a good amount, and that lead to a good OBP. He showed his best defense in left field, and he could at least be adequate in the other slots as a backup.
Aybar presents an inexpensive option with upside to replace Greene at short for many years to come. That alone could make him attractive for a team who's not known for making big splashes in free agency.
Another potential part of an offer, either Joe Saunders or Ervin Santana, must be carefully accessed in the context of the hyperinflated pitching market. Even though Saunders isn't a highly projected starter, he's serviceable and young. Ask Carlos Silva how much that's worth in free agency.
Santana is a highly rated pitching prospect, and his poor 2007 wasn't as bad as it looked on paper (fielding independent stats suggest he was unlucky). He is worth a heck of a lot in a trade and should be considered a valuable trade chip.
The question becomes, is Khalil Greene worth pursuing via trade, and what is a good bidding price for him?
A quick analysis of Greene will show a couple of noteworthy things in his pedigree. First, Greene has big league power. He hit 27 home runs in 2007, and this came playing half of his games in a pitcher friendly environment (Petco Park). Petco Park was the worst ballpark in baseball for run scoring and second worse for home run hitters.
Second, Khalil has a hard time getting on base, as evidenced by his .291 OBP last season (NL average was .330). For his career, his OBP stands at .312, compared to a NL average of .329 over that same time. It is a little unfair to compare him to the league however, given his difficult home ballpark.
In Greene's case, it's better to look at statistics that have been adjusted to take away (as best as possible) the Petco Park effect. His OPS+ for his career is 101, suggesting he's been a little better than average in terms of OPS at least. His career EQA (a statistic that encompasses all offensive production) is .266, a little above the .260 universal average.
Greene's defense is open for interpretation, but I think the consensus, and the stats don't show otherwise, is that Greene is at worst an adequate shortstop defensively.
Is he worth giving up a package of, say, Willits, Aybar, and Saunders in a three for one?
It's difficult to project what Greene will become outside of Petco because the park adjusted stats still don't paint a beautiful picture of Greene's offensive capabilities.
Some will point to the 27 HR and 97 RBIs from 2007, and his severe home/road splits, to say he is worth the talent. To them I say, I caution: inexpensive young players are not only valuable in terms of what skills they possess, but they are even more valuable because they are inexpensive.
The skilled youngsters give more production per dollar than most players who have been acquired via free agency. Khalil Greene will command free agent money in after 2009, but Erick Aybar won't for several more seasons. That has serious value.
The final metric to examine is the aforementioned split stats, which look like this for Greene's past 3 seasons: .250 BA/.301 OBP/.446 SLUG totals.
Greene HOME: .227/.273/.389
Greene AWAY: .273/.328/.500
LEAGUE (adjusted): .260/.330/.420 (approximate)
Going forward, the only thing that seems certain is that Greene will provide above average power production, even if it comes with only an average OBP. His strikeout rate and walk rate suggest he has not yet mastered the strike zone at an elite level. He can hit at a high level through, no question about it. If he can duplicate his road production of .270/.330/.500 for the Angels, that would be a welcome addition to the lineup.
At the end of the day, the Angels need power production in their lineup, and they would almost certainly get that in Greene. He is a power bat at a position where power is at a premium, and he is someone that should be considered by the Angels brass.
Aybar is a mystery going forward, as he could turn into anything from Felipe Lopez to Orlando Cabrera to Jose Reyes light. He is talented enough to suggest he may just need more time to develop, he is only 24 after all.
Willits has a much lower ceiling, but he's also much more predictable. Given enough time, one can predict with relative certainly that Willits is a good bet to put up a line of .265/.365/.340, with an upside close to what he did last year (.293/.391/.344). His OBP is worth a lot, and he's a very good bench option as a result. If he could improve on his contact rate (81%), he could be an even better bat, given the nature of his hits.
Given the depth the Angels have in the outfield currently and some talent on the way (Terry Evans), Reggie Willits should be made expendable for this trade.
From the Santana and Saunders group, I say Santana should be off-limits given his potential and low salary for the next few years. Saunders would be a good option to include, as he is a valuable left-handed pitcher with a little upside.
For Khalil Greene, that Angels should offer a package of Reggie Willits and Erick Aybar to start the negotiations. If the Padres counter with Willits, Aybar, and Santana, I would come back with Willits, Aybar, and Saunders. I would ask the Padres to include an arm if I have to give up a third player, and I would probably ask for Joe Thatcher, but settle for Mauro Zarate.
I like Greene and his potential, but his price tag is only going up and that reduces the returns from this trade. The price paid will always dictate the returns, and I could see Greene becoming a $10-12 million per year player. A lot of young, inexpensive players with talent is a lot to give up, but Greene is a guy who will help the Angels win now, and the signing of Torii Hunter signals that now is the Angels' time.
I think the Angels should go for it, but if the price tag becomes too high (Santana), there is no shame in turning the deal down. Greene is very good player but he's not elite, and he could end up costing too much too soon.