Friday, 3 January 2014

Trading Adam Lind and Signing Stephen Drew: an Unappreciated Option

To put it lightly, Adam Lind did not have many supporters in Blue Jays land after the 2012 season. Following a stellar 2009 where he hit .305/.370/.562 (140 wRC+), Lind fell from grace hard and fast:

2010: .237/.287/.425 (89 wRC+)
2011: .251/.295/.439 (95 wRC+)
2012: .255/.314/.414 (96 wRC+)

As bad as Lind was, it wasn't entirely his fault. He held his own vs. LHP in his breakout 2009 campaign, but it became painfully obvious as time wore on that he should be used exclusively vs. RHP. Giving him plate appearances vs. LHP was entirely defensible in 2010 since, again, he held his own in 2009. In 2011, after his atrocious 2010 performance, much less so. By 2012 it was borderline insane, but alas, the wisdom of John Farrell dictated that he be trotted out against lefties once again. Adam Lind failed because he was put in a position to fail. The manager failed him and so did the team, to a lesser extent, for not stepping in. Thankfully the Jays got it mostly right in 2013 and Lindy did what Lindy should have been doing all along:

2013 (421 PA vs. RHP): .309/.385/.539 (151 wRC+)
2013 (521 PA overall): .288/.357/.497 (132 wRC+)

100 plate appearances vs. LHP is still too much, but the team finally made something of an effort to shield him from same-side pitching (outside of a bizarre two week stretch where they thought it was a good idea again). Lind was put in a position to succeed and he did. He re-established himself as a useful big league piece. But he also established himself as a viable trade candidate.

The Proposal

Trade Adam Lind, move Melky Cabrera to DH, and run a platoon of Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar in left field.

Gose and Pillar in Left

The first thing that comes into question is the viability of a Gose/Pillar platoon in left field. Average offense for left field over the past three seasons is as follows:

2011: .256/.320/.409 (99 wRC+)
2012: .258/.325/.422 (103 wRC+)
2013: .252/.320/.399 (99 wRC+)

So slightly above overall league average, which was 96-97 wRC+. Here's how Gose and Pillar performed in their short major league stints thus far:  

Anthony Gose: .243/.306/.379 (86 wRC+) vs. RHP over 265 PA (2012-2013)
Kevin Pillar: .235/.297/.382 (86 wRC+) vs. LHP over 37 PA (2013)

Both samples are quite small, with Pillar's being ridiculously small to the point where you can't really glean anything from it. The next best thing would be his batting line vs. LHP in the minors. Over 179 PA split between Double-A and Triple-A, Pillar hit lefties to the tune of 387/.419/.577 this year. That line is propped up by a .422 BABIP, and while he did have a high line drive rate (25.3% vs. an approximate average of 17.5% ), he won't produce close to that level in the big leagues. The point here is that he demolished LHP in the upper minors and is likely to hit lefties well enough at the major league level to justify being part of a platoon. With Gose, you're hoping his 2013 performance vs. RHP is more indicative of what he can do. His above overall line is brought down by a reverse platoon split in 2012, but in 2013 he posted a .287/.306/.481 line vs. righties. We're still dealing with small samples though, at 103 PA in 2013. There's a reasonable chance Gose and Pillar could combine to provide average offense for the position in 2014. It would require them to take a step forward, but 95-100 wRC+ isn't out of reach.  

Gose and Pillar would also likely add value in the field and on the basepaths. Everyone is familiar with Gose's ridiculous speed, both in the outfield and on the bases, and his cannon arm at this point. Add good instincts to the mix and you have a player who was touted as having gold glove calibre defense in center field (here's one reason why). Some have soured somewhat on Gose's defense, but given the lofty heights he started out at, he still stands to provide value with his glove. Pillar's tools aren't as loud, but he's a strong fundamental player with good reads/routes, average speed, and a solid arm. Shifting over from center field, he'll likely add some defensive value as well.  

Looking at production as a whole (hitting, fielding, baserunning), there's a good chance the two combine to give the club above average production at left field. A more conservative estimate, where they still provide above-average value in the field and on the bases but don't quite hit to average for the position, would still probably have them providing average value. The Jays received no value in left field last season (0 fWAR), so average would be a pretty big upgrade (although a healthy Cabrera is likely something of an upgrade too). A platoon with Gose and Pillar in left field seems viable.  

Cabrera at DH

Another advantage here would simply be getting Melky Cabrera out of the field. He was worth somewhere between -5 (DRS) and -7.3 (UZR) defensive runs last season. In 77 games. Considering how low the bar is for defense in left field, that's quite an accomplishment, and the eye test certainly confirms that description. This sums things up nicely.

In fairness he was banged up all year and had a benign tumour removed for his back in September, so he likely wouldn't be that bad again this season if he's healthy. But he certainly hasn't been much of an asset there the last few seasons either. Maybe it's best if the team tells him to save his legs and to just go hit, especially if he's still not running well.

Average at DH in 2013 was .255/.338/.427. Cabrera would have to hit something like .290/.340/.430 for the bat to play, but that should be attainable if he's 100%. It is perhaps somewhat optimistic on the power production given how his 2013 season went, however, a healthy Melky in Rogers Centre should hit for more power than he did last season (when he was presumably generating little power from his lower half). Much like last season, there's also the chance that he starts looking more like the player everyone saw with the Royals and Giants a couple years ago. But that isn't necessary for him to be a solid DH. 

The Trade Return

Nailing down the value derived from trading Adam Lind is the tricky part. The Jays have two options; the first is to accept a small return and send ("dump" is such an ugly word) his entire salary the other way. Assuming the team doesn't pay part of Lind's salary in a trade, that leaves them with an additional $7 million to spend this offseason. Hey, that's a decent amount of money, even in today's ridiculous market! The problem is that the team needs someone useful to spend it on. A move like this made a lot more sense earlier in the offseason when many targets were still on the board. Mark Ellis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia both represent upgrades over what the Jays currently have at second base and catcher, and both are making less than $7 million this season. Alternatively, those additional funds may have given the Jays enough flexibility to go after Scott Kazmir and still have enough left over in the budget to go after a starter like Ubaldo Jimenez.  

One target that is still available is Stephen Drew. The market for the free agent shortstop has been practically non-existent, which may seem surprising at first, but less so when you consider his skillset (undervalued), his injury history (extensive), and to a lesser extent his age (going on 31) and the fact that he's tied to draft pick compensation. That isn't to say the Boras client is going to come cheap but, like Michael Bourn last season, he may come at a bargain. A realistic (if not somewhat optimistic) projection for the incumbent Ryan Goins likely falls somewhere in the 0.5-1.0 win range for 2014. Over a full season, Stephen Drew is likely worth at least 3 wins. Locking up Drew to a 3 year deal with an AAV in the $8-9 million range would certainly represent an upgrade at a reasonable price if the team can convince him to shift over to second base. Both of those things may be easier said than done, and the injury concerns are legitimate, but it could end up being a great value sign if the Jays can pull it off. Second base goes from being a question mark to a strength, and the money Anthopoulos came into the offseason with is still there to go after a starter. 

The second option is for the Jays to eat part of Lind's salary and ship him out for something more useful. The Pirates balked at the idea of Neil Walker for Adam Lind, but if Anthopoulos offered to eat $5 million of Lind's salary and packaged him with a good prospect (Tirado or Norris), Pittsburgh may be inclined to listen. Milwaukee is looking for a first basemen and Rickie We-[negative 45 Defensive Runs Saved over the last two seasons + declining bat double combo of suck]-nope, nope, nope, nevermind.  

Adam Lind was worth 1.8 fWAR last season and if you believe he can repeat his 2013, that's what you're losing. Is the value from a Gose and Pillar platoon over Melky in left field + the value of keeping Melky healthy (if there is any) worth more than 1.8 wins? It's hard to see it. I think there's value there, but I'm not comfortable saying 2 wins worth. There are some secondary benefits, such as not having to earmark a bench spot for a Lind platoon partner (who very likely could end up being a player with little to no defensive value) and completely eliminating the threat of seeing Lind vs. LHP again. But whether or not this scenario makes sense ultimately depends on what the team can get back for Adam Lind or what the team can do with that additional $7 million. If it allows them to sign Stephen Drew without dipping into the starter money, that's a win, and the team should pounce.There are a lot of moving parts here and there is risk involved, but at the same time this presents an opportunity for the club to address its needs without creating a hole in the major league roster. 

It just happens to be a little... "creative."

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