Archive for Josh Willingham
We’ve already covered a bunch of players in Part I and Part II of the 2013 Potential Trade Targets series, so for those of you who missed out those posts, be sure to get yourself caught up. For the rest of us, there’s no time like the present, so let’s jump into the next batch of names.
There was a time, not so long ago mind you, that most teams would be quite interested in a first baseman like Morneau. From 2004-2010, he hit 18 or more home runs each season (30+ home runs in his 2006 MVP season, 2007 and 2009). Throughout his career, he’s been largely considered a solid defensive player and an all-around good clubhouse guy as well.
Unfortunately, he’s not the same player he once was these days. In 2010, his season was derailed by a concussion (and lingering symptoms afterwards). The 2011 season required a neck surgery to fix of a pinched nerve. Shortly thereafter, Morneau experienced more concussion-like symptoms after suffering a shoulder injury (which ultimately shut him down for the rest of the season). He finally made it back onto the field in 2012, and posted very mediocre numbers (.267/.333/.440, .330 wOBA, 108 wRC+) though the former HR Derby champ did manage to hit 19 long balls in the process (.172 ISO).
This season has brought more of the same mediocrity (.288/.342/.407, .328 wOBA, 107 wRC+), except it’s now without the power. Morneau’s hit only four (!) home runs thus far. He’s also taking fewer walks (down about three percent from his career norm). Contractually, he’s owed approximately $7.5M for the rest of the season, after which point he’ll hit free agency. Personally speaking, the team can’t afford another guy incapable of hitting the ball over the fence, especially one who plays a position known for premium offensive production.
Now I can understand why Yankees fans may feel some trepidation about first base production for the rest of the season (and maybe even beyond). After all, Mark Teixeira is done for the year and Lyle Overbay was the same caliber player offensively and has cooled considerably since his hot start. I’m not sure Morneau is the answer though. We’re talking about an expensive past-his-prime-veteran rental, who’s basically been replacement level the past couple seasons. Granted, I don’t think it would take too much to acquire him in terms of prospects due to the power shortage and durability concerns, but who knows, maybe the Twins value him differently given his local popularity and past contributions. Frankly, I’d just prefer the team roll the dice on a guy like Mike Morse, who could play multiple positions and come at half the salary. Basically, Morneau is one Twinkie I’m okay passing on (see what I did there?).
When I think of Willingham, I think of a guy who has basically been the quintessential role player – which don’t get me wrong, certainly has value. As it turns out, my initial perception was about right on this one too. The now 34-year-old Willingham has been mostly a bit better than the average guy over the years (2.7 fWAR in 2008, 2.4 in 2009, 2.7 2010, 1.8 in 2011). Last season he managed to make the jump from “role player” to the type of guy I would probably categorize as “solid contributor” (3.6 fWAR).
The 2013 campaign hasn’t been as kind to Josh though. Despite the fact that he’s managed to lead the Twins in home runs (with 10), he’s slumped (.224/.356/.398, .336 wOBA, 113 wRC+). A lot. He’s also had to nurse a balky left knee. To his credit though, Willingham has managed to get on base frequently via the walk (13.1 BB%) though he does strike out often (25.8 K%). It’s also probably worth noting that from 2010-2012, Josh has had an increasing propensity to struggle against lefties. This season hasn’t followed suit though, as a reverse split has become noticeable instead (a tidbit I’m not real sure what to make of yet). Maybe he’s one of those guys who could benefit from a change of scenery; I know I’d find playing in Minnesota pretty tedious. Also, if he were in pinstripes, you’d be comparing Willingham’s slumping numbers against those posted by Vernon Wells which certainly bodes well for his cause.
Although the Twins are only a few games under .500, I do think they kind of stink, and I do expect them to be potential sellers at the deadline. Assuming the Yankees were one of Willingham’s suitors, they would potentially be on the hook for about $3.5M this season and another $7M next season. If I had to guess, I’d say a mid-level prospect and some salary gets it done. The real question isn’t whether he’s better than Big Vern though. It’s whether you’re comfortable with another role player patrolling the outfield for the next season and a half full-time. I’m not sure that I am, though if it wound up happening it wouldn’t be the worst move in the world.
First off, it’s my official stance that anyone whose first name is Marlon should have the last name Brando, so that’s strike one. Secondly, the Mets outfield, as a whole, is terrible. They’re ranked 28th in wOBA (.298), 26th in wRC+ (91), and 28th in fWAR (0.2) — sounds a lot like another NY team I know actually — so Byrd gets strike two for guilt by association. He’s also on the wrong side of 35, which makes for a convenient strike three.
Superficiality aside, Marlon has been by far the best outfielder in an otherwise anemic group. He’s hit .262/.313/.489 (.341 wOBA, 120 wRC+) with 12 home runs and is on pace to end the season at about 3.0 fWAR which would be not only be pretty good generally speaking, but would mark the second best WAR produced by Byrd personally since his 2010 campaign with the Cubs. Historically, he’s been pretty inconsistent throughout his career in terms of production though. On the plus side, although Byrd’s patrolled right field for the Mets this season, he’s also capable of manning Center Field as well (which would provide some added depth behind Gardner).
Perhaps the best argument that could be made here for obtaining Byrd is that he’s dirt cheap right now ($700K) — remember he was close to retiring this past offseason (he would have called it quits had he not made the big league roster out of Spring Training). His stock was way down after his season ended rather abruptly last season after testing positive for Tamoxifen, a banned substance. If the Yankees could squeeze half a season of decent production out of him, they’d have no problems cutting ties afterwards — he’d certainly pose no threat to the austerity budget if that ends up happening.
The Mets have a lot of work to do in their own outfield, so I don’t know that it makes a whole sense for them to give up the one guy who’s been a productive contributor this season. While they may not be expecting to contend now, they might favor the idea of having Byrd as relatively cheap insurance policy (despite his age) in 2014. Perhaps a mid-level prospect is enticing enough to make it happen though — after all, salary isn’t an issue here. In any event, I’m okay passing on Marlon Not-Brando Byrd given the age.
Is it just me, or does Cuddyer’s name come up every single year around this time? I feel like he’s one of those players folks are perpetually advocating a trade for. Anyway, the former Twins first round pick is another Willingham type — that is to say a role player who has value, but is probably not a difference maker.
Other than 2010, which was awful (0.4 fWAR), I think Cuddyer has generally been considered a decent outfielder despite playing a pretty poor defense — though to his credit, he can fake it at first if necessary, which would certainly help the Yankees in terms of roster flexibility. Offensively, he’s a career .274/.343/.461 (.348 wOBA, 112 wRC+) hitter who averages roughly 13 home runs a year. He doesn’t take a ton of walks (career 8.9 BB%) but also doesn’t strike out a ton (career 17.9 K%) either. This is his age 34 season, and he’s owed about $5.25M for the rest of this season and another $10.5M next year.
I was dubious about the Willingham contract, and doubly so about this one. Cuddyer isn’t getting any younger, and I suspect the Rockies would require a decent prospect in addition to salary relief. Is he better than what the Yankees have deployed in right field thus far? Definitely. Is he the type of impact bat that’s worth the money, the prospects surrendered, and the additional year of service? Meh, I’m not convinced. Cuddyer is a fine player and every team needs guys like him. I just think cheaper alternatives who can provide comparable production probably exist elsewhere.
The Twins and Yankees had a very one-sided rivalry in the mid-to-late-aughts, a rivalry that included four ALDS matchups from 2003-2010 and two wins by Minnesota. Not series wins, individual game wins. New York took all four of those ALDS meetings by a total of 12 wins to two.
The Twins have run off a pair of 95+ loss seasons since last getting bounced from the postseason by the Yankees, so they’re in something resembling a rebuilding phase. I say “something resembling a rebuilding phase” only because they’re still signing free agents and trying to piece together a contender given their weak division, yet they’re still closer to another 95-loss campaign that a playoff berth.
If Minnesota does decide to commit to a rebuild this winter (unlikely but possible), they would have several pieces of interest to the Yankees. I’m not talking about Joe Mauer, whose contract is prohibitive and days behind the plate are numbered, or even Ryan Doumit, who just signed a contract extension. Yesterday I wrote about utility man Jamey Carroll, now here are two outfielders who might fit in New York…
When you hit .260/.366/.524 (143 wRC+) with 35 homers and a 12.4% walk rate, you’re going to generate some buzz like the soon-to-be 34-year-old Willingham did this season. The Twins reeled him in with a three-year contract worth $21M last offseason, a deal that sure looks like one of the biggest bargains of the winter at this point.
The Yankees need to replace Nick Swisher and Willingham is one of the few outfielders who can provide similar offensive production. This year was a career year for him and I don’t expect him to repeat it, but he still hit .257/.360/.476 (127 wRC+) with an average of 23 homers per year from 2009-2011. He’s consistently offered power (.233 ISO since 2010) and patience (12.2 BB%), plus his right-handed bat would help balance out a lineup short on righty power given Alex Rodriguez‘s decline.
Willingham, however, is an atrocious defensive outfielder who has only gotten worse following 2010 knee surgery. His best position is probably first base or even DH at this point. You’re also getting nothing on the basepaths and usually a stint on the DL at some point during the season as well. His value stems exclusively from his bat, but luckily for Willingham he can really hit.
The 28-year-old Span is generally considered to be more attainable than Willingham because the Twins already have his center field replacement lined up — Ben Revere put together an 88 wRC+ and stole 40 bases while playing stellar defense this summer. Span is signed to a long-term contract that will pay him $4.75M next year and $6.5M the year after before a $9M club option ($500k buyout) comes into play for 2015. For luxury tax purposes, the average annual value is a friendly $3.3M.
The concern for the Yankees is that Span is basically Brett Gardner with half the stolen bases and half the called strike threes. He broke out during the 2008-2009 seasons (119 wRC+ in 1,087 plate appearances) but has hit just .271/.334/.397 (95 wRC+) in 1,584 plate appearances since. Concussion and shoulder problems have hampered him the last two years and could be to blame for the declining offense, but he was perfectly healthy in 2010 and still managed an 89 wRC+ in over 700 plate appearances.
What Span does provide is crazy good contact skills from the left side (10.9 K% and 92.0% contract lasts three years) and some patience (8.5 BB%) to go along with dynamite defensive ability. He ranks ninth in UZR (+21.9) and tenth in DRS (+24) among all outfielders over the last three seasons, but he hasn’t played anywhere other than center since 2009. Although it would create a stellar defensive outfield, Span and Gardner are completely redundant. The Yankees would be lucky to get ten homers out of the duo combined.
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One of the oddest trade discussions to (reportedly) take place in recent years involved Span and the Nationals at last year’s deadline, when the Twins were willing to trade him for a reliever (Drew Storen) but Washington haggled over which reliever (offered Tyler Clippard instead). Given their lack of a long-term center fielder, it seemed like an easy call for the Nats. I highly doubt the Yankees would be lucky enough to pry Span away with just a reliever now that Minnesota has revamped their bullpen (3.77 ERA and 4.09 FIP in 2012), but even if they wanted to replace Swisher with a contact-and-speed, defense-first outfielder, they’d probably just re-sign Ichiro Suzuki. They know him and it would only cost money.
Willingham is a different case since the only free agent outfielders who could match his offensive production are Josh Hamilton and Swisher. Normally bringing a dead pull right-handed hitter to Yankee Stadium would give me pause, but Willingham has the kind of power to overcome Death Valley in left-center. I’m not too concerned about that with him. Considering his luxury tax friendly contract (just $7M average annual value through 2014), maybe the Yankees have to overpay a bit to get the production they need at affordable rates. The Twins appear to be very disinclined to move him however, so chances are this is all moot.
I’ve got five questions for you this week and I was able to keep the answers to four of them reasonably short. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send up mailbag questions or anything else.
Daniel asks: Is Josh Willingham a possible trade target at the trade deadline? He’s having a good year, signed to a reasonable mid-term deal, and the Twins are awful. Any idea what sort of return he would command?
Willingham is having an insane year with the Twins — 173 wRC+ and eleven homers — after signing a three-year, $27M deal this offseason. Given Minnesota’s terribleness — 22-34 with a -70 run differential — and the fact that his value is at its apex at age 33, it would make sense for them to shop him around before he comes back to Earth. Kinda like what the Pirates did with Xavier Nady in 2008. Because he signed as a free agent this winter, the Twinkies can not trade him without his consent until one week from today. In other words, it’s no big deal.
Anyway, the Yankees don’t really have anywhere to play Willingham this season unless Brett Gardner‘s elbow injury lingers. He’s supposed to play in his first minor league rehab game tonight, so we’ll find out how well he’s recovering soon enough. The Yankees will presumably need a corner outfielder to replace Nick Swisher after the season however, and Willingham is affordable enough. His defense is terrible though and his best position is DH. Still, right-handed power is in short supply.
I usually try to think of comparable players when thinking up trade scenarios, but I can’t come up with anyone like Willingham. Older guy who’s still productive with two full seasons left on his market rate free agent contract? Does Miguel Tejada to the Astros work? Scott Rolen to the Reds? Those two got traded for quantity over quality packages. I’m sure the Yankees could cull something together in that case, but this isn’t a vacuum. Willingham would help any team but he really doesn’t fit New York’s roster.
A different Daniel asks: If Rafael Soriano can put together an above average statistical season, what would you say the odds are that he hits the road after this season?
Zero percent. Soriano is owed $14M next season and there’s no chance he’ll match that on the open market. No one wanted to sign him two offseasons ago coming off the best season of his life and I doubt the sentiment has changed this time around. Heck, Ryan Madson is flat out better than Soriano and there was no market for him last winter. I’m sure every club will have Heath Bell in the back of their mind whenever they think about signing a free agent reliever going forward, and that won’t help his case. Considering that he’s a health risk and is very good but not dominant, I can’t imagine any number of saves will have Soriano thinking about opting out of his current deal.
Jacob asks: Do you think Dellin Betances needs a mechanical change to help with his walks? Maybe more of a sidearm or 3/4 delivery (Randy Johnson-esque) could possibly allow him to harness his abilities?
Dellin needs something to help with the walks and a mechanical change seems like an obvious solution. I’m not pitching coach or anything, so I have no idea if changing his arm slot or something like that will have a positive impact. I’ve always gotten the impression that it’s difficult to throw strikes with anything below a three-quarters slot, especially if there’s anything more an average velocity involved. Johnson was just a freak of nature and an extreme outlier, I wouldn’t use that guy as blueprint for anything.
At some point the Yankees need to do something about Betances, I can’t imagine an 8.1 BB/9 (19.0 BB%) is good for his confidence. I don’t know if it’s a move to the bullpen or a change in mechanics or a stern talking to, but this can’t go on forever.
Andrew asks: Why is nobody giving more attention to Corban Joseph? I know Single-A is the future, but he seems to have real pinstripes potential if he switches to the left side of the infield.
That’s the problem, he can’t switch to the left side of the infield. Joseph’s defense basically meets the minimum standards at second base and isn’t nearly good enough for short. He hasn’t even played one inning at shortstop in the minors and that’s not an accident. If he had a chance to play the position, they would have tried him there at some point. Joseph can handle third but not well, plus he’s unlikely to provide enough to play the position for a meaningful amount of time.
I don’t really know what Joseph is long-term. He makes good contact from the left side and draws some walks, so he has offensive value. Do they pigeon-hole him into a bench role and hope to hide his defense? Do they try him in an outfield corner and hope he can play second base as well as left and maybe right? I don’t really know. Joseph is on the 40-man though, so the Yankees see something they like in him.
J.R. asks: Mike, with all of the pre-draft deals that apparently took place this year, do you expect MLB to try and crack down on these next year?
They can try, but I’m not quite sure what they can do about it. I doubt the teams are getting these agreements in writing, so they’d basically have to look over the shoulder of every area scout to make sure he isn’t taking money with a player before the draft. I’m sure MLB would love to crack down on pre-draft arrangements, but it just might not be possible. Teams will always find a workaround.
The non-waiver trade deadline is 4pm ET today, though we’ll occasionally see news of a deal leak out a little later than that. I remember word of the Kerry Wood trade broke at like, 4:15pm ET last year. Do the Yankees have a starting pitcher up their sleeve? We’ll find out soon enough. Let’s keep track of the latest here throughout the day, with the most recent news up top…
- The Yankees aren’t going after any big-name arms at the moment, if anything they’ll make small, incremental upgrades. (Morosi)
- Nevermind, Wandy’s not going to Cleveland. The Yankees wanted the Astros to pick up half the money on the lefties deal, but Houston said no and talks about the left-hander are dead. (Justice, Heyman & Jayson Stark)
- The Yankees are not deep in any talks, and get this, it sounds like Wandy is heading to the Indians for two minor leaguers. How about that. (Olney & Richard Justice)
BellMike Adams is apparently headed to the Rangers. It was unlikely the Yankees would get him anyway, but at least now we don’t have to worry about it. (Ken Rosenthal)