Sunday, March 09, 2008

Unpopular Moves That Teams Should Make - Part I

Because really, the fun of blogging is pretending to be a GM. Today, the NL East:

Atlanta Braves:
Start fielding offers for Mark Texeira. Now.
Realistically, this is the last-gasp year for the Braves dynasty. Glavine should be done after this season. Chipper's injury woes are now as predictable as Atlanta traffic (400 backed up to the toll booths, slowdown at the Grady Curve, Stone Mountain Freeway - did I miss anything?) and he's slowing down. (He's also always been a butcher at third, no matter what the hometown scorer says, and that's not getting better either). While they have a core of good young talent with Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur leading the charge, and guys like Jordan Schaefer and Brent Lillibridge a year away, this year is the last gasp for the old guys. Next year, they'll have to re-load.
And there doesn't seem to be a chance in hell that they'll be able to re-sign Texeira, who's making goo-goo eyes at the newly restocked Baltimore Orioles. Even if he weren't, the Braves' new skinflint ownership group isn't likely to shell out the scratch to keep him around.
So don't give up on the season, but start looking around for potential trade partners. It may be tempting to blow the mortgage money on one last run for the old guys, but if they're ten games out at the All-Star Break, it's time to retrench and get ready for next year. Lay the groundwork so that if it happens - and a combination of Chipper injury, Glavine losing it, CF Mark Kotsay not having it at all, and a bullpen implosion is scarily likely - they're ready to move swiftly and decisively, and get the maximum haul.

Florida Marlins:
Move SS Hanley Ramirez to CF and start SS Robert Andino
Ramirez, for all of his offensive glory, is an utter butcher with the glove. Put him out in center and you A)mitigate that damage in a defensive position where his speed becomes more of an asset and B)you solve a black hole of offensive suck that has been plaguing the Marlins since Juan Pierre left. And let's face it, when you're missing Juan Pierre, you're in trouble. Andino's bat is ready, his glove is more than ready, and Ramirez' bat will play anywhere. With the Marlins' crop of young pitchers, it makes sense to put the best defense possible behind them - and the best defense possible does not include Ramirez at shortstop.

New York Mets:
Admit you are old and do something about it
The Mets have two rising young superstars in Jose Reyes and David Wright. They have two potentially solid under-30 starting pitchers in John Maine and Oliver "Future Hazy, Try Again Later" Perez to go with Johann Santana. And they've got a late-30s second baseman, an aging and hurt first baseman, a messed-up catcher situation, an ancient and fragile left fielder, an ancient and fragile left fielder, and a right field situation held together by Endy Chavez and Ryan Church, who is a lot older than people think he is. They consistently block their pitching prospects by calling up whichever member of the Hernandez family is available at the moment, they have one live outfield prospect who's been rushed and is a couple of years away, their clubhouse demonstrated itself to be hugely rookie-unfriendly lat year, and - I cannot emphasize this enough - they are relying on Endy Chavez. At some point, the entire team is going to collapse into a pile of Geritol bottles, while rookie reinforcements are chased away from the clubhouse at gunpoint.
So do something crazy. Trade a few of those aging guys with one last stretch run in them for actual, honest-to-God prospects. Work young players into the lineup and the rotation. Drop-kick the Luis Castillos of the world. If this team is going anywhere, it's because of the young guns - Wright, Reyes, Santana, Beltran, Maine and Oliver. The old guys are complimentary parts, they can't be relied on for full seasons, and they're expensive. They may also be just good enough to sink the young guys' best years by being a little too good to replace...until it's too late.

Philadelphia Phillies
Eat Eaton's contract
Yes, it's $8M a year for two more years. Yes, that's a lot of money to swallow. Eaton racked up an ERA of over 6.25 last year. He claims to have been pitching with back spasms since July, to go with all of his other injuries. The Phillies have plenty of other cheap options at the spot (Kris Benson, Travis Blackley, an entire army of Durbins, the lurking presence of free-agent Kyle Lohse). And let me reiterate - Adam Eaton cannot freaking pitch. He hasn't had a good stretch as a starter since 2004. He's constantly hurt. He once stabbed himself opening a DVD. And he's a former Phillies farmhand who was once traded for former Phillies farmhand Andy Ashby, at which point both of them stopped being able to pitch.
Swallow the money. As BP points out, for the size of market the Phillies have to themselves, the fact that their payrolls are slipping relative to the rest of the league is practically unconscionable. It's $16M, but the cost in lost playoff appearances would be much, much greater. This is why they teach you the words "Sunk Cost" in business school.

Washington Nationals:
Trade a first baseman, preferably Nick Johnson
The Nationals have the heftiest 1B combo in the National League, and that includes the Milwaukee combination of "Prince Fielder and the racing bratwurst"* Both of these gents - Young and Nick Johnson - profile roughly similarly. They're sweet-hitting line drive machines who are immobile around the bag and get hurt with the frequency with an emo kid at a beauty pageant. Johnson is younger, a better hitter, and hopefully recovered from his last, freak accident, while Young is older, probably a slightly worse player, and a better story. Neither of them is relevant long-term to the Nationals; 1B prospect Chris Marrero is on his way and will be taking the job permanently in a year two. So the question becomes "Who's more valuable in the meantime, and who can get us something in trade?"
And here's where it gets sticky. Young may be the older, lesser talent, but he's also viewed as a stabilizing influence on the Nationals' new collection of Troubled Young Outfielders (TM). If Young, who worked his way out of trouble, can serve as a mentor and resource for Lastings Milledge (who, to be honest, seems more the overenthusiastic of a typical Billy Wagner bus-feeding than a bad guy) and Elijah Dukes (who, depending on your point of view, comes across as "seriously messed up and in need of help", "scary beyond all reason", or both) and help turn them into professional athletes, then he's worth something extra to the franchise long-term. Milledge and Dukes have the talent and potential to be important parts of the first Nats contending team. If Young can help get them there, instead of letting them burn out on the pyres of their own personalities, then he's worth a lot more to the team than his play at first base.
And Johnson, for all that he's made out of matchsticks and looks like the evil pawnshop owner from The Crow, is a more valuable trade commodity for a team that's seriously looking at running Matt Chico out there thirty five times this year.

*The author notes that he would kill for Prince Fielder's physique. Just sayin'.
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