Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Game of Dominoes

Denard Span
First the Braves signed B.J. Upton to a 5-year contract worth $75 million. Now the Nationals have traded for now former Twins center fielder Denard Span. Dave Cameron does a great job summing up the trade at Fangraphs, so I'll spare you the gory details. One thing Cameron makes note of is that the acquisition of Span means the Nationals now have surplus of outfielders. Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper will retain their spots, with Harper shifting to a corner spot, but it leaves no room for Michael Morse. Morse, who was acquired by the Nationals from the Mariners for Ryan Langerhans, has blossomed into a legitimate right-handed masher.

Michael Morse:

Games Played ISO wRC+ wOBA fWAR
2010 98 0.229 134 0.377 1.1
2011 146 0.247 148 0.390 3.3
2012 102 0.180 113 0.340 0.1

Michael Morse
Not only has Morse become a power bat, he's under team control for 2013 at a price of $6.75 million, an undervalued price if he puts up numbers similar to his recent past. The Nationals don't want to get rid of Morse, but now there is no room for him. Well, maybe not so fast. Morse has played 123 games at first base, and the Nationals currently have no first baseman.

OF                     1B
UZR  -21.9 0.5
DRS -4 0

Looking at these numbers from 2012, from a fielding standpoint, Morse not only stops hurting a team when he plays first base instead of outfield, he helps the cause. So, what can we conclude? The simple answer here is, move Morse to first and move on to the next problem.

Nationals fans might be saying, "What about Adam LaRoche?" LaRoche played first base for the National last season, and he did it with extreme proficiency. At the plate, LaRoche posted a 3.8 fWAR that breaks down into a .361 wOBA, 127 wRC+, and a 6.1 UZR. LaRoche is a free agent with whom the Nationals have been in discussions with for a possible contract, but recently those discussions have begun to turn sour. In addition, the most recent news has the Red Sox in talks with LaRoche, another sign pointing towards the Nationals removing themselves from contention to sign him, and to simply move Morse to first permanently to replace the departed LaRoche. 

PECOTA sees LaRoche's 2012 as a bad predictor of his future numbers. According to the system developed by Nate Silver, LaRoche will post something close to 0.7 WARP over the next 3 seasons, with some wiggle room on either side. While LaRoche could be better than PECOTA predicts, he also present injury concerns, and at age 33 he isn't getting any younger. Also, first basemen are very replaceable given the relative ease that comes with playing the position, and the number of power hitters that occupy 1st base. 

So, what will be the next domino to fall? Upton's signing begot the trade for Span, and the acquisition of Span will beget something else. So, let's speculate. The Phillies are thought to be the next team to sign or make a deal for a center fielder in order to keep up with the Braves in the NL East, so could they be involved in the next deal? It would seem as though the options are dwindling for the Fightin' Phillies, but as a team with money to spend, the Phillies still have lots of options. The Phillies could spend big and pay for Josh Hamilton, spend less to acquire Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan, or Shane Victorino, make a trade for a center fielder like Peter Bourjos or Dexter Fowler, or acquire a player at a different position like third base, forcing the team to platoon John Mayberry Jr. and Nate Schierholtz in center field. 

The Braves made a clever and efficient move by grabbing the guy they want at a reasonable price, while the Nationals made a smart move by trading for a center fielder to solve a problem in center field as well as first base, now it's time to see what the Phillies can do to counter. Recently, I postulated that the Phillies should fill the void in center field by trading for the Rockies Dexter Fowler. As of now, I would expand that list to include Angels' outfielder Peter Bourjos. By filling the hole via trade, the Phillies should then sign Nick Swisher to a reasonable contract. Swisher, Fowler/Bourjos, and Domonic Brown roaming the confines of Citizens Bank Park's outfield would be the counterpunch. 

Peter Bourjos
How do Trevor May and Zach Collier for Peter Bourjos sound? On paper it isn't a bad deal for either the Phillies or the Angels. Bourjos is essentially Denard Span, but a little younger, and slightly less expensive. The Angels have a center fielder named Mike Trout; maybe you've heard of him, who makes Bourjos expendable. If the Angels can't can't sign Zack Greinke, having another young pitching prospect in the form of Trevor May can't hurt. The Angels clear more payroll, the Phillies get a solid defensive center fielder with speed who projects to put up and average of 1.7 WARP over the next 4 seasons, and the Phillies have found the proper retaliatory response to the Nats and Braves' moves. 

The offseason can be a mix of a chess match, boxing match, and poker hand all at once. The number of influences on a team that can manipulate the decisions made are vast, and always growing, putting every team on higher alert every successive year. With the winter meetings coming up, a number of free agents are set to sign deals, and many more trades are prime to come about, hopefully including a response from the Phillies.  

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