Sunday, November 11, 2012

What's Wright and What's Wrong?

Recently, I wrote about two players who have been mentioned as possible trade candidates this offseason, the Twins Josh Willingham and the Indians Shin-Soo Choo. Both are outfielders, and neither is a true "star". Then there's David Wright. Wright constitutes the polar opposite of Choo and Willingham. He has been the focal point of the New York Mets for years, during the good times and the bad, although Mets fans might say they were all bad. As a third baseman, he plays a premium offensive and semi-premium defensive position, but by playing the hot corner in the big apple, he garners much more exposure than say Chase Headley or Aramis Ramirez.

Going into this offseason, Wright was coming off one of the best seasons of his career, second only to his 2007 campaign. He had previously signed a 7 year $70 million contract that included a team option for 2013 for $16 million. Wright has made about $54 million the last 6 seasons, but he has been worth a little more than twice that amount. Here is a look at his value since signing his current contract in 2007:
2007 8.8 8.1 7.6
2008 7.1 6.7 7.2
2009 3.5 2.9 3.3
2010 4.0 2.5 5.3
2011 1.9 1.9 0.6
2012 7.8 6.7 5.7
Wright's fWAR stats are a bit inflated in comparison to his rWAR and WARP because much of his defense comes from his good range, while his below average arm leads to him not making some plays that average third baseman make regularly. Also, his recent back injuries had hindered his range, but last season, it came back with a vengeance. Nonetheless, let's not be too soured by his 2009-2011 years. Since 2007 Wright has averaged 5.5 fWAR per season, which would be worth ~ $25 million on the open market. That number just exemplifies the extremely team friendly deal he signed in 2007. On a separate note, if the Mets are to regain any semblance of their 2006 selves, they should look to sign their marquee young players to team friendly deals at young ages, like the one they signed with Wright in 07'.

Before I get into what the Mets should do with Wright, I'm going to take a quick look at his production over the last few years. This is to give you a glimpse into what he does best.
2010 0.366 129 0.220 29 131 0.354
2011 0.338 116 0.172 14 115 0.345
2012 0.376 140 0.186 21 143 0.391
So, Wright, unlike many players, provides a team with a great mix of on base percentage as well as power hitting. Relatively, he is a very good run creator, especially given the other players who play at 3rd base like Cabrera, Beltre, and Headley. Wright's ISO has declined recently, but it is a stat that usually peaks in a player's mid 20's, so an almost 30 year old, he's right on track. At the same time, you would like to see his home run numbers remain more constant, especially since the Mets moved the fences in at Citi Field. This would seem to be more of a concern, since he hasn't topped 25 HR since 2010, but given his back injury in 2011, and the change in his approach at the plate in 2012, it isn't surprising.

Change of approach? Where did that come from? Well, after speaking with some very observant Mets fans who are relatives of mine, and then checking out the numbers to be sure, I discovered that Wright definitely changed his approach to at-bats. According to my sources, he began taking strike one without question. At first, this is a good strategy for seeing more pitches, and thus finding a better one to hit. This is confirmed by the decrease in his swing percentage, 41.6% in 2012 compared to a career 43.6% mark. In these cases you would like to see a decrees in swings on pitches outside of the strike zone, but because "taking the first pitch" is not the best way to accomplish this goal, Wright swung fewer times at pitches out of the zone than those in the strike zone. Pitchers began throwing easy to hit pitches to begin at bats, and if Wright took them, he began the at bat in an 0-1 hole every time. As we know from the incredible amount of research, a batter who begins his at bats down 0-1 has a far worse chance of reaching base than one who starts them with a 1-0 count.

As far as base running, Wright has always been a solid base runner, posting positive UBR values in 7 out of his 9 MLB seasons. This included a 1.2 UBR in 2012, a year in which he stole 15 bases, but was thrown out 10 times. It would seem that if Wright just attempted fewer steals, he might very well be a valuable asset on the base paths. Remember, speed diminishes with age, but knowledgeable base running can remain forever.

So, what should the Mets do with David Wright? Currently he is set to play for the Amazin's in 2013 at a cost of $16 million. Was nothing to happen between now and this time next year, Wright would become a free agent following the 2013 seasons. That is one of the least likely possibilites, so let's explore some of the others. First, the Mets could decide to negotiate a contract extension. General Manager Sandy Alderson has said that in the Mets' current situation he would rather not sign players to their 2nd contracts. Essentially he means that he doesn't want to get into negotiations over a contract for a player who's next contract will cover some of their prime as well as a part of their decline. This sentiment points towards an extension that might be heavier on the money side, but light on the years side. By my estimates, Alderson and the Mets would not offer Wright more than a 5-year $100 million extension. That would be $25 million per season (expecting about 5 fWAR), and it would take Wright into the 2018 season, at which time he would be 35 years old. In addition, if third base becomes a bit too much for Wright, and Mets prospect Wilmer Flores becomes their everyday third baseman, Wright could make a smooth transition to 2nd base.

The more likely option, and probably the most sensible one, is to trade Wright. Some might say that Wright is a fixture in New York, the star of the team, and a leader in the clubhouse. Even if all that were true, the Mets are rebuilding, so throw all of those intangibles out the window. This is a business and the Mets need to get back to making decisions based on facts. By picking up Wright's option for the 2013 season, the Mets made the number of teams willing to trade for the third baseman greater than before. Now, a team that would rather not extend him, but wants him for the one-year rental, can be in the discussion. Who might those teams be?

I would bet that the Braves, Phillies, Dodgers, and White Sox would all be in the discussion for Wright. Dark horse candidates might include the Yankees, Giants, and the Athletics. One of the big questions is, would the Mets be willing to trade Wright within the division, or worse, to the Yankees? In reality, the team may only negotiate outside of those teams, but unfortunately for them, some of the best candidates to trade for Wright are the Braves, Phillies, and Yankees. Since I often live in a world outside of reality, I will suspend that feature in order to perform this analysis.

The Braves are perfect for Wright. If you didn't hear, Chipper Jones retired this season, leaving a huge gap at third base. The Braves could move 2012 left fielder Martin Prado to third base, but if so it leaves a hole in left field. The Braves are no big market team, but for a player like Wright they could expend the necessary capitol to extend Wright for a number of years. In addition, the Braves also have pitching prospects coming out of their ears, something the Mets would love to take off their hands. A trade involving pitching prospect Randall Delgado would probably entice the Mets to make a move because a future rotation of Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Randall Delgado would be a force to be reckoned with. 

The Phillies need a third baseman. They recently resigned Kevin Frandsen, but he isn't the answer. With a mediocre third base market out there in free agency, and their only third base prospect a few years away, the Phillies could make a move for Wright. The team needs right-handed hitters as well, but the problem here will be if the Phillies have the prospects to trade for Wright. While the team has made it clear they want to give Domonic Brown a chance in the outfield, a trade of Domonic Brown and one of their pitching prospects like Jonathan Pettibone would be a fair trade for Wright. While the Phillies make sense here, this may be the least likely possibility due to the NL East rivalry, the Phillies uncertainty to extend Wright, and most importantly the Mets ability to find better prospects in return elsewhere.

The Dodgers have been, and will most likely continue to be the most active team in trades and free agency. They have lots of money, a desire to use it, and they play in the same division as the recent 2-time World Series champion San Francisco Giants. The team has said they are willing to trade right fielder Andre Ethier, and the Mets would love to acquire him. It's no secret that the Mets need outfield help, and Ethier would provide them with some much-needed stability. The Dodgers would probably have to tack a pitcher onto the deal, and trading for a 3B would mean moving Hanley Ramirez back to shortstop, but if hitting is what the Dodgers want, this is their best option. 

The White Sox want to resign Kevin Youkilis, and they have very little as far as prospects go. The White Sox would love David Wright, and they have a desperate need for a third baseman with some pop, but I don't think they have anything the Mets want, making this deal unlikely to happen.
What about the Yankees. After paltry play from Alex Rodriguez in the 2012 postseason, and an obvious decline in his numbers over the last few seasons, the Yankees would love to move A-rod to DH and Wright could be the perfect compliment to Robinson Cano going forward. The Mets are looking for pitching and outfield help. The Yankees could trade Phil Hughes and prospect Mason Williams, an outfielder, in exchange for Wright. Hughes is in his 2nd year of arbitration, but he's young, and if the Mets have any confidence in him, they could look to sign him to a 3-year deal with a fourth year team option for something in the neighborhood of $20 million. Williams projects to be a great all around outfielder, but he probably won't be ready until 2014 at the earliest. In the end, the Mets probably won't make a trade with their crosstown rivals; it might lose them the few fans they have left.

The Giants don't need a third baseman, but David Wright could prove to be a great upgrade for them in a number of ways. The Giants, despite winning the World Series still need more consistent offense. The  Giants have fan favorite Pablo Sandoval playing the hot corner, but with talks of trading first baseman Brandon Belt, the team should consider moving the hefty Sandoval to 1st and trading for a bonafide player like Wright. Add Wright to Buster Posey, Sandoval, and Hunter Pence and the Giants lineup becomes formidabile in the middle of the order. Yes, they would become very righthanded, but lefties hitting for power at AT&T park is something left only for Barry Bonds. The Giants have the money to extend Wright, and they could trade the Mets top prospect Gary Brown, an outfielder, and minor prospect Hector Sanchez, a catcher. The Mets need help in a number of places, but Brown would instantly become their top-hitting prospect and could begin playing in the Mets outfield in 2013. 

Finally we come to the Oakland A's. This is a team that, if they traded for Wright, would be doing so with no intention, or ability, to sign him to an extension. The A's have a solid defensive third baseman in Josh Donaldson, but he doesn't provide much as far as offense goes. The A's have 4 above average MLB outfielders, making one of them expendable. Colin Cowgill is the perfect player to trade. He came over from the Diamondbacks as a highly touted prospect, but his stock has dropped a bit recently. Add him to one of the many young pitchers in the A's minor league system like Sonny Gray, and you have a trade that satisfies both sides. The A's get a hitter to solidify their lineup for 2013, keeping them competitive with offensively minded teams like the Angels and Rangers, while not putting a big dent in the young core they rely on year in and year out. The Mets can instantly put Gray and Cowgill into their starting lineup, one in the rotation and one in the outfield, two spots in which they need help. Wheeler, Harvey, and Gray sounds pretty good as the rotation of the future, and Cowgill has potential to remain in the outfield for years to come. Both guys are cheap and under team control for a long time. 

In conclusion, I originally thought that the Mets best move was to trade David Wright. Now, after looking at their options, I wonder if offering him an extension might be the best thing for their team. Honestly, it all comes down to the money. If Wright demands more than the Mets are willing to pay him, a trade is the only option. Some might say the Mets should wait to trade him before the 2013 trade deadline, at which point a team may need Wright more than now, but the chances that the Mets could land the prospects they want for half year rental aren't high. The Mets have to find a deal that makes sense, if not, they can take a chance at trading him by the deadline or, more likely, they can extend him. One thing is for sure, Sandy Alderson is going to do what he thinks is best for the Mets' future, whether it involves David Wright is history that has yet to be written. 

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