Monday, June 18, 2007

Mark Buehrle Trade Partners

The speculation around baseball is that Mark Buehrle will be the first major asset moved this trading season. It makes sense. Buehrle is a valuable asset, so the Sox will get a good return on him. He is a free agent at the end of the season, and by both rumor and logic (the Sox refuse to overpay for starting pitching) it seems clear he won't resign in Chicago. And the White Sox are objectively, irreversibly out of the race in the AL Central. Plus, Kenny Williams is uber-aggressive. He knows what he wants and goes and gets it. He usually moves before his colleagues in the GM fraternity.

So what does he want? Well, Williams has never been one to dress up trades with major league relievers and journeymen, the kind of names that appease fans, but cripple franchises. He'll get prospects he likes for Buehrle and Jermaine Dye, as well as Juan Uribe and Tadahito Iguchi should he choose to part ways with them. But the Sox should aim for nearly major league ready prospects. First, they're safer. Second, with the right haul, the Sox can be contenders again next season. Positionally, the Sox need to get through trades, as well as next season's market, a young starting pitcher, a short stop, a second baseman, and an outfielder. To me, the easiest positions to fill on the market will be outfield and second base (it wouldn't be the end of the world if they just resign Iguchi to man second). So, between Dye and Buehrle, the Sox should aim to produce a young shortstop and young pitcher, each of whom can start next year.

The leading name in speculation as a trade partner are the New York Mets. The Mets have need of both a starter and an outfielder. The two prospects most likely to be targeted by the Sox are Lastings Milledge, a corner outfielder, and Philip Humber, a starting pitcher. Coming into this season, PECOTA pegged Milledge as having a SuperVORP of 135.3 over the next five years, and an Upside of 140.9 (these numbers will come into perspective as we discuss more prospects, but suffice to say, this guy is an almost surefire everyday outfielder, and a potential star). Milledge has been hurt most of this season so far, and only has 42 at-bats between AAA New Orleans and the bigs. Humber, on the other hand, doesn't look like much more than a swingman, fifth starter type to PECOTA. And, after a hot start this year, he's cooled off to 7-5 with an ERA near 5.00 for New Orleans this season.

All in all, it would be a mistake to send both Buehrle and Dye, as some have speculated, to the Mets. They don't have the depth of young talent to make it worthwhile. Mike Pelfrey would be slightly better than Humber, but he's still probably a middle of the rotation guy at best. It wouldn't be a mistake to trade Buehrle and Dye for Milledge and Pelfrey, but I think they'll get more value splitting the two and picking the top of the prospect heap from two teams. So, is it worth it to send Buehrle to New York for Milledge? Milledge is a stud, and an outfield of Fields, Sweeney and Milledge next season would look pretty good, and be a major improvement. But is corner outfield too easy a position to fill through free agency? The only way to really answer that question is to see if the Sox could get a top short stop prospect for Buehrle.

Whether or not its the Mets, the speculation is that one of the rich, competitive, but flawed teams in the NL East will strike first in the trade market. Baseball Prospectus has hypothesized about the Atlanta Braves. The Braves have two shortstop prospects. Yuni Escobar, who PECOTA sees as an almost certain big league starter, and almost certainly not a star. His SuperVORP ove the next five seasons is 39.7, and his Upside is 37.5. This year, Escobar has continued a career long trend of hitting for a good average, but doing it without much power or drawing many walks. On the positive side, he almost never strikes out. The same cannot be said for Brent Lillibridge, the Braves' prospect at AA Mississippi. Nevertheless, he is BY FAR the more interesting prospect. While his projected SuperVORP of 123.9 is lower than Milledge's, his Upside of 149.1. With his strikeout rate, there's a maybe 20% chance this kid never makes it, but his ceiling is high. PECOTA's comparables include Julio Lugo, Orlando Cabrera, and Michael Young, but it also includes Joe Jester. You get the idea.

Either way, the Sox should keep Dye out of it, and trade him to a team like the Dodgers, who are searching for offense (maybe for Chad Billingsley -- Vazquez, Garland, Danks, Billingsley and Gonzalez could be a heck of a rotation by August of next year, and then for a long time to come). Me, I'd take the chance on Lillibridge, assuming both partners are willing to dance, just because I'm not sure they can get a shortstop in free agency. But the Sox aren't making a mistake taking either one.


Anonymous Marlie said...

Interesting to know.

1:32 PM  

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