Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A closer look at Josh Willingham

Last night's look at arbitration-eligible players dredged up a name you have to believe Theo Epstein already is thinking long and hard about: Josh Willingham.

The closer Jason Bay gets to free agency -- if the Yankees close out the Phillies on Wednesday night, he'll be allowed to field offers starting Nov. 19 -- the more likely it is he heads elsewhere. So many teams need a power hitter that there's sure to be plenty of competition; the San Francisco Giants have joined the Seattle Mariners as a logical landing spot for a native of British Columbia who could immediately hit cleanup in either lineup.

(The Giants won 88 games and finished third in the National League West this season with Bengie Molina -- Bengie Molina! -- hitting cleanup in well over two-thirds of their games.)

Epstein already has to be making contingency plans -- and one of his best contingency plans might be Willingham.

You could make an argument, in fact, that the Red Sox might be better off trading Manny Delcarmen and Felix Doubront to the Washington Nationals for Willingham than they would be by signing Bay. Here's why:

1. Money
* Bay almost certainly is going to command a salary of $15 million a season for four seasons, minimum. He'd be 35 years old at the conclusion of a four-year contract -- and, many believe, relegated to duties as a designated hitter.
* Willingham is primed for an arbitration award somewhere in the vicinity of $5 million for next season.

2. Flexibility
* Bay, again, has to be given a commitment of four or five years if he's going to sign on the dotted line.
* Willingham will become a free agent after the 2010 season. The Red Sox then would have more than a few options heading into next winter, including:
--- Going after a free agent like Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn or Jayson Werth.
--- Giving the job to a youngster who's ready for it like Ryan Kalish or Josh Reddick, highly touted prospects who need more seasoning in Triple-A in 2010 but who easily could be factors in 2011.
--- Re-signing Willingham, who is only a few months younger than Bay, to a short-term contract.

3. Value
* Based on Wins Above Replacement, a statistic that measures a player's contribution on offense and defense against an ordinary Triple-A replacement, Bay has contributed 2.9 and 3.4 wins to his teams over the last two seasons -- something FanGraphs calculates as being worth a total of $28.5 million.
* Willingham, during the same span, has contributed 2.4 and 2.3 wins to his teams, something FanGraphs calculates as being worth $21 million.
The choice above is to pay $15 million next season for $14 million worth of production -- or to pay $5 million for $10 million worth of production.

(Oh, and the Red Sox then would have $10 million to spend elsewhere -- perhaps on Chone Figgins to play third base, for example.)

4. Fitting in at Fenway Park
* Bay, of course, loved hitting at Fenway Park. His opposite-field power cost him some home runs to right-center field, but he certainly took advantage of the Green Monster.
* Willingham, though, looks like he'll love hitting at Fenway Park, too. Check out his home-run charts from the past two seasons:



That, my friends, is a hitter who would love the Green Monster.

5. Fitting in away from Fenway Park
Epstein spoke last month of the need to balance out his team, to find hitters who hit on the road as well as at home. Willingham OPS'ed .753 at home a year ago and .962 on the road; for his career, Willingham has a .772 OPS in home games and a .902 OPS on the road.


Anonymous said...

I have to think that Washington could get a better offer for Josh Willingham than Boston's 22-year-old 14th-ranked prospect and a nearly 28-year-old arbitration-eligible reliever who failed to make the postseason roster after posting a 0.2 WAR this season.

Brian MacPherson said...

Well, sure, but keep in mind that it somehow only took Argenis Diaz and Hunter Strickland to land Adam LaRoche in July. The Nats have three or four other outfielders -- and Willingham's salary (probably $5 million next season and maybe as high as $8 million the season after that) is going to discourage some potential suitors.

Kenz AFan said...

While getting Willingham from the Nationals for Delcarmen and Doubront would be a coop for Epstein, it would mean that Washington's GM is a total idiot, which from observation, we all know he isn't. Your trade idea works for only one team, the Red Sox. It has zero value for the Nationals, so it will never get done. It's all well and good to be a Bo'Sox fan, but please, have a little more respect for the teams you want to trade with. Thank God for the Red Sox that Theo Epstein is the GM and a wishful thinking fan.

Brian MacPherson said...

To make the same point a second time: Less than a week after this original post went up, the Red Sox landed Jeremy Hermida from the Marlins for what amounts to nothing simply because of the payroll relief involved.

Is the Marlins' general manager an idiot, or is he reacting to the realities of his economic situation?

If the Nationals anticipate going into spring training with Elijah Dukes, Willie Harris, Justin Maxwell and Nyjer Morgan rotating through their outfield, why would they want to pay Willingham the $4 or $5 million he'll command through arbitration this year -- and the $7 or $8 million you'd expect him to command the year after that? Josh Willingham ain't Matt Holliday.

Delcarmen and Doubront -- the two names I happened to throw out there -- have way more value than Hunter Jones and Jose Alvarez. It would benefit the Red Sox more in the short term, sure, but the Nationals aren't exactly thinking about the short term. They're stockpiling talent for a run in 2011 or 2012 -- and unless you think Delcarmen is a has-been at the age of 27, that's exactly the type of move they should be making with their veterans on the wrong side of 30.

But thanks for checking in.