August 18, 2003

Let's make a deal!

There is, in my opinion, a very major story related to the trade deadline that is not getting enough attention. I know that's hard to believe with the abundance of stories devoted to trade rumors and speculation, not to mention the massive amount of attention that is given to each trade that actually does happen.

I mean, I like Aaron Boone and he's certainly a nice player, but when ESPN did their "Trade Deadline Show" last month, they essentially devoted an entire hour of programming to analyzing the trade of a 30 year old third baseman who is a career .269/.331/.446 hitter.

Lost in all the hoopla however, is a trade that is potentially one of the biggest deals in recent memory. For whatever reason though, it has been able to fly under the radar without receiving much attention at all.

According to almost every source I can find on the subject, the Padres and Pirates have long been discussing a deal that would send Brian Giles and Jason Kendall to San Diego, in exchange for several young players. The Padres are attempting to make themselves competitive for the move into their new ballpark next season, and the Pirates are once again "rebuilding" and trading Giles and Kendall would allow them to both shed payroll and bring in young talent.

If the stories about this potential deal are true, the Padres and Pirates have essentially agreed upon the deal and most of the particulars, but the Padres want to wait to pull the trigger until the off-season, when they will have a better feel for the free agent market and the state of their team.

There was some talk that the deal could have been completed prior to the July 31st trading deadline, but that obviously never happened. There is also still some talk that it could happen yet before the end of the season. Obviously neither Pittsburgh or San Diego needs to worry about adding players in time for them to be eligible for the post-season, and San Diego, with the worst record in the National League, would be first in line to claim both Giles and Kendall according to the waiver rules, so the two teams could basically do the trade at any time.

Here's a quote from an story from earlier this month:

"[Brian] Giles has said he expects to open the 2004 season as a Padre, but it's looking like he might have to wait until the offseason to find out if he actually will. Padres GM Kevin Towers has decided to wait until the winter and see how the free agent market shapes up before making any major decisions about adding a bat.

'I doubt anything will happen until then,' Towers told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. 'It doesn't mean everything is dead now, but I don't expect us to revisit it until the winter.'"

Am I wrong, or is this a pretty big story? I know it doesn't involve the Yankees or the Red Sox and Aaron Boone isn't on the move again, but this is a deal that would send one of the best hitters in all of baseball and one of the best catchers in all of baseball to the Padres in exchange for what is rumored to be at least 2-3 good, young players.

My immediate reaction to this story is to ask what the heck the Pirates are thinking. I know teams need to rebuild and I don't fault the Pirates for deciding to do that, but it seems to me that if you are trying to build or rebuild a team into a playoff contender, you don't start that process by trading away someone like Brian Giles.

To me, a "rebuilding" team should be working on a 3 year plan, whereas it seems like most teams are working on a 5+ year plan. I just think when you start planning that far into the future, you leave too many things to potentially go wrong and you end up doing things like trading away championship-level players because they are too old. Plus, I believe it is extremely possible to rebuild a major league roster (and the lower parts of a minor league system) in the course of 3 years.

Brian Giles is and has been one of the best players in all of baseball and, at the same time, one of the most underrated players in all of baseball.

Here are his numbers since joining the Pirates:

Year      AVG      OBP      SLG      EqA     RARP

1999 .315 .418 .614 .330 63
2000 .315 .432 .594 .335 71
2001 .309 .404 .590 .323 61
2002 .298 .450 .622 .349 74
2003 .302 .433 .524 .325 50*

*Giles' projected total for this season

Maybe I'm crazy, but if you get a player like that, you don't trade him away. You stick in the middle of your lineup and do the best you can to build a team around him.

"RARP" stands for "Runs Above Replacement Position." Basically, since 1999, Brian Giles has been 319 runs better offensively than a "replacement-level" player at his position. His projected total for this season would be his lowest as a Pirate, but that's just because he missed a little time with an injury earlier in the year.

Besides RARP, another stat I like to use is "Runs Created Above Average" or RCAA. Instead of a "replacement-level" player, this stat (created by Lee Sinins) compares a player's offensive production to an "average" player at his position, which is a higher standard than replacement-level.

Giles' RCAA since joining the Pirates are: 58, 66, 57, 75 and 37 (so far this season). That is a total of 293 Runs Created Above Average for Giles since the start of the 1999 season.

Here are the leaders in all of baseball during that same time:

Barry Bonds         551

Jason Giambi 393
Manny Ramirez 332
Sammy Sosa 303

Brian Giles 293

That's it, that's the entire list of players with a higher RCAA total than Giles since 1999.

Now, obviously, this stat isn't perfect. For one thing, it doesn't adjust offense for the position a player plays, which is hugely important when determining someone's value. What it does do is show who the best hitters are, regardless of anything else. And when you talk best hitters since 1999, you get Bonds, Giambi, Ramirez, Sosa and Brian Giles. That's some pretty good company. You think if any of those other guys were about to be traded it would be talked about just a tiny bit more?

Of course, comparing RCAA totals since 1999 is in Giles' favor, since that's the first year he broke out. Looking at more recent years - let's say the 2001, 2002 and this season - here is the RCAA leaderboard:

Barry Bonds         423

Jason Giambi 233
Sammy Sosa 196
Albert Pujols 190
Jim Thome 185
Todd Helton 184
Manny Ramirez 173

Brian Giles 169

Again, that's it, that's the whole list. Incidentally, how freaking great is Barry Bonds?! He has 423 RCAA over the last 3 years, which is nearly double the next highest total. That is just crazy.

From everything I have read, the Padres are willing to pick up large portions of both Giles' contract and Kendall's contract and, by doing so, the Pirates are willing to take lesser players in exchange than they normally would. The main names I have heard talked about as potentially going to the Pirates are Xavier Nady and Oliver Perez.

I really like Perez and think he has a tremendous future (he has 202 strikeouts in 186 career innings!), but I am far less sold on Nady becoming a star. If that's what it will take to get Giles and Kendall from Pittsburgh, I would have no problem agreeing to that if I was San Diego GM Kevin Towers.

Another interesting thing about this potential trade is that Jason Kendall is being treated like he is a horrible player. He is part of the deal because the Pirates want to rid themselves of his contract and the only way for them to do that is to package it/him with Giles. At $42 million over the next 4 seasons, Jason Kendall may be an extremely overpaid player, but he is also a very good player.

Kendall is hitting .311/.395/.393 this season and, while that isn't anywhere close to his offensive performances from 1998-2000, it is still pretty damn good for an everyday catcher.

First of all, you've got to love that .395 on-base percentage from the catcher position. Kendall has always hit for good averages, he has always taken a few walks and he has never struck out much. Age and injuries have sapped him of his base stealing abilities, but he is still an above-average base runner. Basically, he is a perfect leadoff man, which is not something that can be said about many catchers.

He has additional value in that he is extremely durable. Aside from a freak leg injury in 1999 (he snapped his ankle while stepping on first base), Kendall has the following games started at catcher in the major leagues:








*Projected total for this season

That is amazing durability behind the plate. At the end of this season, he will have caught at least 1,000 innings in each of his 8 major league seasons, except for 1999. In addition to that, he can also handle left field or right field when he's not catching and he hits and fields well enough to make himself valuable out there.

He are the Runs Above Replacement Position leaders among catchers this season:

Javy Lopez          46.4

Jorge Posada 44.4
Ivan Rodriguez 38.9
Jason Varitek 34.6
Mike Lieberthal 28.6
Jason Kendall 26.1

Not too shabby for a guy who is being talked about like his contract is a Greg Vaughn-situation or something. Last season, Kendall ranked 8th among MLB catchers in RARP. So, depending on what you think of his defense, Kendall has been somewhere between the 5th and 10th best catcher in baseball during the last 2 seasons. While that's not a player who deserves the contract he has, it is the type of player I don't have a problem taking on my team if it means I also get Brian Giles.

To me, Giles and Kendall are 25% of an everyday lineup, and a very good 25% at that. If I were the Pirates, I would stop trying to trade them and start trying to find other good players to fill the remaining 75% of the lineup.

But let's not talk about what the Pirates should be doing, because that's no fun. Let's talk about what the Padres might look like should this deal take place between now and Opening Day of next season.

Assuming Xavier Nady is the only major league-ready hitter the Padres send to Pittsburgh in the deal, San Diego could be looking at the following lineup for next season:

C - Jason Kendall

1B - Ryan Klesko

2B - Mark Loretta

SS - Ramon Vazquez/Khalil Greene

3B - Sean Burroughs

LF - Brian Giles

CF - Mark Kotsay

RF - Phil Nevin

That is a very good offensive team. Defensively, they aren't so hot, although they aren't horrible up the middle.

There isn't a single "black hole" in that lineup. All 8 guys have the potential to be average or better offensively for their position. Kendall and Loretta are a great 1-2 punch, getting on base at very high clips (.395 and .384 OBPs this season) to set the table for what could be a devasting middle of the lineup in Giles, Nevin and Klesko. And the bottom of the lineup is pretty damn good to, with Vazquez (or possibly Greene), Kotsay and Burroughs all definitely capable of batting in the top 3 spots and all providing solid offense for their positions.

The pitching-staff is, of course, an entirely different issue. Jake Peavy, Brian Lawrence and Adam Eaton are all very promising young pitchers, but they also all have ERAs above 4.25 in an extreme pitcher's park this season. That said, I like Peavy an awful lot and I think those three could definitely be an above-average 1-2-3 in the rotation. If Oliver Perez isn't part of the Giles deal, he could easily step in an be a good #4 and then the Padres just need to find a 5th starter, which shouldn't be tough to do (I would give Dennis Tankersley another shot).

The bullpen should have Trevor Hoffman back and the Padres have done a very nice job finding solid guys to fill setup roles in recent years. In the last 3 years, they have picked up guys like Matt Herges, Steve Reed, Jay Witasick and Alan Embree for almost zero money, and then have cashed them in after they pitched well in San Diego's bullpen, by trading them for prospects. If they can find another couple of guys like that (or like Rod Beck, who has a 1.82 ERA for the Padres this year), the bullpen shouldn't be a problem.

I really think that if the Padres can get Brian Giles and Jason Kendall without giving up too many members of their future core, they should jump at the opportunity. It isn't often that you a team gets a chance to add someone like Giles without having to fork over a huge part of their future. And, with the team moving into the new ballpark, the ownership seems willing to add some payroll, which makes adding Jason Kendall and his contract even easier to handle.

The potential lineup I outlined above is a very good one and they have the pieces in place for a nice pitching-staff too. With Brian Giles and Kendall in the fold for 2004, there is no reason why the Padres couldn't make a serious run at the playoffs, which is exactly what they are aiming for in the first year in their new ballpark.

Link of the Day:

Only Baseball Matters - "Baseball history, analysis, and commentary from John J Perricone; born in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. Oh, and Barry Bonds. Lots of Barry Bonds."

Today's picks:

Chicago (Clement) -110 over Houston (Robertson)

Montreal (Tucker) +220 over Los Angeles (Brown)

Atlanta (Ortiz) -120 over San Francisco (Williams)

Total to date: + 1,650

W/L record: 207-209 (1-0 yesterday for +100)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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