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SD Padres Bargaining Chips

Kevin Kouzmanoff
Image by San Diego Shooter via Flickr

The Padres are phasing in a new owner, and have hired a new GM.  As Jed Hoyer tries to put his stamp on this team and fill in the holes on his roster (second base and catcher come to mind), he finds a dearth of valuable pieces he can trade, both at the Major League level and in the farm system.

The most valuable Padre is clearly Adrian Gonzalez, whom the team controls through 2011 (assuming they pick up his option for that season, which they should).  His ability, the fact he’s considered a local on both sides of the border, and his overall popularity with the fan base make him virtually untradeable. So who else is there? The next two guys with some value on the open market are Kevin Kouzmanoff and Heath Bell. We can discuss why ‘closers’ are overrated, and why that means Heath Bell should be traded now, at another time.  Let’s discuss whether to trade Kouzmanoff.

One can’t discuss Kouzmanoff without looking at both the third base and outfield situations.  At the close of the 2009 season, San Diego shared outfield playing time between four guys: Will Venable, Tony Gwynn Jr, Kyle Blanks, and Chase Headley.  Headley is an outfielder only by necessity; his natural position is third base.  Blanks is in the same situation, since he’s a natural first baseman and is blocked by the aforementioned Gonzo.  But his bat was deemed major-league ready, so he attempts to patrol the OF. The Padres need to figure out who’s in their outfield for 2010.

Venable is decent enough with the glove (9.0 UZR in right), and the bat (.334 wOBA).  His 1.9 WAR makes him a slightly above the average player.  Pencil him into the RF job.  Gwynn is also a decent glove (13.6 UZR playing mostly center), but has no bat (.311 wOBA), and yet he was a 2.8 WAR guy.  So figure he’s the CF choice for 2010.  That leaves LF, and competition between Blanks and Headley.

Blanks potentially possesses a great bat (.372 wOBA, albeit it in only 148 PA), but is a disaster in the field (-1.9 UZR overall).  That negative UZR, however, is driven by his play in right (-3.1); as a left fielder, it’s 1.2.  The biggest factor in Blanks’ favor is his huge ISO numbers (.264 at the ML level).  That number is higher than any of his minor league seasons, so may not be sustainable long-term; however his ISO in 3+ seasons of minor league ball were .162, .239, .189, and .202. The dude can mash.  Headley doesn’t have as good a glove in left (-8.9 UZR in left), and isn’t as good a hitter (.328 wOBA), when compared to Blanks.  He had better ISO numbers in the minors than Blanks, but hasn’t been able to duplicate that success at the major league level. Plus, Blanks’ bat can allow the Padres to move Gonzo up to the #3 slot in the order and bat Blanks behind him.  Want to walk Gonzo?  Thanks, for now Blanks will hit the ball onto Banker’s Hill. It would seem Blanks is the odds-on favorite to play left at Petco next season.

This line of reasoning favors moving Headley, right?  But the Padres won’t get much return on a Chase Headley trade, and remember, they’re rebuilding, where the return is everything. So the question then becomes, can Headley replace Kouzmanoff at third?

Well, let’s compare them statistically.  First, as hitters:

BB%

K%

BB/K

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

Spd

BABIP

wRC

wRAA

wOBA

Kouzmanoff

4.90%

20.70%

0.25

0.308

0.435

0.743

0.174

2.4

0.297

209.6

-13.2

0.321

Headley

9.50%

27.00%

0.39

0.340

0.400

0.740

0.137

4.2

0.340

120.7

0.5

0.329

Headley(3B)

0.342

0.488

0.831

0.310

Headley(LF)

0.366

0.376

0.742

0.260

During his career, Headley compares favorably with Kouzmanoff; Kevin has the higher isolated power, but Headley has better speed and a higher wOBA (probably a function of his higher walk percentage).  I added as a separate line Headley’s numbers in games where he started or entered as the third baseman, and in games where he started in left. Headley only has 149 career PA while playing defensively at third baseman, with the majority of those PA happening between 9-27 Sept 09, as compared to 788 PA while playing left.  The OBP are basically the same, although higher when he plays in left. What jumps out is the slugging percentage.  It’s .114 higher as a third baseman than as a left fielder.  I think that’s significant  (Note: the wOBA calculations for Headley at 3B and LF don’t make sense.  I used data for Headley when he played only third base and only LF, and started the game at those respective positions.  Both those numbers shouldn’t be lower than his career average. I’ve left them in for completeness.) .  So from a power perspective, Headley can replace Kouzmanoff.

Kouzmanoff got a lot of press, deservedly so, for his stellar 09 defensive season.  Kouzmanoff was seventh in UZR (7.5) and tenth in Dewan plus/minus (+8) at third last season.  He also had the fewest charged errors in the league, and thus set a major league record for fielding percentage at third.  Headley posted a UZR of 0.6 in 28 games at third.  His +/- was 0.  So there may be a drop in defense by shifting Headley to that position, but allowing for the small sample size, he should turn into a competent major league third baseman.  So from a fielding perspective, Headley can replace Kouzmanoff.

Then there’s cost.  Venable, Gwynn Jr, Blanks, and Headley all have less than 2 years of service time, and all play for the league minimum.  Kouzmanoff, on the other hand, has over 2 years of service time, and will be arbitration eligible after next season.  So for a team trying to rub pennies together he’s going to be expensive very soon.  That argues for trading Kouzmanoff by itself.

What is Jed Hoyer to do?  Given that Jeff Moorad, the new owner, has publicly stated next year’s payroll will ‘Start with a 4’, and assuming he doesn’t mean $400 million, the Padres need to move Kouzmanoff.  What the statistics above do show is Headley has the potential to be better than Kouz with the bat, and close to Kouz with the glove.  So the Padres won’t lose that much by trading Kouzmanoff away, and should work to do so, while bringing back to San Diego players that will help the club long term at catcher and second base.

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