The Cleveland Indians need a third baseman, and the Oakland Athletics could have a couple tradable options this offseason.
Danny Valencia: (2.2 fWAR/1.7 bWAR in 2015)
This was undoubtedly Danny Valencia’s career year. He hit 290/345/519 in 105 Games and 378 PA split between Toronto and Oakland; before anyone thinks his numbers were primarily a creation of Rogers Centre consider that Valencia hit better while an Oakland Athletic, posting a 284/356/530 line with 11 HR in 204 PA.
Valencia has always hit LHP well and that trend continued in 2015 with a 128 wRC+. His break-out season was entirely due to his success against RHP, posting a 140 wRC+ vs. a career mark of 79. His Slugging jumped from a career mark of .389 to .556; this was due to a deliberate attempt at pulling the ball more when facing RHP. Valencia put the ball in play vs. RHP to his pull side 49.4% of the time, up over 6% from his career mark. His success in 2015 was therefore built on a deliberate change in approach and not merely a fluke season.
Of course the obvious question is how much of his 2015 success can or will carry over into 2016 and beyond. If his Slugging vs. RHP drops back down to his career line you’d likely end up with a lefty mashing platoon 3B. Asking him to maintain a .556 Slugging is unrealistic but what if he can keep it in the .450 range? That should be enough to give his team a full time 3B worth 2+ Wins.
Defensively Valencia has played just under 500 innings at 3B base in each of the last two seasons, in addition to seeing time in the outfield and 2B. UZR rates him as a +1 defender at 3B while DRS has been tougher, giving him a -4 Runs during the 2014-2015 seasons. I think it’s fair to call him an average to slightly below-average defender… and the closer he gets to repeating his 2015 batting line the better his glove will look.
Arbitration eligible and under team control through 2017, Cots’ Arbitration Projection has him earning a $3.4 million payday as he heads into his age-31 season next year.
Brett Lawrie: (0.6 fWAR/1.9 bWAR in 2015)
The good news is Brett Lawrie managed to stay healthy through the whole season, appearing in 149 games and getting 602 PA. The bad news is he seemed to lose control of the strike zone, watching his BB% drop to a career low 4.7% and his K% increase to a career high 23.9%. This led to a 260/299/407 line and a 94 wRC+. But what really hurt his fWAR value was a poor season defensively. Lawrie was hit with a -10.3 UZR in 930 defensive innings at 3B and then he struggled when Oakland shifted him to 2B in August to make room for Valencia. DRS was kinder, only knocking him -3 Runs while playing 3B. I don’t think Lawrie has become a bad defender, I think he had a bad year trying to do too much to justify being the headliner of the Donaldson trade while being paired with a lousy SS in Semien.
But Lawrie still has the tools that made him the #16 overall pick in 2008. He has the quick, powerful bat and strong arm and he always hustles down the line. He put up a 1.8 fWAR/1.7 bWAR season in 2014 in only 70 games played and as he heads into his age-26 season he should be hitting his prime years. Arbitration eligible and under team control through 2017, Cots’ Arbitration Projection has him earning $3.9 million in 2016. There’s no denying that Lawrie has been inconsistent thus far in his career but if he puts it all together you could be looking at a 4 Win player manning the hot corner.
I consider the White Sox, Indians and Angels as being the three teams most in need of 3B help in 2016. The Angels have the most money; therefore they’ll get first dibs on either hanging on to David Freese or signing Daniel Murphy… maybe even signing both! The Padres could also make a run at Murphy if they want to upgrade 2B/3B since their 1st round pick is protected. And yes, there are other trade options available but Frazier is going to cost an extreme amount of young talent and Prado is only signed for one more season at a salary 3X’s that of either Oakland infielder will earn. Adding Valencia or Lawrie would offer an instant, inexpensive upgrade thus allowing his new team to focus the bulk of their financial resources on other areas of need. The A’s primary concern is to upgrade their bullpen, with outfield depth and finding a plus defensive SS with minor league options remaining as secondary foci. Of course when you finish with the worst record in the AL genuine talent upgrades regardless of position will be considered. Roster flexibility is a key and the preferred return for either Valencia or Lawrie would feature players with 2-3 options remaining and multiple years of team control. Lawrie’s upside means he’ll cost more than Valencia in trade but the targeted areas for improvement will remain the same.
A year ago I came by LGT to discuss a potential trade for Josh Donaldson. One of the Cleveland prospects I most coveted, most believed in was Giovanny Urshela. I figured he’d need at least a half-season in AAA before the bat would be ready for the Show… but he missed some time early in the year and only got about a month of AAA experience and thus preceded to struggle when he got called up. I still believe in him and I think Cleveland does too but he’s not quite ready to be a starting 3B at the major league level. That’s what makes Valencia or Lawrie so ideal for the Tribe. They are reasonably priced assets that offer an immediate upgrade while not tying up the position long-term. As a bonus, two years of team control would allow Cleveland to re-coup some of what they’d give up via trade if and when they are ready to move on to Urshela.
About that cost Cleveland would have to give up… there is a wider range of potential performance outcomes with both Oakland players than is the norm in a typical Veteran for Prospects discussion. Lawrie could be worth anything from 2 to 8 Wins over the next two seasons; how do I price accordingly to stimulate a quality discussion? How much is LGT willing to believe in either player?
So I’m flipping the script a bit. I’m not focused on any one particular player to headline the return package… although I do have some preferred options… so I’m going to list the names of the players/prospects I’m most interested in discussing.
I anticipate 2-4 of these players being part of a return package, depending on whom the Tribe would pursue and how eagerly they’d do so. The name at the very top of my list is Shawn Armstrong. He’s young. He’s cheap. He throws hard and he has two options remaining.
What would work best for Cleveland?