A.J. Ellis Could Actually Be Useful

Is it just me, or is the hot stove getting moving earlier than usual this year? We’ve already seen quite a few trades, and the World Series just ended about ten minutes ago. I suppose everyone’s frightened by what happened to guys like Orlando Hudson and Bobby Abreu last year and wants to get what they can while they can? Well, now the Dodgers are involved, because the Kansas City Star has a somewhat interesting rumor (via Diamond Leung):

One rumor to watch: A deal sending second baseman Alberto Callaspo to the Los Angeles Dodgers for catcher A.J. Ellis, a 28-year-old rookie who currently projects as a backup to Russell Martin following the anticipated free-agent departure of veteran Brad Ausmus.

Hold up there, Kansas City Star. Ausmus hasn’t announced his intentions for next year yet other than to confirm what we already knew, that he’d only be interested in playing for the Dodgers or Padres. If he decides that he wants to play one more year, we all believe the Dodgers would be willing to take him back. If he doesn’t, then there’s almost no chance that Ellis is simply handed the job.

That said, those are the exact reasons why getting something useful for Ellis would be a steal for the Dodgers. The Star tries to paint Ellis in the most positive way they can, saying…

Ellis is regarded as a strong defensive receiver with improving offensive potential. While he lacks pop — just 17 homers in 464 games over seven minor-league seasons — he batted .318 with a .437 on-base percentage in 174 games over the last two years in Class AAA.

…but by combining “the last two years”, they neglect to mention that his OPS dropped 81 points from 2008 to 2009, and that at 29 next year, there’s not a whole lot in the way of “potential” left. It’s not that he couldn’t be a useful backup catcher, it’s just that guys like him are literally a dime a dozen.

albertocallaspoAs for Callaspo, he’s a potentially useful player who’s not without his own warts. After spending his first three seasons (two with Arizona before being traded to Kansas City for P Billy Buckner) as a utilityman all over the field, 2009 was his first season as a fulltime starter, getting 142 starts at second base. Offensively, he was actually very good, putting up a line of .300/.356/.457 for an .813 OPS, along with 41 doubles and 11 homers. That .813 OPS is not only tied for 8th among MLB 2B, it’s also exactly the same number that another 2B we hear tied to the Dodgers in trade rumors – Dan Uggla – put up, despite Callaspo being 3 years younger and in the tougher league. He won’t be 27 until April, and his 52/51 BB/K ratio is outstanding and shows nice pitch recognition skills.

Of course, if Callaspo was really all that, it’d take more than A.J. Ellis to get him. He was arrested for domestic violence in 2007, though the charges were later dropped and he and his wife remain together, and he’s not a highly regarded fielder. As a fulltime 2B in 2009, his UZR/150 was -7.5, though FanGraphs believes his offense from the position outweighed his defense so much that he was really worth $12.5m this year. In fact, FanGraphs included Callaspo on their list of 2010 sleepers just yesterday:

Callaspo has a lot going for him. He repeated his good Royals debut in 2009 and instantly went on 2010 sleeper lists. He’s a high-contact hitter (91% career contact rate) with sneaky wheels (4.1 career speed score) and a good line drive stroke (19.3% career), so a good batting average is a steady part of the package he brings to the table. The biggest positive in 2009 was that he added a little power by vastly improving his fly ball rate (from 27.5% to 41.9%), but it’s the power that goes in and out for him. Just check his oscillating slugging percentage and fly ball rate for proof.

Defense will have to be part of the discussion, and Callaspo suffers by both not being great at second base (-7.5 UZR/150) and also by being capable all around the infield (400+ innings of positive UZR at SS and 3B).

As a pure baseball trade (yes, I know it’s just a rumor, and we see thousands each offseason, but this is at least a new one so it gives me something to write about) this would be great for the Dodgers. Ellis is a completely replaceable part, and Callaspo is a good hitter who’s expendable because of Kansas City’s recent trade for Chris Getz.

But with the new McCourt world we’re living in, the question always has to be asked, “is this about money?” Callaspo won’t be arbitration eligible until after 2010, making him a cheap acquisition. The ideal situation seems to be that he comes in to be an infielder off the bench, capable of stepping in at any of the three non-1B spots or outfield in a pinch, with a worthy bat for pinch-hitting.

Now, if the idea would be to drop him in as the starting 2B and be done with it, then it’s a reasonable question to ask if the impetus behind this is just to fill the hole in the cheapest manner possible. Still, the talent coming in would more than exceed the talent going out, so it’s a worthwhile move to acquire Callaspo and sort out his role as the winter goes on.

Or, more likely, this is just a rumor out of Kansas City that we never hear again. Whichever.