Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a lot of suggestions from a variety of different sources about how to improve the 2012 Dodgers, and one hole that always pops up is the enormous Juan Uribe-sized one at third base. Since Uribe can’t be trusted to perform, the hot corner is a largely barren one in the Dodger minor league system, and giving a huge long-term contract to Aramis Ramirez is hardly brilliant, people generally seem to be settling on trying to trade for David Wright, who is reportedly available for the right offer.
That’s where the conversation begins, and that’s where it should end, because as much fun as it might be to think of “Superstar David Wright” in your lineup, it’s neither plausible nor even advisable. As you’d expect from a player viewed as a cornerstone of the Mets franchise, the return to extract him would need to be sizable:
A National League executive who has spoken with Sandy Alderson recently told The News last week that the GM would have to be “bowled over” to deal Wright before next season, and a Mets person predicted that Wright’s situation would remain “status quo” until then.
Remember, the Mets don’t look likely to contend in 2012, and probably not even 2013. That means the type of deals I’ve been seeing floating around – i.e., the ones built around Andre Ethier or James Loney – are unlikely at best and laughable at worst. The Mets reportedly would want a high-end centerfielder and two good pitching prospects to even consider it, and while we can argue about how much value Chris Withrow and Ethan Martin still have (or don’t), the Dodgers definitely don’t have the centerfielder and shouldn’t be even thinking about a Zach Lee deal.
Even if the Mets somehow were convinced to take Dodger prospects for Wright over the likely-superior offers of other squads, you’d still have to figure out how to pay him. The Mets are considering moving him only to build for the future; they’re almost certainly not so motivated that they would eat a great deal of his remaining salary, which is $15m for 2012 and a $16m 2013 option that Wright would likely void if traded. Considering that the Dodgers need to acquire at least two starting pitchers and probably a catcher & an infielder, there just doesn’t seem to be room in the budget for that. Granted, I managed to find room for Prince Fielder in my 2012 plan, but that assumed Loney and his ~$6m would be non-tendered – unlikely to really happen – and Fielder is the kind of difference-maker you move pieces around for, which leads us to the main issue:
David Wright just isn’t as good as you think he is.
Oh, sure, he’s an upgrade over Uribe, and with the state of third base being what it is, he’s a better-than-average player who probably still has some good years in him. But he’s not the super-stud who put up OPS marks north of .900 every year from age 22-25. Since he peaked with a .420 wOBA in 2007, he’s been in decline in every year since – .397 (2008), .368 (2009), .364 (2010), .342 (2011). That’s still a solid player, yet not someone living up to his elite perception, as Mike Newman of Fangraphs explains:
And while I can somewhat buy the park being a factor in Wright’s diminishing returns, outfield fences have little to do with Wright’s -31.1 UZR over the past three seasons.
Even with Wright’s poor fielding, he has still been able to accumulate 9.5 WAR between 2009 and 2011. However, this leaves him sandwiched between Dodgers Casey Blake and Phillies Placido Polanco amongst true third baseman. This isn’t to say I’d prefer either to David Wright, but both Polanco and Blake earned 5.25 million in 2011 while Wright received more than two-and-a-half times as much.
And while both the Phillies and Dodgers are now looking for upgrades at the position, Wright is owed 15 million in 2012 before possibly hitting free agency the first time on the wrong side of his prime. Sure, this assessment may seem like I’m piling on the doom and gloom, but David Wright is a long ways away from the 27-plus WAR player who many viewed as a future Hall of Famer as recently as 2008.
Again, that’s still better than Uribe or anyone else the Dodgers are likely to come up with for third base in 2012. But is it worth the outlay in prospects, dollars and risk the Dodgers would have to accommodate for a one-year rental? I’m having a hard time saying that it is, so let’s focus our energies elsewhere.
Compared to what went before him, Rivera probably looked a lot like Manny Ramirez in Don Mattingly’s eyes, but the reality was a lot less exciting. The average NL left fielder posted an OPS of 748 last season. Rivera managed only a 740 mark in Los Angeles, which—given that his OPS is an almost-identical 743 over his last four seasons—is about the best the Dodgers can hope for from the right-handed hitter, who’ll turn 34 next July. He’s always been weak against same-handed pitchers, and his work in the field does nothing to make up for his offensive inadequacies–that he’s spent significant time as a designated hitter and first baseman over the past two seasons should give you some idea of the state of his outfield skills—so the total package is that of a player who can’t be counted on to be worth more than a win. Does that sound like something that can’t be had for less than $4.5 million to anyone but LA?
Last week, R.J. Anderson observed that Chien-Ming Wang’s $4 million deal (plus incentives) was way out of line with the make-good contracts awarded to injury-prone starters during the 2010-2011 offseason. Rivera’s contract appears to be inflated by a similar amount compared to last winter’s comparable corner outfielders, such as Reed Johnson ($900,000), Marcus Thames ($1 million, and from LA, no less), Andruw Jones ($1.5 million), Matt Diaz ($2.125 million), and Jeff Francoeur ($2.5 million).
Are Wang and Rivera isolated outliers who happened to ink their deals early, or are we seeing the opening salvoes of a market gone mad? The next few weeks should tell us whether teams have dismissed concerns about the economy and decided en masse to pay more per win. If not, it will be too late for the Dodgers to get Frank McCourt’s money back. While that isn’t something that will cost their fans much sleep in itself, the knowledge that their team—despite ostensibly being on a limited budget—probably paid more than twice as much as it had to for a role player instead of using the cash to procure an experienced catcher or another useful commodity could keep them tossing and turning till spring training.
2012 is also the 50th anniversary of Dodger Stadium, and the team will be wearing commemorative patches for the occasion. Roberto at Vin Scully is My Homeboy has a preview.
Finally, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, M.Brown of the wonderful Left Field Pavilion is sponsoring a Dodger blog charity softball tournament on February 11 in West Covina, CA. (I think Roberto has two full teams already!) I won’t be there, but it’s for a good cause, so feel free to join in on the fun.