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A Logical Landing Spot for Lowell?

… because alliteration = good writing.

Just before Christmas, Mike Lowell was almost traded to the Rangers for three million dollars and Max Ramirez (a C+ Prospect according to John Sickels) . The trade didn’t go through because Lowell ended up needing thumb surgery. He is expected to be ready around Spring Training.

In any case, the trade never made much sense for the Rangers, even at the relatively minimal cost. Michael Young is set at third, and first baseman Chris Davis projects as a good hitter for 2010. I suppose Texas could have moved Davis to DH and had Lowell play first, but it isn’t clear how Lowell’s defense would translate to first base, and that ship has sailed anyway with the Rangers signing of Vladimir Guerrero to be their full-time DH.

Lowell is still a decent player. Despite his poor 2009 (in which he still produced 1.2 wins above replacement in 119 games), CHONE projects Lowell as a .273/.328/.429 hitter, or 3 runs above average per 150 games. My projection is similar: .275/.327/.451, +1/150. Lowell had the worst-fielding season of his career in 2009 according to UZR, but this has to be weighed against his excellent fieldin in the past. Jeff Z. (no relation to Jack) projects Lowell’s 2010 UZR/150 as +1/150. Rally’s TotalZone projection has him at +3/150. Naturally, playing time is a concern due to Lowell’s injury issues and age. The Fans project him for 116 games in 2010. Taking a rough average of the projections and prorating: +2 offense +2 fielding + 2 position + 20 replacement = 26 runs above replacement times 116/150 = about a 2 WAR player for 2010. Even if you bump him down to 100 games, he’s still a 1.7 WAR player.

Boston clearly wants to trade Lowell, particularly after signing Adrian Beltre. But it’s not clear who a good trade partner would be. Lowell’s age makes him a poor fit for a rebuilding team, and most potential contenders have third base filled. Even in cases where Lowell might improve a contender, even for just the three million dollars, he would need to be an upgrade big enough to make a significant difference in their win curve. For example, Texas does have a shot in the West next season, but without a place to play Lowell regularly, he probably doesn’t add enough to their significantly increase their chances of making the playoffs. So we need to look for a team that 1) is a potential 2010 contender; and 2) would get a decent upgrade by acquiring Lowell.

Last week I spent some time plugging projections into a big spreadsheet to get a crude sense of what 2010 might hold. It’s nothing definitive, of course, but is of interest here. Without going through every team and division, a possible fit for Lowell might be Minnesota. At the moment, the Twins look like the favorites to win the AL Central, but they aren’t running away with it. While the 2010 Tigers and Royals are among the worst teams in the AL, Minnesota’s “lead” over Chicago and Cleveland isn’t dominating. It’s also fair to say that the AL Wildcard will be coming out of the East. If Minnesota wants to go to the playoffs, they need to win the Central.

While there are questions around every team, Minnesota’s biggest hole at the moment appears to be third base. Perhaps they could slide Nick Punto‘s terrible bat and great glove to third, but that may create another hole with the near-replacement level Alexi Casilla as a full-timer at second. At the moment, the Twins’ other options at third base are Matt Tolbert and Brendan Harris. Tolbert projects as about a -13 hitter and -4 defender — a 0.5 WAR player over a full season. Harris is better, but not much. CHONE has his bat at -5/150, I have it at -7. His glove is terrible — probably about -7/150. Harris is about a 0.8 WAR player.

Boston didn’t ask for much from Texas, and in the wake of his surgery the asking price for Lowell will be even lower this spring. The Twins are right at the spot on the win curve where even one marginal win can make a big difference, and Lowell is enough of an upgrade to give them additional marginal win (hardly trivial given the Twins situation) even if he only plays 100 games. They also have a new stadium opening this season, and, yes, probably want to impress Joe Mauer a bit. Minnesota seems like a logical landing spot for Lowell.