The Nationals made a pair of moves Saturday, sending utility-man Jerry Hairston Jr to the Brewers and starting pitcher Jason Marquis to the Diamondbacks. Both were marginal moves that weren’t all that exciting, but the Nats turned two players who didn’t factor into their plans into prospects who might. In exchange for Hairston, the Brewers sent back outfielder Erik Komatsu. For Marquis, the Diamondbacks traded away shortstop Zach Walters. Neither prospect is what we might label “can’t-miss” but both have the upside to help the Nationals as their rebuilding blossoms into contention.
Hairston signed a one year, $2 million deal in the offseason with the Nats, leading some to question why a team in their position even needed someone like him. Well, this is why. As the trade deadline approaches, some fringe contender is going to need middle infield help, either to replace a failed starter or to bide time due to an injury, and will make a trade for a player of that ilk. Hairston accomplishes both of those goals for the Brewers, who are not only dealing with the offensive impotence of Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt, but also injuries to Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez.
The major benefit to Hairston is his ability to play above average defense anywhere on the field. At the plate, he is a league average hitter which, when coupled with the defense, makes him a very productive player relative to the playing time he actually receives. Since 2008, he has stepped to the plate 1,287 times, or approximately two full seasons worth of plate appearances, and has tallied ~6 WAR. The Brewers may have missed out on Wilson Betemit, but Hairston is a perfect fit for them.
He can fill in for Gomez and play an adequate center field, or take over the keystone until Weeks returns. When both ailing players return, he is certainly good enough to start over either Betancourt or McGehee. This is the perfect type of “little” move that a team fighting for the playoffs needs to make to fill a void. I previously ranked the Brewers third on my Trade Deadline Necessities list, as they have a very pressing need to make moves before the deadline given the impending free agency of Prince Fielder.
The Brewers have to go all-in this year, and while they aren’t completely fixed even after bringing in Francisco Rodriguez and Hairston, the team has done a solid job of bolstering the roster with a fairly barren farm system.
Heading to Washington is 23-year old outfielder Erik Komatsu, who has put up wOBA marks of .399 and .372 over the last two seasons at High-A and Double-A. He has several attractive skills, including patience at the plate — he walks more than he whiffs — and smarts on the bases evidenced by his 41 steals since last season. Word has it that the downside to Komatsu is his lack of position. Despite his baserunning abilities, his speed is merely adequate in center field.
He isn’t a full-time starter up the middle, but his ability to play all three outfield positions and take a walk makes him a quality fourth outfielder. While that might sound like a back-handed compliment, teams need those types of players, and all the Nats had to give up was an aging veteran under contract for two months.
Though the Nationals originally built marketing campaigns around Marquis after signing him last season — he was nicknamed “The Game Changer” in ads since his teams always make the playoffs — he did relatively little for his now former employer. Last year, he was below replacement level with a 6.60 ERA and 4.76 SIERA in 58 2/3 innings. The results have been much improved this year, as his ERA and estimators are all firmly in the 3.90-4.00 range. His strikeout and walk rates decent, especially when coupled with a mid-50s groundball percentage.
Marquis is on pace to finish the season with an above average WAR mark, but the projected ELIAS rankings at MLB Trade Rumors has him short of achieving Type B status. In that case, Marquis wouldn’t be able to net the Nats anything if he were to be offered, and decline, arbitration following the season. By trading him for Walters, and saving the ~$2.5 million remaining on his contract, the Nationals saved some salary and acquired a player perhaps with more potential than anyone they drafted with a compensatory pick.
Walters, 21 years old, was a former ninth round pick capable of playing shortstop as well as the other infield positions. He hit .307/.337/.438 in Low-A last season, good for a .361 wOBA despite poor walk and strikeout rates. At South Bend (A) this season, his walk rate has doubled, and his overall line has jumped to .302/.377/.485. He added some more power and has shown an increased level of patience at the plate.
Assuming those attributes hold up, it’s possible Walters could turn into a major league starter in a few years. His prospects aren’t supremely high in that regard, but again, the upside outweighs keeping Marquis on the roster for two months and recouping nothing when he signs elsewhere.
From the Diamondbacks standpoint, the move seems unnecessary. Their rotation ranks about middle of the pack in the National League in wins above replacement, and the least productive starter — Joe Saunders — still has a 3.63 ERA despite much less shiny estimators. With Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy, Josh Collmenter, Zach Duke and Saunders, the Diamondbacks rotation is fine. They have some very real issues — I ranked them #2 on my deadline necessities list — and this move does very little for them.
In making these moves the Nationals saved $4 million over the rest of the season and brought in two prospects worth much more to them than Hairston and Marquis. The Brewers acquired a utility infielder and outfielder with a solid bat that can help fix any number of problems. The Diamondbacks acquired a starting pitcher they didn’t need, without rectifying the other inherent issues of first base and shortstop. Two of the three teams involved in these deals made the most of the moves, while the other still hasn’t addressed the problems that could keep them out of the playoffs.