The Angels Would Be Nuts To Trade Peter Bourjos

As noted by Mike Newman and Jim Breen this morning, a recent report out of New York suggested that the Mets would be willing to trade David Wright for Peter Bourjos (and some other stuff). I’m not going to get back into the issue of David Wright’s trade value, but I do want to point out the obvious – Bourjos is a far more valuable asset than Wright, and the Angels would have to be crazy to trade him at all.

Bourjos’ availability is only discussed because the Angels have some kid named Mike Trout, who you may have heard of, and also happens to be a pretty terrific young center fielder. If you view both as true center fielders (and you probably should), then you could argue that the Angels have a surplus of players at the position, and perhaps trading one to get an upgrade at another position would be a decent use of resources.

Of course, that’s only true in a world where center fielders can only play center field, and teams can only have one at a time. In reality, Major League teams need three outfielders per game, and there’s no rule preventing a guy with the ability of a center fielder from playing left field or right field. In fact, with players like Brett Gardner, Carl Crawford, and Ichiro Suzuki establishing themselves as legitimate assets in corner outfield spots over the last decade, teams have become more and more open to the value of having multiple center fielders playing side by side.

Peter Bourjos isn’t blocking Mike Trout, nor does Trout’s presence make Bourjos’ value to the Angels superfluous. If the Angels had some terrific corner outfielders locked up for the foreseeable future, it would be a different story, but they don’t – they have Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter.

The colossal disaster that was Vernon Wells in 2011 has been well chronicled, but less talked about is that Hunter wasn’t exactly a superstar in his own right, and he turned 36 in July. In fact, for all the talk about Bourjos’ value being tied to his defensive abilities, he and Hunter posted the exact same .765 OPS last year, and Bourjos clearly pulls ahead once you include baserunning into the equation.

Penciled into one corner OF spot, the Angels have Wells and his .248 on base percentage. In the other corner, they have a 36-year-old who wasn’t any better offensively than Bourjos a year ago, and who will be a free agent at the end of the 2012 season. These two are not blocking anyone with even a modicum of talent, much less a player like Bourjos whose skills could make him one of the game’s most exciting outfielders.

Trout is clearly the future of the Angels outfield, but his presence doesn’t invalidate what Bourjos can bring to the table, and neither Wells nor Hunter offer enough value to make Bourjos worth trading. Hunter may very well be gone in a year, and if Wells has another poor season in 2012, he could easily find himself unemployed as well.

The Angels have two good young outfielders, one aging outfielder who is coming towards the end of his usefulness, and another who may have already reached that point. Rather than viewing both Trout and Bourjos as center fielders who are getting in each other’s way, the Angels should see them as two of the three answers to their future outfield questions, and realize that they can extract a lot of value from having a pair of high quality defenders playing side by side.

The idea that teams should only have one good defensive outfielder flanked by two lumbering sluggers is just outdated. With significant money invested in extreme fly ball pitchers like Jered Weaver, the Angels have even more incentives than most teams to ensure that they have a high quality outfield defense. Having Bourjos and Trout as the anchors of their future outfields should be viewed as the team’s biggest strength, and Jerry DiPoto should be in no hurry to break it up any time soon.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.