Gerardo Parra put together a solid, under the radar season over 141 games in 2011, posting a .340 wOBA and +10 UZR en route to three wins above replacement. He won a Gold Glove flanking Chris Young and Justin Upton and showed some legitimate signs of offensive improvement at just 24 years old.
The Diamondbacks, unsure whether or not the improvements were sustainable, opted to sign Jason Kubel this offseason for at least two years and $16 million. Kubel boasts the opposite set of skills as a decent hitter with a far worse glove. The team has yet to make it known if these two outfielders will platoon, but the more likely scenario has Kubel starting with Parra relegated to fourth outfielder status. Other teams have predictably been inquiring on Parra’s availability as he is now a cheap 25-year old starting outfielder without a guaranteed starting role.
In most cases it makes sense for the team with the supposed logjam to trade the displaced player. He can usually net a decent return and is often worth more to a new employer than as a sub to his current team. In this case, however, the Diamondbacks would be better served by keeping Parra in Arizona. The confluence of his age, abilities and contract status will afford the team another year or two to gauge his ability to start on a full-time basis without really sacrificing anything.
Arguably the most important factor here is salary. Parra made $405,000 in 2010 and $426,000 last season. He isn’t arbitration eligible until 2013 and is under team control until at least 2015. By the time he hits free agency — assuming he isn’t extended beforehand, by the Diamondbacks or someone else — he’ll be entering his age-29 season. Teams don’t simply trade away talented 25 year old players with five more years of team control because they happen to have four outfielders for three spots.
Players traded away when these gluts are formed are typically paid decently and have established some track record of success. Parra is inexpensive, still raw, and is obviously much more valuable with a .330-.340 wOBA than with just fielding skills alone. Given his career .300 wOBA entering last season, it’s easy to see why some teams, the Diamondbacks included, might be leery of his full-time starting prospects this year.
Kubel is only under contract for 2012-13, which is hardly a commitment relative to how long they control Parra’s rights. While Kubel’s signing wasn’t the best decision given Parra’s presence and other available options, the Diamondbacks can start him, or platoon him with Parra for two years, let him walk, and slide Parra in as a starter for three seasons before he hits free agency. The Diamondbacks won’t reap much surplus value at that juncture, as Parra will start to earn salaries more in tune with his worth, but they also aren’t benching a $5 million player right now.
Parra can still produce 1.5+ WAR as a pinch-hitter, pinch-runner, defensive replacement and occasional starter this year, as he runs well, has some pop and has the second-highest UZR among National League outfielders over 2010-11. If any of the other three outfielders gets hurt, few teams have a legitimate starter capable of filling in like Parra. Plus, Kirk Gibson is very generous to his bench when it comes to playing time allocation, so there is certainly reason to think Parra will get 300-350 plate appearances without starting. It’s an unfortunate situation for Parra, but the Diamondbacks shouldn’t be in any hurry whatsoever to trade him.
That is, unless they are very bearish on his continued ability to improve, and consider his .340 wOBA last season to be the byproduct of luck and circumstance. There are two sides to his numbers at the plate, and right now it’s difficult to determine the true underlying cause of the improvements.
On one hand, he increased his walk rate from 6% to 9% and simultaneously reduced his strikeout rate from 19% to 16%. On the other hand, he batted eighth and was intentionally walked 16 times. He may be a decent hitter, but pitchers don’t intentionally walk Gerardo Parra other than to face other pitchers.
He was also UBB-IBB’d several more times last season which would reduce his effective on-base percentage. Normalized for the intentional walks, his OBP last season is closer to .330. Intentional walks don’t explain everything, however, as Parra was IBB’d ten times in 2010 and posted a .308 OBP. Six additional intentional walks make a difference, but they aren’t the only reason his walk rate increased that much.
His batting line likely improved due to a more disciplined approach at the plate. He cut back on swings at outside pitches but became more efficient by making more contact with those he did swing at. He also attacked pitches in the zone more frequently and replaced some grounders with line drives, but not so much so to stick out as fluky. Then again, his BABIP also increased from .322 to .342. While he managed a .346 BABIP in 2009, and seems to have the skill-set capable of a mark in that vicinity, there are again reasons to shoot down his improvements as actual, sustainable changes in approach.
If the Diamondbacks truly feel last season was the height of Parra’s career, and they can extract a noteworthy haul for him, trading him makes sense. But right now there is just no way any team can tell what he is going to become.
For that reason, Parra falls into a gray area of trade value, as the attributes that should net the Diamondbacks a solid return — 25 years old, excellent fielder, not even arb-eligible until 2013 — are canceled out by the fear of overpaying for an all-glove, no-bat player that really is best utilized as a fourth outfielder. The acquisition of Kubel won’t help Parra cement himself as a starter this season, but the Diamondbacks shouldn’t budge unless they are absolutely blown away by an offer. They are better with Parra than without him, and it’s doubtful that potential trade suitors would pony up an exciting prospect package even if they viewed him as a full-time starter.