The Rangers and the Rockies started talking about Michael Young at the Winter Meetings. It appears that, two months later, they’re on the verge of a deal. As reported by FoxSports.com, “a deal could be in place as soon as Monday.” That’s today. In many ways a swap makes sense. Young wants out of Texas and the Rockies would welcome an upgrade at second base. But there’s much more to consider here, and the non-performance aspects of the deal might make it an unworthy one for Colorado.
Last year the Rockies got 0.3 WAR from their second basemen, which ranked 26th in baseball. Even that might be a bit generous, considering one of their positive producers, Clint Barmes, filled in at shortstop while Troy Tulowitzki spent time on the DL. He’s also gone now, so the Rockies have only Jonathan Herrera, who produced 0.7 WAR in 257 PA last season. Adding Young, then, could add a full two wins, and maybe more, to their total. Both ZiPS and Marcel project him having a similar year to last year, which, at this point in his career, is a reasonable expectation.
The problem arises when considering Young’s contract, no small obstacle in trade talks. The Rangers owe him $48 million during the next three seasons, which is an overpayment to a certain degree. If we assume an average of 3 WAR per season — one season above, one season at, and one season below — he’ll provide around $33 million in value. That leaves a $15 million surplus, which Texas will have to cover. Otherwise the Rockies end up paying the deficit. Why would they trade players in order to take on an overpaid player?
Even if the Rangers do kick in that $15 million, the Rockies are still taking on even value. That makes Young the equivalent of a free-agent signing. The difference, of course, is that another team controls his rights. There is value in that, and the Rockies have to pay for it. But the price surely won’t be as steep as someone who provides surplus value. At the top the Rockies’ farm system is pretty solid, and I’m not sure I’d dip into the top 10 in a Young trade. That could cause complications, because the Rangers don’t want to simply give him away.
Could the Rockies, then, be better off looking elsewhere for their second-base solution? They could start by giving their own guy, Herrera, a shot. He’s not going to hit for Young’s power — his highest ISO in the minors, .117, came in 2006 in A+ ball — but he can get on base and play some defense. The last time he had over 100 PA at one level with an OBP under .340 was in 2007. In his 257 PA last year he had a .352 OBP on the power of a 9.7 percent walk rate. ZiPS isn’t too high on him, pegging him for a .261/.323/.329 line. Over a full season, with some quality glove work, he could turn that into 1.5 to 2 WAR. Isn’t that a bit more attractive than taking on Young’s contract?
If they want to look elsewhere they could find some other second basemen who, while producing a bit less overall value than Young, can help fill a roll without unnecessarily boosting payroll for an aging player.
Jeff Keppinger. He won’t help right now, since he’s slated to start the season on the DL. But once he’s healthy he can help the Rockies. The Astros probably won’t ask much, since he’ll earn $2.3 million this season as a backup: the ‘Stros already have Bill Hall and Clint Barmes in the middle of the infield.
Howie Kendrick or Maicer Izturis. The Angels might want to keep both as a precaution, but they do have Alberto Callaspo at third, so perhaps one of Kendrick or Izturis is available. If Izturis stays healthy he might be a good option for the Rox.
Mike Aviles. With Wilson Betemit at third and Chris Getz at second, Aviles could be a backup. Maybe he beats out Getz, but in either case he’s probably expendable. Maybe he’ll find his 2008 stroke in the Rocky Mountain air.
Chone Figgins. We heard that the A’s were interested in trading for him, so why not the Rox? Like Young, Figgins is under contract for the next three seasons. But it’s at a bit more reasonable $26 million. Figgins has averaged 3.15 WAR over the last four seasons, so if they can get the M’s to kick in a modest amount of cash they can make this work.
Luis Castillo. Laugh if you will, but Castillo can still be a quality producer. His lowest OBP in the eight seasons prior to his injury shortened 2010 was .355. In 2009 he produced a .337 wOBA, which is right in line with Young’s 2010. The best part is that he’s in the last year of his contract, so the Rockies won’t overburden future payrolls. And it’s not as though the Mets will ask much for him.
Again, it’s doubtful that any of these players is as productive at the plate as Young in 2011. But the cost of acquiring Young, both in dollars and in players, is likely to exceed most of these guys. The Rockies might throw monetary concerns to the wind and focus on pure performance. If that’s their M.O., then they should go for it. But if acquiring Young means less money to build a supporting cast in 2012 and 2013, they should reconsider. There are other players who can help them and not overburden future teams.