Trade Targets: First Base and Designated Hitter

The month of June marks the unofficial beginning of the trade season, and so we thought it would be helpful to run down a list of which players might be for sale at some point this summer. But, rather than just run down a list of potential trade targets, we thought that we would spend the week discussing the most interesting players at each position and have compiled a list of the best players available at each spot, along with their expected production going forward and notes about which teams might be possible fits as buyers. We hope you enjoy the series.

Kicking off our week of looking at trade targets are the players who will be acquired primarily for their work with the bat: first basemen and designated hitters. Note that there might be some overlap across the posts as some players can handle multiple positions.

Here are five realistic trade candidates at the position(s), based on projected WAR over the rest of the season, contract status, the state of their current employers and the needs of various potential contenders.

PLAYER: Billy Butler
TEAM: Royals
POSSIBLE DESTINATION(S): Angels, Rays
CONTRACT STATUS: Four-year, $30 million deal through 2014
PROJECTED WAR: 2.1

Butler is tricky when stacked up against the rest of the players on this list because he’s in the first of a four-year deal. Everyone else discussed below will reach free agency at the end of the season. For that reason, the Royals could hold onto him — since the team could contend in the next few seasons as its bevy of upper-echelon prospects reach the major leagues.

On the flip side, Butler could extract a significant return, given that 2-3 WAR at an average annual value of $7.5 million a year for the next several seasons represents a bargain.

He isn’t exactly a top flight first baseman, but the Rays are currently using Johnny Damon as their designated hitter, and the Angels have a declining Bobby Abreu in that role. Neither is a lock to be given guaranteed major-league deals next season. Neither is lighting the world on fire. And neither is projected to improve drastically down the stretch.

Mark Trumbo and Casey Kotchman probably aren’t long-term solutions for their respective teams and it’s unclear what the Angels will get from Kendrys Morales moving forward. If Butler had to play first base, he wouldn’t be the worst fielder in the world and would still provide plenty of value.

Butler would add another dimension to both lineups, and while he isn’t a difference-maker to the point that his acquisition guarantees a playoff berth for either team this season, he is a cost-effective building block. He won’t come cheap, and the teams would have to part ways with premium talent, but a three-win player signed to a team-friendly contract is worth that type of return.

PLAYER: Carlos Pena
TEAM: Cubs
POSSIBLE DESTINATION(S): Indians
CONTRACT STATUS: One-year, $10 million, FA in 2012
PROJECTED WAR: 2.0

Pena is by no means having a season reminiscent of his 2007 to 2009 performances with the Rays, but he’s still fairly adept in the field and he has remained, at worst, league average with the bat. There’s also room for improvement given his peripherals — his line drive rate has risen to its 2007-08 level and his contact rate is its highest since 2004.

The Indians wouldn’t have much interest in him as a designated hitter since Travis Hafner is in the midst of a good year at the dish, but Pena could form a fairly potent platoon with Matt LaPorta. Given the injuries to both Hafner and Sizemore, LaPorta could find himself in the outfield quite a bit, opening up a spot at first base for Pena.

If Sizemore is healthy but Hafner continues to miss time, one can slot in at DH. By acquiring Pena the Indians would fortify two questionable positions — LaPorta’s ability to sustain this production and Hafner’s health — without committing anything for the future or surrendering much in return.

PLAYER: Jason Kubel
TEAM: Twins
POSSIBLE DESTINATION(S): Blue Jays
CONTRACT STATUS: One-year, $5.25 million, FA in 2012
PROJECTED WAR: 1.5 (DH), 0.9 (1B)

Kubel is the classic example of a player whose perceived value is greater than his actual contributions. His higher batting averages and home run totals are intriguing, and he has primarily played in the corner outfield, where fielding inadequacies can be somewhat hidden. Even so, the fielding metrics frown on his efforts, and he’s a below-average baserunner. But Kubel has some power and could provide value to a contending team.

The Blue Jays have Adam Lind at first base, but Toronto is using Juan Rivera as its designated hitter. The team might be a year or two away from contending, but have played well so far, and could conceivably sneak its way into the wild card hunt. Kubel isn’t exponentially better than Rivera, but he certainly would be an offensive improvement.

He’s also the type of player who could be worth 1.5-2 wins above replacement per year as a full-time DH — at a nominal cost — should the Jays decide to re-sign him.

On the whole, designated hitters aren’t producing like they have in the past, and acquiring Kubel would allow Toronto to improve its offense this season without drastically hindering future payroll flexibility.

PLAYER: Josh Willingham
TEAM: Athletics
POSSIBLE DESTINATION(S): Rangers, Braves
CONTRACT STATUS: One-year, $6 million, FA in 2012
PROJECTED WAR: 1.0

Texas is still in first place though the Rangers are by no means running away with the division. Michael Young is having a solid season as a designated hitter, and Mitch Moreland has been a surprise at first base. But you have to wonder how the team will fare if it’s merely three games above .500 when both players are performing above expectations. To that end, Willingham makes a lot of sense. He could platoon with Moreland at first base, play a little outfield or fill in as designated hitter if injuries strike Young or Kinsler (in that case, Young would likely play the keystone).

At worst, Willingham would give the Rangers another potent bat on the bench and provide depth, an important component of roster management given the wear-and-tear over the course of the season.

The Braves offense has sputtered for most of the season, and while Freddie Freeman might be the first baseman of the future, it stands to reason that a platoon at first base wouldn’t be the worst thing for his development. Better prospects than Freeman have begun their major league initiations in a platoon, and Willingham essentially could become the right-handed version of Eric Hinske: big bat off the bench with some starts thrown in. And don’t discount the possibility that Willingham also could play the outfield in Atlanta, given that Joe Mather has started several games.

Willingham likely will get a multi-year deal after the season, but even as a one-year rental, he could improve a slumping offense.

PLAYER: Jim Thome
TEAM: Twins
POSSIBLE DESTINATION(S): Phillies
CONTRACT STATUS: One-year, $3 million, FA in 2012
PROJECTED WAR: 1.0

Thome cannot play the field anymore. He joked that he left his glove in Chicago when the Dodgers acquired him from the White Sox for the 2009 stretch-run. At 40 years old he also is close to the end of his career. Having said that, he still can be productive, and last year he gave the Twins 340 PAs of his peak offensive production. Thome returning to the Phillies wouldn’t only be a great story (his big contract back in 2003 helped usher in the Citizens Bank Park era of Phillies baseball), but he’d legitimately help the team.

Whether he pinch-hits or he serves as the designated hitter in interleague games, Thome would give the Phillies another huge weapon at minimal cost, which is a key consideration given the team’s proximity to the luxury tax threshold. Since Thome and Kubel are the Twins’ only assets capable of generating a decent return, GM Bill Smith can’t afford to get greedy and ask for the world.

From the Phillies standpoint, Ross Gload is battling a severe hip injury that will either force him to play with pain or will end his season. What makes more sense for a championship contending team: 60% of a mediocre left-handed pinch-hitter, or 100% of one of the best left-handed hitters in major league history who can still mash? That answer is pretty clear. The move might be a long-shot, especially if Gload isn’t put on the disabled list, but it makes sense on several levels.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

36 Responses to “Trade Targets: First Base and Designated Hitter”

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  1. Matt M says:

    Although not on the level as any of the above players I’m sure Juan Rivera will be trade as soon as anyone is willing to give up a marginal prospect for him. He is playing fairly well since he got moved to first and I imagine has gone up (from nothing) as the season has progressed.

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  2. utb says:

    Good article – but I’m not sure why Texas would be interested in Willingham.

    They already have a RH, poor-fielding platoon first baseman that splits time with Moreland: his name is Mike Napoli. Napoli has already played in 16 games at first base and I’m not sure why that would change.

    If Kinsler got hurt, MY would play 2nd, Teagarden would serve as the backup catcher, and Napoli and Moreland would split time at first.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      I guess the idea would be that Napoli plays more behind the plate, and Willingham would be able to play 1B, DH, or a corner OF spot, or just be a potent bench bat should injuries arise. There are still 4 months left, plus the playoffs, so it’s possible a need could arise, and it would be better to be proactive than reactive.

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  3. mike wants wins says:

    I’m guessing Smith will trade them for 29+ year old career relief pitchers, or guys in A ball that have reputations but no future. Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future performance, so I could be wrong…..

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  4. Garold says:

    Why no mention of Prince Fielder? Has Milwaukee said that they’re not trading him?

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      As long as the Brewers have a shot of contending, they’re going to keep Fielder. And it’s unclear if the return they could get from certain teams would even be better than the draft picks when he leaves given that he might amount to a 2-month rental before signing elsewhere.

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  5. Realistically, what does everyone think the Rays would have to give up for Butler?

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    • geo says:

      Royals will want pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Matt Moore would be a good starting point for talks, although I’m sure Rays fans are screaming in horror at me saying that.

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      • bgrosnick says:

        I can’t imagine Matt Moore can be had, period.

        I don’t see why the Royals wouldn’t be interested in a package containing Chirinos, Guyer, and maybe a couple of arms such as Cobb / Thompson / Barnese. The problem with Butler is that given his position and defense, he only fills a need for a few teams – and he isn’t the elite hitter many 1B are.

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      • Screaming says:

        Best pitching prospect in the game for a glorified DH?

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    • Jeff Zimmerman says:

      I will go over more about Butler to the Rays tomorrow afternoon.

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  6. Eric says:

    Thome to the Indians would make a great story. Might bring some of the 90s magic back to Cleveland in what is most likely Thome’s last year. Could fill the role Pena was talked about doing.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      I originally had the Phils and Indians both for Thome, but got rid of the Indians because he cannot play the field anymore, and Hafner hasn’t played the field in quite some time. So it isn’t a case where Hafner goes to 1B, LaPorta is displaced or goes to OF, so Thome can DH. The Indians make perfect sense if Hafner is to be out for the entire season or something, but probably not otherwise.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      I can’t imagine Thome doesn’t have a no trade clause. If he gave up on $ 4 million to be with the Twins, why wouldn’t he? Otherwise, why wouldn’t the Twins immediately trade him to Texas for some bats and $ 4 million?

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        It’s a 1-yr/$3 mil deal with no no-trade clause. Texas probably doesn’t think they have a need for him right now.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        I can’t see the Twins trading him in any case, he is such a huge fan favorite that he HAS to bring in more fans than his $3 million contract.

        Why do you go to a ball game when your team is back 15 games? To see Jim Thome and others hit homers, there is not much else to see.

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  7. bgrosnick says:

    While I think Butler is the perfect fit for the Rays this season and going forward, I can’t imagine the team would add a player like him, where they don’t have more than three seasons of team control on the guy. It just doesn’t seem to fit with their MO.

    At the same time, the Rays have a number of prospects and players that they should shop before their value decreases – not to mention that ridiculous horde of draft picks coming. They’ve got such an embarassment of depth, it surely seems like it would behoove them to turn some of the depth into ML-ready quality while they’ve got a window to win big now. Adding a Jose Reyes or Billy Butler for the rest of the season seems pretty logical, so long as they don’t overpay.

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  8. lex logan says:

    What about minor league prospects, such as Yonder Alonso? He’s blocked at first for the Reds, obviously; how is he likely to stack up against these veterans? I assume the variance in WAR is higher for minor leaguers than veterans, but the salary is cheap.

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  9. hunterfan says:

    Bobby Abreu wOBA: .350
    Billy Butler wOBA: .352

    There are some reasons for the Angles to trade for Billy Butler, but the upgrade from Abreu’s offensive contributions to Butler’s aren’t one of them.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      Butler is younger, less costly, and under contract for the next three seasons. He is also more likely to sustain his current level of production over the next couple of years, so the Angels utility would be derived not only from what he could do this year but over the next few, which is a key consideration.

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  10. drtrix says:

    Angels are stuck with Abreu in 2012 as the option becomes guaranteed with 550 PAs in 2011 or 1,100 PA in 2010-11 (per Cot’s). He will not be a FA after 2011. Would love Butler in Anaheim but probably would not happen with Wells, Hunter, and Abreu all back next season.

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  11. Eminor3rd says:

    Butler to Rays makes a ton of sense, assuming they can afford his salary. Royals need C and CF-type OF prospects that are better than Lorenzo Cain.

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  12. Llewdor says:

    I think Toronto would be more likely to call up Travis Snider than trade for Jason Kubel, especially since there’s no credible argument to be made that they’ll contend this year.

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    • lexomatic says:

      Exactly what Llewdor said. I imagine the Jays will trade pieces and replace from AAA, unless there’s a way to get premium talent under contract for awhile at good $ value.

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  13. Mac says:

    Wow that stings as an A’s fan. Hey, maybe our division rival would be interested in using our best hitter as a platoon guy/bench bat. That sums up the difference between the teams fairly well.

    On the flip side, it’s still not too late for the A’s to swing some sort of deal to bring anyone?! in who can hit major league pitching. They could easily be buyers rather than sellers at the deadline (I mean, if anyone other than Beane was running the team).

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    • brendan says:

      amen! I’m an As fan and had the same reaction – willingham has been an oasis of excitement in a lineup that has been pretty lifeless all year. trading him to TEX might be smart, but it would hurt, esp since As are only a couple game back.

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  14. Antonio Banans says:

    I don’t see KC trading Butler. He’s pretty consistent, he’s locked up at a decent price for a while, and they’ll need him when their prospects come up. He’s not blocking any prospects. Why would they trade him? Meche retired, which too his 15M? contract too.

    8M dollars for a 3-5 WAR guy who is only 25 isn’t something you trade when you have a loaded farm system.

    Bulter, Gordon, Hosmer, Moustakas, and Myers should be pretty solid. Especially if Gordon continues to play well. They have power up the sides (Corner IF and OF) and good defense up the middle. Their offense and defense shoudl be good. A blossoming bullpen and several great starers on the way. Why on earth would they trade the one guy of the five I mentioned? He’s the closest “sure thing” they have because he’s proven he can do it and proven to be fairly consistent.

    As for Thome to the Phillies….why do you keep insisting the Phillies will pick up guys? 3M for a pinch hitter on a team with a ton of committed money and a huge team salary doesn’t seem smart. I guess it would be short term, but these are businesses. With a ton of money committed and an old team, they’ll need to save up SOME money so hey can field a competitive team after this year.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      If you’re referring to the other article mentioning Ethier, I didn’t write that, so I don’t know what you’re talking about with me insisting the Phils pick someone up. If they acquire Thome at the end of June, they owe him $1.5 mil, which won’t put them over the luxury tax threshold, and their ability to save this season has very little to do with what happens next year, when Lidge’s $12 mil comes off the books, Ibanez’ $11 mil, etc. Acquiring Thome actually has absolutely nothing to do with the team’s ability to do anything next year.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Lee’s salary jumps up by about 10M and Hamels is Arb eligible. Money coming off the books isn’t as great as it seems. You don’t want to waste money on someone who will marginally help your team. Not only that but Lee is old and signed for a long time, so is Halladay. Lee will probably decline, Halladay is a freak of nature. They’ll need to sign anothe solid pitcher. On top of that, they’ll need to bolster their offense. A old rental isn’t going to help that.

        The team they have now is about as good as they can financially get, they’ll have to be very wise about their spending over the next few years or they’ll turn into the Cubs with all these 30+ year olds and long, expensive contracts.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        Antonio, your argument is sound but it makes no sense in the context of this post. Acquiring Jim Thome, who is signed to a 1-yr/$3 mil deal, and would cost the Phillies only about $1.5 mil depending when they acquire him, has absolutely nothing to do with re-signing Hamels, Madson, Rollins, etc. Nothing. I can’t stress enough how it has nothing to do with it.

        Your argument makes more sense on Jonah Keri’s article about the possibility of Ethier to the Phils. It makes no sense here, because the very small salary of Jim Thome, which expires at the end of this year, has absolutely nothing to do with future team payrolls. If you still think it does, well, I don’t know what to tell you, but I’m not going to continue to argue.

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  15. Dan says:

    I wouldn’t mind seeing the Indians trade for Carlos Pena, as he’d be cheap and an upgrade both defensively and offensively. The platoon wouldn’t work, however, as LaPorta’s problems at the plate come against lefties.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      He might be struggling against lefties now, but as a righty, the odds are in his favor that it’s just a fluke. And it wouldn’t need to be a straight platoon. It could be based on playing time, not handedness.

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      • Dan says:

        It’s been a three year trend (although it’s more pronounced this year because he’s actually managed to hit righties well). Usually he hits poorly against righties and worse against lefties. I’m not sure where to look for split stats from minor league games, to see how he trended there.

        Regardless, I think we’re both in agreement that Pena is an upgrade, the only disagreement is that I’d just give him the full-time starting job.

        Maybe even a straight-up swap to the Cubs of LaPorta for Pena?

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