Offsetting Value Trades

When Ryan Zimmerman went on the disabled list last week, the Washington Nationals didn’t call up a third baseman to replace him on the roster – instead, they called up super prospect Bryce Harper and installed him in the outfield. The Nationals knew they didn’t have any legitimate alternatives to replace Zimmerman and keep their offense afloat, so they did the next best thing, promoting their best hitting prospect to inject some life into their offense. Harper has been nothing short of a revelation for the Nationals, and his strong start suggests that he’ll remain a part of the roster even after Zimmerman returns.

The Nationals didn’t replace Ryan Zimmerman – they offset his loss. And two other franchises should take a page out of Washington’s playbook and make similar acquisitions to offset recent injuries.

On Tuesday, Evan Longoria suffered a partially torn hamstring and will be on the shelf from 4-8 weeks. On Wednesday, Pablo Sandoval broke his right hamate bone, and the same injury to his left hand last year cost him six weeks of the season, plus rendered him ineffective for the first three weeks following his return. In both Tampa and San Francisco, the loss of a star third baseman is a significant blow, but due the temporary nature of both injuries, the Rays and Giants are unlikely to pursue replacements from outside the organization. After all, it is hard to justify giving up legitimate talent to acquire a player who will need to move to the bench for the stretch run.

However, that doesn’t mean that teams that lose a star player for a significant chunk of the season should just accept their fate and let their playoff chances slip away. While most trades are made as a response to fill a certain need, teams can offset the temporary loss of a star player by upgrading at another position. Having a better stopgap might not be worth giving up a quality prospect, but often times, teams have another position of weakness that can be upgraded as a response to maintain the overall talent level on the roster and balance out the negative effects of the injury.

Neither the Giants nor the Rays have a large enough margin for error that they can afford to accept downgrades of even one or two wins from their expected final tally. As the Rays witnessed first hand last year, one game in the standings can mean everything at season’s end.

Tampa Bay: Catcher (Jose Molina/Chris Gimenez)

With Longoria on the shelf, the Rays can no longer continue to punt offense from the catching position. Molina’s lack of offensive ability has made him a career backup, and Gimenez doesn’t offer any potential with the bat either. With a combined line of .217/.278/.289, the pair have simply not produced at an acceptable level. Molina’s pitch framing might be enough reason to keep him on the roster as a reserve, but a championship contender shouldn’t be giving him regular playing time.

While there aren’t a lot of good hitting catchers on the market, Kurt Suzuki seems the most logical player to target. The 28-year-old is off to a slow start himself, but has been a consistently above average catcher since 2008. Suzuki would represent approximately a two win upgrade over the Molina/Gimenez tandem over the rest of the season, which is the same deficit created by having to replace Longoria with a collection of utility infielders for a couple of months. Additionally, Suzuki offers value not just for 2012 but also for 2013, as he’s under contract for the next two seasons at a budget friendly price of just $11.5 million. With Derek Norris hitting .315/.330/.539 in the PCL, the A’s have a replacement in waiting, so a deal that sends Suzuki to the Rays could be a win for everyone involved.

San Francisco: Shortstop (Brandon Crawford)

Given his minor league track record, the Giants shouldn’t be overly surprised that Crawford is struggling to hit against Major League pitching, and with Sandoval out of the line-up, they’re going to have to get more production from his spot in the line-up. Luckily for the Giants, there are a few players in the game who could act as a hybrid acquisition, both providing depth at third base while Sandoval is on the shelf and a potential replacement at shortstop after Sandoval returns.

Probably the most available 3B/SS in baseball is Juan Uribe, and while he’s been a bust with the Dodgers, he was an important part of the Giants team that won it all in 2010. Uribe is no longer the three win player that he was two years ago, but ZIPS still projects him to be worth 1.5 wins above a replacement level player over the remainder of the season, and even with Crawford’s defensive abilities, he represents about a potential one win upgrade for the Giants. Having a guy like Uribe around would give the team the flexibility to play the match-ups with Crawford and Conor Gillaspie without relying on either of them as everyday players, and if Uribe is rejuvenated upon his return to San Francisco, the Giants would finally have a shortstop with enough power to produce runs at the plate.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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