The Milwaukee Brewers were perhaps a bit surprised last week when reliever Francisco Rodriguez accepted their arbitration offer, likely putting the team on the hook for something north of the $11.5 million Rodriguez made last season in the third year of a three-year contract he originally signed with the Mets.
While Brewer GM Doug Melvin has stated that the K-Rod situation doesn’t represent a miscalculation on the club’s part — and while the move hasn’t prevented the Brewers from signing shortstop Alex Gonzalez and third baseman Aramis Ramirez in the meantime — it’s also likely the case that Melvin et al. would prefer not to make a set-up man the team’s highest-paid player in 2012. With Zack Greinke due a (non-Rodriguez) team-high of $13.5 million in 2012, that’s a distinct possibility.
Nor is it as if the Brewers are without need: should Ryan Braun be forced to serve a 50-game suspension, the team will be in search of outfield options; however, as Jim Breen recently noted, some combination of Caleb Gindl and Logan Schafer might actually form a decent replacement. Plus, the Brewers have the luxury of having two serviceable center fielders on their roster in Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan — and, of course, the imminent return of Braun.
More pressing for the Brewers is first base. As Dave Cameron and I discussed on Monday’s edition of the podcast, it would appear, at this point, as if Mat Gamel tops the depth chart at first right now. The 26-year-old Gamel has a career line of .222/.309/.374 (.330 BABIP), 82 wRC+, 0.0 WAR in 194 plate appearances across four seasons.
If Gamel hits anything close to his career numbers, first base will become a production vacuum for the Brewers. K-Rod is likely the answer to acquiring some talent — and could possibly help solve the first-base situation in 2013 and beyond, too.
As Paul Swydan wrote in the wake of the Albert Pujols deal — and as the OC Register’s Sam Miller reiterated on yesterday’s edition of the podcast — the Los Angeles Angels currently have a a glut of 1B/DH types in Bobby Abreu, Kendrys Morales, Pujols himself, and Mark Trumbo. If you take for granted that Mike Trout is one of the best players on the team, then the Angels also feature a glut of outfielders, creating even more potential spillover to the DH spot.
It would appear, from each organization’s standpoint, that a swap of K-Rod plus about $10 million for Mark Trumbo would create a net gain for both clubs.
The Value for the Brewers
To understand the value of such a trade to the Brewers, we need to look both at the short- and long-term effects. For 2012, Trumbo’s value would be whatever he produces minus whatever Mat Gamel would have produced minus (again) how many fewer runs K-Rod’s replacement is worth than K-Rod himself.
There are obviously no hard figures for this, but if we assume that Trumbo is league average (so, 2.0 WAR) and assume (perhaps generously) that Gamel is a one-win player, then we get a net value of one win. Valuating Rodriguez is more difficult. He appears likely to be worth something like 1.0-1.5 wins above replacement. As for his replacement — that’s harder to know. For the purposes of this exercise, let’s say he’s actually replacement level. That would make the Trumbo acquisition worth about zero wins — but also for slightly less money than it would have required to retain K-Rod.
However, we must also consider that, as a cost-controlled asset, Trumbo’s value extends beyond 2012. Provided he’s a league-average player in 2013, he could be worth something like $10 or $11 million — or, say, a $10 million surplus. His first arbitration year isn’t until 2014, at which point his marginal value would decrease.
The Value for the Angels
Owing to the arrival of Pujols and the general glut of talent at first base and designated hitter, Trumbo has less value to the Angels than he does to other teams. While, as a second-year player, he’s due only the league minimum, his opportunity to realize his value is limited in Los Angeles by a lack of opportunity to play.
To calculate the value of K-Rod with the Angels, we consider whatever K-Rod would produce minus the pitcher whom he’s replacing in the bullpen minus Trumbo’s likely production as a part-time player. As above, we’ll assume actual replacement level for the pitcher whom K-Rod would replace. That gives the Angels a surplus of about 1.0-1.5 wins. Trumbo’s production, limited by playing time, would be only a fraction of that. And the Angels would be receiving K-Rod’s services for somewhere in the vicinity of $3 million — a net gain for them.
There are some caveats here, obviously — most notably that Mark Trumbo might not be a league-average player. That he failed to clear a .300 OBP or a 5% walk rate in 2011 is a concern, of course. However, the power appears to be very real — and, at the major-league level, power goes some way to informing walk rate.
There’s also the possibility, of course, that the Angels decide Trumbo is valuable in a quasi-utility role, playing third sometimes, DH-ing sometimes — and just as a general insurance policy.