I've been reading Al's Ramblings over the weekend and I was shocked at how Al was slowly convincing himself that he really liked this trade. I mean, this is the same guy who thought Corey Hart would be a good center field option and now he's down with a .287 on base percentage? This didn't seem right to me so I shot him an email and decided to engage in a little conversation with him (like we did before). Here's what we came up with. Beware nerdy baseball talk ahead.
MPD: Alright Al I have a bone to pick with you about this Hardy/Gomez trade. Sure, it's a cheap alternative who is great at defense (just like the cheap alternative that is great at defense we have at shortstop), but you of all people should hate this trade. After all you are the one who is constantly talking up the excellence of OXS in predicting runs and you are the one who takes joy in the failures of Jack Wilson. Now, you're okay with a lineup where 1/3 of the players in it have a combined OPS of 650-700 (and that's without including the pitcher.) Seriously, look at this group as it stands now:
Jon Lucroy .312/.337
(2009 MLE numbers courtesy of MLE Calculator)
Alcides Escobar .342/.341
(2009 MLE equivalent)
Carlos Gomez .287/.337
Now, Lucroy isn't a lock and all three of these guys will probably improve a bit next season but even without a lot of improvement we're not looking at guys who are going to score a lot of runs. Last season the Brewers had the third best OPS in the league, but with this current lineup construction I think they'll struggle to be average. Can that ever be considered a good thing?
AL: Well, Escobar is projected at about what JJ produced last year (with a higher OBP), and Lucroy is just higher than Kendall OPS wise (though lower OBP). So, the downgrade would seem to be related to CF. I'm the first to admit that last year, Carlos would have been about 30 runs below Mike, but as far as I know, we're not going back in time and replaying 2009. All that matters is future production. Gomez should continue to improve, and Cameron is likely to fade.
Now, if they were equal defenders and equal cost, it'd be hard to see it as anything but a massive downgrade. However, they are not. Carlos will be far cheaper, and most likely, a defensive gain. As I said before, Doug has saved about $16.8M at C/SS/CF, with a likely loss of about 2 wins, based on '09 production. Add in youth usually gets better until they hit 27, Carlos' defense, and the fact they need money to improve the pitching, it makes perfect sense.
I still think Doug will bring in a veteran C to play at least half the time, by the way.
MPD: I guess you could say that it is related to CF, but you have said in the past that "the potential downgrade from Cameron will be made up with an upgrade at C." Well, what if there is no upgrade? What if the downgrade is not only in CF, but also at SS (which you have to include Counsell's great numbers in that argument)? (We'll just skip the unlikelihood of McGehee repeating last year.) Then what? It seems like Doug thinks he can copy Jack Z's Mariners plan from last season for 2010 when the Mariners actually outplayed their Pythagorean by 10 wins. Beyond that Safeco Field hurts hitters, while Miller Park helps homeruns. It's not the same. Is that a good plan? Personally (and I think you agree), that his plan from last season of awesome offense/average-ish pitchers was perfectly acceptable and without injuries (and the sheer existence of Manny Parra) probably would have worked out for them. I just don't see the need to completely change the makeup of the team when their "window" could be closing after this season.
The most problematic thing is that there isn't really a pitcher out there free agency wise besides John Lackey that can balance out this loss of OPS and if the Yankees want Lackey, they will get Lackey and nobody else will have a chance. Then what? Randy Wolf? Joel Piniero? No thanks, I would just as well roll the dice with the same five guys as last year than pick one of them up and as far as I know teams don't trade their good pitching for $16M in excess cash. I'm sorry but I just can't shake the feeling that the team is going to end up with some combination of the Wolf/Penny/Pavano/Mulder pu pu platter and if that's the case wouldn't they be better off keeping Cameron for one more year (when even if his offense does decline it won't be extreme) instead of hoping and praying Gomez figures it out? A 4:1 K to BB rate, career 16% infield fly ball rate and a career .373 slugging percentage on flyballs are serious, serious red flags that he won't be figuring it out anytime soon and on a team that considers itself a contender this is a problem. Franklin Gutierrez he is not.
In the end my problem isn't with Gomez per se, or even this trade, my problem is with the thought process. We are downgrading the offense and getting cheaper in hopes of upgrading the pitching and defense. This makes sense, but there is a really good chance that whatever pitching upgrades the team makes won't be signifigant enough to make a difference and the possible last season of Braun and Prince together will be wasted. I know it's early, I know there will be more moves and that I'm probably overreacting, but these are real worries that I have. I'd always take the good offense/average pitching combo because you can always count on a good offense being good. With an average offense and a good pitching staff, you just never know.
AL: First of all, I have more faith in Escobar than most, so I don't think he'll be a drain on the offense at SS. But, your recap may well be 100% accurate. Doug has said that since the team finished 3rd in runs scored they could afford to lose some offense, and that the priority has to be to improve the pitching staff. Because even mediocre pitching is expensive, both in terms of money and players when you trade for it, the current trend seems to be to make the defense better, as good defense is far cheaper than average pitching, and both assist in run prevention.
Is Doug hoping to make the pitching better, while keeping the offense above average? Probably. Guys like Carlos and Alcides (and Jon, if he indeed ends up catching, which I doubt) are young, so they are far from their peak offensive game, so I'm sure the braintrust hope they outperform expectations a bit.
MPD: First of all, I love Escobar too. I even tried to help him get laid (in retrospect probably not a good idea considering his wife has all those youtube videos, but still.) Second, I have to admit that trusting the braintrust is one thing you are much better at than I. Maybe they know something I don't, maybe they see something that they can fix and they most definitely have projection systems beyond what is currently available to you or I. What can I say? I think I know better than most people. I'm vain like that. That being said Doug has definitely put himself on the line with this move. If Gomez sucks, the team ends up with a Washburn type and the Brewers have another crappy season everyone can point to this move and it's ripple effect as to why. Is that right? Probably not, but that's just the way these things work. Nobody ever said life was fair.