Solving Second Base

With CC Sabathia in the fold, the Brewers have made one huge move to improve the team.  There are few things you can do that make more impact than replacing your 5th starter with an ace.

Beyond that, it's not entirely clear what else Doug Melvin could do to improve the Brewers' playoff chances.  Some of us would like to see a bullpen addition or two.  I'm skeptical, largely because we're unlikely to get anyone much better than Riske or Gagne.  If such a player became available, he'd be very expensive.  Think Linebrink.  I wouldn't mind a minor move, but I don't think we can count on increasing the win total via new relievers.

That leaves the offense.  A quick glance at sOPS+ by position tells the story.  The Crew is average or better at every position except for catcher and second base.  We can rule out an improvement at catcher, both because Kendall has been so good defensively, and because a substantial offensive improvement would be next to impossible to come by.  Just about every good catcher plays on a contender.

In fact, the sheer number of contenders makes it tough to envision many deals getting done.  I suppose another few teams may decide they're out of it before July 31, but as is, I only count 11 or 12 teams that should throw in the towel, and I'm including clubs like the Rockies and Blue Jays, whose GMs may not agree with me.

So.  That leaves us with about a dozen teams, each of which have a second baseman who may or may not be worth acquiring.

To set some benchmarks: Rickie is currently OPSing 687, while team second basemen are averaging 688--Counsell is bringing up the OBP and dragging down the SLG.  The average second baseman in the NL this year OPS's 743, while the average lead-off guy OPS's 745.  Roughly speaking, the difference between Rickie production and average production for the rest of year is worth about one win. 

One more consideration.  In his career, Weeks has OPS'd about 100 points higher against lefties.  That's unsurprising, so I'm comfortable expecting that to continue.  With that in mind, a lefty replacement with a marked platoon split would have the potential to improve the team more than a righty replacement who would play second every day.

Let's look at some options:

  • Brian Roberts, Orioles.  If we're going to really go for it, this is the guy.  Unless the Rangers have an immediate slump and offer up Ian Kinsler (fat chance!), Roberts is the best player available at the position, by far.  He's a switch hitter, but over his career he's had typical lefty platoon splits--about 100 points higher vRHP.  The splits are even this year, but I'll take the 4000 PA sample, thank you very much.  If he and Rickie have second halves just like their first halves, the difference is a staggering three wins--and that's just at the plate.  Even using more conservative estimates, acquiring Roberts would probably have as big of an impact on the win total as picking up CC.
  • Ray Durham, Giants.  His name has already come up in trade rumors, and for obvious reasons.  Unlike the Orioles, Rockies, and plenty of others, San Fran realizes they are out of it, and there's certainly no reason to keep Durham around to help them lose.  He might be one of the few available players who wouldn't be a defensive upgrade on Weeks, but his bat is solid (800 OPS so far this year) and he's another switch hitter.  His splits are a bit weird--this year he's much better against righties, but in 05-07 he was stronger vLHP.  Durham wouldn't have near the impact that Roberts would, but presumably, he'd come much cheaper.
  • Mark Grudzielanek, Royals.  This Wisconsin-native All-Grit Team starter is having his second straight solid season at the plate, OPSing 770.  I was about to write it off to an unsustainably high BABIP of .343 this year, but he's consistently in the 330 range.  Grudz is a righty, meaning that we wouldn't get any platoon advantage pairing him with Rickie, but his glove may well make him a more valuable potential acquisition than Durham.  I can't imagine why the Royals would hold on to him if we offered any kind of useful piece.
  • Jose Lopez, Mariners.  This list goes downhill fast.  Some people still think of him as good because of a solid first half in 2006.  As is, he's not much better at the plate than Rickie (729 OPS) and his glove is suspect.  The Mariners should be in fire sale mode, but Lopez is under control for another couple years and there isn't an obvious replacement nipping at his heels.  He wouldn't be cheap, and he wouldn't be good.  Pass.  (Also, did you know the Mariners payroll this year is over 115MM?  Wow.)
  • Mark Ellis, A's.  Ellis wouldn't be much of an improvement at the plate--238/332/384 is right in line with what Rickie would do with better BABIP luck--but he is considered one of the best defensive second sackers in baseball.  He'll be a free-agent after the season, so unless the A's go on a tear starting this weekend, Billy Beane should make him available.  I don't know what kind of package Beane would require, but Ellis's defense probably makes him worth about as much as Durham or Grudz.  My gut says that Grudz would come cheaper.

There will surely be other guys out there--Felipe Lopez comes to mind, as does Mark Loretta--but the five listed above are the only ones who have any shot at being a clear win over Rickie.  I don't think Melvin will mortgage the future to the extent he'd need to in order to grab Roberts, but with the trio of Durham, Grudz, and Ellis, it might be something of a buyer's market, in which case we could improve the team by giving up some pieces we wouldn't miss.

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