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Recap on the Durham Trade

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As you probably know by now, the Brewers sent the Giants lefty pitcher Steve Hammond and olympic sprinter Darren Ford in exchange for Ray Durham and about $1.5MM.  If you want to read some immediate opinions on both sides of the aisle, here you go.

In that thread, I made it pretty clear I was against the deal.  I want to also make it clear that while guys like me tend to get worked up about roster tweaks, I recognize that the overall impact here, whether good or bad, is likely to be small.

First off, I view Darren Ford as no more than a throw-in.  If he has a major-league future, it's not even as a fourth outfielder--he'd be a fifth-outfielder/pinch-runner/25th-man type guy.  That is probably his upside.  He's exactly the sort of player that should be included in a deal like this, since the Giants seem to like that sort of guy.

The debate in the thread I linked above was more about Steve Hammond.  Nobody thinks Hammond is likely to be a difference-maker in the bigs; it might even be optimistic to think he's likely to crack the Brewers starting rotation.  The question is: In a deal where we pay $1.5MM for very little return (more on that in a minute), should we be giving up anything of possible value?

As long-time readers know, I'm fixated on the importance of rotation depth.  The Brewers had it this year (though I didn't realize McClung would be it), and it paid off.  Mark Shapiro, the Indians GM, has said you need to go into a season 7 or 8 deep, and he's absolutely right.  We could've kept Hammond in the minors as insurance through 2010, and while he'd never be more than a 5th starter, he would make it that much less likely we'd need to turn to next year's Jeff Weaver, Sidney Ponson, or Nelson Figueroa.  Maybe we can replace him on the cheap; maybe he's not any better than guys like DiFelice and Lindsey Gulin; but I think there's a reasonable chance he's better than the other options.

Obviously, we're splitting hairs here.  But if we're measuring the value of acquiring 36-year-old Ray Durham...well, hairs need to be split.

We're bringing in Durham to replace Joe Dillon.  That certainly improves the team in terms of veteran savviness and name-recognition, but what does it do on the field?

Durham is a switch-hitter, which is nice for late-inning strategery.  However, I keep hearing that he's the "lefty bat" that we need off the bench.  Sorry--no.  He does stand on the correct side of the plate against right-handed pitchers, but that isn't what matters--I could do that, too.  This year is the first season since 2002 that Durham has hit better against righties.  Given the last three, or five, years of data, Durham's splits look a lot like those of a typical right-handed hitter.

You might also hear that Durham is a "proven on-base guy," and hence a good option to sub for Weeks in the leadoff spot.  This year, indeed, he has been, with a .385 OBP.  His career OBP is .352--worse than Rickie's second half Marcel projection

Further, all of this year's numbers are BABIP-inflated.  His batted balls have been dropping at a .349 rate compared to a .306 career average.  If anything, I'd expect him to be *below* career average, since he's older and slower than he used to be.  If you assume his BABIP should be at his career average level, he's gotten 9 extra hits this year.  Take those away, and his season line is 259/355/369.  The OBP is still hanging in there, but...we're spending money on this?

Turning all of this into a mini-projection, I can borrow battlekow's work and give you Dillon's and Durham's Marcel projections for the rest of the year:

  • Durham: .259/.335/.412
  • Dillon: .262/.338/.399

Dramatic, eh?  Durham has virtually no defensive value--he's a below-average second baseman in the field, and we have Counsell as a backup at that position.  Heck, *Counsell* is OPSing .705 against righties which, if you assume Durham has an even platoon split (that's generous) is only a bit less than what we can expect from our new acquisition.

In a nutshell, it looks to me like we got ourselves a left-handed pinch-hitter who isn't really a lefty and isn't much of a hitter.  Since we're just as well off plugging in Counsell two days a week (his defense more than makes up for a 30-50 point OPS advantage), we could take our pick of defensively-challenged lefties on the market.  In fact, we wouldn't have to turn to the market--Brad Nelson's MLE versus righties is 276/358/423.  I don't want Nelson playing second base, but I don't particularly want to see Durham out there when Counsell is on the bench, either.

And that brings me (blessedly) to my last thought.  When I was thinking through the various trade options at second base, I realized that I left out one possible replacement...yes, our very own Craig Counsell.  He's a lefty, he's a great fielder, and if we need to give Rickie a little extra motivation (that's been cited as a reason for the trade), giving Craig 3-4 starts per week would do that just as well as giving Durham 2.

Counsell isn't as good a hitter as Rickie, but his OPS against righties--705--is better than Rickie's this year, and it's pretty close to Rickie's career numbers vRHP.

In my view, then, we gave up a potentially useful player plus a decent chunk of change for a guy that isn't as good as players we already have.  As I said at the outset, it's not going to hurt us much even if it does turn out negative.  But it would be nice if our postseason-directed moves actually made the team better *now*.  I'm not at all sure we did that.