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Monday, July 28, 2008

Christina Kahrl With Some Eminently Sensible Advice For Joe Torre

In today's Baseball Prospectus Transaction Analysis:
If the Dodgers really want to be serious about this contention thing, don't they owe it to themselves to field their best team, instead of their most (in)famous one? The tension between the different factions in the front office has been such that they have seldom been able to agree on much. However, there might have been general agreement that they needed to bring in a bat, and agreement that they could afford to bring in a bat, and because of this lineup's odd collection of overlapping problems and disappointments, at third base as well as the outfield, it even seems like a remarkably sensible collective choice that their roving eyes alighted upon Blake. The question of whether or not they really needed to give up two good prospects for two months of Casey Blake isn't quite right; they could. Meloan's a potentially gifted reliever, but the organization has better pitching prospects in the system and already on the team; Santana's a pretty exciting catching prospect, but this is the organization that has Russell Martin, and if Santana really does end up having to move to third, isn't that what LaRoche will be for far into the future? Blake's useful, and this club has needs; getting him makes a goodly amount of sense.

With Blake in hand, what then is the best case for their lineup? That they come to their senses, realize that playing what they've already paid for doesn't help them win, bring back LaRoche and play him at third, and move Blake to an outfield corner? Certainly, that beats putting LaRoche at second, an “inspired” move that was even riskier than putting Nomar Garciaparra back at shortstop. Admittedly, that means reducing Juan Pierre to the world's most expensive rag-armed pinch-runner and defensive replacement, and it also makes Andruw Jones the most unpleasantly ubiquitous oversized formerly famous person this side of Vince Vaughn.

I disagree with her on the concluding sentence of the first graf in that we do not know if Santana will have to move off third. (I have heard elsewhere that supposedly Logan White thinks this may be true, in which case I would like to see a cite.) But moving Blake to left field and LaRoche to third to the exclusion of Pierre makes tremendous sense, which is exactly why the Dodgers won't do it.

Update: In analyzing the trade from the Tribe's side of things, Kahrl also adds this about Santana:

Santana's a pretty nifty catching prospect, so regardless of the organization's long-term intentions as far as Victor Martinez, they've acquired someone who would show up on almost anybody's long-term radar, whoever they had already up in The Show. While it can be foolhardy to get worked up over anyone pasting pitching in the Cal League, Santana's among the best hitters in the circuit, as his production translates to .278/.378/.488 with a .296 EqA, and with a potential peak that tops .300 in EqA. Add in that he's 22, and if less than perfect as a receiver—he's a big kid, and his 23 percent mark is merely adequate for a High-A caught-stealing percentage—he's not about to get moved off of the position, especially in an organization that had the patience to work with Martinez's problems as a receiver. (In the worst-case scenario, he moves to third, not such a terrible outcome if Marte's flopped or moved on by that point in the future.) At the plate, he lacks any platoon issues while switch-hitting. All in all, it's pretty easy to see how he's the deal's real prize, and a prospect whose impact on the organization could dwarf Meloan's—let along Blake's—in five years.
One of the justifications here and there ascribed to this trade is the idea that Santana was iffy to stay behind the plate. Bill Shaikin over the weekend even reported directly that "[Logan] White gave his blessing to trade the prospects", which some have interpreted to mean he may get moved to third or first. But the biggest point is something I overlooked the first time I reviewed this trade, and that is Santana at 22 is fairly old for a catcher in the Cal League. He might have to hurry through AA and AAA, but on the other hand, catchers axiomatically take longer to develop than any other position.

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