Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I'm not excited about Trever Miller. Yes, he's a lefty, and yes, he's slightly better than Mike Gallo. But that doesn't make him good. I've heard Purpura bellyachin' about getting a lefty reliever since the week after the World Series, and this is the best he could come up with? Meanwhile, Mike Remlinger and Alan Embree are still available. Plus our short-term financial situation (i.e. signing Rocket in May) is now stretched even thinner. Not an ├╝ber-bad move, but not great.

I am excited about Preston Wilson. Like Richard Justice wrote in his blog, he's a good player. Don't try to analyze where he'll play and who will lose playing time, just take comfort in the fact that he's a good player who will hit lots of home runs and drive in plenty of runs. We needed that.

Of course, it's up to Jack and me to discuss how this might affect the team in terms of playing time and possible trades. Right now, Luke Scott's the odd man out. With Wilson, Taveras, Lane, Berkman and Palmeiro as our outfielders and Bagwell, Biggio, Everett, Ensberg, Ausmus, Lamb, Burke, Chavez and Bruntlett as our infielders, there's just no room for the big lefty. He could use more time as a regular, even if it is in the minors.

Of course, as with everything in 2006, everything rests on Bagwell's shoulder. If he can't play first base, Berkman moves there, leaving Wilson, Taveras and Lane as our outfielders. Easy.

If Bagwell recovers to the point where he can play first base, Berkman moves back to left field. Lane's name should be etched in stone over in right field, which leaves centerfield as something of a quagmire. Wilson's not known as a great defensive centerfielder (and with the crazy nooks and crannnies of The Juicebox, his lack of speed may kill us), but I'll take his offensive skills over Taveras's in a heartbeat. Remember, despite his decent .291 average, Taveras's .666 OPS was worse than Ausmus's .682 and better only than Everett's .654 mark. While Taveras has tremendous base-stealing skills, defensive ability and speed, the flaws in his game — power — make him replaceable. (He still has potential at 24, but I can't see him putting up anything better than a .300 / .350 / .350 line anytime soon.)

Now then, keeping Taveras as a late-inning defensive replacement/pinch-runner would be a great idea. He could pinch-hit when leading off an inning, too. Willy would excel in that role. However, his apparent value might make him attractive to some clubs. I'm sure other teams know his flaws as well as his upsides (including five more years of club control at a cheap cost). Boston, Washington and Pittsburgh all seem like logical trading partners. None has an established centerfielder or leadoff hitter. And all those clubs could provide us with something valuable.

Boston has a plethora of starting pitchers in Schilling, Beckett, Wakefield, Arroyo, Clement and Wells. I've heard Wells and Arroyo among many trade rumors, and I think either would fit well as our 3rd starter. The Sox are still hoping for Seattle's Jeremy Reed, but we ought to offer Taveras for Arroyo, who doesn't come with Wells' hefty contract.

Pittsburgh has Burnitz, Bay, Wilson and Gerut in the outfield, but I don't think Bay is very well-suited to play centerfield, although I could be wrong about this. That kid is really good. Pittsburgh doesn't have a leadoff man (Jack Wilson probably won't cut it), and I've heard they're taking offers for Wilson. I'd trade Taveras for some young pitching talent like Zach Duke or Oliver Perez. Houston native Kip Wells hasn't been good since '03, but you never know.

The Nationals have Guillen, Church and Byrd, but the latter two would be more effective as platoon partners than starters. They may convince Soriano to move to left field, but that probably won't happen. And unless they plan on batting Soriano first, they will need a leadoff man. (Oh wait, they have Christian Guzman… nevermind). I doubt the Nats will be willing to give up a big name like John Patterson, but wouldn't that be something…

The Angels and Diamondbacks could also fit the bill for a Taveras deal, but they're not as likely. The Angels gave away Finley and cut DaVannon, so their only full-time outfielders are Anderson, Guerrero and Rivera. Figgins could start in center for them, and Taveras and Figgins on the same team would be overkill. Arizona signed Eric Byrnes, who's decent. They also have Counsell leading off, but they might want to upgrade. They won't give up their best prospect, Conor Jackson, but Brad Halsey is a low-walk, low-strikeout lefty who put up decent numbers as a 24-year-old. He's from Houston and went to UT, and could compete for a starting job.

Phew. Of all these deals, I'd pursue the Boston trade. It seems like they're striking out with Reed, and they are running out of options. Pretty soon, Taveras will become very attractive to them.

Again, I'm not saying we must trade Taveras. I think given our outfield situation, Taveras is most expendable and has the highest value right now. Of course, we don't really know about Bagwell's shoulder, but if he can play, we'll have a crowded outfield. Even if we trade Taveras and Bagwell gets hurt, a Scott/Burke/Lamb platoon would be productive, much more so than last year. (Keep in mind Scott and Burke can both play center). Yes, Biggio is losing his on-base skills, but I'd be satisfied with him leading off in 2006.

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