Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Tigers and the Angels Sittin' In A Tree...

Talking T.RA.D.E.

The Tigers are off to a good start, going 6-3 against the Royals and Cleveland. But one huge, glaring issue has been production behind the plate. And not just offensively. The Tigers catching tandem of Gerald Laird and Alex Avila have combined for just five hits in thirty five at-bats. There is little hope of a significant change either. Laird at his best is a league average offensive catcher, and he hasn't been that for the past couple seasons. Avila is strictly a platoon player at this point as he struggles mightily against left-handed pitching.

Perhaps more discouraging, they've been abysmal defensively. This is particularly astounding given Laird's great defensive reputation. But after failing to make a play on a runner coming home in the final game of the Royals series, throwing a ball into right field on a sacrifice bunt against the Mariners, and throwing out just two of nine base stealers, well, things aren't going well.

While it's generally far too early to be talking about potential trades, the situation in Anaheim is as hot now as it's going to be. The Angels have an out of options catcher in Bobby Wilson that they know wont clear waivers, yet have no need to carry three catchers on the big league squad. Wilson's minor league production has been good, but not great and he projects as perhaps a slightly above average offensive catcher. But what Wilson does do well by all accounts, is play defense. He is a legitimate standout defender. However, with defensive stalwart Jeff Mathis already on the roster, the Angels don't really have a place for him.

The Angels one would assume, would be totally amenable to trading Wilson. He's a superfluous piece that doesn't add anything to the roster. yet he holds value around the league because solid catchers simply aren't easy to come by. The question Tigers GM Dave Dombrowksi would have to ask himself is, "will acquiring Bobby Wilson be worth the price to do so, if Laird can simply start playing his regular Gold Glove caliber defense?"

That's not an easy question to answer, but I'm leaning toward no. That's not because I believe Laird is an exceptional overall player (though he's far better than many give him credit for) but rather because the cost to acquire Wilson won't be mere pennies in all likelihood. There are simply too many teams in need of a solid catcher. The Red Sox spring to mind. But given the extreme degree of cost control with Wilson, he's a player all 29 other teams could make a play for.

The bigger, sexier trade possibility is for the Tigers to attempt to acquire Mike Napoli.

If you were to ask a collection of 100 baseball fans who the top three offensive catchers in baseball are, I doubt more than a half dozen would say Mike Napoli. But the simple facts are that the guy rakes. He hits, and he hits a lot. The WORST OPS Napoli has posted since 2006 was .794, and he posted a gaudy .960 in 2008. Yet Napoli has been largely relegated to back-up duty and yesterday he voiced his frustrations. For their part, the Angels seem willing to listen to offers.

The one thing holding Napoli back from elite status is his defense. He's a serious liability behind the plate, throwing out an average of just 23% of attempted base thieves.

I'm not prepared to speculate on what sort of package the Angels would be looking for in return, perhaps I'll revisit that at a later date when/if this goes anywhere and once I get an idea of exactly what the market looks like. Or at least, a batter idea. But simply looking at the Angels roster, you'd expect they'd be looking for help at third base, and in the rotation.

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