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Should the Phillies pursue Nationals' outfielder Josh Willingham?

Editor's Note: Front-paged. Nice work! - WC

Luke Adams over at MLBTR put up a story earlier today describing the Josh Willingham situation brewing in DC; mainly, that he would like an extension going into his final arbitration season but is unlikely to get it from the Nationals. The story also hypothesizes that the Nats will attempt to move Willingham during the offseason and that several teams have already asked about the righty's availability.

I believe Willingham is the single best option available at this time for the Phillies to plug the impending Jayson Werth-sized hole in their lineup from a production and cost standpoint.

Willingham has quietly put together 5 straight very solid seasons in the cellar of the NL East. He debuted with the Marlins in 2004 and became a regular in 2006 before being shipped to DC prior to the 2009 season. In five seasons as a regular, he has accumulated 12.6 WAR while never producing less than 2 WAR or more than 3 WAR. As Joe Morgan might say, consistency. Josh's wOBA stands at a healthy .367 for his career.

In what's most relevant to this discussion, Willingham has hammered lefties in his career, posting a career .885 OPS off of a .389 OBP and a .496 SLG against hurlers of the southpawsian persuasion. For good measure, Willingham is more than capable against righties, posting an .827 OPS with a .359 OBP against northpaws. He is exactly the kind of patient and powerful bat with which the Phillies should replace Werth in the 5-spot in the lineup.

Willingham is no Werth in the field, with a career -18 UZR that includes a fluky +8 UZR in 2008. But pretty much all of the other options for the Phillies come with a similar caveat, and Willingham is vastly better in the field than a guy like Carlos Quentin.

Since Willingham has struggled with injuries a little bit recently, as his 3-year high for games played is 133, I estimate his true talent level to be at just about 3 WAR. But injuries can't be ignored, so we do have to factor that into calculating his value.

So we'll set his injury-adjusted true talent level at about 2.5 WAR. Assuming a market rate of $4.5 million per WAR, Willingham's open market value is around $11 million per year. Since he is headed to his last year of arbitration, we'll give him the industry standard 80% of market value for that year, meaning he can expect to receive somewhere in the neighborhood of $9 million for 2011.

However, whichever team goes to arbitration with him or negotiates with him can expect to push that down to about $8 million or so by pointing to his 3-year average of 110 games played per year and his lack of super-glamorous counting stats - just 16 homers and 56 RBI in 2010, 24/61 in 2009, and 15/51 in 2008.

As the MLBTR bit says, Willingham would like a contract extension this offseason. It would be logical for the Phillies to accomodate that desire to an extent, as he will hit his age 32 season next year and should be productive for the next few years. A three-year deal with an option for the fourth year with an AAV in the neighborhood of $9-10 million should do. A two-year pact with an option for the third-year at an AAV of $10 million would be preferable, but either option would be palatable.

Now we come to the cost of the acquisition itself. What does Willingham command in a trade for the Nats? To me, the answer is something similar to what the Braves sent the Marlins for Dan Uggla. While Uggla is certainly of superior value to Willingham, both players come with the uncertainty inherent going into an unsigned-final arbitration year. The Marlins also received somewhat less than they should have for Uggla, but not by a ton. That trade has the added positive comp of being an intradivision swap, as this would be.

What could the Phillies send DC that would roughly equal Omar Infante, an established utilityman, and Mike Dunn, a AAA lefty with great stuff and awful command? A good starting point is a similar part-time player at the same position and a minor league pitcher or two in the C to B- range. I would say an offer of Ben Francisco, Michael Schwimer and either JC Ramirez or Mike Zagurski is a decent starting point and compares solidly with what the Marlins received.

The Phillies have an opportunity to poach a slightly undervalued asset who fills an area of great need for them at relatively low cost. This is a situation that begs for Ruben Amaro to jump in and make happen for the right price.

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