So as yesterday's links post noted, there's been a bunch of fake-tweeting lately about the Phillies acquiring third baseman David Wright from the Mets. Some of these "rumors" have had the Phillies sending Domonic Brown, Vance Worley, and Phillippe Aumont to the Mets in exchange for Wright.
It was all very funny until it became evident that the majority of tweeting Phillies fans didn't get the joke at all. Many of the more credulous folks reacted to the rumor with unbridled joy ("We're robbing the Mets just like we robbed Ed Wade of Hunter Pence!"). Some more skeptical hippos informed everyone in sadness that the reports were fake. A few Mets fans even got in on the act by scoffing at the rumor and asking why Sandy Alderson would ever be so foolish as to make such a trade.
It would appear that the world is full of extremely ignorant people. If the Phillies were to send those three guys to the Mets for David Wright - heck, if the Phillies were to deal Domonic Brown for David Wright straight up - then it would potentially rival the Ryne Sandberg and Ferguson Jenkins trades as the worst in Phillies history. The day after that trade happens, Ruben Amaro should be marched from his office at CBP directly to the Walt Whitman Bridge and pushed off of it, and he should be joined by every Phillies fan who thinks he did the right thing.
1. David Wright Hasn't Been an Elite Player Since 2008.
Wright broke into the majors in mid-2004, and throughout George W. Bush's second term, he wasn't just one of the best third basemen in MLB - he was one of the best players in MLB. He had it all: he hit home runs, he hit for average, he walked, he stole bases at a high %, he didn't get hurt, and he was at least a competent fielder at a fairly difficult defensive position.
But Bush hasn't been president for a long time now. For three straight seasons, Wright has been no better than an okay player. He hasn't been elite in any one of those seasons. Here are the numbers.
[The 2005-08 stats are unweighted averages. Weighted averages would be better but these numbers are close enough for our present purposes.]
Two observations. (1) Wright can't field anymore. He's terrible. While advanced defensive metrics are imprecise, in Wright's case he's put up terrible numbers for three straight years from both of the leading measurement systems. It's pretty clear that he stinks out there. (2) His strikeouts are way up. We all know that striking out a lot isn't necessarily such a bad thing, because you can make up for it by walking a lot and hitting a lot of homers. But Wright's sharp increase in K's hasn't been accompanied by any corresponding increase in walks or power. If anything, his power has gone down over the same time. If the same guy's strikeouts increase while holding all other things equal, then that really is necessarily a bad thing.
And no, Citi Field isn't the explanation for the drop in offense. wRC+ is a park-adjusted statistic. (Plus, why would hitting in a bigger ballpark increase your strikeouts anyway?) Nor is the MLB-wide downturn in offense the explanation. wRC+ is also league-adjusted.
If he'd only had one "down year," I might buy that it was a fluke, or that he just needed a change of scenery to get his mojo back. But three years? Anything's possible, but I'd give Wright much better odds of being a 3-WAR player going forward than returning to 6-WAR form. Most likely, he's really a 4 or 5 WAR player now, and heading downhill from there. And it's not like we'd be getting some kind of awesome deal for those 4 or 5 WAR. Wright only has one guaranteed year left on his contract, at $15 million. (He also has a $16 million team option for 2013, but that's voidable - h/t Trev223.)
2. David Wright Is Probably Worse Than the Player He'd Replace, Placido Polanco.
So you might ask, what's so bad about getting 4½ WAR or so for $15 million? 1 WAR costs about $5 million, right? So it's a good value, right? Didn't we just give Jimmy Rollins (3.8 WAR in 2011) an $11 million/year contract?
Well, three things. First, obviously, we didn't have to give up valuable young players (more on this below) to get Rollins' contract - all we needed to do was get him to sign it. (There was also the foregone opportunity cost of the compensatory draft picks, but that's way less valuable than the package being rumored for Wright.) Second, we got Rollins' value for four seasons, not just one season.
Third, Rollins' signing actually filled an otherwise vacant position. The Phillies had no shortstop, so they had to get somebody to play there. But the Phillies do have a third baseman named Placido Polanco, and he's probably better than David Wright.
The numbers back this up.
[I only put 2010 and 2011 in this chart since Polanco wasn't a 3B when he was with the Tigers, so his pre-2010 fielding stats are kind of irrelevant.]
Now, obviously, Wright is a far superior offensive player to Polanco. Nobody's going to dispute that. But how will it benefit the team to make a trade that increases run output if that trade simultaneously increases runs allowed by the same amount if not more? Because that's exactly what replacing Peanuthead with Wright would accomplish.
You'd basically be going from one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball to one of the worst defensive third basemen in baseball. The object of this game isn't to score as many runs as possible. It is to score more runs than the other team scores - or in other words, to maximize net runs. Replacing Polanco with Wright is probably unlikely to accomplish that goal. It certainly is unlikely to increase net runs by very much.
[Side note: Wright beats out Polanco by a margin of 5.3-3.8 if you use rWAR for 2010-11 instead of fWAR. That's mostly because TZ didn't like Polanco's 2010, for whatever reason. I usually like TZ a bit more than I like UZR, but one season is a small sample size for either metric, and in this case, it looks like Polanco's 2010 TZ is something of an outlier, so I'm inclined to discount it a bit.]
Now, all that said, if the offer on the table was a trade of Polanco straight up for Wright, then that deal would probably be worthwhile. Probably. There's a strong case to be made that even if the median level that Polanco is likely to perform at in 2012 is better than it is for Wright, the potential jackpot of Wright returning to his old form would make it worth taking a risk on him. On the other hand, Wright would be owed $15 million in 2012, while Polanco is owed only $6.25 million (an awesome bargain that nobody seems to appreciate), and if you were to use that extra $8.5 million on Wright, then that would be $8.5 million that you wouldn't be able to use on a midseason acquisition, or on the draft, or in Latin America, or on next year's free agent market. On balance, I'd probably still trade Polanco for Wright, although it's a close call.
The problem is that the trade everyone's discussing isn't Polanco for Wright. Instead, we'd be sending three very valuable young players to the Mets, while simultaneously eating Polanco's $6.25 million by sitting him on the bench. The fact that Polanco may be better than Wright makes that unconscionably wasteful, and that is not a close call.
3. Dom Brown Is Still Very Valuable, and Contrary to What You've Heard, His 2011 Season Was Not a Failure.
The biggest problem with these trade rumors isn't what the Phillies would be getting, but what they'd be giving up. Vance Worley just beat the league average in xFIP and SIERA at age 23 and he isn't even eligible for arbitration until 2014. And even though Phillippe Aumont is a relief pitcher, he's a pretty good prospect too. I wouldn't trade either one of these guys for Wright, straight up - not when Wright only has one guaranteed year left on his contract at $15 million and plays a position where we already have an arguably superior and definitely much cheaper player.
But if trading either of those guys for Wright would be unwise, trading Domonic Brown for Wright would be flat-out insane and frankly, disgusting. I generally have low expectations when it comes to the intelligence level of the opinions held by casual baseball fans in this city, but even so, I sometimes honestly can't believe just how ignorant many people have gotten lately about Brown.
One year ago at this time, Domonic Brown was ranked by Baseball America as the 4th-best prospect in all of baseball. He had just completed a season in which he had posted a .993 OPS in 271 PA at Reading, and a .951 OPS in 118 PA at Lehigh Valley. He had struggled in limited action at the major league level, but he was mostly just used as a pinch-hitter. He was 22 years old until the very end of the season. That is what is known as a stud.
Think back and try to remember how you felt about Brown on December 27, 2010. Now, know this: Nothing happened in 2011 that should have drastically changed your opinion of him.
Clearly, Brown didn't set the world on fire in 2011. But so what? First of all, it isn't at all uncommon for 23-year-olds to struggle as rookies but then improve in subsequent seasons. More to the point, at the plate Brown didn't even really struggle. The only stat of his that was subpar was his batting average, and as we all know, that isn't a very important stat. In Brown's case, it was counterbalanced by okay power (.147 ISO) and a very good walk rate (11.9%). All in all, it added up to a 101 wRC+, meaning that in his rookie season, he was right at the league average for a hitter. That's nothing to be ashamed of as a starting point for your career, especially considering that he did it all immediately after recovering from a broken hand suffered in spring training.
Where Brown clearly did struggle was in the field. Admittedly, he was awful out there. But why was he awful? For example, Pat Burrell is an awful outfielder because he's as slow as an Amish drag racer. Is that true of Dom? Of course not. He's more than fast enough, and his arm is more than strong enough, to play corner outfield. He was awful because he didn't know how to judge fly balls. But that is not a physical limitation. Therefore, there's no reason to assume that he'll never improve at it. Maybe he'll learn how with practice. Or maybe he won't, although I think that's unlikely. Either way, he at least deserves a chance.
I don't think it's possible to overstate this: If you've given up on Brown already, you either know nothing about baseball or you have some ulterior motive, whether conscious or subconscious. If you think it's a good idea to trade Brown (who won't make any real money until 2015 at the earliest) and all his upside in exchange for one season of a declining David Wright at $15 million to take over a position that's already filled, then don't express your opinion. It's wrong.
As critical as I am of Ruben Amaro at times, I have a hard time believing that he's dumb enough to make this deal. So in a sense, I'm not very concerned about it. But there comes a point when absurd opinions become widespread enough that they need to be shot down even if they no chance of influencing events in the real world. This feels like one of those times.