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Suitors of Yunel - Part 2

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This is part 2 of the expose into the possible dealings for Yunel Escobar (see part 1).

UPDATE: Escobar left tonight's game in the bottom the fourth inning with what appears to be a lower back strain.  It didn't sound too serious, but Bobby isn't being very clear about it.  Back injuries could be nothing or could be nagging him the rest of his career, so it is sure to put a damper on trade talks regarding our now even slower shortstop.

(4) Corey Hart

The general feeling around the blog-o-sphere is that Corey Hart may never become the Grady Sizemore-lite that so many believed he could be.  I won't go into too much depth about Corey Hart's past seasons.  David Golebiewski certainly did it enough justice here.  To reiterate his critique in the article, it seems pitchers had all agreed on a game plan when approaching Hart: "get ahead of him 0-1, and then feed him a steady diet of sliders, knowing full well that he would be tempted to chase them out of the zone."                                                                                          

That article was written before the 2009 started.  At the time, many experts believed that he would rebound the following season.  By taking a quick glance at Hart's statistics for this year, it's clear he has not.  There is little difference between his current OPS of .750 and his previous year's .759.  Even worse are his peripherals; they seem to confirm the pitching strategy outlined above.  The 22.9% strikeout rate he is sporting is 5% more than it was last year.  The struggling outfielder is taking notice to this, though, by drawing more walks than in the past three years, up to 9.2%, and swinging at much fewer pitches outside of the zone.  Unfortunately, this change seems to be costing him some of his power (on pace for 34 doubles, a total that is 11 lower than last season).

His poor hitting still hasn't made Hart useless.  He is on pace to improve upon his last year's RAR, but it will fall far short from the 44.0 runs above replacement he had produced in 2007.  Add in that he is already into his arbitration years garnering a 3.25 mil salary in his first eligible year, Hart is definitely not an attractive trading option.  There is hope.  Anyone with flashes of greatness like in his 2007 season is certainly capable of doing it again (see Carlos Quentin and what he did in the minors).  I believe he is the perfect opportunity "buy low" candidate on the trading block, but taking only Hart for our prized shortstop would be a definite loss.  However, if we were looking for Abraham Lincoln impersonators, there is no doubt he would be our best option.


(3) Denard Span

Acquiring Span has two key benefits over fellow outfielder Michael Cuddyer, the other Minnesota Twin mentioned as possible trade bait by Buster Olney: his potential and his cost.  The 25-year-old hitter had a good rookie year in 2008, where he displayed his plus speed, good eye, and above-average defense in right (below-average in center).  He managed to post a batting line of .294/.387/.432 with 18 stolen bases in a matter of 411 plate appearances.  His '09 campaign hasn't been quite as successful as his OPS has fallen to .759.  This drop was, actually, predicted by all of the projection systems[1].

More interesting is that most of them were even more pessimistic about his sophomore season.  Bill James' projections, naturally[2], expected the most out of Denard, but .739 OPS he predicted him to have is still less than his current line.  This discrepancy is mostly due to the underestimation of his strikeout tendencies and his ability to draw walks.  He is currently walking about once in every 9 plate appearances (11.1%), while only striking out 14.7% of the time.  Plus, his contact percentage has improved (88.7% to 91.4%) via making more contact on pitches outside of the zone (+13.8% making contact when swinging inside of the zone), while he has cut down the number of pitches he swings at out of the zone (down 2.9% to 58.0%).  Considering he was expected to have a BB% and a K% of approximately 8-10% and 17-19%, respectively, I would say he hasn't necessarily disappointed this year.  Still, while everyone recognizes Span has potential, there doesn't seem to be much agreement on how high or how soon.

At this point, much of what I am going to say is speculative, but it is my belief that, if he can improve his defense in center, Denard Span will be a top tier at that position.  I have some evidence of this claim.  His RAR in his rookie season, during which he only played two thirds of a year, was 26.2 runs.  This year, so far, he has produced 17.6 runs above a replacement player, according to Fangraphs.  Most of this is done splitting his time in left and center at a two to one rate.  He has shown improvement at center this year by recording a -42.8 UZR/150 in '08 to -9.7[3].  If he can translate this defense into a superior right fielder and slowly, yet consistently, improve his bat, I don't see any reason why he can't become as good, if not better, than Yunel.  The chance that he turns out better, given the above empirical and external scouting "evidence", is there, but it is certainly not substantial enough to guarantee certain future success.

Whatever Span's chance at a huge upside may be, my final verdict on this trade is that it is a complete wash unless one of the following is true: 1) we need a top-of-the-order guy who can steal bases or 2) Atlanta believes the replacement for Yunel (Brooks Conrad) is much better than who  (a combination of Matt Diaz and Brandon Jones).  Both of these things are unlikely, so I'll stick with my gut feeling.

[1] The highest projected OPS for Span is .823, but that comes from Marcel, which takes no minor league statistics into account.  I usually disregard Marcel when analyzing young players for exactly that reason.

[2] His offensive projections are almost always higher than the other models publicly available, a fact that was shown in an article by Dave Cameron for Fangraphs.

[3] He's logged more than double than innings there this season than last. 

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