Yesterday afternoon, Josh Willingham belted (which is an understatement) his eighth home run of the 2014 campaign. Eight home runs isn't a lot for early July, but keep in mind that was also just the 41st game for Willingham this season. Do the math, and in a full season he's still capable of producing 25 to 30 home runs a year.
It's been a hard road for Hammer since the 35-homer campaign of 2012. Injuries bottomed out his 2013 season, and things didn't look too promising when he hit the disabled list very early in April. But he returned on May 26, and since then has hit .219/.368/.474. Which should tell you one thing: unless you're judging Willingham's offensive value on batting average, he's been a pretty valuable hitter.
For the year, his triple slash reads .229/.377/.458. That gives him the best on-base percentage and slugging percentage on the team, but for any organization interested in upgrading their offense they'll need more context than that. That's what we're going to do: look at his numbers in the context of corner outfielders in the game, and then in the context of the personnel of teams who may be giving Willingham a look as we get closer to the trade deadline.
|MLB Rank vs corner outfielders||1st||6th (t)||8th||10th|
BB% - Walk rate; walks divided by plate appearances
ISO - Measure of power that eliminates singles; slugging percentage minus batting average
wOBA - Weighted offensive value measured on a scale that reads similarly to on-base percentage
wRC+ - Weighted runs created plus; Willingham has created 34% more runs than the league average hitter
As you can see, Willingham's rankings versus corner outfielders across all of Major League Baseball not only qualifies his value as a hitter for the Twins in 2014, it points out that he's producing at a rate equal to a Top 10 hitter across the league as far as corner outfielders are concerned. If you were curious, his .377 on-base percentage ranks sixth and his .458 slugging percentage ranks 17th.
Let's roll through teams that could consider buying at the deadline to see if Willingham could prove an upgrade as a corner outfielder or designated hitter. I'm assigning five designations for how compatible a team could be: high, moderate, possible, unlikely, and low.
Oakland Athletics, 54-33 (.621)
AL West: 1st (+3.5)
Milwaukee Brewers, 52-36 (.591)
NL Central: 1st (+5.0)
Unless the Brewers were to do something unconventional, such as switching Willingham to first base (Mark Reynolds hasn't worked out, so it looks like the Twins didn't miss any boats there) or giving Hammer the occasional rotational start while essentially stashing him as a bench bat and DH option, there isn't room with Milwaukuee unless Davis or Braun get hurt. The Brewers would probably like to add offense, but Willingham can't help with that.
Los Angeles Angels, 50-36 (.581)
AL West: 2nd (-3.5)
AL Wild Card: 1st (+2.5)
Detroit Tigers, 48-36 (.571)
AL Central: 1st (+4.0)
J.D. Martinez has been invaluable for the Tigers. He was drafted out of high school by the Twins in '06, was taken by Houston in '09, had a hot start to the season in 2012 that he couldn't sustain, and then was released near the end of spring training this year. He has a career .332/.394/.548 line in the minor leagues, and at 26 years old has either figured something out or is just having one hell of a great season. He's been unstoppable in his last 35 games (1.121 OPS) and has started taking regular time away from both Davis and Hunter in the corners. If the Tigers wanted to commit there's certainly room for Willingham here, but they'd have to make some difficult decisions on one or more of Davis, Hunter and, potentially, even Austin Jackson.
Atlanta Braves, 49-38 (.563)
NL East: 1st (+1.5)
In the interest of full disclosure, I probably didn't need to include Doumit. Out of Atlanta's 87 games, Upton has started 79 of them and Heyward has started 84. So there really haven't been opportunities for anybody else. Would Frank Wren be willing to bench Heyward down the stretch in lieu of a weaker defensive player for the potential of Willingham's upside? Considering their position, I don't think they need to take the risk.
Los Angeles Dodgers, 50-40 (.556)
NL West: 1st (+0.5)
|Scott Van Slyke||17.3||.295||.423||178|
Even with Carl Crawford out indefinitely, the Dodgers still can't find enough playing time for all of their outfielders. Van Slyke is talented in his own right and is making the most of the few opportunities he gets, since LA can't afford (pun intended) to sit the expensive Kemp and Ethier on a regular basis. Maybe we can speculate on a scenario where the Dodgers want to shift Kemp or Ethier to simply purge themselves of part of those long, awful contracts - but that doesn't mean there's a fit here.
San Francisco Giants, 48-39 (.552)
NL West: 2nd (-0.5)
NL Wild Card: 1st (+0.5)
Even if Pence hadn't started all 88 games for the Giants, they wouldn't take time away from him. The same can probably be said for Morse, although he's been in a slump (.228/.271/.366 since June 1). Colvin is the only other outfielder to see any kind of time in the corners this year.
Seattle Mariners, 48-39 (.552)
AL West: 3rd (-6.0)
AL Wild Card: 2nd (--)
When Jon Heyman said that Seattle might have interest in Willingham, he wasn't kidding. Saunders has actually been the team's third-best hitter this season, which is just sad for a contending club. Willingham would be a definitive and easy upgrade, be it in a corner outfield spot or as the designated hitter. He'd give Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager some help.
Washington Nationals, 47-39 (.547)
NL East: 2nd (-1.5)
NL Wild Card: 2nd (--)
Ryan Zimmerman has moved back to third base now that Harper is back, meaning the Nationals are back to their three starters with McLouth as the fourth option. Harper is too talented to lose playing time and Werth is A) getting paid too much money and B) hitting too well to merit a demotion in spite of his lack of power. Now, if you wanted to consider Washington as a potential landing spot for former National Kurt Suzuki...
Baltimore Orioles, 47-40 (.540)
AL East: 1st (+1.0)
This crew gets mixed around pretty good. Markakis (almost) always starts in right, Cruz splits his time between left and DH, Lough filled in in left but has now lost his backup role to Pearce, who gets some time in left with a duty at DH from time to time, and finally, Young has the second most starts at DH after Cruz. Young is having a good season by eschewing power for base hits, and Pearce has been a semi-permanent fixture since returning to the team on May 1 (he's slugging .540 versus righties and .717...yes, .717...versus lefties). If Lough was still the semi-regular starter in left there'd be a match here.
St. Louis Cardinals, 47-41 (.534)
NL Central: 2nd (-5.0)
NL Wild Card: 3rd (-1.0)
St. Louis is in an interesting situation. Holliday isn't performing up to the standards we're used to seeing, but at 34 it's not exactly a surprise. Peter Bourjos is getting more time in center field, which has pushed the perfectly serviceable Jay into a backup role, perhaps at all three outfield spots. Craig has been awful after two and a half very good seasons. And then there are a trio of youngsters looking to get time in the outfield, led by the 22-year old Oscar Taveras. But with Willingham on an expiring contract, a short term offer could just work out. I wouldn't turn down a Jay for Willingham exchange, provided there were a couple of smaller parts changing hands as well.
Pittsburgh Pirates, 46-41 (.529)
NL Central: 3rd (-5.5)
NL Wild Card: 4th (-1.5)
Snider has turned into an afterthought since the call up of Polanco, and Harrison has been something like Pittsburgh's version of Eduardo Escobar by playing second, third, right, left, and even a few innings at shortstop. There isn't much power between these four players, but it's not like this team will take time away from future superstars to give it to Willingham. If the Pirates want to add power, it won't be in the outfield.
Toronto Blue Jays, 47-42 (.528)
AL East: 2nd (-1.0)
AL Wild Card: 3rd (-2.0)
This is another case where the guys getting the most time at each of the three positions in question are all doing very, very well. Bautista has made five starts in a row at designated hitter, which means a couple of other minor role players have had an opportunity or two in the outfield, but for the most part these three are playing the roles and doing them well. The only other player besides Lind getting any kind of notable starts at DH is Edwin Encarnacion, and he's not losing any playing time, either.
Kansas City Royals, 45-41 (.523)
AL Central: 2nd (-4.0)
AL Wild Card: 4th (-2.5)
With Aoki on the 15-day disabled list, the Royals have played mix-n-match in right field, sometimes shifting starting center fielder Lorenzo Cain into a corner to let Jarrod Dyson patrol center. That's not a bad solution, but when Aoki returns Kansas City will be facing another question: do they have enough offense to compete for a Wild Card spot? Ibanez is a spectre at this point of his career, with any returns being nothing more than an echo from the player who once inhabited his body. Aoki in right and even Butler as the designated hitter could both be upgraded with relative ease. Butler is something of an institution in Kansas City, but I don't think they're beyond the idea of trying to find other ways of getting him playing time if the opportunity arose. Still, would the Twins shift Willingham to an AL Central foe?
Cincinnati Reds, 44-42 (.512)
NL Central: 4th (-7.0)
NL Wild Card: 5th (-3.0)
The Reds have a tough hill to climb to get into an area where you could really consider them a threat, but getting some offense would help. Ludwick has been the better starter overall for the Cincinnati corner outfielders, but Bruce would be more difficult to displace. Heisey and Schumaker have both played the corners. There could be scenario where Ludwick joins one of the two backups on the bench while Willingham pairs with Bruce, but there's so much work to be done in Cincinnati I doubt they'd be interested unless they went on a run.
New York Yankees, 43-43 (.500)
AL East: 3rd (-3.5)
AL Wild Card: 5th (-4.5)
Willingham would rake in Yankee Stadium, and everyone knows it. Gardner wouldn't lose his time in left field, but it's possible to see Hammer roaming the small confines of right field or taking some time at designated hitter provided the Yankees admit the $15,000,000 they're paying Beltran is helping them lose instead of win ballgames. Soriano has been backing up the corner spots and getting some time at DH as well. The Yankees could actually send back Ichiro to make the money even out, and then toss in a decent prospect to make it worth Minnesota's time. It's funny: adding Willingham would actually make New York a younger team.
Note: It looks like the Yanks just designated Soriano for assignment in order to add Brandon McCarthy to the roster, but this doesn't change the outlook here. If anything, it makes it easier to see New York going for Willingham.
Boston Red Sox, 39-48 (.448)
AL East: 4th (-8.0)
AL Wild Card: 9th (-9.0)
I wouldn't be including Boston, who are absolutely dead in the water, if it hadn't been for Heyman's note in his column yesterday in which he revealed that the Twins would be making Hammer available. We've already discussed the five teams at the top of the AL Wild Card race, and that didn't include Cleveland, Chicago, or Minnesota - all of whom are in a better position for the race than Boston. But if the Red Sox were interested, they need talent. Shane Victorino is on the disabled list, Gomes and Nava haven't been hitting well at all, and Betts is a part of the future for Boston, not a part of winning in 2014.
Compatibility: High, provided Boston is actually buying
There are teams here that could be very interested in Willingham's bat. If you buy into my analysis, the best options would be Oakland, Seattle, and Boston, while St. Louis, New York, and Kansas City could be the dark horse candidates. Regarding any other team currently over .500, the odds don't look good barring a change.