Twins trade rumors: the market for Josh Willingham

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you're judging Josh Willingham's offensive value solely on batting average, it turns out this guy is still a pretty good hitter.

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 Ranks BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Willingham 16.8 .229 .366 134
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)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Yoenis Cespedes 7.3 .213 .342 120
Josh Reddick 8.2 .128 .293 86
Alberto Callaspo 10.4 .073 .285 80
John Jaso 9.9 .171 .346 122
Stephen Vogt 3.4 .120 .371 139

With Reddick on the disabled list the A's might actually be better from an offensive standpoint. He's been bad this year, although - as you can see - they haven't had many good options to take his spot. Callaspo and Jaso have made far and away the most starts at designated hitter for Oakland. Willingham belted 15 of his 29 home runs at the Colosseum when he played for Oakland in 2011, so we know the power would play. Vogt, the wild card in this bunch, is a 29-year old with decent minor league numbers but few Major League plate appearances and little success with the ones he's had.


Compatibility:
High

Milwaukee Brewers, 52-36 (.591)
NL Central: 1st (+5.0)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Khris Davis 5.3 .231 .348 .120
Ryan Braun 6.3 .219 .365 .132
Elian Herrera 1.2 .049 .231 40
Logan Schafer 9.2 .094 .237 44


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.

Compatibility: Low

Los Angeles Angels, 50-36 (.581)
AL West: 2nd (-3.5)
AL Wild Card: 1st (+2.5)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Josh Hamilton 11.4 .158 .368 139
Kole Calhoun 8.4 .208 .369 140
C.J. Cron 3.8 .248 .378 146
Collin Cowgill 8.8 .133 .340 119

Since the Angels dropped Raul Ibanez, they've been giving their designated hitter plate appearances to a rotation of Cron, Hamilton, and Albert Pujols. Cron hasn't been around long but was a quick mover through the Angels' farm system and has a good minor league track record, and his Major League line is very impressive through 47 games. It's hard to see this stacked offense needing or being able to find room for Willingham.

Compatibility: Low

Detroit Tigers, 48-36 (.571)
AL Central: 1st (+4.0)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Rajai Davis 4.7 .135 .321 100
Torii Hunter 2.8 .165 .312 94
Victor Martinez 9.7 .272 .416 165
J.D. Martinez 6.3 .306 .423 171


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.

Compatibility: Unlikely

Atlanta Braves, 49-38 (.563)
NL East: 1st (+1.5)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Justin Upton 9.5 .232 .371 139
Jason Heyward 11.6 .124 .319 103
Ryan Doumit 3.2 .125 .260 62


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.

Compatibility: Unlilkely

Los Angeles Dodgers, 50-40 (.556)
NL West: 1st (+0.5)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Matt Kemp 8.7 .174 ,332 115
Andre Ethier 6.3 .129 .308 99
Yasiel Puig 10.7 .208 .396 159
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.

Compatibility: Low

San Francisco Giants, 48-39 (.552)
NL West: 2nd (-0.5)
NL Wild Card: 1st (+0.5)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Hunter Pence 8.1 .170 .361 136
Mike Morse 5.8 .229 .359 135
Tyler Colvin 6.1 .178 .299 94


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.

Compatibility: Low

Seattle Mariners, 48-39 (.552)
AL West: 3rd (-6.0)
AL Wild Card: 2nd (--)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Dustin Ackley 7.2 .117 .279 74
Michael Saunders 7.5 .157 .326 106
Corey Hart 6.7 .137 .283 76
Endy Chavez 4.5 .126 .290 82


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.

Compatibility: High

Washington Nationals, 47-39 (.547)
NL East: 2nd (-1.5)
NL Wild Card: 2nd (--)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Bryce Harper 8.9 .119 .322 104
Jayson Werth 10.5 .135 .350 123
Nate McLouth 10.9 .073 .268 67


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...

Compatibility: Low

Baltimore Orioles, 47-40 (.540)
AL East: 1st (+1.0)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Nick Markakis 8.7 .113 .335 109
Nelson Cruz 9.2 .295 .397 152
David Lough 8.4 .096 .254 54
Steve Pearce 8.7 .265 .425 171
Delmon Young 2.6 .124 .346 117


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.

Compatibility: Low

St. Louis Cardinals, 47-41 (.534)
NL Central: 2nd (-5.0)
NL Wild Card: 3rd (-1.0)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Matt Holliday 12.5 .115 .340 120
Allen Craig 6.2 .118 .299 91
Jon Jay 5.8 .088 .320 106


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.

Compatibility: Moderate

Pittsburgh Pirates, 46-41 (.529)
NL Central: 3rd (-5.5)
NL Wild Card: 4th (-1.5)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Sterling Marte 6.4 .124 .315 102
Travis Snider 9.7 .109 .288 83
Josh Harrison 5.1 .149 .343 121
Gregory Polanco 12.5 .113 .360 133


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.

Compatibility: Low

Toronto Blue Jays, 47-42 (.528)
AL East: 2nd (-1.0)
AL Wild Card: 3rd (-2.0)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Jose Bautista 16.7 .229 .414 165
Melky Cabrera 6.3 .165 .354 123
Adam Lind 10.5 .175 .397 153


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.

Compatibility: Low

Kansas City Royals, 45-41 (.523)
AL Central: 2nd (-4.0)
AL Wild Card: 4th (-2.5)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Alex Gordon 9.8 .159 .341 115
Nori Aoki 7.2 .061 .295 83
Raul Ibanez 0 .250 .325 104
Billy Butler 7.7 .076 .294 82


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?

Compatibility: Moderate

Cincinnati Reds, 44-42 (.512)
NL Central: 4th (-7.0)
NL Wild Card: 5th (-3.0)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Ryan Ludwick 7.6 .129 .317 100
Jay Bruce 10.6 .163 .309 94
Chris Heisey 5.9 .123 .268 65
Skip Schumaker 4.2 .076 .275 70


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.

Compatibility: Unlikely

New York Yankees, 43-43 (.500)
AL East: 3rd (-3.5)
AL Wild Card: 5th (-4.5)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Brett Gardner 8.9 .148 .352 121
Ichiro Suzuki 7.9 .035 .298 84
Carlos Beltran 7.2 .189 .296 83
Alfonso Soriano 2.5 .146 .264 61


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.

Compatibility: Moderate

Boston Red Sox, 39-48 (.448)
AL East: 4th (-8.0)
AL Wild Card: 9th (-9.0)

Player BB% ISO wOBA wRC+
Jonny Gomes 11.5 .120 .310 91
Daniel Nava 10.1 .074 .290 77
Mookie Betts 5.0 .158 .274 67
David Ortiz 13.2 .233 .354 121


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

Conclusions

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.

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