The Unicorn is an interesting case when it comes to Oakland's trade bait. He's injured right now and it's a leg injury which, if it ends up affecting him when he comes back, could hurt his range an awful lot. He is expected to come back early-to-mid June.
What makes him such an interesting case is that nobody really knows what to expect from him. In 2005, he was worth 20.5 RAR but last year he was worth -4.7 RAR. His fielding as also improved every year he's been in the majors; last year his glovework was worth 17.4 RAR, tied for third most in the majors.
Back in September, Ellis underwent major shoulder surgery and it was unclear whether or not he would return to form defensively. Up until the calf injury, Ellis looked very good with the glove, and appeared to return to last season's form.
Unfortunately, his hitting hasn't returned to 2005 form, and it doesn't appear to be trending that way in general. He was OPSing .503 so far with zero homeruns. However, his BABIP was a mere .245. What bothers me is that Ellis hits so many weak pop-ups, and rarely makes solid contact with the ball. Either way, it should improve somewhat when he returns from the DL.
It strikes me as unfortuante that Ellis' value almost exclusively from his defense, because it seems that a lot of teams don't value defense as much as the A's. Here is a few players that Ellis was more valuable than last year: Alfonso Soriano, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Vladimir Guerrero. Signed to a team friendly contract similar to to the one Ellis is signed to, do you think any team would give up the same amount of talent to acquire Ellis than any of those players? I'm skeptical.
If the A's were to falter this year and hold a fire sale, then there are a couple scenarios. It appears to be clear that the A's don't want to give Cardenas a lot of time at 3rd base, and even though he's struggling at AAA, he could be capable of taking over early next year. The A's also have Petit and Pennington capable of taking over 2B this year, and with Cardenas coming up fast, Ellis might have to be moved eventually, anyways.
Of all the players that were worth around 3.1 WAR last year, nearly none of them were traded. Jason Bay, who was worth 2.9 WAR, was traded by the Pirates to the Red Sox in a three way deal that netted them Andy LaRoche (LA), Bryan Morris (LA), Craig Hanson (BOS) and Brandon Moss (BOS). As I discussed in the Holliday trade bait piece, the Bay deal was built around one solid prospect and some major league pieces.
Bay was in the middle of a deal worth $5.75MM in 2008 and $7.5MM in 2009. Anybody that trades for Ellis will get a similar team-friendly deal signed in the 08-09 offseason worth $5MM in 09, and $5.5MM in 2010 and a club option worth $6MM in 2011. I think Bay is an extremely comparable deal, but again, I don't think teams would give up talent for a strictly-defensive player, especially coming off surgery and an injury.
However, let's look at teams in need of a second baseman and see if we can figure something out.Actually, there is a great influx of talented second basemen in the MLB right now, with the likes of Cano, Fontenot, Phillips, Roberts, Hill, Kinsler, Utley, and Pedroia (who's tremendously overrated but still good).
One team sticks out.
St. Louis Cardinals - This season, the Cards decided to conduct a little experiment when they moved outfielder Skip Schumaker to second base. So far this season he's been worth -8.8 RAR with the glove. Ellis would represent a huge improvement over Schumaker, and with few middle infield prospects on the farm, his cheap, three-year contract would be a perfect fit for the Cards.
Colby Rasmus - Out of the question.
Brett Wallace - I doubt even a Wallace/Ellis swap would work out, but if we threw in an extra piece or two, then MAYBE a deal could be worked out. They need a lot of bullpen help, and really, so do we. But if we're out of the race, somebody like Wuertz or Springer would definitely help them in a playoff run. Ellis plus a good reliever for Wallace. Is that enough? I still have my doubts.
Daryl Jones - The 22 year old outfielder has tools and has finally started to put them together over the last couple of years. The Cardinals have a crowded outfield right now, with Ankiel, Rasmus, Duncan, Ludwick, and Schumaker (if they get a real second baseman).
David Freese (3B) and Allen Craig (3B) - Neither project to be studs, but both could be solid major leaguers. Freese has power and a glove, while Craig is an overall better hitting prospect. While the A's have nearly nothing at 3B, either would definitely help an A's organizational weakspot.
Other than that, the Cardinals best prospects are mostly relief pitchers, which I doubt they'll want to give up due to the fact that it's their big weakness at the MLB level. They also have Brian Barden, who looks to be an average major league third baseman.
The Marlins also represent another option, as Dan Uggla has been pretty bad this year, including defensively, but did anybody really expect good glovework? He needs to be moved to 1B, but I think the Marlins giving up young talent to get Ellis is unlikely, but in a competitive NL East, it could definitely happen.
I think a deal for Daryl Jones and Freese/Craig would be a good deal for both teams. Anybody got any other ideas?