Today is July 2, which means that the trade deadline is quickly approaching. The next month will be consumed by rumors about where Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love will end up. Wait, wrong sport. The next month will be consumed by rumors about where David Price and Jeff Samardzija will end up.
The Oakland Athletics are sure to be buyers in this market. They're a first-place team who is expected to contend for a World Series title, and that means that this is the time of year to make whatever significant tune-ups are deemed necessary to give them the best chance to do so. The obvious areas of need are starting pitching and second base. The rest of the team is rock solid.
If I had to choose just one of those positions to address, it would be the starting pitching. The A's lineup is so stacked that it can afford an auto-out at second base if that player at least provides good defense. However, the immediate future of the rotation terrifies me. The top guys are starting to show signs of humanity after being lights out for the first couple months of the season, and nobody is a particularly good bet to exceed 200 innings without issue. And of course, the baseball gods are still throwing darts at a board made up of the names of every pitcher in the world, randomly determining who will be the next to tear an elbow ligament.
So, with that in mind, I would prefer to see Billy Beane use his meager trade chips to strengthen the rotation than to chase after a high-profile second baseman. The best options at the keystone seem to be Ben Zobrist of the Rays and Daniel Murphy of the Mets, but there will be teams lining up to bid on both of them. It seems like everybody needs a second baseman right now, and it will take a premium price to land either of those players. I don't think the A's can afford that price right now, not when they need to add a worthwhile pitcher as well. Besides, Billy prefers to buy low and sell high, and while he has publicly stated that he is all-in for a championship this year, that doesn't mean that he will make poor decisions to get there. (Also, the Twins have no reason to deal Brian Dozier and I don't think they will.)
Therefore, Billy is left with two options. Roll with what he has, or look for cheaper, under-the-radar options. I read somewhere that he's pretty good at doing the latter. Here's what he has right now:
A's second basemen, 2014: .228/.296/.266 (.562 OPS), 0 (zero) home runs, 11 doubles
Hey, at least they're hitting .266! Oh wait, no, that's their slugging percentage. And those numbers are being boosted by Alberto Callaspo's recent hot streak since moving to second (.327 avg in 58 PA's).
OK, so sticking with the status quo might not be the best option. Once you wade past the nice things that the A's can't have, like Zobrist and Murphy and Chase Utley, who else is left? Fangraphs was nice enough to put together a list of guys who might be on the trading block this month, which is based on which teams are perceived to be out of the playoff picture already.
As I looked through the list of second basemen, two names jumped out at me who both happen to be on the same team. Those two players are Luis Valbuena and Emilio Bonifacio. I know, they're not exciting names, but that's the whole point. Neither were Stephen Vogt or Jesse Chavez or Brandon Moss when we got them. The A's need to take chances on solid players and/or guys with upside because they can't afford to make easy decisions to acquire stars who are known quantities. You signed up for this when you became an A's fan.
So, who are Valbuena and Bonifacio? Jeez, I don't know, you think I watch Cubs games? Bonifacio is somewhat familiar from his multiple laps around the league; he's a jack-of-all-trades on defense who doesn't hit much but has good speed. If I had to make a sloppy comparison off the top of my head, I'd say he's Adam Rosales on defense and Rajai Davis on offense but with less power. The 29-year-old is also a free agent at the end of the season and he played very well down the stretch last year for the almost-contending Royals when they acquired him in August (1.2 bWAR in 42 games). My perception of him is that he's a streaky hitter who, if hot, can really help a team for a couple months. There's your upside. Unfortunately, he's on the disabled list right now with an oblique injury, so that may be enough to rule him out.
Valbuena is a 28-year-old journeyman who is hitting well for the first time in his life. He's an average defender at second base and perhaps slightly above-average at third, so I see him as potentially a better version of Callaspo -- if his career-year at the plate isn't a complete fluke. Or, he could be an upgrade over Eric Sogard, as a superior left-handed hitter who isn't a liability in the field. Note that I have never, ever seen Valbuena play and that I can't guarantee he's even a real person, so I'm at the mercy of Baseball-Reference here. He's still under team control for two more seasons after this one and is currently making $1.7 million in his first year of arbitration.
The season lines for the two players:
Bonifacio, 2014: .261/.307/.340, 1 homer, 13 steals (68% success), 0.9 bWAR
Valbuena, 2014: .264/.354/.436, 5 homers, 32 BB, 53 K's, 0.8 bWAR
(Note that Valbuena's bWAR is dragged down by a career-low minus-6 Defensive Runs Saved, which I believe to be a small-sample fluke; last year he was plus-6 and the year before he was plus-4. Bonifacio's positive DRS includes lots of time in the outfield, though he's also good in the infield.)
Exciting? No. Attainable? Yes. Improvements over Sogard? Most likely.
Rather than settling for cold, hard stat lines, though, I asked Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Blue a few questions about these guys. Here's the local scouting report.
1. Luis Valbuena and Emilio Bonifacio have each posted positive defensive metrics at second base, both this year and throughout their careers. Does your eyeball test match up with these numbers? Which one would you rate as the better defender at the keystone, if you had to choose? What about their skills at other positions? (Valbuena at third, Bonifacio at ... everywhere)
AY: Bonifacio has played mostly outfield for the Cubs, primarily because Cubs outfielders have been horrific hitters this year. Between Valbuena and Bonifacio defensively at second base? I'd have to say Valbuena, although it's close. Neither is as good defensively as Darwin Barney, but Barney can't hit, so the other two have gotten quite a bit of playing time. Valbuena came up as a shortstop, so I'd say he's got to be the better defensive player in general.
2. Given that both players are in their late-20s and the Cubs don't appear terribly close to contending (no offense), is there any reason why Chicago would be averse to trading either of these guys? Or are they obvious candidates to be dealt with so many contenders needing infield help? What can the Cubs expect to demand in return for them?
AY: Valbuena is an interesting player. He's never hit for much of an average -- .222 coming into this year -- but always drew a fair number of walks, with a lifetime .302 OBP before 2014, which is pretty good with a .222 average.
This year he has bumped the average up into the .260s, and has a .354 OBP (stats through Tuesday), so you'd think he'd make a decent leadoff man. Unfortunately, the Cubs have only used him there a few times -- this is totally inexplicable to me.
Valbuena is 28. He's having by far the best year of his career (.790 OPS, 117 OPS+), and it leads me to wonder if this is a fluke or a real change in his abilities. At 28, he could put together 3-4 more years close to this, which would make him quite valuable to a contending team down the line, since he can play multiple infield positions. He's also good off the bench; he's 9-for-38 with three walks, two doubles and a triple as a pinch-hitter, which is at least decent.
I could see the Cubs hanging on to him -- he won't be too expensive, even though he's arb-eligible.
3. What else can you tell me about Valbuena and Bonifacio that I can't see in their cold hard stats, for better or for worse?
AY: You'll notice I haven't really mentioned Bonifacio much here. There's a good reason for that, and that is that he suffered an oblique tear on June 12, and has not resumed any baseball activities. I wouldn't expect him back before the All-Star break, and maybe not even then. As you likely know, oblique injuries are real tough to come back from and he could be out even beyond the Cubs' ability to get anything for him in trade.
I should mention that Bonifacio got off to a ridiculous start this year -- .343/.389/.410 in his first 114 plate appearances. From there he hit .199/.243/.287 in 147 PA's before he got hurt.
This isn't the first time he's done this, either. 2009 with the Marlins: .303/.324/.394 in his first 68 PA's, .243/.300/.294 the rest of the season.
He's not a guy I would want on my team the second half of the season, even if he's healthy.
Thanks, Al, for taking the time to tell us about these guys! Now it's your turn, Athletics Nation. What do you think of these cheap, under-the-radar options for second base? Do either of them interest you, or would you rather keep looking? Chime in down below in the poll and the comments!
In the next installment of under-the-radar trade targets, we'll turn our gaze toward Arizona to look at a couple familiar faces.