Should The O’s Trade For Adrian Gonzalez?

Friend of the blog Daniel Rifkin (of Press Box Magazine) recently asked for my opinion on a potential move by the Orioles to acquire slugging first-baseman Adrian Gonzalez of the San Diego Padres. It’s a topic that’s been discussed by O’s fans these days, so Daniel suggested I do a post on it (and I was happy to oblige).

First off, Adrian Gonzales is a great player. He’s hitting .276/.406/.567 this year, with 33 home runs and a .405 wOBA – all despite playing half his games in an extreme pitcher’s park. The guy can swing the bat, but this – in his age 27 season – may be a career year for him. His wOBA’s going back the last three years are .368, .360, and .363. His ZiPS rest of season projection calls for a .388 wOBA, so I think it’s fair to say that Gonzalez is a very good hitter but not quite as good as he’s been this year. His defense has been a little up and down (relative to average) according to UZR the last few years, but in general he’s solid with the glove over at first-base. Gonzalez is also signed to a very cheap contract, making $4.75 M next year and $5.5 M in 2011 (as a club option that will almost assuredly be picked up). Gonzalez is a fair bet to end tha year as a 6 Wins Above Replacement player (he’s at about 4.8 already), and if you want to call him a 5.5 WAR guy next year and a 5 WAR guy the year after that I won’t argue too much. (I think that’s on the high side, but I won’t argue it. He was between 3.3 and 3.9 WAR the last three years, by the way.) So at those levels of production – assuming $4.5 M per WAR – he would be worth about $47 M. Subtract out his salary, and that’s about $37 M in excess value to his team. He’s certainly worth a lot. [I’m ignoring draft-pick compensation (which would add value). Also the move from the NL to the AL (which would subtract value). The wOBA/WAR should be park adjusted already though.]

So what would the Orioles need to give up to acquire that kind of asset? Well, a hitting prospect ranked in the top 10 in all of baseball has an excess value of around $36.5 M on average. Only O’s player that would come close to fitting the bill there would be Matt Wieters (HA!). A top 50 prospect that’s a pitcher would be in the $15-16 M range. So that’s two of the O’s Big Three (Daniel suggested “The Tripod” – don’t know how I feel about that; thoughts?), plus another hitter who’s a B prospect. Any O’s fans willing to trade Tillman, Arrieta, and Josh Bell for Adrian Gonzalez? If you only want to give up one leg of the Tripod (and that is almost a necessity), then it’ll take more like 4-5 players to get it done. Perhaps Arrieta ($15 M), Brandon Erbe ($10 M?), Brandon Snyder ($6 M?), Steven Johnson ($5 M?), and a C prospect. Or Arrieta, Erbe, Nolan Reimold, and a lesser arm (Troy Patton?). Keep in mind that I’m not saying the Padres would accept these deals – they’re actually likely to hold out for more than that. This is just what the Orioles would need to give up to not win the deal outright.

Gonzalez would make the team better though. Assuming the package is something along the line of Arrieta, Erbe, Snyder, Johnson, and a C prospect, then the net gain for the O’s on the field is (mostly) however much better Gonzalez is than whoever the O’s were going to play at first-base. Even assuming the O’s can scrounge up a league-average first-baseman somewhere, that’s still an upgrade of 2 to 3 wins. The question then is, are 3 extra wins in 2010 and 2011 worth losing Arrieta, Erbe, Snyder, and Johnson for 2012-2016? [Interesting hypothetical: Would you trade Chris Tillman (or Matusz or Arrieta) for Albert Pujols if you knew he (Pujols) would leave after 2010? (Let’s ignore draft-picks and what-not.) Hard to say no to getting the best player in the game, but does it really make sense for this organization right now?]

I personally wouldn’t try to trade for Adrian Gonzalez, unless the San Diego GM hasn’t slept for a few days (because that would be to long) and thinks that Billy Rowell is actually a top prospect. If you trade for Gonzalez you’re basically saying that the O’s will definitely compete for the playoffs in the next two years. That’s not a risk I’d be willing to take, and it’s still possible that if the Orioles do find themselves in contention in 2010 or 2011, they could always try to work something out at that point. Probably best to just stick to the current game plan.