Let’s Make A Deal: Willingham Willingness?

By Mike Brandyberry

The Cleveland Indians and Oakland Athletics have been rumored in trade talks for several days. The Indians are desperate to land an outfield bat, while the Athletics have two, possibly three outfielders available. I had the chance to have an extensive email conversation regarding trade possibilities with Oakland Athletics blogger, David Wishinsky. David runs the blog, The Todd Van Poppel Rookie Card Retirement Plan and you can follow him on twitter at @tvprcretireplan.

The chat is a bit extensive, but if you are an Indians fan with an eye on an Athletics outfielder, you will quickly see they are available for a fair price.

Mike: I think the Indians and Athletics have been rumored to be trade partners. It seems the Indians have had their eye on Josh Willingham or Coco Crisp. The Indians have many prospects, at varying levels, but I think they don’t really have intentions of trading their marquee names. What do you think the Athletics are looking for in terms of compensation for Willingham or Crisp?

Dave: I think the first step in any trade between Oakland and Cleveland for a guy like Josh Willingham or Coco Crisp is that the domino effectneeds to be started with Carlos Beltran (and perhaps Hunter Pence being clearly available and dealt or clearly unavailable) going somewhere. Only then do teams really start to covet Willingham or Crisp. There are two issues at play of course with a deal like this, Billy Beane wants to maximize his value – as would any GM – and the fewer alternatives on the marketplace the more these guys are worth, conversely the closer to the deadline we get the A’s who really must unload these guys, get more desperate to part with them even for less than ideal returns. Their only value to Oakland realistically these days is as trade pieces as neither project to be Type-A’s and if they did, neither is a guy you necessarily want to offer arbitration to.

Cleveland’s strong bullpen makes them a less desirable trade partner than a team like say Pittsburgh whom the A’s can package a reliever and hitter to and get something better in return, but that said there are still options. If I were Chris Antonetti I would not give up any sort of top prospect for either Willingham or Crisp and all things indicate he isn’t willing to which is smart. With that said, I think either fetch a prospect who might be between 20-35 on the Indians’ list. The A’s need hitting and in particular power, so someone with raw power and high risk but possibly high upside might be the type of guy they target, preferably a corner outfielder or corner infielder – which is where they seem weakest both now and in the top two rungs of the minors. If I were Antonetti though, I might look at another A’s outfielder on the market instead. Cleveland fans rightfully so many long for a return from Coco Crisp but he is hardly the ballplayer that he was in Cleveland. He is a tough guy to place in a lineup because he doesn’t have the power to be middle of the order, and while his speed makes him a great top of the order guy, his low on-base percentage should dissuade teams with better options from putting him in the leadoff spot. But a guy I’d look at if I were Cleveland (and I personally hope Oakland attempts to hang onto him) is David DeJesus. DeJesus is a very good right-fielder with a cannon for an arm (not Choo’s arm but few if any have that) and though he is having a remarkably bad season, he has historically been above average and his familiarity with the American League Central would likely benefit the Indians and perhaps help DeJesus return to a more DeJesus-like level of production. I think the asking price for DeJesus would be in line with that of Crisp or Willingham, unless a team specifically desired power or speed, and as you know the asking price for different organizations is different based on assessing their needs and how valuable your piece is to filling their needs. But while it is Crisp and Willingham most rumored to go to Cleveland, I’d say the best bet would be DeJesus.

Mike: I agree that the value of guys like Willingham and Crisp are probably dependent upon guys like Carlos Beltran, Hunter Pence, and now, B.J. Upton. I think something to keep in mind though, is those big names may not be traded until minutes before the deadline. From reports we have heard the Athletics have acknowledged that they “must” trade Willingham.

To be honest, the Indians probably are interested in Willingham because of the thought that Oakland feels they have to trade him. The Indians are certainly feeling pressure from their fan base, and even their manager, for help. However, Indians management has been pretty adament that they are not going to trade their top prospects like Drew Pomeranz, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis or Alex White. I think that makes someone like Willingham interesting to them, because if Oakland feels forced to trade him, the Indians hope would certainly be to take advantage of that need and acquire him for as little as possible.

It is interesting that you bring up David DeJesus because I have always thought of him as a poor man’s Grady Sizemore (Sizemore, when healthy). DeJesus is probably not the same power threat as Willingham, but a better average hitter with the option to run. I don’t think anyone is holding their breath on Sizemore’s return to the lineup this season, so DeJesus could play right field until Shin-Soo Choo returns from his hand injury, then move to left field.

Probably the concerning part of your last email is that the Athletics are looking for outfield power hitters. If the Indians have one of those in their farm system, they are currently in the witness protection program. With the exception of Nick Weglarz, the Indians don’t have anyone in their organization with any major league potential. That’s the biggest reason why the team has been parading out Austin Kearns, Travis Buck and Shelly Duncan most of the season. They have nothing else.

I think the price of a 20-30 level prospect sounds about right, but I’m not sure the Indians have anything of that level, that is an outfielder until you get down to their A-level teams. If the Athletics would make a deal like that for DeJesus, or Willingham, I think the Indians would make that deal.

Dave: I have to admit I am not as familiar with the Indians farm system especially once you get outside guys like Alex White, Drew Pomeranz and the like. I think that Beltran will go well before the deadline (I don’t know how “well before” you can get with the deadline a little over a week away) probably within the next three to four days is what I am thinking. Beltran needs to approve things with his no-trade clause etc, and the Mets are best advised to deal him and Sandy Alderson is smart enough not to botch this. The A’s do have to get rid of Willingham, they aren’t contending this year, he will be a Type-B player and the A’s aren’t going to be offering him arbitration – so a deal could be made, but I think still it’d follow any move of Beltran, Pence and Upton (good point) could be moved, I still think this is more of a fishing exercise similar to what we say with Justin Upton this winter, and Ubaldo Jimenez earlier this month.

Well Willingham historically has been a very good hitter. This year, for him and virtually everyone else in the A’s lineup, is an off year for him. Willingham when his usual self is the exact kind of guy any team would want in their lineup, so I think he is someone Cleveland would want whether or not the A’s wanted to get rid of him. His availability and the A’s strong desire to move him just make that deal less costly than it normally might be for them – a strong consideration for a cost-conscious club.

DeJesus hits well for average, has below average power for a corner outfielder, but is a good gap hitter with great speed and is good in the field. Though his K% is higher than its ever been in his career, DeJesus won’t strike out anywhere near as much as Sizemore, which is along with his lack of power is the real difference between him and Sizemore.

I think the A’s realize they aren’t going to get exactly what they want for any of their trade pieces. The only guy where they really can hold out for top-notch prospects is closer Andrew Bailey and he isn’t really officially on the market though the A’s are certainly listening on him – as they should be. The A’s need hitters, their minor-leagues are pretty barren, so while they’d love power or someone who could develop it, the A’s likely will be pleased with any high OBP hitters and decent upside pitchers. They’re going to ultimately get what they can, these aren’t players whom they can really be particularly choosy with.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the A’s got a guy or two out of Lake County or Kinston because as I said the A’s need to get these players out, and need to get whatever they can out of them, but if they go with Single-A guys its either a more than one, or a bit of a they need higher upside than if they get decent guys closer to the Majors.

Mike: I think the Indians would certainly trade an A-ball player from Kinston or Lake County for a player like Willingham or DeJesus. Certainly the Indians would only want one, as I am sure they will tell the fan base that Choo will return and provide another bat to the offense. I certainly like the idea of DeJesus, but we have heard very little rumors of that in Cleveland. To be honest, when Mark Shapiro was the general manager, that is how most deals were completed. While everyone thought they were pursuing one trade, they would surpise teams and go a different direction. Probably something to monitor in the next week.

Dave: I think the further away from the Majors, the better the player will have to be and vice-versa in a trade with Oakland. While they want to replenish their farm system, with the pitching staff they have in place Oakland doesn’t see themselves as a complete rebuild and nor should they. Beane is the same way as Shapiro was except that we don’t hear any rumors at all. Very tight-lipped front office, and then the move is made with little warning.

The Indians are going to be conservative, they’re competing this year earlier than they anticipated and could be competitive for the next few years, why rock the boat and deal what could be a valuable piece in a year or two? Problem for them matching up with Oakland is that we aren’t looking at a full rebuild and none of these guys’ salaries are so high that we truly benefit in the salary dump sense. It will make any deal far from a blockbuster.

Mike: If Oakland is willing to take a player from the A level, either Kinston or Lake County, I think the Indians will be interested. You are 100% correct when you say you think the Indians will be conservative. When it comes to trading any prospects, the Indians get conservative in a hurry. Most fans are hoping they would make a splash, but most also it expect it to be much more like a drop. I think Josh Willingham or David DeJesus are definitely those incremental “drops.”

Photo: Yahoo

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