Saturday, January 5, 2008

New Trade Target: Paul Konerko

The Angels are reportedly interested in acquiring 32-year-old White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko.

The Angels pursued Konerko as a free agent in the winter of 2005, only to see him re-sign for the White Sox in November of that year.

It's no secret that the Angels have been trying to upgrade their offense this off-season, failing in an attempt to acquire a young impact bat in Miguel Cabrera. With the free agent market bare, the Angels are now turning their attention to acquiring talent via trades.

I've already started discussing what the Angels should do in this off-season, and I must admit I didn't see a need at first base.

Angels' first baseman Casey Kotchman enjoyed a very productive 2007 on offense as well as on defense. Kotchman absolutely excelled at first base, posting a major league best .918 zone rating amongst first baseman. He was brilliant on the field, and he was quietly solid at the plate as well.

Kotchman's numbers don't pop out at first glance, as he hit only 11 home runs and drove in only 68 runs. Not exactly earth shattering numbers, and certainly not great for a first baseman.

A more in-depth analysis will reveal that Kotchman was a valuable contributer on offense, as his .372 OBP was third on the team only to Vladimir Guerrero (.403) and Chone Figgins (.393). He has the second best plate discipline on the team, behind Reggie Willits, with an above average 10.5% walks per plate appearance.

He also was able to do what few ballplayers can: he walked (53) more than he struck out (43). That takes exception skill, and this as well as the other stats presented lead to the conclusion that Kotchman could develop from anywhere from a solid to a special hitter.

In short, Kotchman has one of the best approaches to hitting on the team. This is important to note, because if he is able to develop the power that his 6-3, 215 lb. frame suggests, and many think he will, he will be equipped to be a great player.

He already has the wait-for-your-pitch approach that the great hitters have, and he could very well turn into a perrenial .300/.380/.500 hitter. That's the kind of production the Angels have been lacking, and his youth (24) is only working in his favor.

Paul Konerko has been producing in that same .300/.380/.500 frame for several years now, but he's 32 and coming off a down season for him. Konerko and Kotchman are two players which may be heading in different directions, and last year their offensive production was eerily similar in 2007.

Kotchman posted an .839 OPS, while Konerko posted an .841 OPS. If you adjust that OPS for the ballparks and other factors, Kotchman earns an 119 OPS+ while Konerko earned a 116 OPS+.

One can start to see that this trade doesn't make much sense if it involves substituting Konerko for Kotchman at first base, especially when you factor in Kotchman's all-world defense. There is one scenario, and only one, which would make this trade a clear upgrade opportunity for the Angels.

If you guessed trading Gary Matthews Jr., then you've been reading my previous posts, and I thank you.

Trading Matthews makes sense, as the White Sox don't have a great center field option, and the Angels are well stocked in outfield options. I realize that Matthews alone won't get it done, but I have no problems if the Angels include an arm in the deal.

Joe Saunders makes a lot of sense, as he's only 26 and has a bit of upside. The fact that he's left-handed could appeal to the White Sox, and I think he could turn out to be a slightly better than average pitcher someday. As it is, he's not invaluable to the Angels, and he should be made expendable in this potential deal.

The deal for Konerko should not include any of the following players: Howie Kendrick, Ervin Santana, or Chone Figgins. I think the Angels made a catostrophic mistake in not trading Kendrick for Miguel Cabrera. I think Kendrick has been overrated by the Angels, he took a measly 9 walks in 2007 and doesn't have a great approach at the plate. Until he learns to wait for his pitch, he will always be a step behind the great hitters.

He could no doubt become a great hitter, but he has an approach to hitting which doesn't convince me yet.

I think the Angels should keep him now, unless they get another chance at a Miguel Cabrera/David Wright/Hanley Ramirez type young talent (unlikely at best). Kendrick is too good of a pure hitter to trade at his age (24) for a player on the wrong side of 30 like Konerko, even if Kendrick is raw and may never become a great hitter.

Santana has too much potential, and his youth makes it more likely he will recover from 2007, which wasn't as bad as most think. (Look at his K/BB, K rate, and his fielding-independant stats, which show he was unlucky with balls hit in play).

Figgins is not my ideal 3rd baseman, but seeing as the Angels have no better options at the moment, he must stay. He's not as valuable to the team as he used to be, as the team is deep in outfield options. He's still valuable as a leadoff man if he can repeat his 2007 OBP or come close to it.

I would not mind it at all if the Angels acquired Konerko, but as I've shown, it has to be for the right price. If the White Sox are willing to take a package of Matthews Jr. and a pitcher like Saunders, then this one is an easy deal to make.