Friday, October 22, 2010

Jocko Strikes Again, Acquires Edmonds

Well, time to catch up on a few things that went down during the season, starting with the Jim Edmonds deal.

Walt Jocketty sent another jolt through Reds nation by once again staking the future on a name from the past. It worked to such great effect with Scott Rolen that he once again tried to catch lightening in a bottle, this time he turned to Jim Edmonds. And, it's hard not to think it's somewhat cool to see Jocketty target "his guys," because that's exactly what most of us would do if we were in his shoes.

Unfortunately, the cost of obtaining the services of Edmonds was Chris Dickerson. As a general rule, I don't think it's wise to trade away players who provide plus defense and plus on-base skills from premier defensive positions, as they are rather rare talents. Obviously, Dickerson has yet to put it altogether, but he still has the upside that would make him a very productive, valuable player if he does.

2010 Production

In 2010, Chris Dickerson hit a paltry .205/.222/.273/.495 mark in 20 games and 44 At Bats. However, I tend to discount his performance to a certain extent, as I suspect his wrist was bothering him early in the season. Not only was Dickerson wholly unproductive, but he was also a completely different type of hitter. His K/BB ratio was 19/1, which isn't typical of his on-base skill. Either Dusty got into his head and encouraged him to be more aggressive or he was simply hampered by injury. Given that he saw a robust 4.42 pitches per plate appearance, I suspect that Dickerson simply couldn't do enough with the pitches he saw to keep pitchers honest. If you can't put the fear of an extra base hit in the pitcher's mind, then he has no reason not to pound the strike zone. Hitters need a decent hit tool to get any value from on-base skills. Dickerson's injured wrist may have substantially limited his ability to drive the ball, which means pitchers didn't have to resort to nibbling to get him out.

However, after the hamate bone procedure and during his rehab stint, Dickerson was flashing the type of production that first earned him a promotion to the majors. In 43 ABs in triple-A, Dickerson was hitting a robust .442/.528/.767/1.296. The surprising part of his slash line is the power he flashed, which isn't typical after having the hamate bone removed (see: Alonso, Yonder).

In the end, Dickerson once again flashed the type of ceiling at the minor league level that makes him so intriguing, while in the same season demonstrating the type of floor at the MLB level that makes him so frustrating. Are there still possible explanations for his struggles? Yes. But, it's also entirely possible that he'll be nothing more than an AAAA type player who will age out before he can carve out an MLB career.

On the other hand, Jim Edmonds was surprisingly productive at the major league level with a slash line of .281/.344/.484/.828. He also provided well above average defense in centerfield and could have held down any of the outfield positions and first base without much difficulty. Jocketty rightly recognized that outfield depth was a problem and that a reliable veteran bat would be a nice option in leftfield.

At the time of the trade, Edmonds had a higher Win Above Replacement (WAR) mark (2.5) than our entire outfield, including Gomes (0.1), Stubbs (1.1), and Bruce (1.4). So, despite the low profile of the trade, it was a legitimate effort by Jocketty to upgrade the outfield production, especially the Gomes/Nix tandem in leftfield.

In light of Dickerson's lackluster production and injury problems, Edmonds was clearly the better option for the present.

Depth Chart

Another factor weighing in favor of the trade was Dickerson's standing on the organizational depth chart. Unfortunately, Chris Dickerson probably just didn't fit into the organization's future plans in any way shape or form. Generally speaking, a prospect's window of opportunity is small and closes in a hurry. So much of a player's career is largely a function of timing. The best of the best just kick in the door, but the non-blue chip prospects have to slide through the window before it slams shut. In Dickerson's case, he simply didn't make it, which was due in no small part to the players ahead and behind him on the organizational ladder.

At the Major League level, Dickerson was in direct competition with Drew Stubbs and Chris Heisey. At double-A, Dave Sappelt was ripping the cover off the ball and playing elite defense. At the lower levels, you had players like Ryan LaMarre and Yorman Rodriguez. So, if Dickerson was not the centerfielder of the present, then, at age 28, he was not the centerfielder of the future, either. As a result, it's difficult to see how he fit, especially given his struggles adjusting to leftfield.

To utilize his value, the Reds would have had to affirmatively act to make room for Dickerson, which is probably too big a leap of faith for the Reds to take based on the fact that he has not consistently performed at a level high enough to justify such an act. If the Reds cleared room for Dickerson and he failed to produce, then they would have altered their depth chart to accommodate what ultimately turned out to be an unproductive player.

Even so, Dickerson could be the type of player that the Reds regret giving away. He has been a personal favorite of mine for a number of years now for one simple reason: he grades out highly from both a statistical and traditional scouting point of view. Statistical analysis focuses on outcomes, while traditional scouting focuses on the process. It's a means/ends type distinction. And, when a player has good baseball skills and very good baseball tools, I'm willing to give them a bit more time to try to put it altogether.

Jayson Werth is another player who I have long appreciated because he grades out equally well under a statistical analysis method as he does under a traditional scouting method. I love his stats and his baseball mechanics, which made him an undervalued, sleeper candidate. I still feel like Dickerson fits a similar mold, even if he lacks Werth's baseball instincts.

Future Value

As for future value, it was clear that Edmonds had absolutely none. If ever there was a "win now" type move, this was it. Instead of a 28-year old player who had years of value ahead of him to benefit the organization, the Reds acquired a 40-year old player whose value completely disappears upon his retirement. As a result, Edmonds's value was always going to bleed completely out of the organization, which makes the deal a bit less palatable. As soon as the deal was consummated, the Reds committed to riding his value all the way into the ground.

Final Thoughts

Given that the Reds were in a position to make the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, sacrificing some future value for potential present value was certainly a defensible and understandable decision.

In hindsight, this deal likely ranks among the least consequential in all of baseball last season. Edmonds's injury made him a non-factor for the Reds and Dickerson continues to struggle to carve out a significant MLB career. In the final analysis, I liked the acquisition of Edmonds, but disliked giving up a player I still like in Chris Dickerson. In the grand scheme of things, it probably won't matter, but now that he has a fresh start it wouldn't surprise me to see Dickerson grab hold of a centerfield/leadoff hitter job and run with it in another organization.

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