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Good luck trading Ryan Howard, B.J. Upton

11/12/2014

Buster Olney takes a good look at the saturated market for DH types and writes this about Ryan Howard:

He is being pushed hard in the market by the Phillies. Rival executives perceive the Phillies will do whatever it takes to dump him, up to and including eating the vast majority of his salary.

Howard is owed $25 million in 2015 and 2016 and has a $10 million buyout for 2017, so that's $60 million for two years of his service.

The question: Is Howard worth a gamble even if the Phillies eat his entire salary other than the $500,000 major league minimum?

After all, Howard hit 23 home runs and drove in 95 runs in 2014. He ranked fourth in the National League in RBIs! So he must have some value, right? Maybe?

Here's another stat to consider. Fewest RBIs from the DH spot, American League teams:


    Seattle 50

    Kansas City 59

    Tampa Bay 61

    New York 63

    Oakland 70

    Cleveland 77

    Texas 78

Only four teams -- Boston, Detroit, Minnesota and the Angels -- received at least 95 RBIs from their DHs.

So maybe the Phillies can find a taker for an "RBI guy" like Howard?

Not so far. We know RBIs are context-driven. Howard hit cleanup in 137 of his 146 starts. He had guys getting on base in front of him. In fact, guess who led the major leagues in plate appearances with runners on base? Yep, Ryan Howard. He batted 345 times with at least one runner on and ranked third overall behind Casey McGehee and Justin Upton in total number of runners on base while batting.

No, the RBIs don't tell the story of Howard's value as a hitter. The more important stat is Howard's .223/.310/.380 batting line. That's good for a wOBA of .302 (weighted on-base average, not park-adjusted). Baseball-Reference estimates that Howard created five runs fewer than the average hitter given his plate appearances.

Now, we're still left with five AL teams that received worse production from their DH position: Seattle (.254 wOBA), Oakland (.281), Kansas City (.288), New York (.291) and Texas (.300). The Yankees will presumably have to rotate Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez through the DH position. The Rangers will have Prince Fielder back, presumably to share time at DH and first base with Mitch Moreland, although it may be time to punt on Moreland. The A's have John Jaso, but Howard is a possible fit. The Royals have to decide on re-signing Billy Butler. The Mariners are hot for Victor Martinez.

And as Olney wrote, there are many potential DH guys out there, including Martinez, Butler, Mike Morse, Kendrys Morales and, as a trade possibility, Evan Gattis.

The lure in Howard is that he would be cheap if the Phillies pick up $55 million-plus of that $60 million. He's not good and definitely should not be considered for first base, but the state of DH production in 2014 was so poor that it wouldn't shock me if an AL team took a chance on him. Still, it seems unlikely in an era in which most teams prefer to rotation their other position players through the DH spot.

* * *

Then there's Braves center fielder B.J. Upton, still owed $46 million over the next three seasons. David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution writes:

The Braves would like to get out from under at least part of the approximate $46 million they owe Upton over the next three seasons by including him in a deal for a player that other teams want, such as slugger Evan Gattis. A scout from one American League said Tuesday that his team would love to have Gattis but wouldn’t consider taking on B.J. Upton or any part of his contract.

In two seasons with the Braves, Upton has hit .198 with 21 homers, 61 RBIs, a .279 OBP and a .593 OPS, and had a franchise-record 173 strikeouts in 519 at-bats in 2014.

"It’s been a complete collapse offensively," said John Hart, the Braves’ new president of baseball operations.

Upton has been worth minus-1.3 WAR and minus-0.3 WAR the past two seasons. Factor in that his defensive metrics in center field have never been good (minus-7, minus-4, plus-1 and minus-7 defensive runs saved since 2011) and he doesn't even have value as glove-only center fielder. Does that sound like a player you want to take on?

Some have mentioned the possibility of trading one bad contract for another, such as Edwin Jackson of the Cubs. But Jackson is owed only $22 million over the next two seasons, less than half of Upton's total.

Upton is only 30. But if he's going to turn things around, you have to think it has to come in Atlanta. I just can't see another team trading for him and thinking he's going to be their center fielder.

What do you think? Is there any chance Howard and Upton get traded this winter?