Nationals Trade Willingham For Upside and Little Else:

Steve O Speak

The Trade:  The Washington Nationals traded OF Josh Willingham to the Oakland A’s for RP Henry Rodriguez and OF Corey Brown (AAA):

Why this deal makes sense for the Athletics: Oakland needed to continue to add bats to their lineup and they landed a big one with Josh Willingham. After already adding Hideki Matsui and David DeJesus to their roster, Willingham represents the final piece to the puzzle and a true impact bat. His injury history and final year remaining on his contract help keep his price low, as the A’s didn’t need to surrender any of their top prospects. Willingham does seem open to an extension, but if he does leave should net the A’s two draft picks. Willingham thrived in his two year stint in Washington, posting a combined .856 OPS. Injuries slowed him down this past season and he missed the final third of the year, but he still proved himself to be a very productive hitter. His WAR of 2.7 was top 10 in the league for LF’s despite the missed time, and had he been healthy, he would have been over a 4 win player.

Why This Deal Makes Sense For The Nationals: With the addition of Jayson Werth, Josh Willingham was a redundant player on the Nationals, and he was a trade candidate even before the signing. Willingham is in the final year of his deal, and wasn’t likely to be resigned by the Nationals. Given the outrage of losing Adam Dunn for just a pair of draft picks, the Nationals probably wanted to capitalize on Willingham now, instead of chancing it at the deadline. The Nationals received two young prospects for Willingham that they will have control of for 6 full seasons. Rodriguez could one day pitch at the back of the Nationals bullpen, while Brown has the tools to be the Nationals future every day center fielder.

Why I Don’t Like This Deal: For me this is selling a bit low on Willingham, and I’ve been arguing for a Willingham trade since the July 2009 trading deadline. While I understand that Willingham’s injury history and single year remaining on his deal kept his value low, he also will be paid at a significantly reduced price this year and bring back draft picks if the A’s don’t resign him. Willingham might not be a true superstar (i.e. Matt Holliday), but a .378 wOBA is very impressive and should warrant a bigger return.

Here is my take on the two prospects they received:

RHP Henry Rodriguez: I know a lot of hype will surround Rodriguez as a fair return for Willingham in the coming days, but I’m not buying. Rodriguez who will turn 24 before the start of the season has an electric arm, but little else to go with it. While his fastball can dial up to 100mph, and sits in the 96-99 range, he doesn’t control it well enough. His slider and changeup also project as Major League pitches, but without being able to throw at least one of his three pitches for strikes, he remains a risk. Relievers, even one with the potential to close don’t bring a ton of value unless you are confident in their ability to reach that potential. While Rodriguez could prove me wrong, I think the Nationals are taking a big risk here. For me he shouldn’t be the ‘centerpiece’ in a trade for a bat like Josh Willingham. The one positive I see about adding him, is that it could provide the Nationals with the depth to trade either Burnett and/or Clippard for another piece.

OF Corey Brown: I’m actually a big Corey Brown fan. But since the first part of their trade (Rodriguez) is a risk in my book, I would have hoped the Nationals got more value in the rest of this deal. In fact I believe that Brown is really the ‘centerpiece’ of this trade, despite the fact he has lost some of his prospect luster these past few years. Brown struggled mightily during a AAA promotion last season, but I still believe in his overall potential. He will need to figure it out soon as he will be 25 this season, and his window for success is closing. Right now Brown looks more like a league average outfielder, though if he can play center field his value does improve. Brown possesses both power and speed, and if all goes well could be ready by midseason for the the Nationals. Brown is still far from a sure thing, and while he improves the Nationals center field depth, he doesn’t eliminate the problem.

ANALYSIS: I think the A’s won this deal. While it wasn’t a landslide, I think the Nationals might regret this trade. Neither Rodriguez or Brown are what I’d classify as sure things, and are more likely to be moderate major leaguers (i.e. a middle reliever and 4th outfielder) than stars. If the Nats had been able to get  a 3rd or a 4th piece at least a quantity argument could be made, but as it stands I think their return is a little light.

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