Thinking About the Nature of Bench Players and Moving Xavier Nady

Now that Junior has returned to the Mariners, can we expect to hear about more conversations between Frank Wren and Brian Cashman?

While our SBN sister-site expects the Braves to move forward with the pieces they've got, I expect the two sides to do more than just kick the tires.

The truth is, I just don't see Nady as a full time player in the Bronx.  While his power numbers are on a 3 year upward trend (supported by a rise in his LD%, so that's not just smoke; Nady has legitimately made better contact), he's only seen 3.66 pitches/PA over that stretch (by the way, I like that deciding which site to check first, Baseball-Reference or FanGraphs feels deciding between Bull Durham and Field of Dreams- one gives me the quick fix and is often a good way to jumpstart a baseball conversation, the other has more other things mixed in so it gives me more to sit and think about).

For comparison's sake, in the last 3 years Jeter has seen 3.74 P/PA, Arod 3.84, and Abrue 4.38.  Nady alternative Nick Swisher saw an Abreu-esque 4.29 P/PA.  That's a pitch every two ABs above Nady for an entire season.

And over those 3 seasons Nady had mediocre twice (OPS+ 102, 107) and stellar once (128).  Swisher has been stellar twice (125, 127) and mediocre once (92).

And the evidence suggests that Swisher plays better overall defense than Nady, though, again, they inverted each other last season- Nady played good D in right for the first time in a long time, while Swisher posted his first negative UZR since his rookie year.

I understand the argument in favor of having a legit full-time quality player for the bench.  And I understand the argument of having a more capable backup than Melky/Gardner should one of Swish, Nady, Damon go down (plus Swisher spares us the sight of Angel Berroa's Cairomack-like .305 OBP at first).

But I worry that not all players are suited for irregular playing time.  Some get lax in their preparations, perhaps thinking "I won't be in this game" or "I won't face that guy" and then underperform when given the chance.  Sometimes a guy's swing gets off or his approach shifts.  Imagine what it's like to stand in the batter's box thinking, "Maybe if I park this one I'll get the start tomorrow."

Not all players are cut out for bench roles.

I'm also pessimistic that either X or Swish will wind up the bench player after a poor spring or a lousy first couple of weeks.  We always over-react to the early small sample size (see Jeter, Derek 2004 or Abreu, Bobby 2007 and 2008).

Furthermore, while Nady/Swisher's platoon numbers figure to be more valuable than than their individual performances, Swisher is stronger from the right side.  A switch-hitter really has two swings to keep in shape, and the wheels fell off for Swisher once he was benched last September.

The longer term consequences of that situation are what really concern me: either overpaying to keep Nady, trade Swisher with his value down (though that's hard to judge since we got him for Wilson Betemit), or really overpay on a long-term deal for Matt Holliday.

All this thinking and speculating is really a roundabout way of saying that the argument in favor of keeping both players requires that Nady continue to outperform himself.  How else could Nady's value ever be higher?  

A Boras client, Nady is a one year rental either way.  A player's value is higher in the offseason than during the season so long as the demand is relatively constant.  The current Braves outfield projects OPS's around .760 from both corners.

Maybe a contender will have an outfielder go down, but it's hard to justify strengthening the Twins or the Angels midseason.  And if Nady starts 2009 the way he ended 2008 (.268/.320/.474, which is nearly a perfect replica of his 2007 full season numbers) his value is only going to slide.

Find a deal; any return bigger than what brought Swisher aboard is a bigger return than a $6.5M insurance policy.  I'd eat the salary to bring in Jordan Schafer, but that's just my pipedream.  Maybe if we include an MLB-ready arm like Aceves or a higher projection one like Betances?

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