Josh Reddick is the near-ideal trade candidate. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the season, he’s continued to hit ever since rebounding from a disappointing 2013 campaign, and he’s playing for a team in the Oakland Athletics that’s eight games under .500 and has virtually no chance at the playoffs. Reddick is headed to free agency in market populated by few decent players, suggesting there’s little expectation of a return to the A’s, a small-market club relying on young players to compete. All that said, there’s a case to be made that the A’s need not move Reddick at the deadline if they fail to receive a solid offer.
The market for corner outfielders hasn’t been great for sellers or free agents over the past year. A year ago, minor deals were made for Shane Victorino, David DeJesus, David Murphy, and Gerardo Parra. Yoenis Cespedes netted a good package for the Detroit Tigers headlined by Michael Fulmer, and even Cespedes was brought in to play center field. Jay Bruce, on a selling Reds team, stayed put. Carlos Gonzalez, on the selling Colorado Rockies, stayed put. Justin Upton, despite pending free agency, stayed put with the Padres. The latter three players were all producing offensively, but the Padres opted to take a draft pick for Upton, while the Rockies and Reds decided to hold on to their outfielders to try and get better value later.
Then, last offseason, the Rockies and Reds still couldn’t find any offers to their liking. As a result, the Rockies opted to trade the younger, cheaper Corey Dickerson to the Tampa Bay Rays for reliever Jake McGee. Jason Heyward got paid as did Justin Upton, but Cespedes ended up with an unusual three-year deal despite an MVP-type season. Alex Gordon did fine to get four years and $72 million — and Gerardo Parra was fortunate to get a three-year deal from the Rockies — but Dexter Fowler and Austin Jackson both had to sign one-year deals, while Colby Rasmus avoided the market altogether by accepting the qualifying offer. The FanGraphs crowdsourced guesses overshot it on almost all of the outfielders.
After another half-season, that brings us to the current market, which is still heavy on outfielders. We just saw the Padres move Melvin Upton Jr. in exchange for a prospect years from the majors while also kicking in $17 million of the $22 million remaining on Upton’s contract. Carlos Gonzalez, signed through next year at $20 million plus roughly $6 million more this year, is likely on the market again. Jay Bruce, with a $13 million option and about $5 million owed to him for the rest of season, is out there. Carlos Beltran is probably still out there. Steve Pearce can play the infield and outfield. Charlie Blackmon, Ryan Braun, Brett Gardner, and Yasiel Puig are players who could be moved in the right situation.
Reddick is certainly the cheapest option available, owed just a bit over $2 million the rest of the season. He’s also arguably the best option over the course of the rest of the season, as well. Statistically, he compares well to Beltran, Bruce, and Gonzalez:
|Carlos Gonzalez||411||20||7.8 %||21.4 %||.227||.369||.317||.370||.544||125||0.8||13.4||0.4||2.8|
|Carlos Beltran||375||21||5.9 %||17.9 %||.242||.323||.305||.347||.548||134||0.7||16.3||-9.1||2.0|
|Josh Reddick||259||7||10.8 %||12.7 %||.143||.325||.300||.375||.443||121||0.7||7.4||-5.6||1.1|
|Jay Bruce||393||25||6.9 %||20.9 %||.301||.284||.271||.323||.572||130||-2.2||12.2||-16.6||0.8|
Reddick has missed some time due to a thumb injury, although he has been back for a month now and his walks (11%), strikeouts (12%), and ISO (.143) are right line with his season numbers, and the 105 wRC+ he’s recorded since his injury is solid, representing an increase in power and production since the All-Star break. Carlos Gonzalez’s defensive numbers might overstate his value — he averaged -4.0 Def from 2013 to 15 — while Bruce probably isn’t the disaster his defensive statistics make him look, even if he is quite bad.
To get a better gauge on current talent, let’s take a look at the rest-of-season projections for this quartet.
By this measure, Reddick is the best available outfielder available. Of the four, Beltran is clearly the oldest, but Gonzalez, at age 30, is a year older than Bruce and Reddick. The production Reddick has provided has also been the most consistent of the players available. Reddick’s 30-game rolling wRC+ over the past two years is seen below.
Reddick did have a bit of a dip last year, but since that time has hovered around an area solidly above average. Carlos Gonzalez has had two periods where he dipped below 50 wRC+ while Bruce had a time where he dipped below zero. If Reddick is the best-projected, most consistent outfielder on the market, that would seem to be a great case to trade him. In order to trade him, however, the A’s must do better than the compensation pick they would receive from offering Reddick arbitration at the end of the season.
There are multiple ways to try and value the draft pick a team receives, and we can get a decent estimate of how much prospects are worth. It would seem, based on the linked studies, that the compensation draft pick is probably worth something like a player in the 51-100 range in terms of prospects. That’s roughly what the Tigers netted when they received Michael Fulmer from the Mets in exchange from Cespedes. Depending on how close a team is to contention, the prospect nearer to the majors, even if not in the top 100, might have more value than a draft pick, but the slot money provided for a first-round draft pick greatly increases a team’s flexibility in the draft and opens up more possibilities in terms of signing players to overslot deals and getting better value out of the draft.
When all is said and done, the A’s seem likely to trade to Reddick given his potential value to a contender the rest of the season. However, the A’s don’t have to just take the best offer. All the outfielders currently available could serve to depress the offers the A’s will receive. If the A’s don’t get a sufficiently competitive offer, merely holding on to Reddick is a reasonable choice. There’s always the risk of injury, especially with a player like Reddick, but the risk of an injury bad enough it causes the team not offer a qualifying offer appears low.
What seemed so curious a year ago when A.J. Preller held on to Justin Upton makes more sense nnow given what we now know about the market. The A’s have so little payroll committed to next season, they can absorb Josh Reddick’s contract if for some reason he were to accept the qualifying offer. But given the lack of free agents available this winter and his age (29), Reddick seems like a pretty good bet to test the market. The A’s probably should trade Josh Reddick, but it isn’t quite the slam dunk it appears to be.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.