Despite having over a year left on his contract, Mark Teixeira is being dangled as the big trade target this year. It's plain to see why a team would want Teixeira for the stretch run. Over the past two seasons, he's put up OPSes of .966 and .998 in the second half, on top of being a guy that's almost a guaranteed .900 OPS who plays Gold Glove caliber defense. Any team would be happy to have Mark Teixeira on their team. The question is, is it worth it for the Dodgers to give up top flight talent to get him?
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning news keeps suggesting that the Dodgers would be dumb not to trade James Loney and Clayton Kershaw for Teixeira. This idea is patently absurd. As I mentioned with Andy LaRoche, top 100 prospects rarely get traded at the deadline, let alone two of them. I think a better question is, if the Rangers offered Teixeira for Loney straight up, would it be the right thing to do?
My first instinct is to say "of course it is". Loney's lack of power will keep him from ever being a superstar first baseman. Teixeira could hold down the job until 2008 then be replaced with the biggest bat on the free agent market. When you are a team with the young talent and resources of the Dodgers this seems like the correct course of action.
When you glance at Loney and Teixeira's PECOTA projections for 2008, you would probably come to the same conclusion. Loney projects to a .294/.352/.479 line while Teixeira is looking to produce at a .290/.374/.537 clip. Now, PECOTA numbers aren't perfect, but do these numbers seem unreasonable to anyone? This 79 point difference in OPS is a pretty substantial gain, and would seem to indicate that Teixeira is the superior option. However, when you look at their projected VORP, Teixeira's 39.2 runs represents only a 16.6 run improvement over Loney's 22.6. Why? Park factors. Texas is a launching pad, and VORP adjusts for these things. Still, a win and a half is a win and a half. He would still improve the team, right? There's also another factor here. PECOTA is projecting that Teixeira will receive 114 more plate appearances than Loney. Since this seems like somewhat faulty reasoning given Loney's recent very clean bill of health, it seems unfair to arbitrarily punish Loney for this. If you normalize Loney's VORP over the same 672 plate appearances, it jumps up to 26.8 runs. Suddenly, Loney is worth only 12.4 runs less than Teixeira.
Now, 12.4 runs are about 1.2 wins. Is it worth giving up Loney for these 12.4 runst? Is that extra win next year worth the 12 million dollars or so more than Teixiera would make? How about losing the most productive years of Loney's career in exchange for Teixeira, followed by a hitter that will likely be passed his prime. If you believe that all it will take is one more win to push the Dodgers into the World Series, maybe it is. Otherwise, it seems like more substantial improvements could be made to the team elsewhere, without giving up James Loney.
Admittedly, I ignored defense in this analysis, and it could play a part. Teixeira was an elite defensive player in 2005, but zone rating suggests that he's slipped towards the middle of the pack these couple years. Scouts love James Loney's defense, but he's hasn't played enough in the majors to have any real data about him. Since PECOTA rates defense based on fielding runs, which have next to no predictive value in my experience, I can't trust the ratings they use. Because of this, I'm going to call the whole thing a wash.
Until Loney develops some power, I'll never consider him an untradeable part of the team. I still think the Dodgers would be best served by picking up the biggest bat they can find, sticking him at first, and then trading Loney for something else. However, trading James Loney for another first baseman, even Mark Teixiera, just doesn't make sense. Let alone moving Loney and someone else for the big first baseman.