On Understanding The Kotchman Move

I thought I had something new and interesting to say until I realized that Dave beat me to it in the comments yesterday. Of course. But, whatever, it deserves a bigger post.

According to Alex Speier, or - more accurately - according to Alex Speier's source, the Mariners are going to be sending to Boston something like $7.5-8m to help pay for Bill Hall. If Kotchman gets paid as he's expected to get paid in 2010, that means we will have brought him in at a net cost of $2.5m or $3m or so.

Most people aren't big fans. Kotchman isn't a horrible player, and it's a small commitment, but most everyone had a dream scenario at 1B that in no way involved Casey Kotchman. Even those that dreamed smaller were holding out hopes for a guy like Russell Branyan, so Kotchman's underwhelming. He offers minimal improvement to a lousy offense, and limited improvement overall. In short, people wanted more.

But there's an extra element to all this that few have been talking about. The focus, rightly, has been on Kotchman. He's the guy being brought in as a regular. However, consider Bill Hall. By shipping Hall to Boston in exchange for a first baseman, the M's have left themselves with an open roster spot. They've just shifted that opening from 1B to righty OF. Before the trade, it was assumed that Hall, Ryan Langerhans, Milton Bradley, and Ken Griffey Jr. would rotate through DH and left field. Now, with Hall out of the picture, there's a need for a guy who can hit lefties and play the field to complete the picture.

Dave mentioned Xavier Nady as an option. Reed Johnson and Rocco Baldelli are out there, too, along with a host of others. And here we begin to see how this trade could make a little more sense. Because, while Kotchman isn't much of an asset, neither is Bill Hall, and by ditching the latter, room is made for an improvement. Hall hasn't hit since 2006. Last year his BB/K against lefties slipped from 0.44 to 0.14. I know he's hit lefties in the past, but there's good reason to believe that even that ability has gone missing, leaving Hall as a pretty poor player. Now the M's have a chance to get more from the role. Not a ton, but a handful of runs, and maybe even as much as a win depending on how bad you think Hall is now, who the M's get to replace him, and playing time. And that's pretty significant.

In this way, we could make sense of the Kotchman deal by seeing it as half of a pair of moves - one to fill 1B, and one to replace Hall. Neither is an earth-shaking move on its own, but, combined, the total value could be similar to what the M's could've gotten from, say, Adam LaRoche, Lyle Overbay, or Russell Branyan, and they don't have to worry about cost or, in Branyan's case, injury. Think about it. Let's take LaRoche. LaRoche wants money and a couple years, and he would've been projected to provide about two wins. Kotchman projects as a cheap 1-1.5 win player, and the opportunity exists for the M's to add a cheap half-win or so on top of Hall. Bam. Similar. All things being equal, you'd rather have LaRoche, but all things aren't equal, and the M's presumably aren't interesting in making a bigger commitment than they have to.

As Dave says in his comment, this isn't about Kotchman over the alternative first basemen. Chances are, this is about Kotchman and a righty OF over the alternative first basemen and Hall. And through that lens, it's a lot easier to stomach. I'm sure there are things about Kotchman that the organization likes, but from what I can tell, I'm guessing that's not the only reason they did this. This has given them the opportunity to get better at a position they may not have thought they could improve.

Maybe I'm wrong. It's entirely possible that Z and the rest of the front office are planning something completely different - they kind of have a knack for throwing everyone off the scent. But I think the most likely outcome is that we bring in a righty bat to split time in the outfield, and though we can't pass official judgment until we know who that hypothetical player is, I'm confident that, whoever it may turn out to be, he'll have some talent, and his addition will make this a more complete team.

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