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Trading Reed

According to Bob Finnigan, Bavasi's still doing his damndest to rid this team of a cheap, quality, young center fielder. But at least he's asking for something better than Bronson Arroyo in return:

According to multiple sources, the Seattle Mariners have increased efforts to build up pitching depth at or near the major-league level.

An East Coast source said the Mariners are offering pitcher Gil Meche as well as center fielder Jeremy Reed, in an effort to obtain one of Boston's prized pitching prospects, Jon Lester (a Puyallup native) or Jonathan Papelbon, in a trade.

In theory, it makes sense that the rumors would be back on, with Boston having missed out on re-signing Johnny Damon, but the Devil Rays really do make a little more sense, as they've got both a center fielder and a shortstop on the market (both of which Boston needs). But at this point, it's not so much about what makes sense as it is about Bavasi still trying to shake things up with what I'd consider a pretty questionable deal. Fortunately, though, it's one that probably stands less than a 5% chance of ever getting done.

The first thing you should do is read Dave's post, since he beat me to the punch. But anyway, there's always going to be a ton of uncertainty when you're talking about trading guys who're still on the upward slope of their career arcs. It becomes a question of which player is more likely to fulfill a larger fraction of his potential, and how much value he'll have compared to the other guy if and when he does. High-level players are easier to project than their low-level equivalents, which is why you don't see too many A-ballers as the centerpieces in major trades. Dealing with and for young players is all about predicting what they'll do, and doing that is just too difficult when it comes to teenagers in the Sally League.

So we come to Reed, Papelbon, and Lester. Let's do a really quick rundown of where they stand right now:

Reed: 24, not a bad defensive CF in his first full year of experience, rough rookie season at the plate belies terrific minor league credentials.
Papelbon: 25, hard-throwing righty who impressed at AA, AAA, and the Majors in 2005, but stamina and repertoire may be a problem going forward.
Lester: 22, hard-throwing southpaw who's also a local boy (Tacoma, WA), blew through AA last year, should be one of the top five lefty pitching prospects in the game.

I don't think there's a soul alive who thinks that Reed will continue struggling at the plate, though, not after posting a .401/.478 career minor league OBP/SLG with more walks than strikeouts, so let's take another look at the trio, this time assuming the best-case scenarios for each:

Reed: Quality defensive CF packing Rusty Greer's bat without the injury problems. Fringe MVP candidate once or twice during his peak, although he'll never win it. The kind of guy who excels at everything but stays out of the limelight because he doesn't hit 30 homers a year.
Papelbon: Figures out how to be a consistent starter and becomes a rough approximation of John Lackey, with a few extra flyballs included in the package. A really good #2.
Lester: Great #2 who's a #1 on a third of the teams in the league. Murders lefties, misses bats, and has a few close encounters with the Cy Young.

You've got three really valuable players in that group, with Lester in the lead and Reed/Papelbon probably tied for second place. In other words, if everything broke perfectly, the Mariners probably wouldn't be able to "lose" this hypothetical trade. But what if a few things don't go quite according to plan? Let's take one last look at the trio, this time assuming that each player hits a roadblock along their path to fame and fortune:

Reed: Still a good defensive CF, but the bat doesn't develop the way the Mariners intended. Churns out a bunch of .280/.340/.420 seasons, possibly with a lone .800+ OPS campaign during his peak. Barely one of the top 10 players at his position.
Papelbon: Doesn't figure things out as a long-term starter. Earns a few trials but never really "gets it," with his limited repertoire making him much better suited for the bullpen. Does the Juan Rincon thing for a few years, with a Scot Shields season around age 27.
Lester: Makes it to the Majors, but a lot of the "elite prospect" shine is gone. Remains a pitcher with a lot of untapped promise throughout his career, getting overdrafted in fantasy leagues by the same guys who always expect a breakout year from Ted Lilly. Not a bad guy to have slotted in at #3, but disappointing, because he could've been a lot more.

Now, to me, Reed's position and defense make him the most valuable player in that group, although Lester would be pretty close. So while the pitchers might have the higher ceilings (although, with Papelbon, I still don't really believe that), Reed is the safest bet to turn into a quality player down the road.

And this is the point I'm trying to make - if the Mariners flip Reed and Meche for Papelbon or Lester, they're going to need things to break almost perfectly to come out ahead. And I don't think I really need to remind you of how infrequently things work out that way for young pitchers (particularly the ones in our organization). The deal would also come with the added side-effect of us losing our everyday center fielder, meaning that the 2006 outfield would look something like Ibanez/Ichiro/Lawton, which is absolutely terrible in the corners. What happens in 2006 isn't really how you'd go about judging this trade in the future, but it certainly wouldn't make things any easier for Mariners fans to stomach in the short-term.

I like the Jons Papelbon and Lester. I'm a big proponent of collecting as many talented young arms as possible, because doing so increases the probability of at least one of them working out and becoming a really good Major League pitcher. I just don't think that trading away someone as good as Jeremy Reed is the way to go about acquiring them. Good center fielders are difficult to find in their own right, and while I'm a fan of Adam Jones, I don't think it would be prudent to burden him with the pressure of being the only long-term CF solution in the system.

I'm not absolutely, 100% opposed to the idea of swinging this trade, especially since it would spell the end of Gil Meche's own little Reign of Terror in Seattle. I just don't really like it, and I think there exists a reasonably good chance that I'd look back in five years and hate it. I don't like trades where the odds are less than 50/50 that my team comes out ahead.

With all that said, this whole post could easily go for naught, because as high as I am on Jeremy Reed, the Red Sox are higher on Papelbon and Lester, and after trading away Anibal Sanchez in the Josh Beckett deal, I don't know how willing they'd be to send a second part of their "big three" packing. If they didn't want to part with Bronson Arroyo in exchange for Reed, I don't see how this deal stands much of a chance of going down.