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The Great Debate

Was the Glaus trade good or bad? The deal has certainly sparked off a spirited and entertaining discussion here (leading to record number of visitors in the past few days - despite some, ah, technical difficulties on the 25th and 26th). nihil67 has lead the doubters, wishing we'd got some more credible pitchers back than El Duque and Batista. He also makes the significant point that if we have another 90+ loss season - as seems very likely - it's going to be harder to attract free agent starters for 2007, without paying through the nose.

It's an opinion shared by a significant number of fans - so far in our (admittedly, wildly unscientific) poll, 29% rate the trade as "poor" or "dreadful". This compares unfavourably with the Vazquez deal, which received the thumbs-down from only 16% of respondents. To me, this is kinda odd: the downgrade caused to our pitching staff by the loss of Vazquez seems to me significantly more than the damage caused by Glaus's departure, while Hudson will help now, as well as in 2007 like Young. Yes, our offense will struggle (especially, at the moment, against lefties), but on his good days, Vazquez was our best pitcher last year.

On the other hand, Vazquez's value, based on his 2005 performances overall, was likely perceived as lower, not helped by the fact we "had" to trade him. And getting a stud CF prospect was certainly no bad thing, addressing an area of major concern, both immediately and in the future. Second base? Not so much: it's close enough to shortstop that Drew or Upton would have had a fairly-easy transition, should the need arise.

Certainly, I don't look at the 2006 season with anything but pragmatism. Even in the NL West, which will still remain weak, it's hard to see how we can contend with a pitching rotation currently consisting of: Brandon Webb, a re-converted closer, someone who last made 30 starts back in 1999 (and is in his forties), Russ Ortiz, and probably Brad Halsey. Look at their stats for the past season:

  • Webb: 33 starts, 3.54 ERA
  • Ortiz: 22 starts, 6.89 ERA
  • Halsey: 26 starts, 4.61 ERA
  • Hernandez: 22 starts, 5.12 ERA
  • Batista: 0 starts, 4.10 ERA

Only Webb pitched a full season - and more importantly, is an ERA for our rotation of 4.67. That's worse than last year, when our starters gave us a 4.58 ERA - it'd be 14th in the 2005 NL, ahead of only the Reds and Rockies. Ortiz won't be as bad as last year (surely...); Webb might benefit from the improved defense behind him; but does anyone feel confident Hernandez and Batista will get better? Ick.

However, I can't see the bullpen being such a disaster as it was in 2005. Medders and Valverde should give us (insane overuse permitting, naturally) a stable 8th-9th innings combination. I imagine Vargas will be in the pen, with Grimsley, Viscaino and perhaps Lyon joining him. Nothing spectacular, I admit - but I'd take merely average, after the beating our relievers took in 2005 [a 5.40 ERA, the worst, by more than half a run, in the league], and I think 4.50 is probably reachable. So, overall, our pitching should be about the same, possibly a little better in total.

Offensively, we have Green, Gonzo, Tracy, Counsell returning to the lineup: as a baseline, reckon they'll do what they did last year [though for what it's worth, I reckon Gonzo will be up a notch, and Tracy perhaps down slightly on 2005's performances]. Here's an expected 2006 lineup for comparative purposes, both at the plate and with the glove.

2005 2006 Off.change Def.change
Green Green None Gain
Gonzalez Gonzalez None None
Tracy Tracy None Loss
Counsell Counsell None Slight loss
Clayton Hudson Slight gain Gain
Clark Jackson Loss Loss
Snyder Estrada Gain Slight loss
Glaus ??????? Loss Gain

The question marks indicate that we don't know who'll be playing CF as yet - they'll be replacing Glaus in the lineup. However, odds are they won't hit 30 homers, but will be at least competent on defense (so that's an upgrade!). In the defensive column, Green should be better, returning to right field; Counsell perhaps slightly less effective at SS; and Tracy likely worse at 3B than he was at first and in right field.

All told, from this "finger in the air" style survey, it looks like we'll be slightly down on offense, but about even on defense. This isn't quantitative at all, because it's hard to balance the difference between Clark and Jackson at first, against the improvement of Green playing back in his natural position. However, it's hard to see much offensive upside, unless Jackson has a breakout season.

Putting these two together, it suggests we'll probably both score and concede a few runs less. We did brook the trend last year in terms of run differential, outperforming our expected W/L tally by quite some way - it'd be optimistic to expect that again, which is why my current expectations are in the low 70's for wins.

So, as nihil67 asks, "Tell me why should I be excited about next season?" Well, even though we are probably unlikely to match 2005's win total, I still believe the organization will be going in the right direction. We should be there or thereabouts, but with a significantly reduced payroll - probably 25% less - which gives a lot of flexibility entering the 2006 free-agent market. Now, as has been pointed out, there's no guarantee Moorad will loosen the purse-strings, but it makes sense. [Worst case scenario, our 2007 rotation is Webb, Nippert, Halsey, Vargas and Gonzalez/Pena/whoever - with our lineup, I reckon that could still contend]

And that brings me to my second reason for optimism: the new sense that there is actually a genuine plan in place - unlike the Garagiola era, when it seemed we were Bobbing for Free Agents. Take the Green deal, for example: not a bad move...until we also signed him to a long-term contract. That blocked Quentin, and was a large factor in causing the corner jam we now find ourselves in, which made trading Glaus a necessity. While I may or may not agree entirely with the pieces we got back in the Glaus/Vazquez deals, I can see their purpose.

Finally, 2006 could see the debuts of three future All-Stars, in Quentin, Drew and Young. As well as: Jackson's Rookie of the Year campaign; one of the best gloves around in Hudson (with Counsell, we may have the best middle infield in the NL); Tracy's full-on blossoming at the plate; Webb's continued evolution into a top of the rotation starter; Valverde taking on the role of full-time closer; and the last hurrah of all-time franchise favourite Gonzalez. I think we probably have rather more to look forward to in 2006 than the majority of teams.