Wednesday, November 23, 2011

LeBlanc to the Marlins

The Padres announced yesterday they had traded Wade LeBlanc to Miami for catcher John Baker.

About 2 months ago I talked about doing a series of stories on what I would do as the Padres GM.  As usual those posts never materialized, mostly because I suck at time management.  I may still get to them - I hope to get to them - but one topic is now off the table.  I had intended to discuss trading LeBlanc for a back-up catcher because that's about what I thought San Diego could get for him.  I can't prove it; I never documented it anywhere; but it's true nonetheless.

LeBlanc is one of thousands of guys who have utility in a major league organization but are never going to contribute much on a year-to-year basis.  That sounds like a knock on him, but it really isn't.  Wade LeBlanc's talent level is such that he successfully made it to the Majors and has thrown almost 300 ML innings over parts of 4 seasons.  He's in the top 1% of all people playing baseball.  The Elite.

The problem was his skill set was never going to get him out of the spot starter/possible long man role, nor get him off the shuttle from the big club to AAA.  In 2010, the lone season he spent most of his time in the majors, he made 25 starts, threw 146 innings, and struck out 110.  He also allowed a whopping 24 HR over those 146 innings, or a dinger every six innings.  In 54 career appearances (52 starts) he allowed 44 HR.  It was never a question of if Wade LeBlanc would allow a HR - it was a question of when.

By ERA+ he was below average every year less 2008 (103).  By Fangraphs WAR last season was the first one he didn't post a negative number (Baseball Reference is somewhat more forgiving, crediting him with 0.7/0.3/0.2 WAR each of the last 3 seasons).  With the Padres currently projecting a rotation of Latos/Luebke/Stauffer/Richard/Bass there was no room for him at the inn. (Ed. Note:  Dustin Moseley would also be a candidate for the rotation assuming he re-signs wtih the Padres.)

The Padres get John Baker in return.  He has 104 PA in the majors the last 2 seasons, and missed virtually all of 2011 while recoverng from right elbow surgery.  In 2009 he played in 112 games and posted a .271/.349/.410 line, good enough for a .333 wOBA and 99 wRC+.  He'll be 31 when this season starts.

San Diego had to do something to protect Hundley.  Rob Johnson was released, Kyle Phillips posted an OPS+ of 56 in thirty-six games, and Luis Martinez isn't ready.  As a back-up option, they could do worse.  Baker is also left-handed.  I can't imagine the Padres will platoon Hundley - that would really be dumb - but Baker will give them another left-handed option off the bench besides Mark Kotsay.

Wade LeBlanc will likely not be long remembered.  He was, however, a useful piece of the puzzle for the last 4 seasons, be it as a long reliever, a spot starter, or a regular starter due to injury.  If he becomes a mainstay in the Marlin rotation I would be the first one in line to congratulate him on his success.

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