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Tuesday Rockpile: Josh Willingham - Trade Target?

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"We need an impactful bat, another piece to enhance (Cargo and Tulo). It makes so much sense," Jim Tracy said. "We will be looking for something like that." - Denver Post

I am going to suggest a name, and that name is going to be Josh Willingham of the Washington Nationals.  He has not been linked to the Rockies yet, but perhaps he should be.  I have long been a fan of the underrated slugger, and there has never been a time like this offseason to pursue him.  Let's examine the situation.



If Dan O'Dowd could sculpt a player to put into Colorado's lineup, it would be a proven right-handed power bat at an affordable salary.  That's exactly what Willingham is.  The Nationals' left-fielder has posted a .363 wOBA in each of the last five seasons, an accomplishment that none of Carl Crawford, Jason Bay, Andre Ethier, Corey Hart, Jayson Werth and Vladimir Guerrero can boast.  In fact, with all the press Vlad has gotten for his resurgence this season, his 2010 .360 wOBA would represent Willingham's worst season since 2005, when he had 28 PA.  Josh is a quiet star.

2010 - Josh Willingham 114 370 54 99 19 2 16 56 67 85 8 0 .268 .389 .459

While wielding considerable pop, he has also consistently gotten on base, posting a career .367 OBP, which peaked at .389 this season, a figure that would have led the Rockies in 2010.  His 23% strikeout percentage puts him on par with Carlos Gonzalez, and his walk rate rose to nearly 15% in 2010, better than every Rockie not named Giambi.  If Jim Tracy wrote Willingham on the line-up card, the Rockies would be assured of at least three premier performers.

Even better, he's a selfless player who is willing to play first base - and he has experience there, effectively filling the need of Helton's right-handed platoon partner.  From a Washington Post article:

If asked, Willingham would be open to playing first. "He'd be open to doing anything he could for the team," (Willingham's agent Matt) Sosnick said. "They could use him out of the bullpen."

He entered the minors as a third baseman and was moved out of the infield due to defensive purposes.  However, his experience leads him to be a possibility at both corner infield positions.  Perfect.

Troy Renck has been hinting at a suspicion that Dan O'Dowd will make a notable move this offseason, most likely via trade.  With a good collection of interesting prospects, O'Dowd could find a match in a trade for Willingham.

Even better, Willingham would be reasonably affordable for 2011.  After making $4.6million in 2010, he would be due for a raise to $6-7million in his last season of arbitration, leaving open a slight possibility of retaining Jorge de la Rosa.

It's starting to sound like a guy Washington wouldn't want to part with, but as discussed at Federal Baseball, a trade might be possible.  Mike Rizzo's number one priority is retaining Adam Dunn, who wants to stay in the NL.  Not many NL teams are going to be a fit for Dunn, who isn't a defensive asset anywhere, so Washington's chances of retaining him are slightly increased.

Washington's contention window is still a few years away, and the Nationals would probably benefit from adding another young player or two to arrive in that window rather than allowing Willingham to leave in free agency or even play out the non-competitive years. As Patrick Reddington wrote at Federal Baseball:

Are Dunn and Willingham, both of them over 30-years-old, the answer for a team that feels it will be competitive a few years down the road?

Moreover, the money reserved for Willingham in 2011 could also be used to help the Nationals retain Dunn, who is a much bigger personality in Washington than Willingham.  Though he has yet to be officially be made available, Rizzo would certainly listen to the right deal.



He isn't particularly a very good defensive player, and while he has improved, his fielding would get tested even more at the cavernous Coors Field.  His career has been marred by a myriad of injuries (never exceeding 144 games), the latest of which was a torn meniscus in his left knee which robbed his 2010 season of the final six weeks. In part due to his anonymity in Miami and Washington and in part due to his late arrival in the majors, Willingham is surprisingly old and will start the 2011 season at the age of 32.  

Willingham's arbitration years will run out after 2011, making him a free agent for the first time.  That would leave O'Dowd with two options.  One is to sign Willingham to a multi-year contract, buying out 2011 and a couple years of free agency.  That would likely run 3 years and $30million, a contract Willingham has specifically said he is looking for.  That fits well with the Rockies' contention window but likely pushes the possibility of re-signing Jorge de la Rosa out the window.  Moreover, they would be paying him eight figures in his age 34 season.

The other option is to let him leave in free agency after 2011.  He projects to be a Type A free agent, so the compensation draft picks prevent a horrible loss, but considering the price the Rockies would pay to acquire Willingham, just one year of services would hurt.

What would it cost?  Consider that Mike Rizzo is known for asking way too high of a price in trade discussions.  He asked for Madison Bumgarner or Jonathan Sanchez at the 2010 trade deadline for Willingham.  So when Rizzo asks for Jhoulys Chacin, Dan O'Dowd will hang up and never call the Nationals again.  While no team will likely deal a top prospect for one year of Willingham, there would be several teams calling Rizzo if his LF were made available, and the Rockies are never going to try to (nor should they try to) win a bidding war.  But if O'Dowd can get Rizzo to bite on a prospect outside the top five, or a couple B prospects, the Rockies would have a legitimate threat in the lineup.

Lots of interesting news after the jump.

Rockies optimistic De La Rosa will sign as he enters free agency - The Denver Post  Troy Renck reports that the Rockies have essentially closed the book on contract talks with Jorge de la Rosa for now, hoping still to sign him in the free agency period.  Also, Renck writes that the Rockies are leaning against exercising Miguel Olivo's option, citing new hitting coach Carney Lansford's relationship with Chris Iannetta.

Baseball union head says players open to expanding playoffs - ESPN  Union head Michael Weiner says there is a substantial sentiment among players to expand the playoffs, possibly adding more wild card teams as soon as 2012 and/or expanding the LDS series to seven games.  No word on preventing Christmas baseball games.


Lee's stellar pitching lifts Texas, but free agency is looming -  If Cliff Lee listens to his wife, he will sign with the Rangers.  His wife Kristen endured savage taunts from Yankee fans while sitting in the family section at Yankees Stadium during the ALCS.  Plus, Texas is close to their Arkansas home.  An interesting angle that might mean a lot.

GTR Newspapers | Find Local Tulsa, Bixby, Broken Arrow, Jenks, Union, and Owasso News, Sports, and Entertainment:Drillers to Host Rockies at ONEOK
The Rockies will play an exhibition game in Tulsa on March 30, 2011 before the season.  It is a good way to reward the Driller fanbase for supporting former Drillers like Troy Tulowitzki, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ian Stewart.