Since the calendar has turned to July, Camden Depot has looked at several ways the Orioles could improve through the trade market, including the starting rotation, which has needed an upgrade for a couple of seasons now. Similarly, second base has been a position that has needed an upgrade since the peak Brian Roberts years, which ended after the 2009 season. In 2014, Jonathan Schoop, Ryan Flaherty, Jemile Weeks, and Steve Lombardozzi have manned the keystone for Baltimore, with Schoop taking the majority of the playing time appearing at second base in 80 games. Collectively, they’ve been about replacement level (0.1 fWAR), thanks primarily to their defense, since each of them have been a well below average hitter in the first half. As mentioned above, Schoop has played the most at second base, and has been 40% worse than the average major league hitter (60 wRC+). For a team that is currently in the driver’s seat of the AL East and likely to contend for a playoff spot, they need to get more production out of the position.
Luckily for the Orioles, there are a lot of second base options out on the trade market this year, which would drive the theoretical price of acquiring one down. However, there are also a lot of contenders that need help at second base, which drives that same theoretical price back up. Consider the fact that the Athletics, Yankees, and Marlins all rank lower in second base fWAR than the Orioles, in addition to the Braves, Indians, Cardinals, Giants, and Royals who are all above the Orioles, but still located in the bottom half of the rankings. Now, all these teams won’t make a move at the deadline for a second baseman, but they’re definitely in the market for one.
As I stated above, there are plenty of second baseman available, including (in order of highest fWAR at the break) Chase Utley (3.1), Ben Zobrist (2.8), Daniel Murphy (2.5), Emilio Bonifacio (1.1), and Aaron Hill (-0.6). It’s unclear whether the Phillies will trade Utley, though I’d bet against it (and if they do I’ll have to repost last year’s Ode to Utley with updated statistics) and Baltimore would likely have to pay the dreaded intra-division premium for Zobrist, ruling those two out. Unless you COMPLETELY missed the title of this post, I would propose trading for a second baseman that isn’t even on this list, because he’s only played at second base for a total of 35 innings in 2014. That player is Martin Prado.
Prado has played all over the field in his professional career, logging innings at every position except for centerfield and catcher. According to advanced defensive metrics, Prado is an above average defender at every position he’s played except for second base. Over almost 2,000 innings at the keystone, he’s been worth -6 Defensive Runs Saved, slightly below average. With the bat, he’s an extreme contact hitter who doesn’t strike out much, walk much, or hit for much power, so his ability to get on base is dependent on his batting average. Batting average can sometimes be finicky, but with a career triple slash of .291/.340/.425 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in nearly 4,000 PA’s, you pretty much know what you’re going to get out of him.
While Prado is having a down year (.274/.320/.367) despite a BABIP (.310) that is nearly his career value, his 89 wRC+ in 2014 is much better than any other Baltimore option*. Not counting Jemile Weeks, who only has 13 PA’s, Ryan Flaherty is the closest with a 78 wRC+. It’s true that both Schoop and Flaherty have been above average defenders this year. So while Baltimore would lose a little bit defensively by sliding Prado in at second (a loss that is mitigated by the fact that the Orioles pitching staff does not give up many ground balls), you gain much more offensive production, especially if Prado returns to his career levels. When adjusting for the same number of PA’s, the Zips projection system at Fangraphs sees Prado as being worth 0.5-0.6 wins more than either Schoop or Falherty the rest of the 2014 season.
*the decrease in production appears to be from an IFFB% of 14.1 (4.5% higher than career level) and a HR/FB% of 5.1 (2% lower than career level)
But wait, there’s more! Following the 2014 season, Prado is under contract for two more years at $11 million per year, covering his age 31 and 32 year old seasons (i.e. he’s not that old). After this season the Orioles could easily let J.J. Hardy become a free agent, move Manny Machado to shortstop, and slide Prado over to third base, which opens up second base for…Jonathan Schoop. This is what makes a Prado acquisition so beneficial to Baltimore. While the Orioles have several high upside pitchers in their farm system, there aren’t any position players who are close to helping the major league club. Prado’s positional flexibility also allows Baltimore to offer Hardy a qualifying offer (if they want to), knowing that if he accepts it, Prado could move to potential openings in left or right field.
Last week, Jim Bowden of ESPN looked at Martin Prado in his “What Would it Take to Get…” series (ESPN Insider required and recommended). He listed the Blue Jays and Giants as possible destinations. He mentioned that a Toronto deal would likely be centered around CF prospect Dalton Pompey (plus a throw-in), while a Giants deal would likely need to include relief pitchers Heath Hembree and Steven Okert. If that’s the case, maybe a Josh Hart and one of Mike Wright, Tim Berry, or Zach Davies may do the trick. As a writer, proposing a trade is usually a terrible idea, but I think that package would at least have the Diamondbacks considering the proposal.
Adding Martin Prado in the middle of a playoff race will definitely help the Orioles, but it certainly won’t instill confidence in Jonathan Schoop. Having said that, playoff opportunities don’t come around every year and the team needs to take advantage of this chance while they can. Jonathan Schoop is still a big part of this team’s future, but Baltimore needs to upgrade second base for 2014. A trade for Martin Prado will provide that upgrade in 2014, while also filling potential roster holes at third base or in the outfield in 2015 and 2016.