This trade’s not about Kouzmanoff or Hairston. Not really.
That’s not to say that it has nothing to do with them. The Padres traded a consistently solid third baseman for the right-handed center fielder they were looking for. There’s also Eric Sogard and Aaron Cunningham, but you get the idea.
No, this trade is more about Chase Headley and Tony Gwynn, Jr.
Headley’s benefit is obvious: he gets to go back to his original position. Along with the extra weight he’ll be able to put on, Headley’s value will go up just by getting out of left field. To quantify it, the positional adjustment for left field in WAR is -7.5 runs. Third base is +2.5 runs, meaning that by simply changing positions, Headley could gain 10 runs of value.
To put things more specifically, Headley was worth 1.4 wins last year (or 13.8 runs). Swapping out his -5.5 positional adjustment for Kouzmanoff’s +2.2 puts him up to 21.6 runs, or 2.2 wins. And that doesn’t take Headley’s awful outfield defense into consideration. If he had been a defensively neutral third baseman, he would’ve been worth nearly 3 wins. This leaves out a lot of nuance, but it helps to show how valuable a position can be.
For AJ, it might be even more obvious: he gets in the lineup. As the team stood Friday morning, the Padres were likely looking at an outfield of Headley in left, Will Venable in center, and Kyle Blanks in right. With Headley now in the infield, Blanks will likely slide to left and Venable to right, opening centerfield for AJ. This is what I said a couple of months ago:
Of the San Diego Padres not named ‘Adrian Gonzalez,’ AJ was the second best in terms of wins above replacement in 2009, with a WAR of 2.8. He achieved this despite being worth negative 1.7 runs offensively, because he was valued at plus 13.6 runs defensively. In fact, AJ’s UZR/150 of 12.2 was best for fifth in the league, amongst fielders with 800 innings played.
This is where I say that AJ’s 2009 success does not mean that he’ll have a similar 2010. He could easily come into the coming season and find himself exposed by opposing teams. Luckily for him, and us, the Padres have gotten him some help.
AJ found that a lot of his problems came in the form of left-handed pitching. He ended the season with an OPS of .693, but his splits broke down to a .501 OPS against LHP and a .763 OPS against RHP. This is where Hairston and his career .867 OPS versus left-handed pitching comes in. And Hairston’s no stranger to platoons.
In 2008, following Jim Edmonds’ departure, Hairston teamed up with Jody Gerut to give the team a .900 OPS (or so) out of centerfield, no small feat given Petco’s .796 park factor that year. And for good measure, the two of them chipped in a UZR of 9.1. Now, to expect AJ to have a season like Gerut’s 2008 is unrealistic, but to expect the team’s two solid center fielders to excel while playing to their own strengths is not. Combine their potential production with Headley’s position change and the team may very well shipped 2.7 wins to Oakland and received 5 in return.