Nobody really noticed, but Josh Willingham was a very effective player the last two seasons in Washington. He hit .264/.377/.475 over that span.
I’m an A’s fan, and my big reaction to this deal from my fan perspective was “Wow, all we had to do was give up those two?”
To be fair to Washington, deeper examination of the deal does reveal some positives from the other side. But let’s focus on my first reaction first.
Josh Willingham’s a pretty damn good hitter, which is something the A’s really need, especially in light of the fact that Chris Carter and Michael Taylor have yet to “save the offense,” and may never at this point.
And if you can get a pretty damn good hitter, even for one year, for parts you’re not likely to really miss? That’s a win, right there.
And as a fan, I’m just not worried about losing Brown or Rodriguez, as nuts about young talent as I am.
Rodriguez is a fun player, since he throws 100 mph fairly regularly and punches out a ton of batters, but his control is never going to be above average, and if recent history is any indication, he could be facing some injury problems, as nobody’s thrown as hard as he without having major arm issues (save for the similarly green Aroldis Chapman). Rodriguez has some significant mechanical issues as well, further putting him at risk.
And of course, the guy’s a reliever. The A’s have a ton of good relievers, plus other good candidates in the minors, and relievers are pretty easy to find anyway, as teams like the Padres have proven.
And Brown? Admittedly, the A’s are selling low on a guy who hit below the Mendoza Line in Triple-A last year, but if said .193/.253/.378 AAA hitter (at age 24, too) is going to bring back Willingham, I’m all for it. Brown’s always had a ton of strikeout issues, and his power seems to be coming down to earth the higher up he gets. He’s already turned 25 and has yet to prove himself in Triple-A. You can’t cling to a guy like that when he’s standing in the way of getting Willingham.
There’s a very real chance Rodriguez stays an inconsistent middleman and Brown never pans out, and the A’s would get a year of Willingham and two draft picks, which have a fairly decent chance of themselves turning out better than Brown and Rodriguez.
Just because the deal’s a no-brainer for the A’s doesn’t mean it doesn’t make any sense for the Nationals, though. Willingham’s ISO fell nearly 50 points last year, and this is their last chance to get something for him. They sold fairly high on a guy who doesn’t carry a high profile.
Willingham’s defense has always been poor, and it does detract from his hitting. That won’t be a problem for an Oakland team that boasts excellent defense in most spots, but it dragged down Washington’s young pitching staff. Corey Brown, on the other hand, is a plus defender in the outfield corners who can also play center if needed.
As real as the chance of Brown and Rodriguez not working out is, it’s important to remember that they do have a good deal of raw ability. Rodriguez has incredible velocity, and he’s struck out ridiculous amounts of batters everywhere, and his control wasn’t that bad last year; if that sticks, he could be an impact reliever. Brown, too, has shown ability: he hit .320/.415/.502 in AA last year, and had 30 homers across two levels in 2008.
If Rodriguez’s 2010 is for real and Brown’s 2008 is for real, then the Nationals really have something: a slugger with good defensive abilities and a shutdown reliever. Six years of each of them in exchange for one year of a good-hit, bad-field 31-year-old left fielder? That’s great if you’re rebuilding.
I still like this deal for Oakland more than Washington because of the draft picks Willingham could bring. If Brown can’t solve his strikeout issues, then Washington just traded two high draft picks and a good hitter for a high-risk reliever. That’s just too much of a risk to take. Admittedly, there’s a chance of a reward, but there’s so little certainty in Washington’s side of the deal that it’s tough to stomach.