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The name "Marquis" is oh-so punworthy

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This might be the first time I riffed off of the comments found in a post by a fellow blogger, but as the plot of Face/Off ably demonstrated, there's a time for everything. Hence, I direct you to the exchange between Jason and Chris Needham in the comments of this post at Capitol Punishment:

Jason: Do you think there's any credence to the "Brad Wilkerson for Jason Marquis" rumors originating from StL cardinals bloggers? . . .

Chris: I haven't seen anything on that one.
If that's just one that the fans are proposing, I'm lukewarm (at best) on that. . . .

I hadn't heard about this, either, so this exchange caught my interest. Indeed, over the weekend, a Wilkerson-for-Marquis deal was discussed at the sister/cousin (?) site, Viva el Birdos:

earlier this week Brock20 mused about a marquis-for-brad-wilkerson trade. my response at the time: "wilkerson had a mysteriously bad year. the move to rfk stadium seems to have hurt him, but his home/away split wasn't that dramatic --- he actually had a slightly higher ops away from home, thanks to a much higher walk rate. . . . .even in a pretty bad year he had a decent obp (.351) and 60 extra-base hits; he can play centerfield, is only 28 years old. if his obp returns to career norms he'd be an outstanding #2 hitter behind eckstein. he's arbitration-eligible and might command $4-$5 million; they could put him at one corner and sanders at the other and still have $$$ left over for bullpen and/or a decent starting pitcher."

i like this idea -- he's under 30, inexpensive, and has consistently high obps.

Thus, it looks to me that this is a deal proposed by a Cards' fan, though I could be wrong; at any rate, I haven't seen anything about it in the DC papers or at Pravda's DC bureau. Let's assume for the sake of argument, however, that the rumor is legit, or at least viable---i.e., it passed the "Ken Rosenthal test" of reasonableness. What say me, and what (should) say we?

I guess there's two ways to look at it:

  • as expressed in straight-up "value";
  • as viewed through the prism of how the Nats' organization (structured such as it is currently) views Wilkerson.
Obviously, both of these perspectives must also consider financial context. As we know, Wilkerson is arbitration-eligible. So is Marquis, who has basically five years' service time now; he will be eligible for six-year free agency next offseason, barring a long-term contract. Marquis made $3 million in 2005, up from $550,000 in 2004. (¡Muchos gracias, arbitracion!---although to be hyper-technical, he and the Cards settled, avoiding an arbitration hearing) I'm guessing, based on the fact that Marquis is a combined 28-21 with a sub-four ERA the past two seasons, Marquis will command something akin to "consistent starter money" in the arbitration process. In that sense, what Esteban Loaiza ends up with might serve as something of a barometer of what Marquis gets, less accounting for the fact that Marquis isn't "free" yet.

Let's just say, for simplicity, that Marquis gets somewhere in the neighborhood of $4-5 million for next season. Conveniently, that's roughly what Wilkerson will get, too.

As both Chris and the el Birdos blog point out, Wilkerson is more valuable straight-up. Even in a miserable season racked by injuries, fatigue, and something just short of guerilla warfare with Jose "Four Bats" Guillen, Wilkerson posted a .351 on-base percentage. To use an established stathead modifier for something not star-quality, yet totally under-appreciated, that's "tasty." He is as versatile as he is solid defensively, and his true power potential is probably somewhere in between "powerful" (2004) and "mere modicum" (2005). Wilkerson's not better than second- or third-level in terms of star potential; he might make an all-star team one of these years based on a strong first half, but he'll never even enter the suburb of the discussion of elite players. Furthermore, his historical comps have aged rather poorly (or, in the case of Ivan Calderon, lamentably not aged past the date of his death). Nevertheless, Wilkerson's a valuable player; he could easily start in a contender's lineup.

As for Marquis, he finished in strong fashion (remember when, faced with the prospect of demotion to long relief, he threw a "surprise" shut-out at RFK around Labor Day?) and ended up with a 4.13 ERA, which isn't bad at all. Furthermore, Marquis is only 27, yet seemingly more mature than when he was pitching in my hometown of Richmond; word was that he struggled with, shall we say, the "mental aspects of pitching." Nevertheless, his strikeout rate bottomed out a bit past the old 4.5 per nine innings danger zone, and his Fielding Independent Pitching ERA of 4.83 was obviously rather steep. In addition, while RFK's power repression qualities will cut into this vulnerability somewhat, Marquis has shown some propensity to serve up homers---and remember that he'd be making anywhere from 40-60% of his starts on the road.

Thus, as a question of pure "value," the Nationals would likely be making a bad trade. While Marquis would fill a hole in the rotation (perhaps exacerbated by Loaiza's likely departure), and while Wilkerson became rather notorious at RFK for his ability to strike out on near-command, Wilkerson's really the more valuable player. Given the two players' best seasons, Wilkerson would hold more value; given the two players' worst seasons, and Wilkerson's ability to get on-base would ensure that he still provided more value.

Yet, we all know that the Nats are down on Wilkerson, who was billed early on as the face of the organization upon its arrival in DC. Wilkerson, of course, did have a down year, and it seems that this disappointment has augmented his weaknesses in the organization's eyes. As Rocket Bill Ladson remarked in a recent mailbag at MLB.com:

[Q] Do you believe that if Brad Wilkerson played only one position, his concentration and hitting would improve? -- David E., Owensboro, Ky.

[A] I don't buy that theory. The only way Wilkerson becomes a better hitter is by learning the strike zone and cutting down on the strikeouts, which killed many rallies for the Nationals this past season.

In terms of his defense, some in the organization felt that Wilkerson made a lot of fundamental mistakes. I don't think that had anything to do with Wilkerson playing more than one position.

One can debate the merits of these criticisms. For one thing, Wilkerson had an excellent year in 2004 while exhibiting pretty much the same propensity for whiffing. For another, Wilkerson certainly seemed solid in the field---much more solid than Preston Wilson did upon his arrival, and remember Bowden's consultants (e.g., Bob Boone) billed Wilson as a very good defender.

But the existence, rather than the merit, of the criticisms is the point here. If Bodes is down on Wilkerson and/or doesn't want to expose the team to a substantial pay-out in the arbitration process, maybe the best thing we can hope for is that Wilkerson isn't dumped for next-to-nothing---or, heaven forfend, merely non-tendered.

Marquis isn't great, but he's certainly decent---and that's much better than nothing.