The Giants would like to trade for Ben Zobrist. Every team would like to trade for him, but the Giants keep coming up in trade rumors. According to Nick Cafardo ...
The Rays are said to be asking for at least one top prospect and a mid-level one.
Say, the Giants have that. The Giants have that! Except the Rays are fancying themselves contenders-on-the-fly, just as they usually do, and they would have more interest in a player that would help them soon. That means a project like Kyle Crick might not be as enticing as a majors-ready player like Andrew Susac.
One year of Ben Zobrist for six years of Andrew Susac, then. That appears to be the basic framework of a deal that makes sense. It's something that terrifies me, but something that might make baseball sense. The team control is a huge issue, except a) we have a pretty good idea that the Giants will be contenders next year, b) Zobrist is likely to have more value to the Giants in 2015 than Susac would, and c) the Giants might enjoy the idea of Susac giving them another bat in the lineup when Buster Posey rests or plays first, but they still don't have any plans to give him the same number of at-bats as a typical starter, which will forever limit his potential value to them.
If Buster Posey were to ... become unavailable for an extended period of time ... Susac would become much more crucial to the Giants' hopes. But that's no way to run a team. You can't just hoard your assets in a bomb shelter in case the unthinkable happens. You have to look at what's likely to happen. As such, it's time to examine just how much playing time we can expect from Susac and what is value might be in that role.
The plan is to play Buster Posey at catcher, dummy.
That is the first thing you have to discuss when evaluating Susac's value to the Giants. Posey has started an average of 113 games at catcher in his three full seasons with the Giants, leaving ... divide by pi ... 49 games to be started by a backup. That's a healthy number, and it's roughly what Hector Sanchez did in 2012. When you talk about Susac's potential value to the Giants, you can't talk in terms of what he would do with 140 starts. That's his potential value to another team.
So what does a super backup provide for his team?
The potential value
Here are the most valuable seasons from catchers with 250 at-bats or fewer in baseball history. Bill Dickey hit .351 for the '43 Yankees and was worth almost four wins. There were several catchers worth two wins or more in the amount of playing time the Giants project for Susac. Don't minimize that. Considering that it's easy to stumble upon a replacement level backup catcher, an extra two wins from the spot is a big deal. Or, to dumb it down:
Buster Posey, Guillermo Quiroz, Troy Tulowitzki (2013 version)
Buster Posey, two-win backup catcher, Brandon Crawford
That's a rough equation, but it gives you an idea.
Buster Posey, Guillermo Quiroz, Paul Goldschmidt
Buster Posey, two-win backup catcher, Brandon Belt
Susac was worth a win above replacement last year in 20 starts. If he doubles the games played, that will mean ... multiply by pi ... he could be that magical two-win backup that turns Crawford into Tulowitzki (or Hunter Pence into Jose Bautista) in an abstract way. Those two wins are almost equal to the difference between Ben Zobrist and Gregor Blanco's Steamer projections. Add in the six years of Susac's control, and it's not a fair trade.
The problem with that fuzzy-as-heck math
Susac probably isn't a two-win backup catcher.
He almost certainly isn't. No one is, really. Not reliably, at least. That's expecting him to play like a catcher who would be worth six wins in a full season. Buster Posey, basically. Steamer has Susac closer to a win above replacement for the playing time he projects to get, which is much more reasonable. That's still valuable. An extra win is a big deal.
Except this still assumes the Giants are only able to find a replacement-level backup. If the Giants can find someone a little better than that, Susac isn't exactly a rare bird of paradise. He makes the team better, and he still has a lot of potential as a starter one day, but the chances aren't great for him to reach that magic two-WAR potential with the Giants in 40 starts, which limits his value for the team.
It's also easy to overrate Susac's potential value to the Giants based on 95 plate appearances (with a 125 OPS+ and .792 OPS). His career minor league OPS is .784, remember. He's probably not as good as he was in limited time last year. Not yet, at least.
My issue, then, isn't the Giants trading Susac, even if he's a helluva security blanket and bench luxury. It's for trading him for a one-year rental. Other teams should be tripping over themselves to trade for him, including the Rays. He has the realistic potential to be an above-average starter at a below-market price for years. Just because he probably isn't going to be the difference between the postseason and a boring October for the Giants, doesn't mean he can't help several teams as a starter. Zobrist would help the Giants next season, quite a bit, but he's in his mid-30s now. A slight decline is reasonable to expect. It seems like there should be a way to trade Susac for someone who will provide more value over the next two or three seasons for the Giants than Zobrist would provide in 2015.
That's my issue with a potential Zobrist package centered around Susac. It isn't that it would mess up the Giants' plans to have a super-sub at catcher. It's that if the Giants are seriously considering cashing in on Susac as a trade chip, it seems like there should be a way to extract even more value from a team other than the Rays.
The Giants are in a good spot. They have one of the better backup catchers in baseball, and they can hold onto him if they want, or they can explore a way to deal him for a starter in 2015. Trading him in for a full-timer isn't a crazy idea, but they have to be careful. It seems like there are sounder risks than putting all their eggs in one Zobrist.
On the other hand, Zobrist would be pretty cool. Pretty, pretty cool. Pretty, pretty, pretty cool. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty ...