The Yankees have asked the Reds about Homer Bailey, tweets Dan Barbarisi, one of the Yankee beat writers. Several other writers have speculated that Brett Gardner would be a possible trade match. Gardner plays CF and has experience leading off, so superficially, he’s a good fit for the Reds.
The simplicity of the deal may makes it tempting. Gardner and Bailey each have one year remaining before reaching free agency. Gardner “solves” the lead-off problem. He also can play CF for a year while Billy Hamilton races up his learning curve.
Tempting, but terrible. No way you trade Homer Bailey for Brett Gardner.
First of all, Gardner’s numbers — he will turn 31 during next season — are trending in the wrong direction. Throw out his 37 plate appearances in 2012 and you have this trend line for his walk-rate: 2010 – 13.9%, 2011 – 10.2%, 2013 – 8.5%. That’s an alarming decline. His strikeout rate in 2013 (20.9%) was his highest for any full season. He stole half as many bases in 2013 (24) as he did in 2011 and 2010.
Those who favor the trade would undoubtedly point to Gardner’s OBP (career: .352), but there are similar warning signs for that. His .344 OBP last year was aided by a career-high .342 BABIP. Take twenty points off of that to bring it back in line with his career BABIP and factor in the declining walk-rate, and suddenly Gardner’s OBP is more dull than shiny. His primary asset — speed — is one that declines rapidly with age. There aren’t too many 31-year-old base stealing threats. There’s even a decent chance that Billy Hamilton could produce a .325 OBP with even greater speed and better defense.
Homer Bailey’s career, on the other hand, is moving upward. He ranks in the top 20-25 starters in baseball when looking at advanced metrics. Rising K/9, falling BB/9. He’s proven himself to be a big-game pitcher, one of two aces on the Reds staff last year. He has a good chance of earning over 4.0 WAR this year at the bargain salary of $9 million. Homer Bailey, like Shin-Soo Choo last year, is far too valuable and irreplaceable to trade him, even if he walks at the end of the year.
I’m OK with Gardner playing CF and leading off for the Reds. He has a little pop in his bat and is a good defensive player. But not at the cost of Homer Bailey. You don’t trade a year of a 27-year-old starting pitcher on the upswing for a 30-year-old outfielder on the decline. Quality, dominant starting pitching is far more valuable than what Gardner offers.
But I’m worried that the Reds feel boxed in and desperate. Their plans to acquire (or reacquire) a centerfielder and/or leadoff hitter have foundered so far. Walt Jocketty has shown a worrying blind spot for “the stolen base guy.” Remember this: “He fills two significant needs for our ball club, a speed base-stealing threat at the top of the order and superior defense in center field,” Walt Jocketty once said of Willy Taveras. And this — the Reds almost traded for Ben Revere instead of Shin-Soo Choo last year.
Gardner is no Taveras or Revere, but he’s not completely dissimilar, either. And not at the cost of Homer Bailey’s 27/28-year-old season.
My dread is that later this week, we’ll hear this: “We really hated to trade Homer Bailey. But we had to do something to address our needs and that had proven difficult. Gardner’s speed will create havoc on the bases and fill our needs for a lead-off hitter who can get on base and play center field.”