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juan sweet dream

a reminder --- i'm on vacation next week. i'll have a game thread tonight and a quick post tomorrow a.m., then will disappear till next weekend.

with no game to discuss, i figured i might as well consider a question that's been floating around out there lately: is there a trade market for juan encarnacion? yesterday's trade of milton bradley to the padres adds a bit of fuel to the discussion; it's almost july, and contenders are starting to make moves to shore up their weaknesses. (i leave it to you to decide if the cardinals are "contenders" at this point.)

the short answer to the question is: there has always been a trade market for en'cion. . . . or maybe it's more accurate to say there's always a team that wants to get rid of him. he has been dealt four times in the last six and a half years, twice in the middle of a season (2002 and 2004). it has been about three years since he was traded, so the guy's about due. what kind of return might he bring? to gauge that, we might as well start by looking at what sort of price teams have paid in the past to acquire his services. here are the transactions, in sequence:

december 2001, traded from detroit to cincinnati for dmitri young: young was a good, not great hitter --- below average for a first baseman, coming off four consecutive seasons of .850ish ops. he was still better than encarnacion, however --- juan had turned in his worst season in 2001, batting .242 / .292 / .408. both players did well in their new environs: young had a career year in 2003 (.909 ops), while encarnacion hit 16 hr in half a season for the reds --- who then packaged him up in trade #2.

july 2002, traded from cincinnati (with throw-ins) to florida for ryan dempster: hard to remember, but dempster once ranked among the most promising young pitchers in baseball. he won 14 games as a 23-year-old (this was back in 2000) and struck out 209 men, finishing 4th in the national league; made the all-star team that year. he won 15 games for florida the next year and threw 200+ innings for the 2d straight year. but the workload was killing him; at the time of this trade he was 5-8 with a 4.79 era in the marlins' spacious ballpark. his era ballooned to 6.19 in cincinnati, and the following year he missed half the season with an injury. just the same, that was a pretty fair price encarnacion fetched --- the rough equivalent of nabbing, say, jason jennings or brett myers.

december 2003, traded from florida to los angeles for travis ezi: the marlins had just won a world championship, but during the playoffs encarnacion --- the team's 2d-best rbi man and 3d-best home-run hitter during the regular season --- lost his job to 20-year-old miguel cabrera. the marlins still had mike lowell at 3b, so cabrera was slated as the everyday right-fielder; juan pierre played center, and in left field the marlins decided to go with 38-year-old jeff conine instead of encarnacion. still, j'cion was only 28 years old and coming off a 19-homer, 94-rbi season; you'd think he could command more in return than travis ezi, a journeyman in the low minors. that postseason benching must've been a watershed moment --- a major shift in encarnacion's perceived value. in the first two trades, teams had been willing to give up pretty good players to get encarnacion; now he wasn't worth anything more than a guy who'd put up a .660 ops in low class A the previous year. the marlins just wanted his salary off the books, i guess, so they gave him away for free.

july 2004, traded from los angeles back to florida with paul lo duca and guillermo mota in exchange for hee seop choi and brad penny: barely 6 months after trading for en'cion, the dodgers shipped him back to florida in this well-remembered blockbuster at the deadline. although two very good players went the other way in this deal --- penny you know about; choi was the rough equivalent of chris duncan, a 25-year-old with an .883 ops --- encarnacion was essentially a glorified throw-in, easily the weakest player in the trade. he had a.235 / .289 / .417 line at the time, while lo duca was the nl's reigning all-star catcher and mota was the premier setup man in the league. the latter two are the players the marlins (then in 2d place) really wanted. j'cion was just a spaceholder; he took over in the outfield for conine, who shifted to 1st base for the departed choi. the trade didn't work out for florida at all; they missed the playoffs, while the dodgers won their division. encarnacion started regularly for the marlins after the trade and put up a .701 ops down the stretch.

so there you have it: early in his career encarnacion brought very appealing returns on the trade market, but since his disappearance during the 2003 postseason teams haven't been willing to give up much for him. i wouldn't expect that to change now, insofar as he was benched again in the postseason last year --- and not for a hall-of-fame talent like miguel cabrera, but for dfa'd journeyman preston wilson. juan's current batting avg is 5 points below his career mark, his slugging pct 3 points over; he has an on-base pct of .297; he's 31 years old. if the cardinals were contending and had an opportunity to pick up this player, would you be excited? would you post a comment at this blog suggesting that jocketty should give up a valuable prospect or a halfway decent major leaguer in order to get him? . . . . .

i didn't think so. and gms for other teams probably feel just the way you do.

are there contending teams who could use encarnacion? sure there are. the mets may have lost moises alou for the season, which leaves them short a weapon against left-handed pitchers. the dbacks are having trouble scoring runs and are getting piss-poor production from their outfield; they're in a tight race, and a small upgrade could make a big difference. the tigers (rumored to have some interest in encarnacion) are not getting much from their current left-field platoon of thames and monroe.

perhaps some team will decide that encarnacion is the answer to their ills. but more likely his value is akin to what tino martinez's was after the 2003 season; he, you might recall, was traded for a 25-year-old double A relief pitcher.

oh, speaking of 25-year-old pitchers: the discussion about anthony reyes reigns in the front office, as well as on this board. my thoughts on the subject are already pretty well known . . . .