Possible Kearns/Westbrook Swap

Reds interim GM Brad Kullman certainly seems more open-minded than his predecessor, Dan O’Brien.  But one of O’Brien’s final non-moves may have been one of his few wise ones.  Sheldon Ocker’s Beacon Journal article today reports that O’Brien turned down an Austin Kearns for Jake Westbrook all-Ohio trade prior to his firing.

Such a one for one trade would lean heavily towards the Indians, in my opinion.  Here’s my reasoning.

The 25 year-old Kearns has yet to reach his potential, while Westbrook has topped out at age 28.  Let’s look at 2005.  In just 387 at-bats, Kearns was worth 3.6 wins.  Westbrook was worth 3.8, but that was in a full season.  Kullman has said that Kearns stands to get 550 ABs in 2006.  If Kearns could maintain his .240/.333/.452 line and his defense over that many at-bats, he’d be a 5.1 win right fielder.  That kind of production could make him the 8th best RF in the game, and I’m assuming no improvement.

However, it stands to reason that Kearns will indeed improve given the full-time job in ’06.  My projection has him hitting .257 with 22 HR and 83 RBI in 486 at-bats this season.  PECOTA sees an even bigger jump, to .275/.367/.510 in 459 plate appearances (21 HR).  Bill James weighs in with .270/.363/.497 in 392 ABs, and ZiPS went with .258/.349/.480 in 431 ABs.  PECOTA lists Pat Burrell and Dale Murphy among his comps.  This is a player on the rise, and he makes $1.85MM.

Westbrook’s ability lies somewhere between his 3.38 ERA in 2004 and his 4.49 ERA last year.  He’s a solid 210 inning guy, and an extreme groundball pitcher.  Projections:

RotoAuthority: 3.98 ERA in 213 IP
PECOTA: 3.97 ERA in 199 IP
James: 3.91 ERA in 211 IP
ZiPS:  4.02 ERA in 195 IP

Wow.  That’s as close to a consensus as four projection systems can get.  But here’s the rub.  In 2005, the Indians had the 3rd best defense in baseball.  The Reds had the 3rd worst.  Kullman might think he needs groundball pitchers to succeed in a park that inflates HRs by 16%, but that won’t work with a crappy defense.  Westbrook does keep the ball in the park, but that’s only half the battle.  The Reds need a guy who also misses bats.  Westbrook’s $4.25MM salary for 2006 and $5.6MM option for ’07 are quite reasonable, however.

Some fine alternatives for the Reds would’ve been Josh Beckett and Esteban Loaiza.  While neither would’ve come cheaply, both are built to succeed in Great American Ballpark.  Out of possible remaining trade candidates, I think Matt Clement and Brad Penny could prosper as Reds.  If the Dodgers were to send Jayson Werth elsewhere, it could open up some room for Kearns.  The Red Sox would do well to groom a replacement for Trot Nixon.

Should the Indians add Kearns and Marte for Westbrook and Crisp this offseason, they’ll have improved their team while also making it younger and cheaper, a rare feat.  What’s more, a Millwood-esque signing of Jeff Weaver could keep the starting rotation five-deep with 200 inning guys, a model perfected by the White Sox.         

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