Overshadowed by the Adrian Gonzalez Trade Rumor Saga, the Padres have some other key decisions to make this offseason, like what to do with Kevin Kouzmanoff and Heath Bell. Kouzmanoff has quietly gone about his business, and posted three consecutive solid years, averaging just over 2.5 WAR per season (via FanGraphs).
His offense hasn’t taken off as expected, but at the same time he’s improved his defense. He has very much defined himself as an average to slightly above average player. Fortunately for the Padres, Kouz is under control for the next three years (arbitration eligible), making him relatively valuable.
If we do a quick-and-dirty projection, and run some numbers, we can get an estimate of his surplus value:
|Kouz||Proj. WAR||FA Salary||Proj. Salary||Surplus Value|
I’m assuming free agents make $4.8 million per marginal win, increasing at 10% per year due to inflation, and that a arb-eligible player makes 40% of his free agent value in his first year of arbitration., 60% in his second, and 80% in his third (all this based on Tangotiger’s work).
So, Kouzmanoff is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $14-15 million, in my rough estimation. Obviously, that could go up or down depending on your projection over the next three years, or what salary figures you use. We’re just getting a baseline here. Anyway, he clearly has some value, and could fill in a third base hole for a lot of teams. The question remains, though, and that is still: should the Padres look to trade him?
I think the answer is yes, and it is largely due to factors not really about Kouzmanoff. First, the Padres have Chase Headley ready to take over at third. Headley is younger than Kouzmanoff, he’s under control for an extra year, and he’s arguably just as good. Looking at the CHONE projections, for instance, Headley is projected at +6 offensive runs, while Kouzmanoff comes in at –2. Now, it is certainly a question mark whether Headley will put those numbers up for a full season, and if his fielding can compare with Kouz’s, but overall he’s a comparable player. By trading Kouz, the Padres can bring Headley back to his normal position at third, and go fill in the outfield with someone better suited to play there.
A second reason to trade Kouzmanoff is the Padres current prospects for the next few years. They really aren’t expected to compete, so a slight – or even significant – downgrade at third is not really going to matter all that much. It might give them 75 wins rather than 77, but it likely isn’t going to cost a playoff berth. The Pads can trade Kouz to a team on the playoff bubble – hopefully enticing them to overpay for his services – and make the most out of their situation. Basically, Kouzmanoff fits better on a playoff contender, and prospects are better suited for the Padres right now, as they will hopefully be ready to contribute when the Pads begin to seriously compete again.
The interesting thing here is that we could very well be having this discussion next year, surrounding Chase Headley and his potential replacements in guys like Logan Forsythe and James Darnell. The idea for the Padres here is to not worry about maximizing their expected win total in the coming season, but rather to put together a group of players that will be ready to make a run in a few years.