(Update: MLB.com's Ken Gurnick reports that the Dodgers are in fact not looking to trade Hu, as they need him in case Furcal goes down with an injury. But Gurnick did replace one Dodger on the trade market with another, noting that LA is shopping outfielder Jason Repko.)
Every spring, a few guys become available in trade as teams deal with players that could have value to someone else, but don't fit onto their roster. Now, nobody is expecting anything like the 1997 blockbuster that sent Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree to Atlanta in exchange for David Justice and Marquis Grissom, which occurred nearly 13 years ago to the day.
But already this spring, we've seen multiple reports discussing players that teams are shopping this spring. Specifically, yesterday we heard about the availability of two once well-regarded middle infield prospects, Giants infielder Kevin Frandsen and Dodgers shortstop Chin-Lung Hu. Both were once expected to be solid starters for their teams by now, but it appears that one or both are on their way out. What exactly could these guys offer to a major league roster?
Frandsen, 28 in May, was once considered San Francisco's second baseman of the future. Before the 2007 season, Baseball America rated him as the Giants' sixth best prospect, after he posted a .357 wOBA in 71 games in Triple-A as a 24-year-old. He struggled somewhat in his first go in San Francisco, but showed a decent ability to get on-base and a solid glove at the corner stone. He was expected to get major playing time in 2008, but a ruptured Achilles tendon ended his season before it could start. Last season, he lost a competition for the second base job Emmanuel Burriss, who soon lost the job himself, and spent most of the year in Triple-A.
Frandsen showed good ability to make contact last season, with a .295/.352/.438 line in 474 PA, and a solid glove at second means that he could emerge as a cheap option for someone at the position. CHONE and ZiPS both project him to be roughly seven runs below average with the bat over 600 PA , and a slightly below average glove, worth roughly a win over 150 games. In recent years, he's been better against right-handers than lefties, but a good deal of that has been affected by BABIP. With a better defensive showing, he could probably make for a decent stopgap for someone, and considering his salary he retains some decent value. He should stick somewhere, and could probably make for a solid back-up infielder for someone right now.
Hu, 26, was once ranked by BA as the 55th best prospect in the game before the 2008 season, thanks to an impressive glove at shortstop and a good ability to make contact. He was ranked as LA's third-best prospect, behind Clayton Kershaw and Andy LaRoche, and was expected to take over at shortstop once incumbent Rafael Furcal's contract ran out.
He spent the 2007 season split between Double-A and Triple-A, posting good batting averages at both stops, along with solid power (.178 ISO in Double-A, .188 ISO in Triple-A), although his walk rates were lacking. The Dodgers returned him to Triple-A for the 2008 season, and while he continued to make contact, his power disappeared and he made no improvement in his ability to take pitches and get on-base. During a stint with the big league club, he looked totally lost at the plate, posting a .214 wOBA in 129 plate appearances. So the Dodgers re-signed Furcal, as Hu fell out of favor with scouts and the organization alike.
Hu returned to Triple-A for 2009, but was quickly usurped by current Dodgers top prospect Dee Gordon as the organization's designated shortstop of the future. Hu had a very similar 2009 offensive performance to his one in 2008: mid-.290's batting average, minimal power, and unimpressive walk rate. He showed a tad more pop, walked slightly more and struck out slightly less last year, but none of the changes were substantial.
But Hu seems to be falling through the cracks as other organizations spend money to let mediocre veterans like Orlando Cabrera, Cesar Izturis, and Alex Gonzalez dominate time at one of the game's premium position. By all accounts, Hu's glove at short is a plus. He's routinely put up great TotalZone numbers in the minor leagues, and that gels with what scouts have been saying for years. His UZR data isn't really worth looking at yet, as he has only slightly more than 300 innings at shortstop in the majors.
But there seems to be reason to believe that Hu could be a pretty good stopgap for someone if his glove lives up to its reputation. CHONE projects him to be 16 runs below average offensively over 600 PA, with Marcel being bullish on Hu and ZiPS showing more doubt in his power and patience. It does help that he's never really shown a platoon split throughout his time in the minors.
But even so, with an above average glove, that makes Hu an asset at his price. CHONE projects him to be roughly 9 runs above average defensively next season, and even if that's a little optimistic, a projection of +5-6 with the glove next season seems reasonable. Put it all together, and he could be roughly a 1.5-2.0 WAR player for next season over 600 PA, making him a pretty solid bench piece or a decent stopgap.
Frandsen may have slightly more offensive value thanks to a more developed approach at the plate and slightly more present power, but Hu's advantages in position and defense appear to outweigh Frandsen's offensive superiority. In the end though, it appears that two pretty talented guys are hitting the market, with their teams hoping to land some value for guys that don't fit on the roster. Considering that teams routinely give decent money to players that really aren't any better, like Alex Cora and Bobby Crosby from this offseason for example, it would seem that some team would be able to get some value out of these guys.
Any team out on the prowl for a middle infielder (the Cubs? I mean, Fontenot as the back-up shortstop? Seriously? Or maybe the Blue Jays? Any other fans know of teams looking for middle infield help?) should have their eye on these two. Because right now, there are worse players (Aaron Miles, ahem..) manning infield jobs on major league rosters.