It's a reasonably uncontroversial opinion these days to say that the Kansas City Royals are having a strong offseason. They added Jason Vargas on a reasonable deal (even if it might be a bit too long), they acquired Norichika Aoki for a reliever, and they signed Omar Infante to what appears to be a bargain contract. For all the grief we gave the Royals last offseason, they look to be doing a fine job right now. The Orioles, however, have been relatively quiet, focusing almost exclusively on tweaking their bullpen. On Wednesday, the two teams swapped David Lough and Danny Valencia in an intriguing exchange of non-household names.
The Royals calculus is pretty simple. Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Aoki are slated to be their starting outfield and there is simply to no way to work Lough into the lineup on a regular basis. Certainly, depth is valuable, but the Royals needed to punch up their offense and trading one of their extra defense-first outfielders seems to make some sense.
For the Orioles, acquiring an outfielder was one of their top priorities and with Manny Machado firmly established at third, there really wasn't much use for Valencia who is a platoon player without a defensive position. In his career, Valencia has been below average at third, so moving to second (the Orioles only vacancy) was out of the question. Valencia's only role in Baltimore was destined to be a DH who only hit against lefties.
From a wide angle, the deal makes plenty of sense. The Royals had Lough slated for too few plate appearances and needed someone who could spell Mike Moustakas against lefties while offering some power. The Orioles didn't have much room for Valencia and needed a quality outfielder. It's a perfect fit on the surface.
Unfortunately, there is more to it that than that. The Royals didn't trade one year of Lough for one year of Valencia, they traded six years of Lough for four years of Valencia. Maybe the trade works if they're both on the same page, but that isn't the case. Lough is a year younger, has two extra years of team control, and is the better overall player.
Valencia is a low walk, low on-base guy who only showed massive power this season and it only exists against left-handed pitching. His splits from 2013, which are very much in line with his career mark, tell the tale.
Valencia is also a below average defender at third base in his career, so it's not as if he provides much value even when he isn't hitting.
And lest you think he makes up for it with his legs, he's put up a -4.4 BsR in his career. There's absolutely a place in baseball for a player who mashes left-handed pitching, but that role is much more limited than the one David Lough can fill.
Now we have less information on which to base our impressions of Lough, but the numbers paint a much rosier picture. In 400 career PA, Lough has a 90 wRC+ to go along with less than stellar slash stats. He's a low walk, slightly better than average contact hitter who won't drown in a big league lineup and doesn't have a significant platoon split. He's a capable baserunner (1.3 BsR career), but his glovework is what makes him a valuable major league player. Lough is a below average hitter and slightly above average runner, but in 400 PA he has a career fWAR of 2.5 because he's a fantastic defensive player.
It's important to note that we're only talking about 835 innings of work so we shouldn't take these numbers at face value. Below are his advanced numbers for his career in the outfield, with most of the innings coming in right:
Certainly we shouldn't think about him as a +30 defender in RF based on 830 innings of data, but combining the initial data with good old fashioned visual scouting and you feel plenty comfortable calling him an excellent defender in a corner. He could probably even play an average centerfield without much issue. Lough simply has tremendous range and will be a huge asset in the Orioles outfield just like he was in the Royals outfield in 2013. While Gold Glove voters love Adam Jones, the advanced numbers tend to rate him poorly. Having David Lough next to him could be a big help.
Ultimately, there are reasons this move kind of makes sense for the Royals, but when you start to put everything together, it seems like they sold low on a player who was a very legitimate candidate for second place in last year's Rookie of the Year voting. When you consider the extra two years of team control and the fact that Lough is a year younger, it's hard to justify this positional exchange for a player who is inferior overall. There's nothing wrong with having a very good fourth outfielder - especially considering the fact that Aoki is a free agent after the end of the 2014 season. The Royals were probably better off keeping Lough. Maybe this move makes sense for the Royals for 2014, but beyond that it's clearly a win for the Orioles. And I'm not even sure it's a great move for the Royals for 2014.
David Lough is never going to be a star, but an excellent glove attached to a slightly below average hitter is a useful player. Trading him away for a part time DH probably wasn't the best idea.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Neil Weinberg is the Associate Managing Editor at Beyond The Box Score, contributor to Gammons Daily, and can also be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter at @NeilWeinberg44.