It’s no secret the A’s need to improve the middle of the infield. Fans have debated for weeks who should be traded for or brought up from Sacramento to solve the problem. Last week, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs suggested the most obvious trade that should happen is a deal involving Chase Utley. While it is hard to argue with his analysis and assessment that Utley would be a significant upgrade at second, I believe the more pressing need is at shortstop and the A’s would be better suited taking a long look at Jimmy Rollins.
My belief isn’t based on the talent of either Rollins or Utley so much as the defensive shortcomings of Jed Lowrie at shortstop. Lowrie has been in a groove all season with the wood, but his glove work at short is becoming a big liability. He has already generated -0.7 dWAR with 56 of his 79 starts coming at short, and his -5.2 UZR is the second lowest in all of baseball among qualified shortstops.
It would improve the defense significantly to slide Lowrie to second an insert Rollins, a superior defender, at short. While Utley is an outstanding fielder in his own right, the A’s can’t continue to risk putting Lowrie at shortstop. His -0.9 UZR at second isn’t very encouraging, but it will be easier to mask his deficiencies there.
There is no denying that when Utley is healthy he is among the best in the game (7+ WAR each year from 2005-09), but he hasn’t played in a full season since 2009. He has compiled a .284/.348/.517 slash line with an impressive 133 OPS+ so far, but he just came off the DL June 21 after spending a month healing from an oblique injury. With Lowrie already being an injury risk, and thankfully avoiding it thus far in extensive playing time, it would be a huge gamble to acquire another injury-prone player. Rollins, however, has yet to miss a game this season and has always proven to be durable.
Rollins hasn’t been the same hitter since winning the NL MVP in 2007, but his bat still plays decently for a middle infielder and he is still among the game’s best in terms of defense. His power output is down (just four homers in 83 games after 23 in 156 last year) but I’m willing to bet a trade to his hometown team will help rejuvenate his bat. His average (.262) and on-base percentage (.327) are perfectly acceptable for a proficient defensive shortstop
Part of me keeps fighting myself as I type this because it almost seems wrong to advocate trading for a guy in Rollins, who at this point in his career brings a lot less to the table on the offensive side of things, as opposed to Utley, a gigantic upgrade over what the A’s have at second base now. But Lowrie must move from shortstop, and trading for Utley ensures that it won’t happen.
Utley is also highly regarded by Phillies fans, and trading for him would require a decent package despite his impending free agent status. Rollins has been a target of the fans’ scorn for years now, and his average offensive numbers would call for lesser compensation.
Some may point out that Rollins still has a year left on his contract at $11 million, with another $11 million as a vesting option for 2015, but it won’t break the bank and the A’s can afford it. The Phillies will be eager to unload the contract and would likely be willing to accept lower end prospects in return as well.
More importantly, the only prime shortstop prospect the A’s now have in the farm system is Addison Russell, who at 19-years-old and currently hitting .254 for Stockton, figures to be at least two or three years away from making any discernible impact in Oakland. The A’s need a stopgap that isn’t Adam Rosales in the meantime.
They could just eschew the trade route altogether and make a call to Sacramento and the myriad of middle infielders they have, but Hiroyuki Nakajima is only hitting a pedestrian .273, Jemile Weeks is hitting just .264, and while Grant Green has an impressive .322 average and .512 slugging percentage he continues to suffer from Adrian Cardenas syndrome. He should get a call soon, but starting him and Lowrie together would be a disaster.
Even as I finish typing this I’m still torn between Rollins and Utley. I love what Utley can do with the bat, but Lowrie needs to be at second, Rollins still plays a mean shortstop, and Utley has problems staying healthy. Even with the money the A’s would have to take on I think getting Rollins would be the smarter choice.