Cameron Maybin: When a Player’s Perceived Value Plummets, That’s the Time to Grab Him

I heard about the Cameron Maybin trade while I was in Arizona, taking in some AFL games (more on that later in the week). I thought about it a lot on the drive home and shared the gist of my conclusion on Twitter:

Even if Maybin ends up stinking, so what? Webb and Mujica can be replaced and Gwynn *needs* to be replaced. I’m not seeing downside.

Edward Mujica throws strikes but doesn’t use the inner half of the plate and is susceptible to the long ball. He soaks up low-leverage innings, which is useful to a team in a Ramiro Mendoza kind of way. Guys like Brandon Gomes, Evan Scribner, and any number of inexpensive free agents should be able to do the same.

As for Ryan Webb, I like him. He throws hard and his pitches have terrific movement. If he cleans up his mechanics a little, he could be the new Jeff Nelson. That’s a nice piece to have. But it’s not as nice as Maybin might be. And the drop from Webb to Ernesto Frieri is far less precipitous than the drop from Maybin’s potential to Tony Gwynn Jr.’s reality.

There’s a chance Maybin is nothing, and that’s fine. For two middle relievers, and given Maybin’s upside, it’s an acceptable risk. Your calculus may vary, but assuming there’s a 20% chance he becomes Mike Cameron, a 20% chance he becomes Ruben Rivera, and a 60% chance he ends up somewhere between those two extremes…

Look, it’s not like the Padres have overwhelming internal options. Cedric Hunter appears to be a spare part in the making, Blake Tekotte (whom I like as a possible poor man’s Mark Kotsay) is a month younger than Maybin and has played 67 games above A-ball, and Donavan Tate hasn’t demonstrated mastery of the all-important health tool.

Turning to the bigger picture, I’m impressed by Jed Hoyer’s aggressiveness. This trade may not work… at all. That said, Hoyer is showing a willingness to boldly go where no Padres GM has gone in a very long time. Granted, boldness doesn’t mean much if it isn’t accompanied by a certain amount of success, but still… this is exciting. And judging from some of the responses I received via Twitter, I’m not the only person who thinks so.

It’s easy to be excited in November. Everyone has the same record now, and much remains unknown. We may look back at this some day and laugh at our optimism. Very well, so we laugh. But we won’t be crying over the loss of Mujica and Webb. And if we are, then we need to adjust our priorities in life, eh?

Meanwhile, the Padres outfield has become crowded. The U-T’s Bill Center speculates that at least two of Ryan Ludwick, Gwynn, Chris Denorfia, and Scott Hairston (all arbitration eligible) will be non-tendered. Indications are that Ludwick will return and Hairston will not.

Gwynn is the best defender of the lot, and there are political reasons for keeping him around, but with a true center fielder in the fold, maybe the Padres are willing to cut ties with the namesake of the most recognizable player in franchise history. Or maybe, with Chase Headley scheduled to earn more than the front office intended to pay him, the club pushes Ludwick aside and funnels some of the money earmarked for his raise into Headley’s pocket.

One other point that concerns Hoyer’s approach is worth mentioning. There are, as best I can tell, two currently exploitable market inefficiencies (well, there are probably others, but these are two that I’ve noticed):

  1. Old guys with health and/or reliability concerns (the Texas Rangers worked this one well in 2010)
  2. “Post-hype” former prospects who have not yet fulfilled their potential and who may or may not ever do so

As we know, it behooves a team operating under tight budgetary constraints to identify and attack such inefficiencies. Hoyer appears to be doing just that.

He has made four trades as GM of the Padres. One (Miguel Tejada) falls into the first category, two (Aaron Cunningham and now Maybin) fall into the second. (The other, Ludwick, falls into neither but just made sense.) The acquisitions of Tejada, Cunningham, and Maybin were not particularly safe moves.

Those players all had/have the potential to fail… and in possibly spectacular fashion. This is the risk one takes in trading for flawed players. The way one mitigates such risk is by making sure the acquisition cost remains sufficiently low that even failure doesn’t hurt much. To get Tejada, Cunningham, and Maybin, the Padres gave up Wynn Pelzer, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Mujica, and Webb. These are useful players, but none of them is going to make or break the team’s future. (Neither is Tejada, but he helped down the stretch last year, so he’s already provided value.)

Cunningham could be a difference maker for the Padres in the future. Same with Maybin. Isn’t it worth the price of replaceable players to find out for sure?

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20 Responses »

  1. Mujica was picked off the scrap pile and Black seemed to have lost faith in him. Very good peripherals, but all too prone to the HR. Webb is tall and throws hard but still had a pedestrian strikeout rate, but it could improve with more experience. That’s a cheap price for a talent like Maybin. He may never hit, and Webb and Mujica may be more valuable if he doesn’t, but it’s a good risk to take. We bought a lottery ticket with a buck’s worth of quarters we found on the sidewalk, and our lottery ticket has a lot better odds than the state-sponsored dummy tax version.

  2. Bud Black seemed enamored of Denorfia, but I’m not sure Jed shares that opinion. Cunningham will be 25 in April, so he really has another year or two coming before being written off. He looks like a good hitter with speed, and an acceptable corner defender, even in RF at Petco.

    I really don’t think Moorad would allow Jed to cut TJ just yet. He just can’t afford the PR hit. I’m not sure he can afford Ludwick with his “payroll starts with a 4″ mantra – he said that last year, and I can’t find a 4 in $38 million. Dollars will still be a major part of the equation. Besides, I think Ludwick would want more than one year to see his numbers drop in Petco.

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Mike Baxter. He had his first taste of the Show and got on the dreaded “one-hit wonder” list, but he had a breakout year in Portland. He’ll probably be in Tucson in ’11 but should be considered a near-term possibility. I expect Hairston to be gone, and Denorfia to be cut before Gwynn and Cunningham.

  3. If you look at Maybin’s history, it is obvious he was rushed to the big leagues by both former clubs. He never received the coaching or experience needed at the minor-league level. I believe the Padres have great coaching at the major-league level (and it is better with Roberts on board). There is a good chance Maybin will benefit from this on-the-job training, as his scouting reports all speak of a willingness to work hard and a love of the game. If the Padres coaches handle him correctly and he can develop the discipline he has lacked with his swing, this will be the deal of the season in baseball.

  4. Frankly speaking, this is exactly the type of move we all have hoped the team would make for some time. Compare it to KT in ‘Zona making his first move being to re-sign Blum for 2 years.

    Maybin’s upside is significantly higher than Mike Cameron, though. We’re talking about a guy who is only 23, has had a weird development path, and doesn’t carry any questions about his attitude or work ethic that would help explain why a former top 5 prospect in all of baseball has struggled upon reaching the majors.

    This looks, to me at least, like one of those deals which we’ll look back a couple years from now and laugh at.

  5. Not sure if ““Post-hype” former prospects” is a market inefficiency. The Pirates seem to grab these guys left and right (LaRoche, Clement, Milledge, Gallagher, McDonald, etc.) and they don’t seem to find guys people are missing on. I can also cherry pick Cleveland’s Andy Marte or Kansas City’s Bryan Bullington.

    I’m trying to think of the last post-hype prospect that worked out well. I know people mention Paul Konerko as one, but that was over a decade ago.

    That’s not to say its not a worthy gamble because it totally is. Maybin becomes probably the 2nd best “prospect” in our under-25 talent pool next to Latos. I’m just nitpicking that one little part of it.

  6. Cameron Maybin reminds me of Adrian Gonzalez in the offseason when the Padres traded for him. Same age, same first-round draft status, same highly regarded prospect pedigree, same struggles in the majors. Maybin was a more highly regarded prospect (peaking at #6 overall in BA’s ranking versus 31 for Gonzalez) and has better overall minor-league numbers. Gonzalez had fewer at-bats of futility in the majors and his most recent minor-league season was better than anything Maybin has done.

    Sometimes the gambles work out.

  7. I agree and like the deal; as we all know, the Padres can’t afford big-name proven stars, but if they can take some good chances they may have a quality 2011 like they did in 2010.

    Look at how badly the CF position produced for the Padres in 2010. It’d be hard for Maybin to do any worse than that, so the bar is set low as it is.

  8. Wow, awesome! I can’t believe they would sell that low on Maybin. His progression through the minors looks very solid to me. He’s hit well at each level and has pretty good plate discipline; good OBP at each level and really cut down on his K’s at 22 in his first season at AAA. Good base stealer, good extra-base power, and, by all accounts I’ve seen, can handle CF. Granted, he struggled last year in his first extended exposure to big-league pitching, but so do 90-95% of players. He’s a solid bet to improve on his 2010 season next year being only 24! To pick up a prospect of his caliber for two middle relievers, who are the definition of “replacement level player,” is an exceptional move by Hoyer, imo.

    I will miss Mujica’s facial hair, though. ;-)

  9. I think the Mike Cameron comparable is appropriate. Cameron has always struck out a lot but he’s still been a valuable hitter because of his pop, and his D is first rate. Maybin has shown at least the potential to be that kind of player. The Padres offense is so hopeless that there’s a tendency to hope every incoming player is Willie Mays II, since we NEED a few of those. But if “all” he turns out to be is Mike Cameron II, it’s a hell of a deal no matter what Webb/Mujica turn out to be.

    There’s also this: Maybin came to Florida in a deal that sent away a franchise player and a former idol. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a young player. He won’t have to deal with that here.

    Put it this way: if Hoyer had made this deal three years ago, he would have been arrested for grand larceny. What has happened, since then, to make anyone think Maybin is a complete bust? His AAA numbers are fine. In 144 games at the MLB level, he has hit 12 HRs and scored 85 runs while hitting .257 and slugging .389 (NL numbers only) — this without ever playing regularly. The guy is still under 24. If he were a corner OF, you could see demoting him to fourth OF status, but those numbers, with the reasonable improvement one can expect at his age, are fine in a strong defensive CF.

  10. I can’t understand why we’d bring Ludwick back. His defense (albeit not terrible) does not play in Petco Park, and he won’t slug enough to be an effective middle-of-the-order bat. I know we don’t have many options, but I’d rather see one of the younger guys get a shot.

  11. Play Ludwick in left / Maybin in center / Cunningham in right. Venable is a big athlete who can learn the first base position… get what we can for AGON…

  12. @Wonko: You raise a good point. It may be more accurate to call post-hype prospects a potential market inefficiency. I’d need to look at some studies, assuming any have been conducted. We know that the cost is low, but without sufficient ROI, that’s not valuable so much as it is cheap.

  13. I think Hoyer should be commended for his moves thus far. No one expected Tejada to rise to the occasion as he did, just as no one expected Ludwick to flop as he did. Making trades is like watching a horse race — you play the odds and go with your experience and “gut feeling” prior to making the trade. The Maybin move is a low-risk, high-return possibility given the fact two middle relievers were sacrificed for such a player as Maybin’s potential. Hoyer understands he is no longer part of a large budgeted team (Red Sox) that can take risks knowing there’s more money to “fix” prior mistakes. The Padres will continue to carry very tight purse strings, instead relying on the abilities of Hoyer to find some gems that will most definitely make him earn his keep unlike some other high-profile GMs around the league…

  14. Post-hype prospects — the biggest recent one would be Josh Hamilton, but he never failed in the majors; rather, he took a circuitous route to get there. It would be stretching things to call Jose Bautista a former top prospect, since he was never even a Top 10 Pirate prospect for BA. Wilson Betemit was a prized minor leaguer, but he didn’t really do much until this year, at age 28. Kelly Johnson was BA’s 47th overall prospect in 2002 and was available for a song after 2009, but “hype” is a strong word for how he was viewed in his minor-league days. Jack Cust peaked at 31 on BA’s Top 100. Carlos Pena ranked as high as 5th on that list, but he wasn’t really a bust, just an under-expected-performer until reaching Tampa Bay. The Royals got one good year out of Andy Sisco (53, 2003), but his helium had already turned to lead and he was available in the Rule 5 draft.

    Those old BA lists are often discouraging, and not only to Padre fans.

  15. Maybin is EXACTLY the kind of high-ceiling players we should be collecting right now in hopes that they finally “get it” and turn their careers around. Even if the boys struggle in ’11, real fans will tune in to watch the development of kids with upside like Maybin. As a fan, this is an awesome deal

    Is there a better defensive OF in MLB than Venable-Maybin-Ludwick? Pretty sure Clayton Richard and Tim Stauffer have big grins on their faces knowing that’s the OF in ’11.

  16. @Tom Waits- I think that’s a pretty fine semantic hair you’re splitting on Pena. He was a .9 WAR player (Fangraphs version) through his first 500 big-league PAs while bouncing through four organizations. Maybin’s @ 1.7 through 600 and now his third org. I think if you’re going to count one, you need to count the other…

    Others that are debatable for inclusion: Delmon Young, Carlos Quentin, and (obviously, without leaving the organization) Daric Barton.

  17. No reason to re-sign Ludwick, is there? At more than $6 million coming thru arbitration, he’ll be quite expensive for the club (there’s no reason to think his bat will be awesome – better than last season after the trade for sure – or that his defense will play better at LF to make up for the mediocre power increase).

    I’d say, plug Cunningham at LF. Plus, with Baxter in the mix and also the recovering Kyle Blanks, and possibly Denorfia, the OF is mighty crowded with Tony Gwynn Junior and Will Venable as well.

    I’d rather see the money spent for SS and 2B, but who?

  18. I guess this is a trade that probably needed to be made. However, I sure wish they could have gotten him for someone other than Webb. The movement he had on a 97 MPH fastball was mouth watering. I certainly wouldn’t have considered him a replacement value middle reliever as a previous commenter did. His potential was explosive; have the Pads returned a Trevor Hoffman to Florida?

    The outfield definitely needs help. Maybe Maybin will work out. I suppose it was a risk worth taking. Hope they can get to a place where they can non-tender Ludwick. Flyball power hitters have never fared well in Petco, and he certainly doesn’t appear to have the range for right field there. I doubt he will be as bad next year as he was this year but he would need to improve drastically to earn the pay he’ll receive and I just don’t see it.

  19. @ Rob W.: Webb may certainly be more than a replacement level middle reliever some day, but that’s exactly what he was for the Padres last season. 59 IP at .5 WAR. He pitched, generally, in low leverage situations (only 17 of his 59 appearances had a leverage index above average). His highest number of appearances were in the 6th, but just barely. He appeared in the 7th nearly as often and in the 8th more often than he did in the 5th, so perhaps middle relief is a bit of an overstatement, but I think if you ask anyone who the back end of the Padres bullpen was, the answer would be Gregerson, Adams, and Bell, with nary a mention of Webb.