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Revisiting the Kevin Stocker/Bobby Abreu Trade

It's the all-star break, we have until Friday to cover any loose analytical ties, but for a moment let's step back to 1997 and talk about potentially the worst trade in franchise history.

What we knew then...

Bobby Abreu, we barely knew you.

After taking the young corner outfielder with the sixth pick in the expansion draft, Chuck LaMar and the Devil Rays have traded him to the Phillies for shortstop Kevin Stocker. Reportedly a strong defender, Stocker has hit .247/.326/.337 over the last three years, and turns 28 before the start of next season. Stocker's offense is really, really poor. He walks, strikes out a bit more than you would expect, doesn't hit for power, and doesn't really hit for average despite decent BABIP. In other words, he's awful.  

American League average last season was .271/.340/.428, it's hard to see Stocker coming anywhere near that.

Meanwhile, Bobby Abreu turns 24 before the season starts, and in ~230 plate appearances in the majors has hit .248/.325/.362. Sure, he plays a less demanding position, but he's younger and in 1,300 plate appearances at Triple-A hit .288/.382/.468, mostly as a 21 and 22-year old. He's a corner outfielder with no chance of playing center and yet he still has more upside than Stocker ever has.

Abreu has shown more willingness to take a walk than Stocker ever has. The power in his bat is evident and scouting reports peg him as having a strong arm in right. Is he better than Mike Kelly right now? Maybe. Kelly had a good season last year (.293/.338/.543) in 150 plate appearances; of course in his previous 300 his line was .213/.285/.373. 28 in June, Kelly seems like a player living off his draft status and his middle name (Raymond). 

The player the D-Rays sent to Cincy for Kelly has been named, and it's Dmitri Young. Another young outfielder,

Young has 410 plate appearances in the majors and has hit .257/.337/.354. Young also has an OPS over .900 in the International League, so we'll see, but this seems like trading potential for mediocrity.

Most expansion teams don't compete in year one, to think the Devil Rays will be any different is star-wishing. Later in the draft the D-Rays took Aaron Ledesma. I'm not sure how well his leather plays at short, and his bat isn't great either, but look at his last three seasons in Triple-A:

1995 - .299/.335/.368

1996 - .305/.360/.391

1997 - .325/.388/.439

Nothing moon-shattering, still though, he turns 27 next June and is he really that much worse than Kevin Stocker? Even if Ledesma is an absolute butcher and Stocker is Ozzie Smith, I'm not sure the difference on this particular teams warrants yielding a young, potentially good, corner outfielder for a below average shortstop.

Neither of these trades looks all too appealing, but we'll see.

What we know now...

Chuck LaMar's right to make personnel decisions should've been stripped immediately. Trading young hitters with solid track records for old hitters with no history of being effective based on position doesn't seem like a good idea.  This is well before we had readily available defensive metrics, so even if the Rays scouts thought Stocker was a really good defender, he would have to make up a ton of ground to be equal to Abreu.  He never did.

You have to appreciate that LaMar may have understood that shortstops are more valuable than right fielders and that defense matters. Unfortunately he ignored total value. Trades for Stocker and Kelly were motivated by a "win-now" philosophy. Why? Beats me, I guess "be better than the Cleveland Spiders" isn't a lofty goal, but trying to compete in the American League East in your first try is an insurmountable battle.

When it comes to these trades, LaMar had the vision of a bat in an echo chamber.