A's trade for Yankeeist favorite Josh Willingham

Billy Beane and I seem to covet a lot of the same players. First Ben Sheets, then David DeJesus and now Josh Willingham. I first pondered the idea of Willingham back in April when I wasn’t yet convinced that Brett Gardner was going to be the full-time solution in left field.

Admittedly I’ve since become a Gardner believer, but that doesn’t mean I still can’t pine over what might’ve been had the Yankees somehow picked Willingham up.

Here’s what the A’s are getting in Willingham:

That’s a pretty OBP trendline. Since becoming a full-time player in 2006, Willingham’s OBP has gone up (or stayed level) every season, topping out at 2010’s stellar .389, which, had he had enough PAs to qualify, would’ve been the sixth-best mark in the National League. Willingham’s SLG took a hit in 2010, actually falling to a five-year low of .459, but he still managed to put up a career-high .378 wOBA, which of course underscores how highly wOBA values OBP.

Additionally, Willingham’s career-high 14.9% walk rate would’ve been second in the league, and so it’s not terribly surprising that James sees a slight correction due in 2011, with Willingham losing .020 points of OBP as a result of a still-excellent 13.3% BB%. CAIRO sees Willingham as a .359 wOBA hitter in 2011 with a .363 on-base percentage. Given Willingham’s career OBP is .367 I think these forecasts might be a tad pessimistic, although Willingham is on the wrong side of 30.

Interestingly, CAIRO has Willingham worth 3.2 WAR, which would be a career-high in both bWAR and fWAR, although it should be noted that SG purposely doesn’t calculate WAR due to issues with both measuring and projecting defense, so this should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

Even if he isn’t quite a three-win player, Willingham’s still a very nice upgrade for an Oakland team that really struggled to score runs in 2010 — only three everyday players managed OBPs higher than .358. Throw David DeJesus and his 2010 .384 OBP, OBP God Daric Barton and old friend Hideki Matsui into the mix and the Oakland lineup is looking at a pretty nice 2-3-4-5. Additionally, Oakland surrendered Henry Rodriguez and Corey Brown in the deal, neither of whom is considering a top young talent, per Fangraphs.

Perhaps most importantly for readers of this blog, Willingham will be a free agent after this season, and Oakland will almost certainly not be re-signing him. Depending on how Brett Gardner fares in his sophomore season as a full-timer, Willingham could be a potential left field option for the 2012 Yanks — as a player entering his age 33 season, he won’t be able to command a long-term deal, and as a non-elite player shouldn’t be prohibitively expensive.