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Brewers Trade for Koskie, Starring Joe Randa

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The Brewers, in what is becoming a pattern, are showing the Pirates how it's done, trading pitcher Brian Wolfe for Corey Koskie and cash.

Hang with me here, because this one's tricky. It's a nuanced and ambiguous argument with some room for debate. It's not one of those obvious the-Pirates-are-morons arguments that the Pirates' actions unfortunately require me to make on at least a monthly basis.

I am not saying Koskie is a great baseball player. I'm not even saying that he's obviously a better bet than Joe Randa. I am saying that for the Pirates and Brewers, Koskie makes a lot more sense.

Here's what the Bucs and Brewers had before they acquired their new third basemen. The numbers after the players' names are their ages and their 2005 OPS.

Bill Hall, 26, 837
Russ Branyan, 31, 868
Jeff Cirillo, 36, 800

Freddy Sanchez, 28, 736
Jose Bautista

With the possible exception of Bautista, these are big-league players. They all have question marks - Hall spent most of his early 20s not hitting, Branyan's whole career has been erratic, Cirillo's 2005 might be his last effective season, and Sanchez is still relatively unproven. The Brewers' collection of players aren't nearly as good as the numbers they put up in '05, and I'd rather have Sanchez going forward than any one of those players.

The point is, though, that both these teams already had decent players at the position they're trying to upgrade. If they had wanted to, they could have stood pat and counted on a bit of production from the position, and maybe they'd have gotten lucky and done a lot better than that.

Given that both teams could already have expected decent numbers from the position they were trying to upgrade, what should they have done? The Bucs and Brewers chose two separate paths.

The Pirates chose Joe Randa. Here are his OPSs the past three years:

  1. 800
  2. 757
  3. 787
None of these is much higher than Sanchez' OPS in 2005, and Sanchez is eight years younger than Randa. There's a good chance that Randa will collapse completely this year. Even if the Pirates' gamble on Randa pays off, they're only getting a marginal upgrade.

Here's Koskie:

  1. 845
  2. 837
  3. 735
Koskie had a gazillion injuries last year. Before that, he was a markedly better player than Randa - at least as good with the glove and much better with the bat. If healthy, Koskie is a serious upgrade over what the Brewers and Pirates already had. (I'm mindful here that Hall, Branyan and Cirillo all hit well in 2005, but all three had fluky years and I'm assuming that all three are worse than their 2005 numbers.)

Let's say I'm the GM of a team with a big hole at third base and no one to fill it. Randa would be the guy to get. He's old and could collapse at any time, but he has been relatively steady throughout his career and hasn't been injury-prone. Koskie would be a bad guy to get in that situation, because he could easily get hurt again, and if that happens, you haven't got anyone to take his place.

Neither the Pirates nor the Brewers fit that scenario, though. Both teams have pretty good backup options. Koskie is higher-risk than Randa, but if Koskie tanks, both teams could send someone else in there who would still have a very good chance of out-producing Randa anyway. This means that the risk associated with getting Koskie isn't really that much of a risk at all, since players like Hall, Branyan or Sanchez would mitigate the risk.

Basically, then, the Brewers have addressed their third-base situation by choosing a low-risk, higher-reward option; the Pirates addressed theirs by choosing a low-risk, low-reward option. A healthy Koskie is far better than a healthy Randa, and if either player gets hurt or collapses, then never fear, the backups are here.

The Brewers had to trade Brian Wolfe to get Koskie. Wolfe just turned 25, is a reliever, is not on a 40-man roster and never pitched with even the slightest degree of effectiveness in Class AA or higher before last year. He's an extremely low-grade prospect. In other words, the Koskie trade was a salary dump for the Blue Jays. The Brewers will pay $4 million over two years for Koskie's services, plus possibly half of a $500,000 buyout. If I've got the numbers right, the Brewers get two years of Koskie for $4.25 million and a very marginal prospect. That's barely more than the Pirates paid for just one year of Randa.

I'm not a huge fan of Koskie, and I think he makes a lot more sense for the Brewers right now than he does for the Pirates - after all, the Brewers could plausibly win the NL Central next season. They're at the stage of their success cycle when they should be worrying about plugging holes with veterans. But in any case, the Brewers found a much better solution to their third-base situation than the Pirates did, and a similar trade for Koskie would have made a lot more sense for the Pirates than signing Randa does.