Revisiting the Wilson Valdez Trade

Wilson Valdez
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On Tuesday, we talked a bit about Cliff Lee's career, specifically the part where he was traded four times for (mostly) a crazy handful of nothing. It struck me as interesting that someone of Lee's ilk could get moved on four different occasions for so little, but then I realized that this is baseball, and things rarely work out the way you expect them to.

After I wrote that piece, I started to think about another trade that the Phillies made that turned out far better than anyone could have expected, considering the player that Amaro happened to move. While nothing really ever matches the first Cliff Lee trade (the one that cost the Phillies Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco, and Jason Knapp), I found one that exceeds it for no other reason that it was hilarious.

In 2010, the Phillies signed a journeyman-ish utility infielder by the name of Wilson Valdez, who, after five years in the big leagues, had an OPS+ of 51. Given that an OPS+ of 100 is equal to league-average production, it can therefore be assumed that Wilson Valdez was worth just slightly more than Jeremy Hermida, if Hermida was only a torso.

In other words, he was pretty bad. And he continued to be pretty bad in two years with the Phillies, where he accumulated an on-base percentage of .300 to go along with five home runs. But, Valdez really wasn't there for his bat. He was there because he could make it look like he could play the infield when Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Placido Polanco were unable to take the field. Which was often, as it turned out. He wasn't a great defender, but he got the job done, largely in part due to a good throwing arm that served him well from the left side. He was no Freddy Galvis, but he had some pretty rad facial hair, and that was good enough.

But without question, Valdez's greatest moment in a Phillies uniform came not in the batter's box or at the hot corner, but on the pitcher's mound, when he was called on to pitch in an epic 19 inning game against the Cincinnati Reds on May 25, 2011. Valdez, who had a decent fastball, pitched a scoreless frame despite having to face Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. He would go on to get the win, and instantly became a sort of folk hero in Philly. On a side note, my friend (and writer extraordinaire) Michael Baumann has a great first-person account from that game. You should read it.

Anyhow, the moral of the story is that Wilson Valdez was more known for a scoreless inning in May than literally anything else he did while with the Phillies. Which says a lot. So, then, how is it possible that Valdez was used to acquire a not useless member of the bullpen? Because it happened. Following that season, the Reds – clearly keen to take advantage of Valdez's skill as a swing-man, traded for the then 33-year-old. In return, the Phillies received LHP Jeremy Horst, a 25-year-old reliever who had an even 3.00 ERA in 470.1 minor league innings to go along with an 8.4 K/9.

It was a weird trade, because utility infielders are a dime a dozen. And I suppose the same can be said about young relief pitchers, but it's still bizarre that a piece that had some value would be given up for one that has none. The trade began to pay dividends for the Phillies almost immediately, as Horst would reel off a 1.15 ERA with 11.5 K/9 (he also held LHB to a .441 OPS) in 31.1 innings, and would prove to be one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise lousy bullpen in 2012.

Although Horst has fallen on significantly harder times in 2013, thanks to an injury and some bad luck (.378 BABIP) that has resulted in the reliever having a 6.23 ERA in 26 innings of work, he still figures to be a decent bullpen piece going forward. And like we mentioned about Cliff Lee, Horst has proven to be more valuable in under three seasons (0.1 WAR) than Valdez has over his entire career (-0.5). Funny, eh?

Only time will tell if Horst will continue to be useful, but it's still pretty hilarious to think that trading Wilson Valdez might just net more than what the Phillies got when they traded Cliff Lee. But that's baseball.

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