Word came out this week that the Pirates would be interested in trading their starting catcher, Ryan Doumit, if the price was right. Before I continue, the Pirates haven’t said they are shopping Doumit. They haven’t said they’ve gotten any offers. We don’t even know what teams have expressed interest, just that there are teams who have expressed interest. So it’s far from a guarantee that a Ryan Doumit trade will occur this off-season.
That said, the biggest complaint about a potential trade that I’ve seen is that the Pirates would be selling low on Doumit by trading him in the off-season. Doumit is coming off a season in which he hit for a .250/.299/.414 line, with ten homers in 280 at-bats. He also only played 75 games, missing a large portion of time with a wrist injury.
In 2008, Doumit hit for a .318/.357/.501 line with 15 homers in 431 at-bats, while playing in 116 games. While his 2009 season was sub-par, he finished off strong, hitting for a .329/.406/.459 line in 85 at-bats in September/October. So the idea that the Pirates are selling low, based on the numbers Doumit put up in the 2009 season, is totally legit. The problem is, numbers aren’t the only thing that influence a player’s value.
This isn’t a situation like Jason Bay in the winter of 2007. Bay was coming off a bad season, mostly due to injuries. The Pirates were hoping he would bounce back in 2008, similar to what fans are hoping Doumit will do in 2010. The difference is that there was little chance that Bay would suffer more injuries in the 2008 season. All he had to worry about was improving on his numbers. Doumit not only has to worry about improving his numbers, he has to stay healthy to improve his value. That’s no easy feat.
Doumit missed 76 games in 2009 due to injuries, including 73 games spent on the disabled list. He missed 27 games in 2008 due to injuries and illness, including a 20 game trip to the disabled list. In 2007, Doumit missed 47 games, including two trips to the disabled list that resulted in 46 games missed in August and September. Doumit missed 89 games in 2006 due to a hamstring injury, including two trips to the disabled list that resulted in 88 games missed.
Doumit has missed 239 games in the last four years due to injuries. He’s played in 335 games during that time span. So while there’s a good chance Doumit will improve on his numbers in 2010, there’s also a good chance that Doumit will spend some time on the disabled list in 2010.
In a perfect world, there’s only one way to go for Doumit, and that’s up in value. That would mean Doumit stays healthy, and returns to his 2008 numbers. Unfortunately the reality is that Doumit’s value is a two way street. Many assume that the only way his value can go is up. It can also go down.
Right now Doumit is still viewed by many as a catcher. What happens if he suffers a serious injury, such as a knee issue, and is no longer seen as a catcher, similar to the situation Jeff Clement is in now? He goes from one of the top offensive catchers to a middle of the pack right fielder if that happens. What happens if Doumit hurts his hamstring again, and misses the majority of the season, playing in about 60-70 games in 2010?
There are a lot of scenarios you could run, but there is one thing that almost seems constant: Ryan Doumit will get injured in 2010, and will probably make at least one trip to the disabled list. I’d actually say his value is higher now than it would be once the season starts. Before the season, Doumit is a mirage to other teams. He’s a guy who is a season removed from a fantastic year for a catcher, and who also finished the 2009 season with a bang. There’s also the hope that this will be the year he goes without an injury, which could give him some of the best numbers in 2010 amongst catchers.
Once the season starts, those hopes could be erased. All it takes is Doumit starting off slow, or getting injured, and expectations by other teams come crashing down. Let’s be honest. If Ryan Doumit hits .300 with an .800+ OPS in the first two months of the season, and doesn’t get hurt, his value isn’t going to see that big of a spike. Any team interested in Doumit knows that he’s capable of this. I’d even go so far as to suggest that would hurt his value a bit. It’s kind of like betting on red in roulette after it’s hit ten times in a row. Sooner or later you know black is going to come up. You would have been much better off if you started betting red before the streak began. Now you know that you’re closer to the potential losing bet.
The same is true for teams interested in Doumit. It’s pretty much a guarantee that Doumit will spend time on the disabled list. Do you want to wait, watch him excel with the Pirates for two months, then shell out some prospects to get him, knowing he’s likely to spend time on the disabled list? Or would you rather give up those prospects now, and get the first two months of Doumit? Sure, he may get injured in those two months, but that’s the beauty of the off-season: it’s filled with hope that this could be the year everything goes right, and I think that extends to an injury prone guy like Doumit.
I do know two things are certain. First, if Doumit gets injured at the start of the season, his value would see a bigger change than it would if he started off hitting .300 for the first two months. Second, there are some teams who can afford to be without Doumit for a month, or maybe even two months. The Pirates aren’t one of those teams. Doumit is a support player on a contending team. He’s the heart of the lineup for the Pirates when he’s on his game.
Of course that logic is somewhat flawed. If Doumit is one of the best hitters on the team, the Pirates would be better off having him for part of the season, rather than getting rid of him all together. However, Doumit shouldn’t be the best hitter on the team. The Pirates are still in a position where they need to improve on the talent in the organization, so that guys like Ryan Doumit and Adam LaRoche aren’t expected to carry the lineup. In order to continue that, they will likely have to trade Doumit and get a good return.
I can’t say that the Pirates won’t improve the potential return if they wait and see how Doumit does during the start of the 2010 season. What I can say is that there’s two ways Doumit’s value can go, and anyone who thinks his value can only go up is sorely mistaken. So at the end of the day, if the Pirates trade Doumit in the off-season, it might not be at max value, but at the same time they guarantee that he’s not traded at minimum value either.