What To Do About Will?

2013 has been a disappointing season.

But as with all disappointing seasons, there are always a few bright spots: Jedd Gyorko, Tyson Ross, and Andrew Cashner, just to name a few.

But one bright spot has begun to emerge in the last few weeks: Will Venable.

Yes, Will Venable.

You remember him: he made his major league debut in late 2008, and ever since then, he has served as the starting right fielder against right-handed pitching. Truthfully, though, he has never really impressed: entering into this year, his career batting splits were .253/.324/.415. Against righties (whom he performs better against), it’s .264/.329/.453 in his career.

In other words, not really anything to write home about.

Going into this season, the plan was to continue to Venable-Denorfia platoon until August-September, then call up the talented Rymer Liriano. But then, Liriano needed shoulder reconstruction surgery.

So, it was back to Venable-Denorfia for the foreseeable future. Grrrreat.

For the first half of the year, Deno continued to hit well against lefties, but Venable actually underperformed. Here’s his line before the All-Star break: .224/.268/.423.

Yes, you read that correctly: a .268 OBP against the type of pitcher he’s supposed to be good at hitting against. Ouch!

But then, something funny happened: he started to hit: since the All-Star break, he has amassed 9 homers in 139 AB’s, with a line of .381/.415/.691, with an OPS of 1.106. In the last two weeks, he’s hitting .449.

Mr. Venable, take a bow.

But is he for real? What should the Padres do with him now?

Here are the options:

1. Sign him to a long-term deal.

2. Work out a one-year contract and/or go to arbitration. After all, the Padres have his services for another two years.

3. Trade him.

Those are the options. So, what to do?

Management should pass on option one. As we learned last year and this year with Chase Headley, a month or so of going gangbusters does not make one an elite hitter (see Gamble, Oscar–the Padres signed him to a four-year deal back in 1979 after one big season in Chicago, and wound up being sorry that they did).

Option two is a little more feasible; after all, they are short-handed in the outfield: for the second year in a row, Carlos Quentin will have only played in about half the games due to knee injuries. He’s locked in for two more seasons, and has a full no-trade clause. And Cameron Maybin, who is looking more and more like a bust, is in the second year of a four-year contract, and has a serious wrist injury which could affect him into the future.

That leaves Venable, Denorfia, Alexi Amarista, Logan Forsythe, and the young and untested Jaff Decker and Raymond Fuentes.

So again, this is not a bad option…although his price is going to go way up after this year. The Padres front office will have to ask themselves if they really want to overpay Venable $7 million or more a year based upon a strong two months or so.

Or…

They could trade him.

Why? He’s 30 years old (turns 31 in October), and he’s pretty much shown what he can do (see his career numbers above). Trade him this offseason because his value is never going to be higher.

I can already hear the objections: “But the Padres need outfielders right now!”

I agree. In which case they should include him in a package with a promising young starter (Robbie Erlin or Burch Smith, perhaps) for an even better outfielder; say, Giancarlo Stanton.

As for Maybin, he should be ready next year. If he’s not, you have Denorfia, Fuentes, and Decker as insurance.

Imagine that: an outfield of Quentin, Maybin (I know, I know), and Stanton. This would give the Padres more proven offensive fire-power, and surely Denorfia, who excels in his role as a backup, would surely get his 200-plus at-bats as a fourth outfielder.

Another objection: “But what if he’s the next Steve Finley?”

Yes, Venable could be the next Steve Finley; that is, a guy who was just okay until he reached his 30s, then suddenly starting playing at a whole new level. That’s certainly possible.

But not likely, and extremely rare. It simply doesn’t happen that often. For the vast majority of players, you know what their career trajectory is going to be when they’re 27-29. I’ll say it again:.253/.324/.415 (his career splits over five seasons coming into 2013), and .224/.268/.423 (his ’13 splits before the All-Star break). The numbers speak for themselves.

A final objection: “You’re just a Venable-hater!”*

No, I’m not. I’m just realistic about who he is. I like the guy, and what he brings to the table: he’s fast, good on defense, a solid spot-starter, and a good left-handed bat off the bench. In other words, he would make a very good fourth outfielder for a number of teams. There’s nothing wrong with that; every team needs one.

That’s my take on the situation. For the rest of the year, enjoy Will Venable’s hot streak; it’s certainly refreshing to see while it lasts. I just don’t think he has suddenly become an elite hitter. As such, the best option the Padres have is to trade him after the season; his value will never be any higher than it is right now.

*Just for the record, calling someone a “hater” is intellectually lazy. Just saying.

 

**UPDATE**

(Sept. 3): It appears the Padres went with option number 2: they just signed him to a two-year, $8.5 million extension. They apparently not only like what they see (and after his performance this August, who can blame them!), but they believe Venable has finally gone from good to great.

I am not convinced, for the reasons listed above. That said, I would love to be proven wrong. Will Venable has the talent to be a perennial 20 HR, 20 SB guy who plays solid defense. The problem has always been his consistency…and this has been going on for five years.

The good news is that the Padres only extended him for two more years. So this is a risk, but a fairly minor one. If the August 2013 version of Will Venable sticks, then they’ve got themselves a bargain. If not, then they have a slightly expensive fourth outfielder.

Time will tell.

 

 

 

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