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Friday, February 02, 2007

Transaction ketchup: Reds trade for Jeff Conine

On December 21st, the Reds traded for 40-year old 1B/OF Jeff Conine, sending Javon Moran and Brad Key to the Phillies and taking on Conine's $2 million contract.

Jeff Conine was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 58th round of the 1987 amateur draft out of UCLA. He arrived in the big leagues in only his third professional season in 1990, but didn't stick in the majors until he was chosen as the 22nd pick in the 1992 expansion draft by the Florida Marlins in what might have been the best selection of that draft. He immediately became a regular for the Marlins, coming in third in the 1993 rookie of the year voting and becoming an outstanding player in 1994 (0.319/0.373/0.525) and 1995 (0.302/0.379/0.520). Unfortunately, his offense seemed to have tapered off by 1997 (he was already 31), and the Marlins traded him to back to the Royals for someone named Blaine Mull in the offseason following Florida's World Series victory over the Cleveland Indians.

Since then, Conine has managed to maintain regular work with both the Baltimore Orioles and the Florida Marlins, to whom he returned in 2003 and yet again won a World Series (apparently he "knows how to win"). Throughout his 30's, Conine has been a consistent, durable, and generally respectable hitter (though certainly sub-average for his high-offense positions), keeping his OPS in the upper 700's most years. Last year, however, he may have finally begun to show his age.

Recent stats:
Year/Team PA %K %BB %HR SB SB% OBP SLG OPS GPA EqA VORP PrOPS
2004/FLO 577 14% 8% 2.4% 5 50% 0.340 0.432 0.772 0.261 0.269 10.3 0.780
2005/FLO 382 15% 10% 0.8% 2 100% 0.374 0.403 0.777 0.269 0.286 15.5 0.769
2006/BAL 431 12% 8% 2.1% 3 60% 0.325 0.401 0.726 0.246 0.258 -1.7 0.754
2006/PHI 107 11% 5% 0.9% 0 ---
0.327 0.390 0.717 0.245 0.249 0.3
0.715
Long gone are the days when one could reasonably expect Conine to carry a SLG in the 0.450-0.525 range (the last time was 2003, at age 37). As of a few years ago, he was still capable of getting on base at a decent clip--and if he does that, he can still be valuable--but last year's performance has to make you concerned. PrOPS was kinder to him than his scorebook performance, but still, last year was arguably the worst of his career (lows in OPS, SLG, & GPA). He doesn't strike out terribly often, which I'm sure will please Wayne and Jerry, but last year that was probably his main offensive virtue...which really isn't enough.

Conine is going to turn 41 next June, which puts him at least three years older than anyone else on the Reds' squad. Hopefully he'll pull a Julio Franco on us and rediscover something in his 40's that will make him valuable again. ... But that doesn't happen very often. He'll need to rebound to at least his 2005 form to be a useful player. Otherwise, there is absolutely no point in carrying him on the roster beyond his veteran presence.

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Let's take a very quick look at who we lost in that trade:

Javon Moran
Year/Team PA %K %BB %HR SB SB% OBP SLG OPS GPA
2004/PHI-A 459 17% 5% 0.4% 39 70% 0.340 0.385 0.725 0.249
2004/CIN-A 105 14% 10% 0.0% 11 79% 0.448 0.404 0.852 0.303
2005/CIN-A+ 230 14% 6% 0.9% 13 65% 0.378 0.395 0.773 0.269
2005/CIN-AA 88 24% 6% 0.0% 7 64% 0.341 0.386 0.727 0.250
2006/CIN-A+ 46 11% 4% 0.0% 4 50% 0.413 0.419 0.832 0.291
2006/CIN-AA 265 10% 4% 0.4% 16 70% 0.355 0.400 0.755 0.260
Moran was a 5th-round selection in the 2003 draft out of Auburn University. At age 23, he showed good improvement at AA last year. He apparently has good speed, a batting average-heavy OBP, but very weak power for a guy who is playing primarily as a corner outfielder. I wouldn't be surprised to see him make it to The Show some day, but I'd be surprised if he's able to stick as a regular. I'm ok with losing him, though I can see him being a sleeper.

Brad Key
Year/Team PA %K %BB %HR SB SB% OBP SLG OPS GPA
2004/CIN-Rk 294 23% 9% 2.0% 3 100% 0.316 0.379 0.695 0.237
2005/CIN-A 274 28% 6% 2.2% 0 ---
0.285 0.328 0.613 0.210
2006/CIN-A 119 21% 9% 0.8% 0 ---
0.303 0.318 0.621 0.216
2005/CIN-A+ 18 22% 11% 0.0% 0 ---
0.278 0.250 0.528 0.188
Key was the Reds' 48th round selection in the 2004 amateur draft. They have promoted him fairly aggressively thus far in his career, but, perhaps as a result of this, he has yet to hit worth a lick. His walk rates are pretty decent, and he's shown a little bit of power at times, but his ability to make contact with the ball on a regular basis seems very weak thus far.