Moving Willy This Winter | The Process Report

Moving Willy This Winter

By R.J. Anderson //

Willy Aybar is will turn 28 during next spring and the club holds an option on his services for the 2011 season at $2.2 million (the alternative is a $275k buyout). Unlike most deals where free agency follows the season of expiration, Aybar’s contract failed to cover his final year of arbitration eligibility. The contract really is a thing of beauty when you consider Aybar signed it at the point in which his value was at its highest. The Rays locked Aybar up for no longer than they would have had him already, but essentially traded him security for earning potential.

That contract is friendly on all teams. That Aybar is having a down year matters not in the least. He’ll barely be making more than players like Mark Kotsay did this summer and would absolutely fetch at least $2 million on the open market. So why think about trading him? For the third straight season Aybar’s strikeout rates are ascending. In 2008 he struck out in 14% of his plate appearances; in 2009 it was 18%; and now it’s 21%. An early hypothesis figured that maybe he was seeing more plate appearances against right-handed pitching. Aybar is a switch-hitter, but he is more proficient against southpaws.

For once, that is not the case. Aybar does have more trips versus righties, but the margin is slight. He’s one plate appearance versus a southpaw away versus matching last year’s total, and may eclipse 2008’s 140 plate appearances before season’s end. Meanwhile, for the first time in Aybar’s Rays’ career, he is unlikely to reach 200 plate appearances against righties. It is true that Aybar is striking out even more often versus righties this season, but going beyond that, his overall contact rates are down again.

Like his strikeout rates, this is becoming a trend. In 2008 he hit 88% of the balls he swung at, that number slipped to 85% last season, and it’s down to 84% this year. That could be nothing, but with the increased efficiency in his usage should come an increase in performance. The struggles do not appear to be a ‘luck’ thing as his BABIP is .290 rather than .266 or .270 like seasons past. He’s just not hitting the ball with as much authority as he did before, which again, contradicts his platoon ratio.

This already figures to be a winter of change for the Rays’ roster, but Aybar isn’t an irreplaceable commodity. Even if Reid Brignac becomes the everyday shortstop, the Rays figure to have enough spare parts to excuse the absence of a designated hitter who they don’t entirely trust defensively. It may jus come down to whether Aybar’s value to the Rays is exceeded by another willing team.

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