There was some trade talk discussion on the radio both before and after the Royals’ shutout loss to Jeff Francis and the Rockies.   Much of it centered around Jose Guillen, some more on Joakim Soria and then these two comments with regard to David DeJesus:

“DeJesus is a fourth outfielder.  You are getting nothing for him, end of story.”

“David DeJesus is a fourth outfielder on a contending team.”

The first comment came from Saturday’s pre pre-game show and rankles me for three reasons.   One, I dislike arguments that a person begins with one sentence and ends the discussion in the same paragraph.   Two, I really like David DeJesus.   Three, two weeks ago, during a column on trading Greinke, Soria AND DeJesus I put a fair amount of research into deciding that the Royals might be able to get a legitimate prospect in exchange for him.

The second comment came from Robert Ford (who does a very good job in a difficult position) on the Royals’ post-game show.  His comment makes some sense and my dispute with it may simply be a matter of semantics.    The premise might be that if a contender will not trade for DeJesus to replace an existing outfielder, then that means he is a fourth outfielder.  

My perspective is:  could David DeJesus be a starter on a contending team?   If the answer  is ‘yes’, then I think it is an error to label him a fourth outfielder.   Let’s use Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to find out.

Thus far in 2010, DeJesus is off to a bit of a slow start with a batting line of .272/.354/.428.   His career mark is .285/.357/.425.   Across the board, those numbers are  a tick above average for a major league regular.   A scout will tell you that DeJesus is ‘average-plus’, which right there might be enough to debunk the fourth outfielder argument.  

To date, DeJesus has a WAR of 0.5 in 2010, which ties him for 20th among American League outfielders.  That’s one spot behind Scott Podsednik and tied with B.J. Upton, Ryan Sweeney, Delmon Young and Juan Pierre.   That David is tied with Upton, makes the Tampa Bay Rays one of two teams that have three outfielders with equal to or higher WAR this season.  The other is the Tigers.  

Given that we have not named the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Rangers, Blue Jays or Twins in the above discussion, I’m inclined to say that DeJesus probably is much more than a ‘fourth outfielder’…even on a contending team.   That, by no means, indicates that a team like the Twins, for instance, would go out and offer something good to acquire David.  It simply points out that DeJesus is on-par with starting outfielders on good teams.

Of course, injuries and a small sample size can taint the 2010 numbers, so let’s go back over the past couple of seasons and run the same comparison.

In 2009, DeJesus posted a WAR of 3.3,  good for 15th among American League outfielders.  Four teams had two players in their outfield better than DeJesus under this criteria:  the Rays, Mariners, Red Sox, Yankees.  None had three.

In 2008, DeJesus’ WAR was lower (2.6), but his rank was actually higher (13th).     The Tigers and Mariners each had two outfielders better than David, but again, no team had three.   Explain to me again how DeJesus is just a fourth outfielder on a good team?

Now, none of the above speaks to the marketability of DeJesus come the trade deadline.   The option on his contract for 2011 carries a $6 million price tag, which makes David affordable, but not a bargain.   Will a team view DeJesus as enough of an upgrade to part with a legitimate prospect and a secondary pitching prospect (the current rumored asking price)?  That is a tough one to figure, but strange things happen in the front offices of teams three games out on July 15th with an outfielder on the disabled list or in a prolonged slump.

The second question, barring the lack of a summertime trade, becomes should the Royals pick up DeJesus’ option for 2011?  While that decision technically does not have to be made until this current season is over, it is one the Royals’ front office probably should have already decided.  

If six million dollars is too much for a below average team to spend on an average-plus outfielder (and it might be), then the asking price for DeJesus come July 31st will need to be adjusted.     The Royals are playing better under Ned Yost, but they are not going to run down the Twins.   A little respectability in August because Kansas City has hung onto David DeJesus is not worth a thing.

Maybe you don’t get the Giants’ number eight prospect (currently in A ball), plus a middle reliever that is major league ready, as I proposed last week, but you might as well get something if your intention is not to pick up the option.    Sometimes, other organization’s ‘non-prospects’ turn into Alberto Callaspo or Brian Bannister.  

If you believe David DeJesus is worth six million dollars, then you hold out for a good deal.   If you do not believe he is worth that in 2011, then you make a deal – even one that does not seem to bring value for value back.  The Royals need to make that decision right now and then work the phones for the next two months.