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July 26, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Trading Places

by Joe Sheehan

I realize this is going to seem like piling on, but I want to talk a little bit about Wednesday's three-way deal. The latest Allard Baird silliness has garnered most of the attention, but it's really an interesting trade on all sides.

The A's added a right-handed hitter to play right field and bat fifth. Jermaine Dye isn't having a good season--.270/.330/.414 after last night's A's debut--but his 1999 and 2000 placed him among the AL's premier right fielders. If he splits the difference between his first half and his previous two years, he'll help the A's. The defensive upgrade over Ron Gant and Jeremy Giambi is significant as well, and as we've seen in Minnesota, a good outfield defense can make a big difference in a team's run prevention.

Finally, this trade indicates that Jason Giambi is staying in Oakland through the end of the season, which shows the A's fan base that the team is serious about winning, and willing to assume some financial risk to reach their goal.

The Rockies get two young, cheap players with upside, while clearing space for their best position-player prospect. It's hard to overstate what Dan O'Dowd has done: in Ben Petrick, Juan Uribe, Jose Ortiz, and Juan Pierre, he has an up-the-middle core that is going to be ridiculously cheap for the next three years, and relatively cheap beyond that. All four players should be average at worst, with all four having chances to be excellent.

(You know, if there's a big winner in this deal, it's Ortiz, who hits the Coors lottery at a young age. While he's been a disappointment this season--407 OPS with the A's, a .273/.345/.449 line for Sacramento--his core skills are still there, and he's coming into his peak. This trade should eventually make Ortiz a very wealthy man.)

Most importantly, the Rockies have locked in the low-cost core that will help them afford the mega-contracts given to Todd Helton, Larry Walker, Mike Hampton, and Denny Neagle. O'Dowd may have grasped one of the key features of the baseball economy: you build a roster with $15-million players and $1-million players, while not spending money on the guys in the middle.

But the Royals...here's is Perez's major-league career, broken down by location:

                     AB     H   2B  3B  HR   BB   AVG   OBP   SLG
Coors Field        1435   445   70  32  31   58  .310  .337  .468
Everywhere else    1298   315   56  17  12   75  .243  .284  .340

(OBPs approximate; no HBP or SF included)

The Royals just acquired the second guy, a good-field, no-hit shortstop with an inflated sense of his worth and an arbitration case looming. Last spring, Perez turned down a four-year deal with the Rockies that would have been worth about $17 million, holding out for a $28-million package. That's $7 million a year for that second guy, which is a ton of money for someone who might post a .290/.330/.390 line at his peak, and is going to have to bat first or second to justify his salary.

The Royals didn't want to pay a lot of money to Rey Sanchez, who they will now try to deal, but they've just acquired a younger, more expensive version of Sanchez:

                     AB     H   2B  3B  HR   BB   AVG   OBP   SLG
2001                381   117   13   5   0   11  .307  .327  .367
Career             3658  1011  153  23  12  178  .276  .314  .341

Each player is the premier defensive shortstop in his league (or was, until yesterday). Given the age difference (Perez is 26, Sanchez is 33), Perez is the better player to have going forward, but at what cost? The Royals would have had Jermaine Dye for 2002 at about $9 million, given his off year in 2001, with no guarantee of having him beyond that. Perez is locked into the Royals through 2003, although remember that the Royals have traded Dye and Johnny Damon well before they reached free agency, and might well do the same with Perez.

The Royals would have been better off trading Dye to the A's for the package the Rockies received. Jose Ortiz and Mario Encarnacion are six years from free agency and three away from arbitration, and would immediately help the Royals at two positions, second base and right field, where they have holes. Getting Perez for Dye makes their lineup worse and doesn't save them much money, while guaranteeing continued good defense at shortstop in 2002.

The problem is that the Royals think they made a good deal. GM Allard Baird said, "...we are excited about acquiring a young, accomplished player like Neifi Perez. The opportunities to get such a talented player at this position are few and far between."

But Perez isn't very accomplished. He's a good glove man who can't hit, a fact masked by his good fortune in reaching the major leagues with the Rockies. Any examination of his performance record would have made that obvious.

The closest parallel to the Royals' side of this deal is the Brewers' signing of Jeffrey Hammonds over the winter. That was a stupid signing, a waste of $21 million that never would have been spent had anyone in the Brewers' organization bothered to take the effect of altitude on offensive statistics seriously.

This trade is much the same, and another reminder that the knowledge gap is just as significant, and just as important, as the revenue gap.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Jermaine Dye,  Juan Perez

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