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July 29, 2010

Transaction Action

Texas Fold 'Em

by Christina Kahrl and Kevin Goldstein

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TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired CF-L Anthony Gose from the Astros for 1B-L Brett Wallace. [7/29]

KG: Gose offers plenty to dream on, but also has a high bust factor, so he's not without risk. Combining plus-plus speed with excellent defensive instincts, he covers a tremendous amount of ground in center field, and his arm is a cannon, giving him true Gold Glove potential. Offensively at High-A Clearwater, he's learned that he can't get by on speed alone, as he's stolen 36 bases but been caught 27 times. He leaves the Threshers with an unimpressive line of .263/.325/.385, and he has two main things to work on, mostly related to an inability to accept what he is. He's not a speedy water bug as much as he's a sizeable athlete (standing 6-foot-1 and 190), and the fact that he has a little bit of power has been his undoing at the plate. Trying far too often to pull balls, he has amassed 103 strikeouts in 103 games while walking just 32 times. At some point, he needs to realize that his future lies far better as a table setter, and by focusing merely on contact, he could become a dynamic player. There's a lot of risk here, but considerable upside as well.

CK: I guess I just find this a fascinating exercise in re-gifting, as Alex Anthopolous went from having Michael Taylor, to trading Taylor to the A's for Wallace, to acquiring the 19-year-old Gose. If Wallace was a stathead's sort of older prospect who was going to go as far as his bat takes him, Gose is just about his opposite, a younger upside player who could become a major coup if he lives up to what scouts are saying. For those who'd want to pidgeonhole Anthopolous one way or another, this makes for another interesting move to load up on tools. Of course, between Gose's risky possibilities and the fact that Wallace has been a big disappointment so far (as has Taylor), in a few years we could be left with three briefly famous prospects who didn't quite live up to their billing. For now, I'd simply note that this somewhat reminds me of the Brandon Morrow trade, in that it's an exciting gamble on upside risk, where Wallace was seen as a safer bet a year ago.


HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded RHP Roy Oswalt and $11 million to the Phillies for LHP J.A. Happ, CF-L Anthony Gose, and SS-S Jonathan Villar; traded CF-L Anthony Gose to the Blue Jays for 1B-L Brett Wallace. [7/29]

CK: Dumb, ill-conceived plans litter history, not just the history of burgling or baseball, or baseball burgling. But surely the Astros' failure to launch an acquisition campaign with their most valuable asset should be held up as a cautionary tale of the risks that come when an owner decides to get some hands-on experience and make something happen. If Drayton McLane wanted to acquire top prospects or payroll relief, he (or whoever gets to be blamed in this situation) managed to swing a deal that achieved neither.

Certainly, you would expect that reducing Oswalt to this level of affordability for a trading partner should have engendered better offers. Both prospects going to the Astros in the deal are toolsy but distant, and swapping for Wallace doesn't really boost the team's near-term picture as much as provide it with a potentially adequate starter at Lance Berkman's position. That's important because the $11 million spent to make Oswalt a Phillie means the owner's only saved $12 million between now and the end of 2011 on that side of this proposition. Add the potential of slotting in Wallace for Berkman, and you save another $13 million while fielding a team that was already doomed to take a heavy hit in terms of ticket sales.

Put in those terms, with a 2011 Astros team that might only have achieved a $25 million deduction from its payroll and the fig leaf of plausible prospects acquired, if there's a message to take it's that the rumors about McLane's interest in selling have to be true. Reducing the club's payroll commitments this steeply and this long after the Astros had a realistic shot at contending might be a case of the piper at long last being paid for the mad dash of the 2008 kamikaze run. At that point, it was obvious to most of the aspirants to replace Tim Purpura in the GM's chair that the Astros were doomed to bottom out in the near future. Instead, Ed Wade made a sale on the chances of a successful final run with a team built around Oswalt, Berkman, and Carlos Lee, McLane bought it, and Wade's services to let the man make it so.

Now that those ambitions have been so decisively thwarted with little achieved beyond expense, it's apparently time to break this team down to parts decisively enough to create hope in Pittsburgh for easily achieved fifth-place finishes for the next few years. Next year's Astros team will be unwatchably bad, but this simply sets up the next owner or ownership group of the franchise for an automatic role as the white knight who might end the madness of one of the game's last "inspired" owner/operators.

KG: While the Astros somehow dealt their ace without getting any kind of top prospect from the Phillies, they at least got a pair of players with upside. Gose is now with Toronto, but staying with Houston will be shortstop Jonathan Villar, who like Gose, offers far more upside than his statistics might suggest. The 19-year-old Dominican was hitting just .272/.332/.358 for Low-A Lakewood with 42 errors, but his name was coming up in nearly every trade discussion the Phillies had. He's long-limbed with silky-smooth actions afield, and possesses one of the better shortstop arms at the lower levels, but he has trouble harnessing it at times. He's also an above-average runner with 38 stolen bases this year, and many think he'll develop true gap power as his body fills out. Like Gose, he needs to work on his approach, as he's an overly aggressive hitter who hacks at too many bad pitches, but the tools and athleticism are there for a big-league projection.

Now with his fourth organization since being selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2008 draft, scouts continue to wonder exactly what was so great about Brett Wallace in the first place. He's a first base-only prospect who offers absolutely nothing after his bat, and while his bat is good, and will lead him to a big-league career, nothing about it is special. Wallace has long had a reputation for being some kind of on-base machine, but that was based on his college years-always a dangerous thing. As a pro, that simply has not been the case: In 246 games at the upper levels, Wallace has drawn 76 walks in 1080 plate appearances, and even his .301/.359/.509 line this year is bolstered by getting to hit in Las Vegas' launching pad, as he's hitting just .291/.342/.467 on the road.

This is not to totally kill the guy's prospect rep. He certainly can hit, but for a first baseman, he'll rank no more than average. He never got called up this year by Toronto to replace Lyle Overbay, and that might be because in the end that's exactly the player he's going to be like when all is said and done. That is a good player, and a player with a career, someone who earns some good salaries and a pension, but it's not somebody who ever makes a real impact in the lineup.


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded LHP J.A. Happ, CF-L Anthony Gose, and SS-S Jonathan Villar to the Astros for RHP Roy Oswalt and $11 million. [7/29]

CK: For those of you keeping score on your calendar instead of your scorecard, the way this adds up is that the Phillies dealt one year of Cliff Lee to re-stock the system, thinking they were good enough for 2010, but then they weren't good enough, so they traded for Oswalt four months into the season. So, they had six months of Lee, one of the four or five best pitchers in baseball, locked in for six months at $9 million, but they gave that up for a package of talent of decent quality and re-upping Joe Blanton for a subsequent three-year, $24 million package. That wound up being double-dumb, which was anticipated back in December:

Would you rather have these three prospects and a year of Joe Blanton and all those mostly-harmless expensive veterans Amaro so speedily signed? Or would you rather have a year of Cliff Lee, the draft pick or picks you'd get in the 2011 draft once he leaves (and you offer arbitration), whatever middling prospect you get in trade for a year of Joe Blanton, and maybe take a few chances on whatever equally fungible fun you stock the last four or five slots of your roster with to help control costs? The money the Jays added to the deal minimized the expense of employing Roy Halladay in 2010, and while I'd accept in the abstract that Amaro got decent value for a year of Lee (and the picks the Mariners might now get instead), that abstraction depends on the suggestion that the Phillies were in something like the same position as the Jays, and not where they are, gunning for another pennant.

We can argue that [Amaro] might have been able to get a better package for Lee than the one he received from the Mariners, but prospect exchanges aren't easily achieved, so there's an element of unrealistic wishcasting attached to such a proposition. Instead, the real shame here is the path not taken, keeping Lee as part of going for it now, taking that post-Halladay priority to restock the farm system and doing so via the draft (which letting Lee leave next winter helps), trading Blanton sometime between now and Opening Day, and skipping some of the needless veteran frippery stocking the bottom of this roster, as old-timers sign on for a shot at playoff shares and dogpiling they won't substantively contribute to...

So here again, you've got Lee at $9 million for six months, plus draft picks when you offer him arbitration, but instead you end up with those prospects*, plus Blanton at almost as much money per year and for two more of them besides and predictably delivering a lot less value, and that puts you back in the market for a starting pitcher because the pennant, the division, hell, even a playoff slot are all at risk. As miscalculations go, this dwarfs the decision to dump Bobby Abreu at the deadline in 2006, only to notice two weeks later they still had a pulse as far as the post-season picture.

Enter a July miracle-the Astros are dumb and desperate, and they've worked themselves up into a tizzy that demands they put Roy Oswalt on somebody else's team now. Not this winter, not before 2011, but now. And despite being a motivated seller shopping the best starting pitcher left on the market, the 'Stros are willing to settle for a nice little fourth starter and a pair of prospects of lower stature than what the Phillies got from the Mariners for six months of Lee to pawn off eight months of Oswalt.

Now, to make this that much tastier for Philly, Oswalt's cost over the eight months he'll be on the team is less than $12 million. That's considering the $5 million he's due for the balance of this season, the $16 million he'll be paid in 2011, and the $2 million his 2012 option for $16 million will cost to buy out. That's $23 million, less the Astros' payment of $11 million, less J.A. Happ's near-minimum salary between the balance of this year and all of next, before he becomes arbitration-eligible in 2012. Of course, the decisions to pay plenty for Oswalt and Blanton makes nonsense of any suggestion that Lee was an expense the organization couldn't afford.

So that's your proposition: keep Lee for $9 million plus still having Happ, versus Oswalt for more after you've slipped behind the Braves, and the absence of Happ-iness. Me, I'd find a lot more joy in never finding yourself in the position of needing the Astros to rocket to the rescue, but the Phillies do get the benefit of having Oswalt now and next season in a rotation that will have Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Kentucky Joe joining him to comprise a front four.

It might redeem this year's bid for the playoffs, of course. However, it might have been much more in hand had they never surrendered Lee in the first place. It helps next year without inflicting any major damage to the organization beyond the payroll, and if Oswalt can deliver something like this year's .563 SNWP now and then. That's not an unlikely proposition-his SIERA is within 10 points of his actual ERA. However, it's worth remembering that Oswalt's performance this season is lower than Happ's rookie season (.602 SNWP).

*: Let's not get into the fact that all three of those Mariners prospects have been disappointing in their first seasons as Phillies; it's early yet, at least J.C. Ramirez is in Double-A, and Tyson Gillies has been down with a bad hammy for a while yet.)


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

31 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Patton1941

Has Ed Wade done more to make the Phillies a better team during his tenure as Phillies GM or Astros GM?

Jul 29, 2010 16:13 PM
rating: 8
 
Richard Bergstrom

That link to the Lee (and subsequent Bradley) trade brings back memories...

Jul 29, 2010 17:05 PM
rating: 0
 
W. Clark
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

wow, to tease your sentiment out of all that gobbledygook is a bit of a challenge, but yes trading lee was ill concieved - we've been over that a bit. Is that really what this article should be about?

God I miss Joe Sheehen.

Jul 29, 2010 17:09 PM
rating: -9
 
dianagram

If you miss him that much, at least you could spell his last name properly.

Jul 30, 2010 07:34 AM
rating: 8
 
jballen4eva

Six of one and all that, but I wouldn't fault Amaro for trading Lee, if he hadn't also overvalued his hitters. The Phillies' pitchers this year are sixth in runs allowed, same as last year, despite Manuel abusing his starters like Dusty the Second. But the Phillies chose to ignore Ibanez' age, Rollins' fragility and leadoff futility, the team's weakness against lefties, and the complete absence of a utility infielder - or any bench, for that matter - that's worth a damn.

Jul 29, 2010 17:38 PM
rating: 5
 
WaldoInSC

That's a boatload of words dedicated to almost entirely dismissing JA Happ, except when you patronize him as a fourth starter. Really? In 217 early career innings he's 14-5 3.11 with 5.5 WARP while pitching in a launching pad.

What I know about scouting pitchers could fit in a thimble without spilling, but it seems to me that Wade has finally achieved blind squirrel syndrome, picking up Happ and his years of pre-arb goodness, two potential studs and a significantly fatter bank account for a great talent who would have been wasted in the dying embers of the franchise.

At least now there's hope in Houston for 2013.

Jul 29, 2010 19:29 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

No, you're right, in the rush to publish, I gave Happ short shrift. The long and short of it is this: in 2009, Happ's 2.93 ERA, while lovely, wasn't a great representation of what to expect from him. His SIERA on that campaign was 4.37, or much more in a mid-rotation starter's range.

But why use SIERA to tell us anything? Well, in short, because what happened in 2009 stays in 2009, and the shape of his performance is the thing that needs to clue us in to what's to come. This is a situation where interpretive tools like PECOTA and SIERA and scouting-driven expectations and a weak strikeout rate achieve a consensus of sorts, because his modest assortment and prior career combine to suggest he might be an eminently satisfactory third or fourth starter... and that's it, because at his age (27), he's already up against his expected ceiling.

Which is another way of saying that, by 2013, J.A. Happ may well have become an expensive mid-rotation starter via arbitration, not a cause for hope.

Jul 29, 2010 20:32 PM
 
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

As a Phillies fan, I have to echo what Christina is saying here. Happ is very much overrated by the mainstream because of his gaudy 2009 numbers. He had the highest strand rate in all of Major League Baseball (85%) which was buoyed by a very unsustainable BABIP (.270). Additionally, fly balls turned into home runs (4.3%) at about half the rate we would expect. He did this all with an unflattering 34% ground ball rate, 6.5 K/9, and 3.0 BB/9.

He's a league-average pitcher and that's just fine. Unfortunately, he will never live up to the success he had last year and the subsequent expectations set up by the mainstream.

Jul 29, 2010 22:40 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Not that I disagree with you Bill, but if I may ask, who are you? I mean, I don't think I've seen you write here and I think Christina was authoritative enough to not need your help... I'm also a bit drunk so that might detract a bit from my attention span... but color me curious... and blonde... and drunk...

Jul 29, 2010 23:32 PM
rating: -21
 
Sophist

I wonder what that alternate universe looks like where the Phils get Oswalt in the Summer of 09 instead of Lee ...

Jul 29, 2010 19:39 PM
rating: 0
 
Sophist

Excuse me, I meant where they get *Halladay* in the Summer of 09

Jul 29, 2010 19:39 PM
rating: 1
 
Randy Brown
(189)

The Astros actually got more back than I thought they would, considering that Oswalt had a no-trade clause which undermined their negotiating leverage. Houston's largest mistakes were made long before today.

Jul 29, 2010 20:26 PM
rating: 4
 
CRP13

This comment makes more sense than all the others combined. Really? Two major league ready players and a well thought of projectable prospect for a Guy whose demands and salary limited the astro's options? And its ridiculous to kill Wade for trading with the phillies here. What other teams were banging down his door except the cardinals, who would have the astros facing oswalt several times for the next year or two and a half, and had fewer prospects than the phillies anyway? A good chunk of the criticism being leveled in the article and comments just looks like piling on to an easy target.

Jul 30, 2010 14:07 PM
rating: 0
 
marshaja

The more I look at it, the more I like what the Jays did.

In direct contrast to the previous GM, Anthopolous realizes playing it safe won't catch the Yankees and Sox (and now Rays).

Brett Wallace will be a fine playable first baseman, but not a star. The Jays need to strive for players that have potential to get them to 95 wins someday, not settle for known non-star quantities that only push them to 88 or so.

Jul 30, 2010 04:21 AM
rating: 7
 
BrettG

So apparently nobody really wants Wallace. He was drafted by St. Louis in 2008, traded to Oakland in 2009, traded to Toronto during the offseason, and then just sent to Houston. Since signing 2 years ago he is with his fourth franchise.

Jul 30, 2010 06:47 AM
rating: 0
 
anderson721

In a perfect world, Wallace will soon get traded for Edwin Jackson

Jul 30, 2010 07:32 AM
rating: 5
 
Ehren Bendler

Capps for Ramos? Odd.

Jul 30, 2010 08:50 AM
rating: 2
 
dianagram

Agreed .... they could REALLY use a bat at 3B, especially if Morneau doesn't come back 100%.

Jul 30, 2010 09:08 AM
rating: 0
 
John Collins
(110)

Maybe. Valencia is hitting awfully well (small sample) and they seem to be happy with his fielding. Plus Cuddyer can play some 3rd when Morneau comes back (with Kubel in RF).

Jul 30, 2010 11:48 AM
rating: 0
 
thegeneral13

Everything's relative, right? If so, Bill Smith thanks you for the compliment.

Jul 30, 2010 09:31 AM
rating: 0
 
Dano

After all this I wonder if Amaro's first name should be changed to Rube-N?

Granted, he pretty much fleeced Wade, but that's no difficult feat, especially from the agents-of-middle-relievers community.

Jul 30, 2010 09:18 AM
rating: 0
 
ArthurCopeland

I want to second this. A Phillies-fan friend and I were amazed that Ed Wade didn't insist on getting Danys Baez in the deal. I guess that's how we know it really was McLane driving the trade.

Jul 30, 2010 10:24 AM
rating: 0
 
deep64blue

Was the Lee deal really a mistake? Oswalt is under control for the next year, perhaps even 2, Lee would have been gone at the end of this year. Would you rather have Blanton or Happ as your No. 4 starter? Are you sure the two draft picks would be better than the prospects the Phillies got from Seattle. I'm pretty sure the money's better this way as well.

Jul 30, 2010 10:20 AM
rating: 0
 
Dano

They could be in the NL East lead with Lee since the beginning of the year over the dreck they've thrown out there as 5th starters AND they still could have picked up Oswalt anyway for overkill if they felt so inclined (Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Oswalt would be a horror show to face).

Jul 30, 2010 13:09 PM
rating: 0
 
ronb626

Thought Phillies traded away Lee because they didn't think they could afford, and keep, both him and Halladay. Did this thinking, somehow, change? Surely, they'd have rather kept both Lee and Halladay, but, with Oswalt now in the mix, just what did they do wrong?

Jul 30, 2010 11:29 AM
rating: 0
 
hessshaun

When you starting look at this more and more, I think that Amaro was pressured to get rid of Lee because of team dollars. When you look at it from another perspective, your choice is to do the following.

Sign Halladay for three years at a reasonable rate. In the meantime, you have to either get rid of Blanton, who is arb eligible, or Lee since you already know his price point is in the Halladay range.

Or forget Halladay and lock up Lee.

If ownership was forcing his hand, he certainly made the right decision. When you look at the team budget, this makes even more sense. At this point, they are clearly over their threshold for payroll in terms of their baseball operating budget. Amaro maybe be a lot of things, but he certainly is not in charge of the US Mint in Center City Philadelphia.

While I realize last offseason is relevant, when you get Oswalt for this deal, it's good business. Say what you want about Lee not being in Philly and how they are not good enough.

Last time I checked, Lee didn't pitch until May 5th. Also, the Phils have not had their starting 8 since the first week of the season. Last night the team was without Utley, Rollins, and Victorino. They are not good enough because of injuries, not because Lee is gone.

Jul 30, 2010 14:36 PM
rating: 1
 
SoxOsPhils

all excellent points. especially, those related to the injuries

Jul 30, 2010 15:09 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

To be sure, the Phillies' number of potential long-term deals to be worked out over the winter were legion: they got Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino signed to long-term extensions after the Halladay/Lee roulette, as well as Blanton. They'd also signed Placido Polanco to a multi-year deal, as well as spending a few million on veteran bench types of varying usefulness (Castro, Gload, Schneider).

I'd argue again that the mistake isn't here and now, in adding Oswalt--a necessity--it was made in December and especially January, in particular when they overvalued Joe Blanton and handed him a long-term deal. The question was never about not being able to pay Lee in 2010, it was treating Lee and Blanton as interchangeable investments on their immediate payroll. That didn't look good then, it doesn't look good now, and it won't look good for the rest of the two pitchers' professional lives.

Which does bring up the point of distinguishing between what was and was not knowable in December. Certainly nobody knew then that Lee wouldn't pitch until May, so that's not especially relevant to that decision, any more than Blanton's late-spring oblique injury was already on everybody's monthly planner.

Jul 30, 2010 15:36 PM
 
gregorybfoley

Wrong. Your forgetting the option of keeping Lee at a reasonable rate for one season. Not doing this was a huge mistake. You don't have to lock up up Lee, you just have to keep him for one more season and go for the World Series win.

Jul 30, 2010 16:50 PM
rating: 0
 
gregorybfoley

That's hessshaun who's wrong, just to be clear.

Jul 30, 2010 16:53 PM
rating: 0
 
hessshaun

Think of it this way. Lee for one season and no Halladay.

Or...


You can get Halladay for 3 at a great rate, but there is no extra money to spend. Aka, you need to dish Lee or Blanton on short notice.

Now, from a layman's perspective this is an easy choice. When you factor in the return on investment of Haren, Oswalt, and Lee this year, you see how difficult it is to get ROI. Let alone on short notice when everyone in the world knows you are gearing to rip them off.

I am simply trying to state this. We all know that hindsight is 20/20. What's the differentiation in what you get in return for what you are dealing? I think that this season has proved multiple conclusions. Varying lengths of contracts and the SP market are not quantified.

I am merely stating that with the Phils operational budget, I think that he made the right moves. I will take Halladay at three over Lee at nine plus unknown. I also think that is what Amaro was presented with. I could be horribly wrong and I realize this. Just my opinion.

I was in the army and there was always talk about what you would do in this situation or that situation. 97 percent of the time it was life or death. Kill or be killed. Every time we were asked what we would do and everyone had an answer. Ultimately, we can all talk circles, some of us just sound more intelligent than others. The bottom line is that you never know until you are in the situation. I could be insane, but my entire issue with the situation is that I don't know the position Amaro was in. And I will never know, I realize this.

I am not talking other deals either. Because if you want to get into bats, I think he made some horrible decisions. I am merely talking the Lee/Halladay situation. I am not bringing in the other folks to the conversation. Certainly not retreading how Ibanez and Polanco play into this because it's all a giant bucket. I am just trying to speak from a pitching perspective.

Greg, you can call me wrong all you would like, I only care enough to tell you that you are wrong. Cost certainty may be easy for the layman to comprehend, but to think short-sighted could be detrimental in the business world. It's easy to throw around hypotheticals with a concrete house of cards.

Thank you for entertaining my thoughts CK.

Jul 30, 2010 21:17 PM
rating: 0
 
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