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November 12, 2008

Prospectus Today

Taking Advantage

by Joe Sheehan

It's only just become official, now that physicals and medical histories and the like have been handled, but the Rockies' trade of Matt Holliday to the A's has finally become a real boy today. I can't say that the delay hasn't been a good thing for me, because had I written something up on the deal in the immediate aftermath of the news breaking, it would have looked completely different that what follows. The A's trading youth for a player likely to become an unsignable free agent? The Rockies converting their lame-duck left fielder into 14-or-so years worth of performance? What a deal.

Not so much. Upon further review, this trade is a very good deal for the A's, who gave up a minimum of talent, not much that they will miss, in exchange for a player who's a great fit for their lineup. Moreover, the Rockies got less back in return than they would have had they simply dealt Holliday for, say, Ryan Ludwick, and I'm no Ludwick fan.

The deal on the table is Holliday for Carlos Gonzalez, Greg Smith, and Huston Street. Street is a known quantity, a sidearming right-hander with a significant platoon split (75 points of OBP, 129 of SLG in his career) who generates fewer ground balls than a pitcher of his type should. He may have looked better than he ought to have in the early part of his career thanks to a fluky HR/FB rate, one that has since meandered back to normal:


Year   HR/FB
2005    4.5%
2006    5.2%
2007   11.3%
2008    9.5%

(Thanks, Hardball Times.)

With the A's having so much depth in the bullpen, Street was just a guy for them, maybe their third- or fourth-best right-handed reliever come March, and likely to lose ground rather than gain it given the arms coming up behind him. He was never going to regain the closer role or have more trade value than he did right now, and I imagine that Billy Beane's only regret is not cashing in this chip sooner.

Greg Smith's mildly impressive 2008 season was a stone fluke. His 111/82 K/BB is poor, and he got away with it largely because the A's played ridiculous defense behind him, allowing just a .258 batting average on Smith's balls in play. He also picked off 15 runners-an actual skill, though getting 15 outs with it is a bit much. His season wasn't out of line, either; Smith doesn't have impressive stuff, and he wasn't exactly blowing people away in the Southern League. You can get away with that if you throw nothing but strikes, but walking four men per nine innings and not getting strikeouts is going to get you killed. Moving from Oakland to Denver is going to be a problem for Smith who is, loosely speaking, Jeff Francis Lite. I'd be surprised if he makes another 50 starts in his career, and stunned if he ever has an ERA below last year's 4.16 as a starter.

Carlos Gonzalez should carry the deal, except that Gonzalez has yet to play well above the Cal League. He's got all the tools, but the only one that has translated so far is his speed, which has enabled him to be a very good defensive center fielder. Since coming to pro ball at the age of 17, Gonzalez has generally been younger than his leagues, and has generally shown off terrific tools. Outside of a two-year stretch in 2005 and 2006 though, he's been a disappointment. Gonzalez hit .300/.356/.563 for Lancaster in '06 as a 20-year-old, confirming the longstanding notion that he was a coming star. Since then, however, he's hit .277/.326/.468 at Double-A (119/37 K/BB), .288/.354/.433 in Triple-A (41/18 K/BB), and .242/.273/.361 in the majors (81/12 K/BB). Give him credit for being young for his leagues, and there's still no way to explain how he's moved to the majors with those performances. He's not learning at the plate, and his speed has done nothing for him on the bases: he's 52/27 SB/CS in his entire career.

I fail to see how this trade makes the Rockies better over any time frame. They got an arm for the bullpen in Street who's much better-suited to two-inning work or Steve Reed's old job than one in which he'll be asked to face every lefty in the world in the ninth inning with the game on the line. They got Smith, who'll be a middle reliever in two years. They got Gonzalez, who isn't as good as Dexter Fowler, and who might well be the next Juan Encarnacion.

This was the kind of deal that you make at the trade deadline, when you know you're not signing the player, you know you're not contending, and getting something back is better than losing him for the draft picks. To make this deal on November 10, when you have all offseason to strike a better one, when you can go to Las Vegas next month with a left fielder who plays both ways-unlike all the free agents-and find at least half the industry interested, is just a bad move. If this was the best offer available, Dan O'Dowd needed to turn it down and pocket his asset. He's dealt away Matt Holliday without getting enough in return, and that's the kind of mistake you just can't make.

For the A's, Holliday fits like a glove. In addition to getting him for a reasonable price, they slide a hitter into their lineup who does exactly what they need. The A's draw walks; that pretty much sums up their offensive skill set. They don't hit for average (last), they don't hit doubles (last), they don't hit triples (tenth). Even the walks they draw (fourth) don't lead to a high OBP (13th and not last, thanks to the Royals) because they hit so poorly. I lost track of the number of times they had two runners on with no one out and didn't score. The shape of an offense can draw too much attention, but there's no question that what the A's needed last year, and needed this winter, was someone who could hit for a high average with some power, even if he didn't draw a ton of walks. Holliday is exactly that guy. They could probably use another guy like him to play third base or shortstop.

Whether the A's sign Holliday for the long term is almost irrelevant. If you look at it solely as a trade for one year of Holliday, it's a win for them. They won't miss anything they gave up, and Holliday's impact on their offense will be considerable. There are concerns about how well Holliday will hit outside of a good hitters' park in the weaker league, but consider that the translation of his 2008 season puts him at .311/.401/.553, with a .317 EqA. Holliday, in his career on the road, is a .280/.348/.455 hitter, a line that almost certainly underestimates his talent level, and would-even at that clip-be a huge help to the A's. Realistically, you can expect him to take a hit on his batting average because of the park switch and hit something like .300/.370/.500, and remember that his defense in left field is above average. He'll be the A's best player since Miguel Tejada went away.

This is a very good deal for the A's, and an inexplicable one for the Rockies, for whom October 2007 seems a lifetime ago.

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

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

BP Comment Quick Links

Drew Miller

But how does this deal help the A's win for next year?

Nov 12, 2008 11:12 AM
rating: -2
 
jetson
(660)

I'm guessing Beane is confident he can flip Holliday in July to a desperate contender for far more than what he just paid for him.

Nov 12, 2008 11:40 AM
rating: 0
 
Aaron Cameron

While Huston Street may not throw 100% over the top, I think it's a stretch to refer to him as a "sidearming right-hander". Semantics, probably, but still...

Anyways, as an A's fan, I'm a little more restrained in my praise. I agree that Holliday improves the line-up, but this is STILL an awful, awful offense with holes at 1B, SS, 3B and relying on an awful lot of (best case scenario) league-average offense from 2B and the other two OF spots.

Yes, I get that Beane probably isn't done dealing, but as of today Sean Gallagher is probably the #2 starter entering 2009. Yipes.

Nov 12, 2008 11:15 AM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

That's just what I'm thinking. It's a great trade for the A's if you're just talking about the value of the players swapped. But otherwise, it doesn't do much for the A's chances of winning.

It might put more people in the seats, which is a decent tangible benefit.

Or this could be part of a mad plan to sign Holliday long-term as a cornerstone and then use their farm system to build around him, like they did with Eric Chavez.

Nov 12, 2008 11:31 AM
rating: 0
 
ccseverson

It will be interesting to see what the follow up to this deal will be. It may be that with the free agency signings starting in a few days they wanted to make a statement that they were moving in a "win now" direction for the Giambi and Furcal's of the world.

Nov 12, 2008 11:39 AM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

Adding Giambi & Furcal wouldn't be enough to "win now". They'd have to add about four quality starters.

Nov 12, 2008 11:40 AM
rating: 0
 
ccseverson

Holliday will also be worth two draft picks to the A's if he doesn't re-sign after the season.

Nov 12, 2008 11:48 AM
rating: 1
 
kjgilber

In addition to Holliday the A's also get the draft pick compensation they will receive if he leaves as a free agent. One year of Holliday plus two picks in 2010 is probably worth the package the A's gave up.

That said, I don't love it for the A's, and agree completely with Joe's assessment from the Rockies' side.

Nov 12, 2008 12:22 PM
rating: 0
 
teddyballgame
(166)

This doesn't solve our infield problem. Our projected starting infield (Barton, Ellis, Crosby, and Chavez) had a combined -3.8 VORP last year. And our rotation (Duke, Eveland, Braden, Gallagher, and Outman) is solid, not strong.

Our farm system has great depth but lacks a true #3 hitter. Holliday solves this problem for now, but how good will he be in 5 years when our best prospects (Cahill, Anderson, Doolittle, Cardenas, Weeks, Carter) will be entering their primes?

Nov 12, 2008 12:36 PM
rating: 0
 
Adam Madison

I heard the A's are upgrading their payroll to $80 million. If true -- 2008's opening day payroll was $48 million according o Cot's -- then Beane has a couple more moves left in his bag of tricks.

With a superb bullpen to build around, I think Beane is trusting that he can pull third and fourth starters out of the ground from minimal cost, as he did last season. If he can upgrade the defense a bit -- which is a large reason why this Holliday trade makes sense, and why Rafael Furcal would fit like a glove (and the Mark Ellis re-signing) -- then this team could easily push for the playoffs in a division where the top team (Angels) should be headed for regression and where the other competition is a non-factor (Mariners) or a year or two away at least (Rangers).

I think ccseverson had it right -- this is a statement trade that will get him to the bargaining table with other free agents who may not have been interested beforehand. Assuming a payroll increase, then Beane can throw a lot of money over a short amount of years, the smart way to handle free agency, while at the same time waiting for the influx of talent in the minor leagues to present itself so he's not ruining the team's future hopes. I think he's confident he has enough decent young starting pitching, and another added benefit of the farm system is that he can deal for the missing piece if the A's are in striking distance of the division in the summer of 09.

Nov 12, 2008 12:44 PM
rating: 2
 
Sacramento

Cot's didn't include Eric Chavez's $11M salery for 2008 for the Opening Day payroll because he was on the DL. That would have made their 2008 payroll about $60M if you include Duchscherer.

Nov 12, 2008 15:02 PM
rating: 0
 
ElAngelo
(942)

There's basically four possibilities for the A's.

(1) The A's, partially because of Holliday, make a run for the division this year.

(2) The A's stink, and flip Holliday at the deadline for players/prospects.

(3) The A's stink and let Holliday walk and get 2 draft picks.

(4) The A's stink and sign Holliday long-term to a reasonable deal.

Assuming (not a safe assumption) that the players they flip him for in return or the picks they get are better than Carlos Gonzalez, it's hard to see how the A's lose here. All of these options are good and beat having around Street, Smith and Gonzalez.

Nov 12, 2008 13:24 PM
rating: 0
 
roughcarrigan

I think people asking what this does to allow the A's to win next year are missing the point. It probably does help them try to win next year but it also takes some parts with declining value and uses them before that value craters.

Nov 12, 2008 13:29 PM
rating: 2
 
ccseverson

I think roughcarrigan is exactly right. Also, the A's were definitely dealing from strength because, if nothing else, they have 3rd/4th starters, 20 HR outfielders, and bullpen.

Nov 12, 2008 15:19 PM
rating: 1
 
Nathan

Why do I think my Royals should have traded Leo Nunez, Luke Hochevar and Mark Teahen for Holliday, instead of going after comparatively small fish like Mike Jacobs? This seems like an amazingly low price for Holliday.

Nov 12, 2008 16:09 PM
rating: 0
 
klipzlskim

This is just speculation on my part, but it's possible we're seeing a slight shift in the attitude of the A's ownership. They had previously underestimated (at least publicly) how difficult it would be to get a stadium approved and built in Fremont. In their original scenario, punting a couple of seasons (both in terms of quality product and fan experience) wouldn't significantly hurt their long term situation and would leave money available to open with a bang (free agency/trade-and-extend) at the new park. With a more realistic prospect of three or four seasons left in Oakland, Lew Wolff may have decided that he'd be better off making another run in a relatively weak division.

Nov 12, 2008 16:44 PM
rating: 1
 
sgturner65

One of the things that jumped out at me when I was looking at the backgrounds of the players the Rockies received was the 2006 Lancaster pitching staff.

The ERA's of the seven guys that made ten or more starts were 8.22, 6.86, 5.87, 5.56, 5.12, 3.78 and 1.64.

The 3.78 belonged to Matt Chico who posted a pretty solid season for Washington in 2007 after being traded for Livan Hernandez. The 1.64 belonged to Greg Smith. He might turn out to be okay.

By the way, Gonzalez hit .300 that year, which was below the overall team bating average of .302. His power numbers were likely exaggerated by the park effect that season of 1105.

Nov 12, 2008 16:49 PM
rating: 0
 
Sam Rothstein

Holliday has never slugged .500 or above on the road over a whole season. To suggest that he will do so in Oakland, a notorious pitchers park, and against a stronger league seems a bit of stretch, considering the road numbers are the only indicator we have on how he hits outside of Colorado's thin air, while he has a career .669 slugging percentage at Coors that has clearly inflated his season non-split numbers.

His career slugging numbers at non-Coors parks with the most career at bats (in brackets) are as follows:

AT&T .404 (98), Dodger's Stadium .459 (98), Petco .406 (96), and Chase Field .438 (96).

Nov 12, 2008 17:19 PM
rating: 0
 
czarandy

The average hitter has a higher slugging at home, so that doesn't inherently mean doom. Also, three of those parks are also terrible for hitting.

Nov 12, 2008 20:30 PM
rating: 1
 
Evan
(47)

Beane has done this before. This is just the Johnny Damon trade over again.

It's a great deal for Oakland.

Nov 13, 2008 11:29 AM
rating: 0
 
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