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November 12, 2008

Transaction of the Day

Taking a Holliday in the East Bay

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Acquired LF-R Matt Holliday from the Rockies for RHP Huston Street, LHP Greg Smith, and OF-L Carlos Gonzalez. [11/11]

A's fans can be forgiven both a bit of initial confusion but also a lot of excitement. The confusion might stem from the recognition that if there was one thing the present rebuilding effort seemed to have going for it, it was a full spread of young or talented or promising corner outfielders (some of them being all three at once, even). Between Aaron Cunningham, Travis Buck, Eric Patterson, and perhaps also CarGo, they seemed set, and that's without getting into the (waning) enthusiasm for a former sabermetric fave like Matt Murton or the perhaps more scouty boosterism for Ryan Sweeney. And should we count Jack Cust as an outfielder if he's planted in one corner or another when some other DH type is in the lineup?

You see the problem: there's a crowd, but not a lot of established value at the major league level, and not a lot to fall back on should multiple kids prove unready-as happened last season, between Sweeney's thoroughgoing adequacy or Buck's at times desperate struggles or Gonzalez's frustrating debut. It's important to not confuse on-paper depth with stability or guarantees. And a bid for contention with that lot? Right out. So when an opportunity to woo a suitor into surrendering a premium ballplayer at a position perceived to already be well-stocked presented itself, to their credit the A's moved on it, dealing from depth at positions where they already have better talent in-house. Whether you want to consider this a win-now pick-up or a more mercenary bit of "trading up" for a better subsequent bargaining chip, this deal looks like an easy win for the A's.

Before diving into Holliday's virtues, if you want to consider the surrendered package in the worst light (since I've talked up their virtues as well as I can in the Rockies segment), Street's a replaceable reliever with injury issues looking at two years of arbitration-inflated pay, Gonzalez's approach doesn't really make him a win-now player, and with the organization relatively deep in outfield talent, he was a fungible bit from the Danny Haren deal, and Smith was the least valuable of the A's gaggle of recently-acquired left-handers, clearly ranking behind guys like Gio Gonzalez, Dana Eveland, and Josh Outman in terms of upside and long-term value. Cast in those terms, this wasn't a lot to give up to get what might be just one year of the NL's left-field VORP leader.

As for how much Holliday matters right now this instant, while numerous observers have noted that his performance record comes with the standard Coors caveats, it's important to tease out the distinctions between his first two years in the major leagues and his last three:


Period  Home AVG/ OBP/ SLG    Road AVG/ OBP/ SLG
2004-05     .341/.408/.598        .249/.301/.394
2006-08     .361/.430/.669        .296/.370/.486

While his age 26-28 seasons in Denver the last three years saw only modest gains in average and OBP, the Rockies got the benefit of a big spike in power. Perhaps even more important, his performance on the road went from Bichette-style uselessness to somebody about like Jason Bay. Who, last we checked, was pretty good, and even fetched a pretty rich swag recently, albeit for a year plus two months in a pennant race as opposed to a single season. Clearly, there's been an adaptation here, possibly a matter of the same physical gifts that made him a prospect in the first place being harnessed by aptitude, making him more than just another Mile High confection. Asked about the improvement, A's assistant GM David Forst suggested that it might also be a product of the humidor-soaked ball leading to improved adaptability for hitters moving from Coors Field to neutral sites. Add in that we have examples of power hitters doing just fine after moving from Denver (notably Andres Galarraga and Larry Walker, but Vinny Castilla had his moments), and I think we can sign on to a proposition that Holliday's a down-ballot MVP hitter in any environment. Add in that he's an asset in the field (whichever poison you pick in terms of fielding metrics), and one of the best baserunners in the game today (rating sixth in the majors in Dan Fox's Equivalent Baserunning Runs), and he obviously provides value across the full spectrum of possibilities for a position player.

Consider what else this deal does for the A's, at least for as long as Holliday's in green and gold. Because of the depth in relatively ready outfield talent, it digs Cust out of the pasture and plants him more properly at DH, where he can do no harm to the pitching staff when his only gloves are for batting.* Right field should be Travis Buck's (last season's injuries and pressing ideally being a thing of the past), with Aaron Cunningham in the wings. If dealing Gonzalez took one option for who plays center off the table, that's not to say there aren't still others. The first choice is Sweeney, where his bat should prove useful enough against right-handers: .307/.369/.429 playing through a number of injuries at 23 isn't shabby, and the A's still believe there's power potential to come. They also figure his glove will play in center, and at the very least, Revised Zone Rating endorses that idea. If he continues to struggle against lefties or simply doesn't pan out, Chris Denorfia's still in-house as someone who shouldn't be forgotten, and Cunningham has played a good amount of center in the minors.

In the bullpen, there's no real absence to be felt. While Street has value that isn't really related to that floating golden "C" icon over his head many in the media might grant him, with Brad Ziegler, Joey Devine, Andrew Brown, and Santiago Casilla, there's already the kernel of a good set of right-handed relief help before they do any winter shopping, and that's before we get into flamethrowers like Jeff Gray (touching 97 in the AFL) and Henry Rodriguez (who's hit triple digits), and whether or not either of them harness their stuff. With a pair of college-bred righties in Andrew Carignan (North Carolina, fifth round of '05) and Andrew Bailey (Wagner, sixth round of '06) already tested at Double-A last season and also capable of throwing well into the 90s, and with both following that up with quality work in the Arizona Fall League, it's not hard to see how a no-name, no-stars bullpen might very well be the way to go.

In the rotation, there's cause for a more eventual brand of optimism, having acquired so many other team's ready or almost-ready starting pitching in the last year or so, and having so much of their own on the cusp, Trevor Cahill and James Simmons in particular. There's plenty to dream on, certainly, but the near-term rotation of Justin Duchscherer, Dana Eveland, Sean Gallagher, and a crowd of even more maybe-ish maybes makes the proposition that a Holliday-enriched A's ballclub might contend seem speculative at best.

It will be, but that said, such a bid wouldn't be all that different from that made by the 2008 team in the first half, which made things interesting while relying on Eveland and Duchscherer and the recently-dealt Smith, among others. It might be iffy, but the Angels' odd over-performance of their expected record, and the difficulties their offense might endure with a post-Teixeira lineup, should be cause for hope in the present every bit as much in Oakland as it should be in Texas. If Holliday helps a bid to contend now, that's great, and when he departs as a free agent, A's fans know the drill, and we'll see what the 2009 draft brings by way of compensation. If the team's bid for contention proves as tenuous as this year's did, then there's the potential of flipping him for a better package at the deadline come July and acquiring stuff the A's organization doesn't already have in spades-like lefty starters, righty relievers, or young corner outfielders.

*: For Cust, "Death to flying things" isn't a sobriquet, it's a cry of teeth-gnashing despair as some other object rattles off the walls. My snark aside, the organization still sees him as quite playable, if not necessarily on a daily basis.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Acquired RHP Huston Street, LHP Greg Smith, and OF-L Carlos Gonzalez from the A's for LF-R Matt Holliday. [11/11]

Boiling this down to its components, the Rockies dealt the one year that they had contractual control of Holliday for a package of goodies. The question is whether the goodies are good enough to have justified dealing away a premium slugger so early in the winter's proceedings. Even just one year of Holliday represents a crucial addition to an aspiring contender, so the question is whether the Rockies maximized the amount of value they could receive by moving early. The answer is a decided 'no,' because the more you look, the less the Rockies got. To have settled for this package either says something about how much the Rockies didn't want to pay even a fraction of Holliday's 2009 arbitration-boosted salary by leveraging his value in a deadline deal next July, or how much they really like CarGo's upside potential, and how much they're invested in the propositions that Street's a closer who closes, and Smith's a starter who starts, and why go any deeper into it than that?

First, it's important to stress that this is really a deal in which they primarily get Smith and Gonzalez as important building blocks, and two years of Street-an arbitration-eligible Street-before free agency. As much as Street represents a quality closer to some people's way of thinking, in the absence of any extended commitment, that's only two years, which effectively makes him something of a variant on what Holliday was if the Rockies don't contend, only on the wrong side of that risk: what sort of value do you expect to get for a pitcher who might really only be a situational right-hander, and who's had to labor with the predictable bad days at the office that come with being a professional pitcher who calls Coors Field "the office"? To give the Rockies some benefit of the doubt, at least the relative difficulty levels of the two leagues favors them, but if the Rockies don't win now-and dealing Holliday makes it hard to suggest they're trying to-what's the point of dealing your best player for a short-term answer for who gets to log saves for you?

Then there's the question of Smith's value. Joe's already nailed this today, so I won't really go into detail, but I think it's important to dial back to Smith's days with the Diamondbacks, because even then he was seen as a guy who was semi-fringy as a starter, and more likely to make it as a reliever. His strikeout/walk ratio against right-handers last year was 75 unintentionals to 79 strikeouts in 622 PA. That's decisively ungood, but between his ownership of lefties and a good move to first, there's also a very real chance that he'll make millions-as a reliever. If the Rockies make a point of transitioning him to that role as a matter of design instead of subsequent to some park-aided battering, they could end up turning a rotation cipher into a bullpen asset. That's still fundamentally a bit of damage control to add value to an unfortunate exchange, but if you focus on a responsibility to put players in positions to succeed instead of fail, this is a way to make Smith into an important part of a winning Rockies ballclub, even if you might initially be hanged for the expense.

Which brings us to the real key to the deal for the Rockies, the player who quite simply has to make the difference over the next five years, or the franchise will have dealt a franchise player for relief bits. Cargo cults were spun around the desire by less-advanced cultures to capture the magicks of advanced technologies through ritual or sacrifices or whatever. Giving up a Holliday to fire up a Rocky Mountain CarGo Cult seems a bit of a stretch, but the sacrifice has been made-will it have been worth it? Speaking as one of Carlos Gonzalez's believers, I can see how it might. For the time being, he has the range for center, and the strong throwing arm that will help cover the gaps and minimize hits from going for extra bases as much as might be practicable. That sort of thing matters in Coors, and was one of the rationales behind Willy Taveras' utility as a regular. Happily CarGo's not merely a slappy speedster, but he's also far from a finished product at the plate. He may well be a platoon player-as I noted in his player comment in BP2K8, he'd smacked around right-handers in Double-A at a pretty good clip in 2007 (.326/.373/.554) as a 21-year-old, and he showed a massive split in his big-league at-bats in his age-22 season in 2008. His walk rates have never been all that good, but he won't strike out in a quarter of his plate appearances in Coors, because the park still helps deflate strikeouts, even humidor'd. Roughly three percent fewer Rockies PAs in Coors wind up as strikeouts compared to on the road. That helps some players more than others, and a guy like CarGo-like Preston Wilson-who is an athletic player with tremendous power on contact, decent speed, and some swing-and-miss issues... it's not hard to see how the park helps belt-sand some of those rough edges and turn him into an offensive machine. It's also not hard to see how he might thicken up in his middle 20s and have to move to a corner, at which point you'd hope he'll be something more than a better-fielding Brad Hawpe. I like the possibilities, however much I dislike the price paid.


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

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

BP Comment Quick Links

wrightfan5

First of all, Christina, congratulations on your team getting Holliday; I'm sure you're already chomping at the bit to use up your supply of cheesy puns related to his surname ("Holliday by the Bay" is one that just leaped to my mind and to my fingers onto the keyboard--you can have that one for free). Secondly, where do you see the A's going from here? If you were Billy Beane, what would you identify as the team's key needs, particularly on offense? Should they go out and get another established OF in the Brian Giles mold, or would you prefer that they stick with the kids? Another left-side infielder to make up for the injury/consistency riddled duo over there? Is Barton really-really the 1B of the present and future? And finally, would you stick with the depth they have in the rotation, or should they trade some of it in to get a top of the rotation type starter...in particular, would a Jake Peavy too rich for their blood? Sorry to bombard you with so many questions, but I really would be interested in hearing a knowledgeable A's fan's take on all this...

Nov 12, 2008 20:58 PM
rating: 0
 
SaberTJ

I would be very interested in hearing from Christina on this as well. On a side note, aren't the A's getting a new stadium sometime soon? (I could be wrong, I haven't had my coffee yet this morning).

Nov 13, 2008 06:23 AM
rating: 0
 
hunter

Allegedly, a stadium will be built in Fremont for the 2011 or 2012 season, but I don't think much progress has been made since some environmental impact report was done about the proposed site. Fremont doesn't seem to be helping the process all that much, which is interesting because Lew Wolff keeps saying that he doesn't want taxes to help pay for the thing, he just wants zoning assistance for the grounds. Who knows if that's actually the last word on it, though.

I would not expect the A's to go after Jake Peavy. He's going to make a lot of money next year. Somewhere else.

Nov 13, 2008 07:55 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I could see them shopping for a veteran starter down on his luck and amenable to a one-plus-option contract, but on the 40-man as far as infielders, between Jeff Baisley and the decisions to claim Joe Dillon and Yung-Chi Chen (live bat, but fragile) on top of dealing with the extended mysteries as far as what to expect from Chavez and Crosby, I suspect the A's may sit and wait to see what they'll get from what they've got. While nobody should be happy with Barton, I expect a bargain-basement alternative or a trade, not Giambi.

As far as the stadium situation, funny that someone should ask; I was bugging Neil deMause about this very point, because there hadn't been anything on the subject at www.fieldofschemes.com lately. Happily, MLB.com provided an article on the subject just this very week, in a conversation with Lew Wolff: http://tinyurl.com/6ysr7e

... and let's just boil that down to "there's no news," and given how the real estate market has gotten interesting, who knows what this means. Just remember, thank the Giants for being scuzzbuckets on this by not returning a favor when it comes to moving within the market.

Nov 13, 2008 08:14 AM
 
ElAngelo
(942)

The only qualm I have here is that the idea that the A's might re-sign Holliday isn't addressed at all. Given that Crosby comes off the books in '09 and Chavez is '10, is it too ridiculous to consider that the A's might throw something like a a 5 year/$100 million package at him? (Not saying he'd accept of course, but still...)

Nov 13, 2008 06:40 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I think nobody--nobody--expects Holliday to re-sign. The interesting thing is that he'll be hitting the market in the same year as Bay, possibly Crawford and Dye, not to mention Vladi and Giles. In that group, the year after Manny's landed, you have to expect that Holliday and Bay will command good contracts--and for the reasons I explored in terms of Holliday's road hitting, I don't expect his perceived value to take a hit after a year or four months in Oakland. I expect that almost automatically prices him out of the A's range.

Nov 13, 2008 07:38 AM
 
sbnirish77

Lets see first the A's go rid of every good player facing free agency ... now they need to rid themsleves of players who are simply 'arbitration eligible' to avoid paying market prices to 3-5 year players.

I'll agree with the same poster that replied to this twisted logic at your Marlins column ... hey SELL the team to someone that can afford it ... get out of the game ... move the franchise ... stop kidding yourself you have a vaible MLB franchise ... if you can't even pay market rates to a 3 season player.

The A's were half competitive as long as the only bug-a-boo was free agency ... now that it is simply any 'arbitration-eligible' player, they have NO chance.

You are right Christina, Holliday is gone and you'll get some stinkin' draft picks that you could only hope turns into someone as good as Gonzalez - who you can turn around and trade again for a 6-month senseless rent.

Nov 13, 2008 08:26 AM
rating: 0
 
ostrowj1

Is this the first time a team has been accused of a salary dump when the trade FOR someone who will be their second (?) highest player?
They get stinkin' draft picks if they put up a good fight for the playoffs. If they are out of it early they may even get a better haul for a 2 month senseless rent of Holliday.

Regarding the Marlins, I imagine they do what they do because it makes fist fulls of money. It is hard to blame the Marlins for taking advantage of the system. And in fairness, they have put together some decent seasons.

Nov 13, 2008 08:42 AM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

They are out of it already .. even if you don't realize it. They can't compete with the Angels and they are worse then at least 4 teams for the wild card.

It's over for next year and many years after that if you can't keep 3 year players.

It's amazing A's fans put up with this spoon-feeding.

Nov 13, 2008 08:51 AM
rating: -2
 
ElAngelo
(942)

They're out of it already? They were 8 games behind the Angels last year in 3rd order standings. They've added a player that should add 2-4 wins while subtracting nothing. The Angels offense is predicating not only them re-signing Texieria, but also guys like Hunter, Guerrero, Kendrick and Figgins not breaking down again, which is not exactly secure. This move doesn't put them over the top, but it certainly puts them in the conversation.

Nov 13, 2008 09:37 AM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

Yes they are out of it already. Forget your 3rd order win spin ... they were 24 1/2 games out and you think a half year of Holliday is going to make that up.

The A's are buried until they can retain arbitration-eligible players - pure and simple.

Nov 13, 2008 10:34 AM
rating: -2
 
ElAngelo
(942)

Call it spin all you'd like---every metric says the Angels played anywhere from 12 to 16 games better than their underlying statistics, and that's with great seasons and health from (basically) their entire pitching staff. They are not likely to repeat last season, and the 24 1/2 game number is an illusion. Again, I'm not saying the A's have closed the gap all the way, they're simply in the conversation, and will really be worth taking seriously if they add one more player.

Also, a "half season of Holliday" isn't correct; if they're actually competitive in July, I have to think they'll hold on to him and take a run at it.

Nov 13, 2008 11:30 AM
rating: 0
 
ithistle

The Angels played far over their heads last year. The A's definitely have a shot.

Nov 13, 2008 10:15 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

As Jay Jaffe pointed out a little more than a month ago, no less than 16 wins better than expected:

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=8153

Nov 13, 2008 12:13 PM
 
Vilica

Oakland's payroll is going to be at $80 million next season, or about $30 million (not sure on the exact number, might be more, might be less) more than the AL pennant-winning Tampa Bay Rays, who beat out both Boston AND New York for an AL East title. If that can happen, I'm sure Oakland can defeat the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim", who had like 84 third-order wins last year, if they make another couple of smart acquisitions. Get this hater nonsense back to sports radio.

Nov 13, 2008 10:28 AM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

This has nothing to do with hate. There have been numerous articles at BP saying that paying for a person to put you over the top with prospects could be worthwhile IF you are on the threshold.

The A's are no where near that threshold and, to be consitent, nobody here at BP should be endorsing this trade (assuming Holiday won't be resigned)if they aren't.

Nov 13, 2008 10:42 AM
rating: 1
 
Aaron Cameron

Street wasn't traded because he's arbitration eligible. He was dealt because the A's have better in-house options for closer and right-handed set-up man who happen to be more affordable.

The A's of the last eight years have been signing players *through* their arbitration years, following the model that the Indians used in the '90s.

I completely agree that the A's need to do more than nab Holliday. They've got holes at 1B, SS and 3B. And, the best they can hope for is league-average production at 2B and the other two OF spots. And, the starting rotation - currently - is one ginormous question mark.

Nov 13, 2008 11:45 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Quite right, although it is worth pointing out that the money saved by dealing Street helps make Holliday that much more affordable in the one year. Street was the most expensive in a group of useful relievers, and the one other people might place a premium on because of category-think ("Saves!").

Nov 13, 2008 12:36 PM
 
Drew

I tend to agree with sbnirish77. If the A's don't make a legitimate run at the postseason this year (and I doubt they will with that offense, even with Holliday) then this trade makes very little sense for them. yes, the Angels were a little lucky last year, but realistically, the A's need to get to 85-90 wins to have a shot.

I agree that moving Street and Smith (and maybe even Gonzalez) was a good idea, but why go after a 1-year rental when you are probably 10-15 games shy of competing for a playoff spot?

I honestly think this was a lose-lose trade. The Rockies got a poor return for their best player, and the A's got a one-year rental in a year when they will have trouble sniffing a playoff spot.

Nov 13, 2008 11:47 AM
rating: 0
 
Marty

I think that in the worst case scenario, where the A's are 15-20 games under in July, Beane is holding a premium player when some other GM will be willing to overpay to add someone like him for the stretch run. While the Street, Gonzales, and Smith are arguably useful, Holliday is the sort of player that could really fetch a serious haul at the deadline. This is the *worst* case scenario here.

Nov 13, 2008 13:18 PM
rating: 0
 
carligula

But why would anyone give up more for two months of Holliday than the A's did for six months of him? Sabathia only fetched a prospect-and-a-half or so, after all... as an A's fan I like the trade because we didn't give up anything irreplaceable but expecting to flip Holliday for something like the Haren package is silly IMO.

Nov 13, 2008 20:49 PM
rating: 0
 
ruben398

Because those teams that would be interested in Holliday at that time would be in a higher stakes situation (i.e. in a playoff race). If you are the Tampa Bay Rays, and you are a game up on NY and BOS with two months left in the season, and you are still getting killed by LHP, I would think giving up someone like Reid Brignac (who probably will not get a chance in TB with Bartlett in front and Tim Beckham coming from behind) plus change is a good trade. Or if you are BOS, and JD Drew or David Ortiz gets hurt, you do the same thing with Bowden and perhaps a SS prospect in A ball. I wouldn't expect a "Haren" package, but I truly don't see a downside for the A's except the expense of having Holliday for at least half the season (and for once, its nice that the money doesn't seem to bother the A's).

Nov 14, 2008 10:08 AM
rating: 0
 
calhounite

Think it's always a good idea to move "closers," by definition overrated, Gonzales has a bad case of Jose Guillenitis, and BP has had Smith down as a fringe guy for like forever. But agree this is a nonsensical trade for Oakland from a long range perspective.

Nov 13, 2008 19:56 PM
rating: 0
 
moremoose

OverRated Closers = big trade chip = Street after next year = prospects + Casey Weathers ready to close in 2010.

Nov 14, 2008 09:44 AM
rating: 0
 
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