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July 28, 2011

The BP Wayback Machine

Houston, We Have Beltran

by Joe Sheehan

While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audiencesend us your suggestion.

As Carlos Beltran heads for the NL West, revisit Joe's review of the last Beltran blockbuster, which originally ran as a "Prospectus Today" column on June 25, 2004.

In case you're wondering, the Carlos Beltran trade went down because I went on the radio in Texas yesterday and said that the Astros didn't have enough to get him, and that Gerry Hunsicker had a history of not making the big trade at the deadline, 1999 and Randy Johnson being the exception.

Three-way deals are hard to see coming, although this one had been in the wind for a couple of days. Give Hunsicker credit for converting what he had into the best player on the trade market. Maybe he makes one of these every five seasons, but he sure makes them count.

Breaking each part down:

  • Astros trade Octavio Dotel, John Buck and a million bucks for Carlos Beltran.

    Just an absolute steal. Dotel is a very good reliever, but he's a reliever, not a top-three center fielder with as complete a game as any player in baseball. The Astros, who have been playing a shadow of Craig Biggio in center field the past year and a half, actually may get more runs out of this trade defensively than they gain offensively (Beltran takes Jason Lane's playing time, with Biggio expected to move to left and Lance Berkman moving to right).

    Moreover, Beltran is a great patch for the Astros' long-standing balance problems. As a switch-hitter who bats well from the left side, he makes the team less susceptible to the righty-killers that the Cubs and Cardinals have in both their rotations and bullpens.

    		vs. RHB              vs. LHB
                 AVG   OBP   SLG      AVG   OBP   SLG
    Cubs        .229  .292  .350     .266  .341  .436
    Cardinals   .263  .315  .406     .254  .317  .443
    
    

    The above stats are part of why the Astros are just 9-12 against those two teams this year. Having Beltran for the last 17 games against those two is going to make a big difference.

    If the Astros were ever going to trade off future for now, this is the time. They have one of the oldest teams in the game, and could lose Jeff Kent to free agency after this season, Berkman after 2005. The money that the Astros have spent over the past week--essentially $5 million added to make two trades happen--is available in large part because they're paying Roger Clemens, also only committed through this season, about that much less than he would be getting under normal circumstances.

    Dotel is a very good pitcher, but short relievers are fungible commodities, and the Astros have a number of options with which to cover his innings. (Not to mention that Dotel's usage pattern this year was minimizing his value to the team.) Buck has bounced back from a broken hand last year to hit .300/.368/.507 for Triple-A New Orleans, but he's not considered a great prospect, with questions about his defense and his ability to remain a catcher.

    This is a great trade for the Astros.

  • A's trade Mark Teahen and Mike Wood for Dotel and a million bucks.

    I don't like this type of trade, where you give up value for a relief pitcher. I also don't think you should be part of a trade for a guy like Beltran and not actually end up with Beltran. My initial reaction was that the A's had made a mistake, overreacting to their bullpen problems by acquiring the nominal "proven" reliever. I don't know why you would trade two guys for Dotel when, say, Byung-Hyun Kim is available for next to nothing.

    After sleeping on it, though, I think that while the deal looks odd, it provides the A's with a number of small edges. For one, Teahen only had value as trade bait, and the Royals were higher on him than just about any team. With Eric Chavez signed, Teahen was going to be dealt, and this was as good a return as you could hope for. Wood is a keep-the-ball-down guy whose upside is mid-rotation innings muncher. Like Teahen, he had no path to a job with the A's.

    So the A's gave up talent, but no one who was going to ever help them, for a guy who fills their biggest hole as effectively as it could be filled. Forget the closer role; the A's needed a strikeout right-hander in their pen, and Dotel misses bats.

    Here's the other thing: By facilitating a Beltran trade to Houston, the A's keep him away from the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels. That has a lot of value, given that all three of those teams had at least some interest. Keeping the opposition from improving shouldn't be a primary goal, but if you can help yourself and remove a potential headache, it's a reason to pull the trigger.

    I'll be interested to see how the A's use Dotel. If there's a guy who should, and could, be stretched out beyond the closer role, it's him. Doing so would make this trade look even better for them. As it is, though, they're a better team today than they were yesterday, and they haven't given up anything they'll miss.

  • Royals trade Beltran for Teahen, Buck and Wood.

    In the same interview in which I dismissed the Astros' chances of getting Beltran, I mentioned that Allard Baird had seemingly developed as a GM the way that we think of players developing on the field. I argued that he had a real chance to set the foundation for the Royals' contenders of '05-'07 with a good Beltran trade, to change the direction of the franchise.

    It didn't quite happen that way. The Royals just didn't get the kind of future-changing talent you need to get when you trade away one of the best players to ever wear your team's uniform.

    Teahen, part of the Moneyball draft class, has only shown power in the hitter's paradise of Midland in the Texas League. He hit four homers in 687 at-bats in the California League, for crying out loud, and has no homers in a month at Triple-A. He's shown he can hit for average and walk some, but his strikeout rates are high enough to provoke concern about whether he can even keep those skills. Maybe he can be what Dave Hansen would have been, but there's a much greater chance that his lack of power is going to render him a left-handed Joe Randa.

    Similarly, Buck has a spotty developmental record, with questions about his defense and just a half-season of performance above Double-A.

    The Royals may have added two players who will be contributors, but they haven't added players with star potential, and that's what they needed to do in this trade. The Royals have been treading water for a decade, and adding two guys who will probably never make an All-Star team isn't the way to change that.

    Determining early in the process that they wanted a third baseman and a catcher for Beltran may have blinded the Royals to better options. Certainly, those two positions are important, but they settled for players who fit those slots when they might have been able to get more value by looking elsewhere.

The Astros won, the A's helped themselves, and the Royals blew another chance to reverse a decline that began when Billy Gardner burned out Bret Saberhagen nearly 20 years ago.

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:  Trade,  Carlos Beltran,  The Who

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