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July 24, 2009

Transaction Action

It's a Holliday Weekend

by Christina Kahrl

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Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned C-R Bobby Wilson to Salt Lake (Triple-A); recalled RHP Sean O'Sullivan from Salt Lake. [7/20]
Optioned RHP Sean O'Sullivan to Salt Lake; recalled OF-R Terry Evans from Salt Lake. [7/22]


It's interesting that they've demoted O'Sullivan, because even without the complication of last Tuesday's doubleheader, the schedule isn't going to afford them the opportunity to skip the fifth starter's slot, which comes up again on Saturday. As a result, between normal four-day rest patterns and the ten-day rule, O'Sullivan won't be back until the calendar flips to August. Although the Angels seem to have sorted out that Matt Palmer was only a rotation piece as a result of injuries, gaudy 7-1 record or no (a .454 Support-Neutral Winning Percentage and just three quality starts in 11 do that for a guy), they might decide to give him that turn against the Twins. They could also turn to Shane Loux (.496 SNWP), but Loux hasn't started a game in the majors in more than two months, with a DL trip between then and now; he did however take five turns rehabbing at High- and Triple-A, most recently on July 8th.

A quick check of rested starters available from the farm suggests that the available alternatives are limited; would they really want to add a journeyman like Dan Denham to the 40-man? Jordan Walden's hurting, and Trevor Reckling and Trevor Bell both pitched on Thursday. In Loux of those limitations, you can probably expect they'll take their chances with what comes up with a Palmer raid on the park come Saturday. Given that we're talking about the relative merits of Palmer and Loux, though, Mike Scioscia might just turn Saturday into a de facto pen start, with the two tandem'd up and neither having pitched since Tuesday.

Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Kevin Mulvey to Rochester (Triple-A); recalled RHP Jesse Crain from Rochester. [7/23]

Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed 1B-L Jason Giambi on the 15-day DL (strained groin); recalled 1B-L Daric Barton from Sacramento (Triple-A). [7/20]
Dealt LF-R Matt Holliday to the Cardinals for 1B/3B-L Brett Wallace, RHP Clayton Mortensen, and OF-L Shane Peterson; recalled UT-L Eric Patterson from Sacramento. [7/24]

Well, that's the end of that, as the tent gets folded up long after it had been knocked over by stiff winds and a stiffer offense. The range of futures made possible by getting Holliday from the Rockies in the first place weren't exactly unlimited-the A's would either win now with him or they'd be moving him around now, or perhaps they'd settle for keeping him the full season and getting the picks, but of those three possibilities, that last seemed very unlikely from the get-go. So they didn't win-give the corpse of the '09 A's playoff hopes the dignity of post-fatality honesty-and they moved the man for goodies. What did they get?

Well, to deal with the added-on guys, Mortensen and Peterson have their merits, but neither is a sure thing. Mortensen's a stringy sinkerballer who's come up quick since getting taken out of Gonzaga in the supplemental portion of the first round of the 2007 draft. He's got a good slider to boot, and while he's had to work through some past problems with mechanics and lefties, those seem a bit more under control in his work at Memphis this summer. With 82 strikeouts against 34 walks in 105 IP and 1.8 grounders to fly balls, he's doing stuff that everybody likes; coughing up 11 homers and 58 runs aren't quite to everyone's taste, however. He's not a high-upside guy, he's a back-end starter or perhaps a good set-up man in a system loaded with better pitching prospects for the rotation. Maybe the upside's something like Justin Duchscherer or the like, and maybe that's overstating his merits just a bit. Peterson's a second-rounder from last year's draft and someone who starred at Long Beach State, which sounds pretty tantalizing, and he's only 21 years old and has already made it up to Double-A after hitting .298/.367/.428 in the Florida State League, no place to count on raking. However, he's also a corner outfielder, so the problem he runs into is no different from the small horde of professional hitters the A's have littering their outfields in Double- and Triple-A-if he doesn't hit for power, it's just not really going to fly, no matter how pretty the swing or nifty the approach. If that comes, and as young as he is, you can always hope, swell. If not, he's an organizational soldier who will help the affiliates win ballgames. That'll keep those people happy.

No, the player who really is the key to this deal is Wallace, the hitting machine from Arizona State who inspired so much curiosity in last year's draft before the Cardinals selected him with the 13th overall selection (immediately after the A's had taken Miami's Jemile Weeks). Already at Double-A to open the season, a month in the Texas League had him hitting .281/.403/.438, earning him a quick promotion to Triple-A while the Cards pondered if he might not be the in-season solution to the Glaus deficit at third. That didn't go quite as well, as he struggled a bit, but has come back up to .293/.346/.423 as a 22-year-old in the PCL. PECOTA didn't know quite what to make of him; Wallace is a big guy and nicknamed the Walrus for cause, and when it came to comparable players, it ended up giving him a similarity index of 12, which may as well tell you he's similar to a lot of hominids.

For a more scouty perspective, ask Kevin Goldstein; he'll tell you that Wallace will hit .300 in the majors and get aboard at a .400 clip. The power, though, is a bit in doubt, which is critical in evaluating what the potential upside of adding him is. In a perfect world, he manages to do his timbering Redwood impression at third base in the major leagues well enough to man the hot corner for a couple of seasons. We can't rule it out; this franchise got by with Carney Lansford and won a few things in the process, after all. Indeed, his gifts at third seem positively Lansfordian, as he has soft hands and an arm that would play there. If Barton manages to redeem his career in the months to come and re-establish a place for himself in the A's future, Wallace's staying at third to boot* could be part of a 2010 or 2011 lineup that gets those things called runs in their halves of innings.

A couple of readers have suggested that one way to look at the deal is by deleting Holliday from the equation, and taking it back to whether or not you'd trade Huston Street, Greg Smith, and Carlos Gonzalez for Wallace, Mortensen, and Peterson. It's an interesting piece of pretzeling as a logic exercise, but keep in mind that acquiring Holliday was part of a pre-season pitch that they'd be making a run at winning the West. Adding Holliday was attended by other sprigs on that particular branch of the decision tree, like getting Orlando Cabrera and Jason Giambi and Nomar Garciaparra as well, or signing Russ Springer, or trading in February for Michael Wuertz if we want to make it sound less like a litany of Holliday and failure. They built up to take a shot, and it cost money, but it also probably helped make some with pre-season sales, and I'm sure that hope and faith was engendered by some memorable pre-season predictions, PECOTA's for example, or those made by the majority of my colleagues. The A's did get nearly four months of play from Holliday, after all, so you have to throw that onto the scales as well, since such things don't just disappear.

Still, as an exercise, it's interesting, and I'd suggest that on that level the A's came out ahead. Not that two years of Huston Street and Carlos Gonzalez's future weren't worth owning and aren't playing their parts in terms of helping to propel the Rockies toward the National League Wild Card-even without getting hurt, Greg Smith was a sell-high guy unlikely to top his 2008-but let's line it up as an exercise in worst-case scenarios. Let's say the worst it works out for Oakland is that Wallace winds up being a first baseman who produces a .400 OBP and not quite the sort of game-breaking power you want at first base. Let's say Mortensen's just an organizational arm, and that Peterson is only good enough to ride pine in Oakland or win pennants in Sacramento. Is that worth two years of Huston Street and five or six years of Carlos Gonzalez?

No, it is not, but it's not if Gonzalez winds up becoming the new Carlos Peņa, a near-hit as a pickup by Beane back in the day that (in both instances) was brought to a hasty end when the organization came to the collective conclusion that it just didn't like the cut of the guy's jib after having gotten him. Peņa's making the A's look bad-and the Tigers and Red Sox and Yankees too, for that matter-but Gonzalez hasn't yet proven he'll be worth starting ahead of Seth Smith, let alone Dexter Fowler. Wallace, in contrast, seems much more the sure thing, and it's for that reason that I'd take the package from the Cardinals for Holliday than the one surrendered to get him.

*: Say what you will about Wallace's limitations as a third baseman in terms of range, but most observers credit him for at least catching what gets hit at him, so I don't use the term 'to boot' with any derision.

Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Designated DH-L David Dellucci for assignment; recalled UT-L Joe Inglett from Las Vegas (Triple-A); activated RHP Casey Janssen from the 15-day DL, and optioned him to Las Vegas. [7/24]

Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Placed RHP Manny Corpas on the 15-day DL (elbow); purchased the contract of RHP Jhoulys Chacin from Tulsa (Double-A); activated RHP Rafael Betancourt; designated RHP Ryan Speier for assignment. [7/24]

Along with yesterday's acquisition of Rafael Betancourt, adding Chacin is a move with a similar purpose, albeit the opposite provenance, since he's one of the organization's best prospects, and was thriving in the Drillers' rotation down in Double-A. There, he's struck out 86 in 103 1/3 IP while walking 35, and getting 1.9 ground-balls to every fly thanks to that heavy, low-90s sinker that is so crucial to his success. That said, there are still rough edges; 10 homers and seven hit batsmen suggest the 21-year-old Venezuelan still makes mistakes. Still, from a pure stuff standpoint, he should be ready to help in a relief role, and with Betancourt helping fill out the unit at the top end while Chacin perhaps takes middle-inning chores before earning his way into a set-up role, it makes for a better bet than hoping some free talent lands in their laps (or that they have to count on the recently added Matt Herges, inked to a minor league deal).

Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Activated SS-R Julio Lugo; optioned RHP P.J. Walters to Memphis (Triple-A). [7/23]
Acquired LF-R Matt Holliday from the Athletics for 1B/3B-L Brett Wallace, RHP Clayton Mortensen, and OF-L Shane Peterson; optioned INF-R Brian Barden to Memphis. [7/24]

Well, if that isn't a solution to the question of whether or not the Cards can settle for letting Rick Ankiel get his act together, I don't know what is. Yes, Matt Holliday isn't hitting what he used to, back when he got to call Coors his home planet. So what, we already knew that would happen in December. If anything, his current performance (.286/.378/.454) is almost exactly in line with reasonable expectations for him, going into the tougher league and coming to a pitcher's park, in light of his previous three-year performance in major league venues not named 'Denver' (.296/.370/.486). Get worked up over his recent hot hitting or not, but he's been about what he was supposed to be, and put him in St. Louis, and that's about what you should expect going forward. The difference between Holliday's MLVr (.146) and Ankiel's (-.150) leads to an easy envelope-level exercise: a full run's worth of difference every three games at those clips, a full win's difference over 30, and 64 games to play? Even if it works out as neatly as a two-win boost on offense in sabermetric terms, it's what we in the propeller-headed community would see as a potentially division-winning addition.

What Holliday gives you is more than that batting line, though, and was always essential in evaluating his value. He's been a fine baserunner in the past, totting up more than eight Equivalent Baserunning Runs in 2008, although interestingly enough, he's had issues with the A's, especially trying to advance on hits, but I wonder how much that's trying to make something happen in an almost lifeless offense. With Albert Pujols on base in front of him, I suspect those opportunities might arise somewhat less often, while also being a less frustrating situation any way you slice it. He's an outstanding defensive left fielder, which is a luxury in left you can afford when it comes with the complete package that Holliday provides. Get a player who can do this many things for you, and it frees up a skipper like Tony La Russa to bend his bean decisioning other tactical chicanery with the remainder of his roster, and with that mess in the infield, that figures to be time well spent.

Beyond the runs and the tactical virtues all that, though, there are other benefits to be realized. The A's are reportedly paying a sizable portion of his remaining salary, $1.5 million, so the Cardinals don't even take that big a hit in their pocketbook for having added him, and given how much money making the postseason can mean to a team, they'll more than make back the roughly $4 million they've added to their payroll, and then some. There's more, of course, in that a stretch drive in America's best baseball city gives the Cardinals a nice inside pitch to make to Holliday as a free agent during the exclusive negotiating window during the offseason. That doesn't hurt, but if he elects to walk, take his chances on the open market, and he leaves town, his duties done, he's sure to yield picks.

As for Ankiel, we'll have to see if he can get anything going as a reserve, but I don't think this is going to do his impending free agency any favors. Already struggling to show any kind of patience (13 unintentional walks in 259 PA is just plain bad). There's no underlying fundamental number to genuflect before in the hope that regressions cures his ills; his line-drive rate is only slightly low. If can't get his at-bats to go longer than 3.44 pitches per plate appearance, almost a half-pitch per PA less than league average after being around average last year, he's going to spend a lot of time hoping to run into enough cookies to redeem his impulsiveness. On paper, it sounds good as far as the suggestion that your fourth outfielder bats lefty with power and can play center, and is on a roster that has right-handed hitters starting in the corners, but it's still up to Ankiel to pull his season together.

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

Related Content:  A's,  The Who,  Triple-A,  Matt Holliday,  Brett Wallace,  The Call-up

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