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Acquired 3B-R Brett Lawrie, RHP Kendall Graveman, LHP Sean Nolin, and SS-R Franklin Barreto from the Blue Jays in exchange for 3B-R Josh Donaldson. [11/28]
How much would you trade for four seasons of cost-controlled Mike Trout? What about Miguel Cabrera? Andrew McCutchen? This trade is proof that it can happen, provided you accept WARP's claim that Donaldson was the fourth-best player in baseball over the past two seasons. Maybe you don't believe in that number because of the defensive metrics, or you don't think he's likely to continue to play at such a high level; both are fair arguments. But if you do accept that WARP is in the ballpark, then Billy Beane just traded one of the game's top producers over the past two seasons, one who has four years of team control remaining, and didn't receive a superstar or elite prospect in return.
Something else this trade is proof of is that the pendulum has shifted to the point where small-market teams can no longer get value for their studs like they did in the past. Prospects are now valued more than young, proven position players; it's ironic in a way, because were Donaldson on another team, you could envision Beane—who, alongside Jerry Dipoto, has been among the most aggressive at trading prospects as of late—going full steam for him. Otherwise, few GM are willing to trade their youngsters—even if it means getting one of the better players in the game.
So with Beane knowing that and understanding the power of now—and he obviously does—why did he trade Donaldson—why now? Presumably because Donaldson's stock wouldn't get higher with the market behaving this way.
Donaldson is entering his first offseason of arbitration eligibility, and some projections have him slated to take home $4.5 million. Not so bad within itself, but remember that Donaldson is a Super Two player, meaning he'll have three additional arbitration years in which to earn more and more. The A's are in a weird spot to cry broke, considering they just paid a one-dimensional player coming off a bad season $10 million, but Donaldson was seemingly going to become more expensive and less likely to bring back a huge haul with each passing year.
As a result, Beane decided to go with a deal he felt good about. We're left to wonder just how, if this is the peak of the mountain, the A's and Rays and other small-market teams that rely on trading veterans for prospects can continue to compete without going through prolonged down spells. The answer, based on the Donaldson and David Price trades, appears to be target players who are either in the majors or near it, and who lack stud ceilings but have big-league floors.
And so, this deal is probably not quite as bad as it seemed when you first saw it, because what Beane did get is a 24-year-old semi-established third baseman, two pitchers who are nearing the majors, and an interesting infield prospect whose bat should survive a slide down the defensive spectrum. It's not a king's ransom, but it's not a pack of gum, either.
Lawrie is the surest part of the return to crack the A's Opening Day roster. it's a little jarring to note that he brings one fewer year of team control than Donaldson had. Lawrie is a downgrade in a few other areas, too, but he's better than he might be perceived. He's a quality athlete who fields third base well and shouldn't find Oakland's expansive foul territory overwhelming. Offensively, he's tougher to pin down, as his power production has varied and he doesn't walk a lot due to an aggressive approach. Still, Lawrie's True Averages the past three seasons have been consistent: .258, .263, and .262. Piece it together and you have a solid starter with age on his side.
Alas, the drawback to Lawrie is health. This is going to be his fourth full season in the majors, and he's made trips to the DL in each of his first three, including two apiece in his previous two seasons. The injuries range from a strained ribcage to a sprained ankle to a fractured finger to an oblique strain. If you want to dream—and boy, A's fans might prefer an unconscious state right about now—then your hopes rest on the idea that the A's can help Lawrie stay healthy, as they did with Jed Lowrie, and that getting away from the pressures of being a Canadian playing in Canada can help him relax.
You know who won't be relaxing? Beane. The Jeff Samardzija rumors are already running rampant, and all the rotation depth he's acquired means he's almost certain to trade another starter in addition to Samardzija. The Billy Butler signing shows Beane is also trying to remain competitive, so there's a chance he makes a few deals from a buyer's perspective. In all, it has the makings of another dizzying offseason in Oakland. —R.J. Anderson
Kendall Graveman was a solid value play for the Blue Jays in the eighth round of the 2013 first year player draft, coming with a senior-sign price tag, a durable track record—with more than 200 innings logged between his junior and senior seasons—and an extremely heavy sinker that provided a solid foundation for a groundball specialist profile out of a big-league pen. Over the course of his collegiate career at Mississippi State, Graveman learned to better spot his heavy heater in spite of its late hard drop, and he has further refined his precision with the pitch over his first 200 pro innings. This year’s addition of a cutter to his repertoire—which already included multiple fastball looks, a slider, a changeup, and an occasional soft curve—left the righty with a broad baseline of pitches that look similar out of the hand and on trajectory but can show cut, fade, and dive upon arrival, all the away across the 80-to-90 mph velocity strip. It’s a non-imposing presentation, and that helps in his efforts to draw swings and soft contact.
At the highest level it generally takes more than cunning and precision to survive as a rotational mainstay, but Oakland’s pitcher-friendly park could help the cause and Graveman has already built up the strength and durability to log 175-plus innings next year if the production so warrants. Should he eventually switch to the pen, where each of his fastball variations can play between 90 and 94 mph, he could thrive, perhaps even as a late-inning option.
Sean Nolin is another potential back-end starter wielding average stuff, though he’s capable of changing angles and plane in order to get the most out of it. His curve and slider show distinct shape, and the changeup is a legit plus offering coming with good arm speed deception and fade. The fastball is fringy, though he does well pounding the bottom of the zone on a steep plane. He has the body and the multi-look arsenal to eat innings in the back of a rotation, but it may require better in-zone command than he has displayed over the past two seasons, particularly with his breaking balls—each of which can come soft and flat on the fat. His success will be predicated on his ability to work ahead of hitters and lead them out of the zone with his off-speed, and he has the feel for sequencing to get there.
Nolin is ready to compete for a spot on the 25-man. If Beane & Co. are able to put together five better options he’ll likely ship back to Triple-A and await an opening, as, unlike Graveman, the stuff does not necessary lend itself to relief utility outside of swingman or mop-up work.
Franklin Barreto has yet to reach full-season ball, but the 18-year-old Venezuelan shortstop has already collected more than his fair share of admirers thanks to impressive bat speed, a compact stroke, and a precocious feel for the barrel. It’s a sturdy build capable of driving the ball some already, and while the home run totals won’t be gaudy the pop should be more than enough to keep pitchers honest and force them off the white. The speed plays to a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he displays some feel for the craft on the basepaths, resulting in solid reads and jumps for his experience level. It’s a starter kit for a solid number one or two bat in a good order, including the potential to grow the hit tool to plus while complementing it with a nice on-base component and a little bit of juice. Defensively, Barreto lacks the instinctual actions evaluators like to see in young shortstops, though there is plenty of developmental opportunity ahead for the young middle-infielder to continue to improve. The arm is an easy left-side weapon, but the bat would play much better at the keystone if he is to move off of short while staying on the dirt. His footspeed and arm could also prove useful out on the grass if the glove and footwork do not progress.
Barreto provides the highest ceiling of the three prospects netted by Oakland, but is also staring at the longest developmental arc of the trio, with a major-league debut likely a good four years away. The upside is a true impact bat capable of providing up-the-middle defensive value with added contributions on the basepaths, and it’s difficult to acquire that type of ceiling in a marketplace that places a premium specifically on both top tier prospects and up-the-middle talents. Risk abounds, from proximity to probability to lack of physical projection and a still-raw approach. He’ll likely tackle the Midwest League to start 2015 where incremental improvements across the secondary skill set could lead to developmental jumps in short order. —Nick J. Faleris
I recently wrote about Lawrie as an X-factor in my Blue Jays team preview, and not much changes about the uncertainty he'll carry when—if— he actually stays on the field for a full season. Once upon a time it looked like Lawrie might just develop into a power/speed fantasy monster, but after a season in which he attempted no stolen bases and saw his speed scores plummet for a third straight year we can probably put that dream to rest. That leaves power as his carrying tool for fantasy, and it’s for that reason this move has to be seen as a negative for his value. He heads from one of the best ballparks in baseball for right-handed power to one of the worst, and while not necessarily predictive it’s certainly worth mentioning that he's had a greater-than-average home/road split in his career: .815 OPS at Rogers Centre, .683 on the road. The A’s mustered a comparably potent offensive output to the Jays last season, but they also just subtracted their best hitter. Given the extreme injury risk and ugly ballpark move, it’s certainly possible that Lawrie's draft stock will fall enough to outweigh whatever residual post-post-post-hype sleeper buzz he would’ve otherwise generated this winter and make him an attractive value play next spring. After all, he’ll still be just 25, and his dual 2B/3B eligibility gives him a decent baseline as an attractive flier. But buyers should beware the ballpark factor and continue to keep expectations for a breakout in check.
Sean Nolin/Kendall Graveman
Neither of these guys projects to be a frontline fantasy arm, but both get more interesting as AL-only and deep mixed league names with this move. They very well might benefit relatively from the new defensive unit behind them, though that part is still somewhat unclear. Oakland boasted the best defense efficiency rating in baseball last year and was second in team PADE, while Toronto was in the middle of the pack by both metrics. That said, Lawrie is a downgrade from Donaldson, the A’s still don’t have a shortstop, and it’s entirely possible the Jays’ outfield will include one or two significant defensive upgrades by the time the offseason is over. But beyond the defense both pitchers will move from a moderately offense-friendly home park with extreme home run tendencies to a moderately pitcher-friendly park with extremely depressed home run tendencies. Nolin in particular should benefit from the swap on that level. He’s likely to compete for a rotation spot out of spring training, and as a fairly extreme fly ball pitcher with no real put-away pitch the cavernous outfield pastures of O.Co are a dream come true. Graveman is probably a marginal fifth starter candidate in a neutral ballpark, so this kind of a home field bump can be a difference-maker for him as well. He was projected to see some major-league starts next summer with Toronto, and he probably slots into a similar position on Oakland’s depth chart. When he does get the call he’ll probably deserve consideration for a FAAB dollar or two in deeper leagues to see what he can do.
Jarrod Parker/A.J. Griffin
Both guys have early season timetables for their respective returns from Tommy John surgery, and health permitting each is probably safe on the Oakland depth chart. It’s possible Nolin, Graveman, or someone else grabs a rotation spot and runs with it. But that possibility already existed and none of the new talent should be seen as an appreciably more dire threat.
Barreto emerged this season as one of the more intriguing fantasy shortstop prospects in the low minors on the strength of strong pure hitting skills, decent pop, and above-average stolen base potential. He’s still far enough away from the majors that we can’t really be concerned about him moving from a franchise with a good big-league park to a team with a bad one. In the more immediate future he’ll likely open the season in the Midwest League, but a second-half promotion to the California League could help boost his numbers and generate some helium heading into next offseason. In dynasty formats he makes for a strong target in drafts this winter, as he has the potential to generate significant trade value by this time next year. —Wilson Karaman
|TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Acquired 3B-R Josh Donaldson from the Athletics in exchange for 3B-R Brett Lawrie, RHP Kendall Graveman, LHP Sean Nolin, and SS-R Franklin Barreto. [11/28]
Relative to Beane's side of things, Alex Anthopoulos' motivation for this trade is straightforward: He wants to win, and he wants to win now. Donaldson, one of the game's top players, should help Anthopoulos accomplish that goal.
Slotting Donaldson into a lineup alongside Jose Bautista, Edwin Enarnacion, Jose Reyes, and Russell Martin ought to provide the Blue Jays with serious offensive potential*. Add in the possibility that Anthopoulos re-signs Melky Cabrera and/or ships out Dioner Navarro in favor of a traditional DH, and scoring should be even less of an issue for the Blue Jays, who, it must be noted, tallied the fifth-most runs in baseball last season.
*On a somewhat related note, no team will benefit more from late-bloomer types than the '15 Jays. There's R.A Dickey, Bautista, Encarnacion, and Donaldson. Add in Cabrera and maybe they should change their name.
Alas, staying on the field has been problematic for Toronto's core. Believe it or not, Donaldson should help with that aspect, too. He's tallied more than 650 plate appearances in each of the past two seasons, and has showed a willingness to play through injury. Perhaps that's not the smartest thing a player can do, yet it's tough to argue with his results (.277/.363/.477 and high-quality defense). As an added bonus Donaldson, who turns 29 in a little over a week, is under team control through the 2018 season.
That timing works well for the Blue Jays, provided Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays have interest in keeping Donaldson into his mid-30s. Mark Buehrle's contract expires after next season, and three big deals (Bautista, Encarnacion, and Dickey) could come off the books the following winter, with Reyes' ending right as Donaldson is scheduled to hit free agency. (Martin, as of now, is the only player with a guaranteed contract that lasts longer than Donaldson's team control.) Obviously not all those players will walk, and it's possible that the Blue Jays want to see what Donaldson does for a year or three before investing big money in him; this is just to point out that they have the financial flexibility to make what looks like a long-term fit an even longer-term fit.
There are a few concerns to touch on, like whether the Blue Jays are too right-handed as it pertains to double plays and platoon splits. Toronto fans might as well come to grips now with the reality that the Jays are going to hit into a lot of double plays; in fact, Donaldson nearly grounded into more twin-killings last season (16) than Lawrie has for his career (17). The platoon splits phase, on the other hand, seems overstated; yes, Lawrie is a reverse-splits guy; no, he wasn't better against righties than Donaldson, not over the past two seasons.
The other notable concern is whether the Jays have enough rotation depth to survive an injury or two. That depends on whether the likes of Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris develop as intended. Throw in Marco Estrada and the Jays, at least as currently constructed, should be okay in that department.
It's not even December yet, and Anthopoulos still has some work to do as it pertains to left field and the bullpen, but with this trade the Blue Jays can make the argument that they, not the Red Sox, are the most improved team in the AL East. —R.J. Anderson
There's easy analysis and then there's easy analysis. Donaldson is a power hitter moving from a ballpark (and division of ballparks) that suppresses right-handed power, and moving to a ballpark (and division of ballparks) that is very friendly to his strength. This we know. Coming into this season, Donaldson was clearly going to be a top-three third baseman in my book—alongside Anthony Rendon and Adrian Beltre—but this trade makes it a tier of only two (sorry, Adrian). The problem is that with the likely increase in homers and counting stats comes a rise in ADP that might not move in lockstep with that value. If this pushes Donaldson to a second-round grade (in non-OBP leagues), it's a problem, as despite two strong fantasy seasons, he's never been a top-25 hitter in mixed leagues. However, he needs to be off the board in the first 30-35 picks this year, and is a relatively close 1a to Rendon's 1 in dynasty formats.
Daniel Norris/Aaron Sanchez
This means nothing for their long-term value, but with Nolin and Graveman out of the system, two potential short-term competitors for the back of the Blue Jays rotation are gone. The arrow up should be very slight, as a contending team (as Toronto intends to be) wouldn't have messed around with their lower-tier prospects for the purposes of navigating arbitration costs. Both Norris and Sanchez are good AL-only targets, and are creeping up toward mixed league relevance in 2015.
Ryan Goins/Devon Travis
Neither of these two is exciting, but for all the advantages Donaldson has over Lawrie, playing second base is not one of them. With that not in the pile of things for Goins/Travis to worry about, they can get back to worrying about the fact that neither of them is a very good fantasy option. —Bret Sayre
Nick J. Faleris is a practicing structured finance attorney and Sports Industry team member in the Milwaukee office of Foley & Lardner LLP. The views he expresses at Baseball Prospectus are his own, and not necessarily those of the law firm.
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"If there's a player I wouldn't call the best player in the deal, it's the guy Kevin rated as the best prospect before the season, the catcher, Josh Donaldson. Hitting only .217/.276/.349 for Peoria in the Low-A Midwest League, the nicest things you can say are that he's 21, and you can never have too much catching. Did I mention that he's 21? The bad news is that as a product of Auburn and as someone who was expected to be an offense-oriented catcher, he's supposed to be hitting, and he isn't. Maybe that gets turned around at Kane County; maybe a coach or scout has seen something they can fix. Maybe he's just not all that.
On some level, I segregate this deal into two segments, because I'm merely human and I create patterns where none might exist. First, I put Gaudin for Gallagher to one side as something of a push, where the benefits are pretty straightforward: Gaudin's getting expensive through arbitration, where Gallagher's five years removed from free agency and three years younger. Consider it an exchange of an established fourth starter for a potential fourth starter, with the attendant cost savings. The problem is that this leaves you with Patterson, Murton, and Donaldson for Harden. Somebody would bite on that? Billy Beane would bite on that? Where's Felix Pie? Where's Rich Hill? Where's... well, something or somebody with real upside? This is it?"
Donaldson is a stud right now, but the track record for players turning into studs this late in their career is mixed. Is he Jose Bautista? The Jays certainly hope that is the case. It's much more likely he's a player who is an asset from age 28-31 than a true star. Even at this if the Jays win the next few years then they'll still be happy with the exchange.