Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Holliday To The A's

A's Get: Matt Holliday (Tentative 4)

Rockies Get: Greg Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street (8)

Obviously, Holliday is the biggest name here, so the media have focused on him. What I find most interesting about this trade is that Street seems to be taking a back seat to Smith and Gonzalez, as if the world has forgotten that he was considered a top closer less than a year ago.

Street will be taking over for Brian Fuentes, so it's instructive to compare the two. I'd probably take Street over Fuentes for the next two years--the two years the Rockies will get before Street hits free agency--but I admit it's close. We'll call it a wash.

Fuentes is expected to get a three year deal for about $33 million, so it's fair to estimate it would cost $24 million to sign him for two years. The Rockies will probably actually pay Street $10-12 million for those two years. That's a big surplus, one we shouldn't push aside in evaluating the trade.

Smith was quite valuable to the A's in his rookie year, but his performance was a fluke. He scored well below average on all three of the biggest indicators for pitchers: strikeout rate, walk rate, and groundball rate. That's a pitcher who has no chance to post a sub-5.00 ERA in Coors Field; in fact, I'd bet against him staying in the rotation for all of 2009. Smith still has long-term potential, but he doesn't belong in the Major Leagues right now.

Gonzalez took a big step back this year, with mediocre hitting stats in AAA and an awful MLB debut. Like Smith, he's a long-term project; he's a worse option than Willy Taveras for the 2009 Rockies. However, he still has some hope of becoming an above-average Major Leaguer.

Holliday is the big fish, of course. In writeups of the trade, he's alternately been described as "possibly the best player in Rockies history" and "a product of Coors Field". Neither is accurate: Holliday is a very good hitter, and the talk about his home/road splits is overblown--all players, Rockies or not, tend to perform better at home. (If this isn't true, why do home teams keep winning 54% of their games?) Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Ellis Burks...all these guys hit a lot better at Coors than on the road, and all of them kept on crushing the ball after leaving Denver. Holliday is going to be fine in Oakland.

Some people think Billy Beane did this largely for the draft picks he'll receive when Holliday leaves as a free agent after 2009. That's a fair point, but it's an oversimplification. If Street returns to form, he'll be a Type-A free agent after 2010. Smith and Gonzalez could be worth compensatory draft picks down the road. Oakland may have gained two draft picks, but they gave up the potential for others.

The real question here is why the A's are trying to contend in a division they lost by 25 games in 2008. It's actually not the worst idea in the world. The Angels don't have the talent of a 100-win team or even a 93-win team, and they may lose one or both of Francisco Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira to free agency. The A's dealt from surpluses; Street was the only player in the deal who should have been part of their 2009 plans. Still, unless this was part of a larger plan, I think this was too high a price to pay for one year of Holliday.

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