Catching Up on Recent Trades

I enjoy watching the players market during the offseason, which is why I’m disappointed that I haven’t been able to comment more on recent moves due to other commitments. So, I offer a post to catch up on some of the recent deals that I haven’t had time to post on.

— The A’s acquired Matt Holliday from the Rockies in return for Huston Street, Greg Smith, and Carlos Gonzalez.

Matt Holliday is a good hitter, even after you account for playing half his games in Coors Field. Baseball-Reference’s Neutralizer tool shows that his career neutralized batting line is .303/.368/.523/.891 compared to his actual performance .319/.386/.552/.938. Yes, I understand his home/away splits are large, but I think it’s wrong to view his away stats as neutral. In addition to his excellent hitting, he has a few other positive attributes. He is an excellent defender: Plus/Minus has him as the fifth-best left-fielder in 2008 with 11 plays above average. He’s also a good base-stealer, swiping 28 in 30 attempts in 2008. That was his best year, but his career stolen base success rate is 80%.

I have Holliday valued around $20 million. He’s owed $13.5 million in 2009, so there is significant surplus value there. What are the the players the Rockies got worth? Huston Street is a good relief pitcher, but he pitches so few innings that he’s barely worth the salary he’ll receive in arbitration. Though he’s the big name going to Colorado in the deal, I think he’s the least valuable of the three. In the minors, Gonzalez walked too little and struck out too much. He appears to be a good-enough defender to play center field, and he’s young. Smith is on a path to be a back-of-the-rotation starter. Gonzalez and Smith could blossom into much better players or wash out of the league within a few years. The trade appears to be good match for both teams, which is no surprised to this economist.

— The Nationals acquired Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen from the Marlins for Emilio Bonifacio, Jake Smolinski, and P.J. Dean.

This is one of those deals that shakes my confidence in everything I think I know about the baseball labor market. Willingham and Olsen are bonafide major-league ballplayers entering their first year of arbitration. I have Willingham valued at around $12 million and Olsen at about $8 million; both generating significantly more then they will cost to employ. Smolinski and Dean aren’t yet at a level where their stats contain much meaningful information—I don’t put much stock in numbers below High-A ball. Bonifacio has played a small amount in the big-leagues, but he’s still mostly a prospect. His minor-league stats don’t appear to be all that impressive either. What on earth are the Marlins doing?

When I call out teams for making mistakes, it’s mostly for fun. Baseball decisions are complicated with big stakes involved. I think every team in baseball has smart people making decisions that are mostly correct. I don’t buy into the “stupid non-saber GM” model of the world. And to add to this, I think the Marlins have one of the most capable front offices in the league. In my book, I rated Marlins as the best franchise in baseball. If there is one thing the Marlins understand, it’s how to get good young players who are cheap. Instead of asking why the Marlins are doing something crazy, I should be asking “what am I missing?”

On possible explanation is that this is a salary dump. The Marlins don’t want to pay for Willingham and Olsen, even though they are valuable players. Plus, Willingham will be 30 before the start of the season, and Olsen is a bit of a head case. But, this isn’t a satisfying explanation. Why did the Marlins have to settle for the Nationals’s offer? There are 28 other teams who could use an outfielder and a starting pitcher. Teams should have wowed the Marlins with better offers; or, maybe this is the best that Washington would do and the Marlins really wanted these players.

Given the prospect status of the players involved, I have to think that major-league baseball scouts—especially the Marlins scouts—must think highly of the prospects involved. In the past, Florida has picked up guys at low-levels who turned into good major-league players. Dontrelle Willis wasn’t out of short-season ball when he the Marlins acquired him. Hanley Ramirez was stinking up the Boston farm system when he came over in the Lowell-Beckett trade.

I admit it’s not a terribly satisfying explanation, and it is contrived to fit the facts. Maybe my worldview deserves to be shattered This trade could go down as a horrible deal for the Marlins; however, I plan to keep my eye on these young guys.

5 Responses “Catching Up on Recent Trades”

  1. Millsy says:

    “I have Holliday valued around $20 million. He’s owed $13.5 million in 2009, so there is significant surplus value there.”

    But…didn’t you say Jake Peavy wasn’t a big savings for a team he is traded to?  Where is the surplus if the A’s are giving up prospects and paying the $13.5 for Holliday?

  2. JC says:

    The A’s had to send several players to the Rockies to compensate them for the lost surplus.

  3. DV says:

    Willingham is about an average corner OF bat who is godawful defensively.  Olsen is a pitcher who’se not only a head case but has shown declining peripherals over the last few seasons and probably shouldn’t project to be better than a 4th starter in the majors on a go-forward basis.

    The two of these guys are in/entering arbitration and about to get more expensive.  There is little reason for a tiny-market team like the Marlins to hold on to very replaceable production like Olsen and Willingham as they enter arbitration.

    They’ll go with Volstad, Johnson, Nolasco, Miller, and Sanchez.  They also have Vanden Hurk and Barone who may not be the greatest options but are close to major league ready and can provide some depth for a team like Florida. 

    Surely, Miller has his performance questions, and Sanchez his health issues, but put into context, given that Olsen is about to get more expensive and this is the Marlins, they have to be pickier about the players that, while are relatively inexpensive to most of the league, are arbitration eligible.  They just shouldn’t be keeping below average guys without much of a ceiling into their arbitration years.

    Putting the Willingham move into context is easy.  Ross can move over to left and Maybin makes the jump to the majors.  This improves their OF defense exponentially.

  4. JoshF says:

    I hope you add the Swisher deal to this because I’m curious what your take is on him.  I went to HS with Swisher and he is currently my favorite ball player but hasn’t been able to live up to the potential.  That BABIP was gruesome and a lot of his indicators were inline with what he has done in the past.  The bias in me wants to chalk it up as a bad season and move on which would mean the Yankees got an absolute steal in my book. 

  5. Millsy says:

    Sorry, read it as a surplus to the A’s…and just being a pain.

    I’m still not sure why the A’s did this.  It seems to be away from their style.  They’re not going to be able to sign Holliday after this season, and I don’t see them as a contender this 2009 year.  Then again, that’s what everyone says about Beane’s teams every year right?  It just seems to be opposite of the norm for the A’s.  Think Billy boy has something else up his sleeve this off-season?