Ken Woolums’ definition of the perfect baseball trade: "A cost-effective move that mutually benefits both parties in which either rosters are improved or the opportunity to gain a future asset is acquired."
As someone who is absolutely fascinated with trades, I find myself hardly ever saying "man, that trade was perfect." However, this week produced one of the true rare gems in the mine of baseball transactions. If you’re sitting there asking yourself, "What, when did a big trade happen this week?" then that is exactly my point. An under-the-radar deal featuring no big pieces that mutually benefits both teams is what occurred. Really, this move was fascinating, and it involved two non-regulars. Take a second to guess before I reveal what I’m talking about.
SP Aaron Harang ($7 million 2013 salary, $2 million buyout for 2014)
C Ramon Hernandez ($3.2 million 2013 salary)
Essentially, these two teams paired up to move "blocked" commodities. After the Dodgers went and acquired Josh Beckett and signed Zack Greinke, Aaron Harang found himself out of a job (well, a starting job anyway). He has reportedly been unhappy with his role in the bullpen, and the Dodgers were looking to move him. The Rockies, on the other hand, found themselves with a rare surplus of catchers. With Wilin Rosario emerging as a young offensive threat and Yorvit Torrealba winning the backup job, Ramon Hernandez, who was entering his age-37 season, found himself as the third catcher on the Rockies’ roster. The Rockies designated Hernandez for assignment before the season, and have obviously now found a trading partner.
So why is this trade so great? Well, let’s look at it from each side.
The Dodgers found themselves in a really bad spot going into the season from a depth standpoint. They really had no backup catcher, and that is a problem given how often starting catchers need to sit to preserve their legs. Ramon Hernandez provided the perfect opportunity to resolve this problem. Now, I’m sure there are plenty of reasons that Hernandez didn’t make the team, but part of it could be that he simply just didn’t perform well in 2012. He managed a -0.7 Fangraphs WAR in 52 games during the 2012 season.
However, I believe that Hernandez was simply unlucky last year. After all, the man had a 20.8 LD% and managed a .235 BABIP in Coors (his career BABIP is .277). Even though his GB/FB rate was 2.05 (really not good for players completely lacking speed), the number should still be expected to rise this year. Also, let’s consider the sample size. We’re talking about 52 games and 196 PA here. In the two years in Cincinnati before the move to Colorado, Hernandez had a 112 OPS+ in 680 PA over 188 games. I’d like to give Hernandez the benefit of the doubt here and say that those numbers are closer to what he can produce than his 2012 numbers. The Steamer and Oliver projection systems (available on FanGraphs) project Hernandez to produce 1.1 WAR in 2013. Using the free agent model I mentioned in my first post, that performance would be worth $5.83 million.
Including both Hernandez's salary and the the $4.25 million sent over to Colorado, you can imagine this as the Dodgers paying $7.45 million for Hernandez’s services. Given the fact that the market for catchers (and most players) is non-existent in the first week of the season, this seems like a pretty reasonable deal for the high-spending Dodgers.
When you’re trying to contend, this is the kind of move you need to make. Turn your expendable assets into extra spots to fill in your holes.
Effectively, I think this move is a big part of the Rockies’ rebuilding process. The Dodgers really did not have any room for Aaron Harang, and there really isn’t any sense in keeping a guy to play part in a role if he really does not want to take on that role (again, going on reports). This made him expendable, and the market for pitching always active. There is always going to be someone out there who needs a starter in some capacity. Because of this, the Dodgers turned an available asset into an asset that they greatly needed. When you add the $3.2 million saved on Hernandez’ contract and the $4.25 million acquired from Los Angeles, the Rockies are getting $7.45 million to put towards Harang’s contract, which covers nearly all of the minimum $9 million he needs to be paid.
For Colorado, the reason this trade is so perfect is that it gives them the ability to attack the status of the starting pitching market. The Rockies actually have expendable pitching, and they know it. They know it so well, in fact, that they immediately designated Harang for assignment so that he wouldn’t take up a spot on the 40-man roster. In my opinion, this means that they will use Harang as immediate trade bait and look to acquire other, younger players via trade. Basically, the Rockies will have turned Ramon Hernandez into a young group of prospects (or one, depending on what deal works) for the relatively low cost of $1.55 million.
When you are rebuilding, this is the kind of move you need to make. Turn your "unusable" assets into young pieces at a low cost.
This is the kind of transaction that makes me greatly appreciate everyone tied into the baseball process. It is a small move that most people probably will either ignore or forget in the distant future. However, it is the kind of move that is going to have a great impact on the future of both teams. The Dodgers field a deeper, more balanced roster while the Rockies gain the opportunity to acquire young assets for the future. So what is the absolute best part of this deal? It’s the fact that the two teams are playing within the same division. Even enemies can pair up and make smart deals that benefit both of them. So there, now you can see how trading Ramon Hernandez for Aaron Harang falls under my definition of the "perfect trade."