Let's take a look at a trade from last year that may have worked out a little different than everyone planned.
The Giants send Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser, and Francisco Liriano to the Twins for A.J. Pierzynski.
Most baseball fans realize this didn't work out for the Giants last year, thanks to their in season bullpen woes and the fact that everyone on the team claimed Pierzynski was a clubhouse cancer. But not everyone realizes just how talented the minor league pitchers are that the Twins acquired in the deal. From what I've seen on various sites, Boof Bonser was not pitching well in the minors when he was dealt, but has since turned it on for the Twins minor league teams. Let's analyze Nathan and Pierzynski's performance last year in terms of VORP and WARP1 to see their value straigt up:
Of course, how these players did does not tell the whole story. Their replacements value also fits the puzzle for who made out in the trade.
Joe Mauer: 14.2 VORP
Pat Borders: 1.4 VORP
Rob Bowen: -2.8 VORP
Henry Blanco: -8.0 VORP
Mauer: 1.8 WARP1
Borders: 0.4 WARP1
Bowen: -0.3 WARP1
Blanco: 2.6 WARP1
Matt Herges: -2.6 VORP
Dustin Hermanson: 12.7 VORP
Herges: 1.6 WARP1
Hermanson: 3.5 WARP1
So now adding all these totals together, you get these figures:
So the Giants still lose out, but its not on a scale of epic proportions like some say. The Giants inability to get a serviceable reliever into their closer role is what caused their downfall, not so much trading Nathan. Hermanson did a valiant job until the end of the year, and even with blowing that game against the Dodgers did a better job than Herges and his negative VORP for the season. Please note that some of Hermanson's value came from starting games as well.
Let's check out the kids in the deal.
Boof Bonser (Rochester AAA)
K/BB: 87/26 (3.35)
The K rate and walk rate are good enough, but that homerun rate is much, much too high. Bonser will need to bring that down to be successful in the majors methinks, but I've been wrong before. The RA also lets you see he may not be as dominating as once believed, but defense in the minors could be at fault here, although his BABIP is actually around league average for Triple-A. Let's check out the bigger prize of the two, Francisco Liriano:
Liriano (New Britain AA)
K/BB: 92/26 (3.54)
Well now. I was impressed before I even calculated the BABIP, which is well above league average for Double-A. Throw in the fact that Liriano is 22 years old, and might have yourself a future ace to take over when Radke calls it quits. Or a third if he advances in Triple-A for the rest of this year:
Liriano (Rochester AAA)
K/BB: 15/5 (3.00)
Obviously the BABIP will go way up, but when his walk rate falls a tad everything should look roughly the same, with a lower ERA I assume. Liriano is the real prize here, and there really is only the possibility of injury keeping him from becoming something special when he comes to the majors. I love those high K rates in the minors; that is one of the best indicators of future success, since the pitcher can dominate with their pitches. I wish I had plate appearances and total batters faced so I could figure out K/PA, a stat I like much more than K/9, but alas, I know of no such place. If anyone knows where I can find it, please tell me.
In conclusion it looks as if the Twins won the battle in 2004 (though maybe not as handily as first believed) but in 2005 the Giants just took a nosedive, losing Pierzynski to the White Sox while searching for more bullpen help in the forms of the now injured (and expensive) Armando Benitez and via trade with the Cubs for LaTroy Hawkins, once again giving up the talented young pitchers that they had in Jerome Williams and David Aardsma. Maybe this sort of thing will cause Brian Sabean to realize foregoing the first round draft picks is not as good an idea as once believed.