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Surprise Surprise! Matt Holliday Traded to Oakland

According to reports...

Athletics acquire Matt Holliday.

Rockies acquire Greg Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street.

For the Rockies, this deal hinges almost entirely on Gonzalez. Smith has the potential to be a HUGE disaster in Colorado (well, he’d probably not be very good anywhere, but could be particularly bad in Coors Field). Street is a nice complementary player – a good player whose name value probably exceeds his actual contribution to the team. He should slot in nicely in the closer’s role, allowing Manny Corpas to remain the 8th inning guy. Street should be able to handle Coors Field, but questions abound about his long-term health, given his lowered velocity and poor results during the second half of the season. [NOTE: Reports speculate that Street may be moved to a third team.]

Gonzalez is the real prize for the Rockies. He struggled mightily with the As in 2008, hitting .242/.273/.361 with an 81/13 K/BB ratio. Gonzalez is clearly not ready for the majors, but he’s only 22 years old and has a solid minor league track record. Furthermore, from what I’ve read, scouts are very high on him.

His offensive questions aside, Gonzalez looks to be an excellent outfielder. He rated +5 in 528 innings in center field this year, and managed to be +5 in only 160 innings in right field as well. If his defense is even close to that good, he won’t need to put up monster offensive numbers to be valuable. Paired with Dexter Fowler in the spacious Coors outfield, Gonzalez may have a tremendous amount of value in his defense alone

If you are optimistic, you can rightly claim that while Gonzalez’s minor league statistics aren’t overwhelming, they are pretty good, and he was generally young for his level. That, coupled with glowing scouting reports, bodes well. If you are pessimistic you can claim that he is another example of an overhyped prospect with tools but no plate discipline, who’s running out of chances to make good on his promise. Gonzalez is still young enough to have time to improve, but that improvement had better come soon.

As for Oakland, this may seem to be uncharacteristic for them – giving up prospects for a one-year rental?

To be sure, they aren’t getting fooled by Holliday’s home/road splits – they know what kind of hitter Holliday would be in Oakland: namely, somewhere around .300/.370/.500 (perhaps that slugging estimate is rather high). He’s also a solid defender in left field. Overall, RJ and I calculated Holliday to be worth approximately three wins over the plethora of candidates who might have otherwise played left field in 2009 (Gonzalez, Rajai Davis, Chris Denorfia, Aaron Cunningham). Dave Cameron calculated Holliday to be worth approximately 4 wins above replacement, which jives perfectly with our calculation (assuming Oakland’s other options would’ve amounted to about one win above replacement, mostly due to defensive prowess).

The question becomes: does Billy Beane think the Athletics are close enough to contention that three-four wins matters that much? The answer, apparently, is yes. Upon examination, it’s not too difficult to see why: namely, the Angels appear poised for a rather dramatic collapse, especially if they fail to re-sign Teixeira (and, to a far lesser extent, Francisco Rodriguez). Seattle is not going to compete, and while Texas may surprise some people, they’re unlikely to win 90 games. Thus, the division is there for the taking – if the Athletics can build a 90-win club, they may very well be good enough to win the west.

Furthermore, the Athletics dealt from a position of strength. They won’t miss Smith – he’s simply not that good, and probably wasn’t one their five or six best starters right now. They are likely to be less optimistic about Gonzalez than more scouting-oriented teams (although they certainly recognize his potential – they traded for him in the first place). However, they have an abundance of talented outfielders, with Ryan Sweeney, Rajai Davis (don’t laugh, his defense is pretty good), Travis Buck, Aaron Cunningham, and to a lesser extent Chris Denorfia and Matt Murton vying for playing time. Furthermore, while Street is a good pitcher (when healthy), the Athletics have an excellent bullpen without Huston, featuring Brad Ziegler, Joey Devine, Santiago Casilla, and Andrew Brown.

The question remains: to what end was this deal made? Simply making this deal because it’s there is not a great reason to trade Huston Street and Carlos Gonzalez. Yes, the As probably won’t miss either, but those players probably had a fair amount of trade value. Why blow it for one year of Matt Holliday?

The answer, I think, is that Billy Beane isn’t done. I don’t think the addition of Matt Holliday makes the 2009 Athletics into a 90-win team. However, it does put them three-four wins closer. Their third-order Pythagorean record from 2008 was 79-83 – and that’s including about three months where they were basically auditioning people for 2009. If you assume that the Athletics were probably an ~83 win team before this trade (thanks to infusion of young talent and actually trying to win in 2009), adding Holliday takes them to 86-87 wins. A few more moves – or one large move (I’m looking at you, Mr. Furcal), could conceivably take them to the 90-win threshold, which should be enough to be competitive in a weak division.

This trade makes some sense for Colorado, although it was a big mistake for them to get Greg Smith (and I personally would’ve asked for someone besides Huston Street, too). It hinges on Carlos Gonzalez’s offensive development and, to a lesser extent, Huston Street’s health (or the player(s) they receive for him in a separate trade).

This trade makes a lot of sense for Oakland if they make corresponding moves to improve by another 3-4 wins. If Beane can add those wins without sacrificing more of his team’s long-term prospects, the Athletics could win the AL West in 2009 and still be excellent in 2010 and beyond.