What was the most lopsided trade of this past offseason?
I think the answer is pretty clearly the Royals/Giants swap of Jonathan Sanchez and Melky Cabrera.
Cabrera had an All-star campaign that was worth 4.5 WAR for the Giants, even before he was suspended 50 games for PEDs. Sanchez was pitiful for Kansas City. His WAR total as a Royal was -0.6, before he was traded to Colorado. If we think of trades as simply apples-to-apples (which in probably every trade analysis we shouldn't) this trade resulted in 5.1 more wins for San Francisco. A clear win.
There was another offseason trade that hasn't been as equally lopsided, but it may be just as important.
Last December, in an interesting move, Billy Beane traded his All-Star closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney to the Red Sox in exchange for outfielder Josh Reddick, and prospects Miles Head and Raul Alcantara.
Here's a quote from Aaron Gleeman's analysis of the deal at that time for NBC's Hardball Talk:
To get an elite 27-year-old closer and a useful outfielder for a solid regular and a pair of good but not great low-minors prospects makes this a pretty nice move for the Red Sox. It sure seems like Bailey’s injury history or the abundance of closers on the free agent market depressed his trade value considerably.
Gleeman referred to Reddick as "quality everyday player", but also said that "he doesn't project as a star". Gleeman wasn't wrong to say what he did about Reddick, at the time. And Josh probably will just be an quality everyday player going forward after this year. But the fact of the matter is, this year Reddick has probably beenOakland's star.
Also, Gleeman mentioned at the end of that quote that Oakland did not get as large of a return for Bailey partly because of his injury history.
Bailey did get hurt this year and has only thrown 6.2 innings and saved just two games for Boston. Sweeney has been as serviceable as you can be without being able to homer, but he also got hurt. Here's the 2012 WAR breakdown for the players involved in the deal, thus far:
- Sweeney/Bailey: 0.9 WAR
- Reddick: 4.2 WAR
Simply based on FanGraphs WAR, the Athletics have won this deal, for the 2012 season. Reddick replaced Sweeney in right field for Oakland and has been worth 3.5 more wins than Sweeney. They lost out on 0.2 wins by dealing Bailey, but Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook have both spent time in the closer's role and have been worth 1.7 wins combined. I wouldn't say the closer role has been a huge win for Oakland, as Bailey easily could've been hurt with the Athletics as well, which would have most likely led to Cook and Balfour assuming the role, anyways.
Still, on the surface, Oakland received just one major leaguer while Boston received two, yet Oakland's major league team has been almost three and half more wins, better because of it.
But that's just looking at the deal based on major league production, I'd like to step beneath the surface, because I think, that is when it becomes even more clear that Oakland is winning this trade.
The words money and Athletics, will be synonymous in baseball for a very long time; for obvious reasons. But, money is still a major issue for Oakland's organization; Billy Beane is still trying to win "an unfair game". And the fact of the matter is, money was the main reason for this deal, originally.
Coming into the 2012 season, Bailey's stock was still fairly high, but he would be entering his first year of arbitration eligibility; which meant he'd be receiving a fairly significant pay raise. Beane made the decision to use Bailey as a trade chip, rather than pay him. This decision was probably made for a bunch of reasons, but I'm speculating that it mainly had to do with the variability of the closer position, Bailey's injury history and his impending increase in pay.
This year was also Sweeney's first year of arbitration eligibility, so he was also do for a slight raise in salary. Here's the quick breakdown of the salaries exchanged in this deal:
- Bailey/Sweeney: $5.65 million
- Reddick: $0.485 million
Just based on these three players, the deal saved Oakland over $5 million for this season. $5 million doesn't matter much to Boston, but for Oakland it's a big deal. The $5.17 million saved makes up almost 10 percent of their payroll (~$53 million).
The savings is smaller if we consider Cook and Balfour as dual replacements for Bailey. The average of Cook and Balfour's salaries is $2.24 million; which brings the total savings down to just under $3 million.
Regardless of what you consider the exact savings was for Oakland, it is clear this deal gave them some payroll flexibility.
Beane made a couple of other trades (think Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill) that also freed up payroll. Those moves coupled with the Bailey trade gave Oakland room to spend on other important moves. The move that jumps out as probably the best use of the freed up budget space was the signing of Cuban import, Yoenis Cespedes, who is Oakland's highest-paid player ($6.5 million), but he's been an important piece (worth 1.6 WAR, despite an awful, and possibly untrustworthy small-sample UZR).
This deal also wasn't solely about the major league talent involved or the money; Oakland also received two prospects in the trade.
In the article referenced above, Gleeman stated that Oakland received two "good, but not great prospects". Kevin Goldstein, formerly of Baseball Prospectus, now with the Houston Astros, seemed to agree with Gleeman in his pre-season Athletics' prospect rankings.
Alcantara is a 19-year old right-handed pitcher, who Goldstein ranked as a three-star prospect and Oakland's 10th-best prospect. Here some brief snippets of Goldstein's take on him:
- He has good stuff, but he also has the kind of polish rarely found in a pitcher so young and inexperienced.
- Many observers think he's the player to watch among those netted from Boston for Bailey.
- He could be a star-level starting pitcher, but obviously he's a long ways away.
Goldstein ranked Head, a 21-year old third baseman, as Oakland's 19th-best prospect, coming into this season. Goldstein's description of Head was brief:
There is nothing pretty about what he does, but his power is significant.
So, along with the Reddick and the salary relief, the A's received two top-20 prospects for their organization; which obviously is another bonus.
But, how did those prospects do this season?
Well, I think Goldstein was definitely right that Head has significant power. Here are his 2012 stats via Baseball-Reference:
The California league is a hitter-friendly environment, but 18 home runs in 67 games, is a feat in any league. Head's massive numbers earned him a promotion to Double-A. His SO/BB got worse, and power wasn't nearly the same, and Goldstein did say this after Oakland traded for Head:
He could put up some big numbers in the California League next year, but Double-A will be the true test for him.
I'm not exactly sure if Head passed that test, but I personally don't think his numbers are horrible for a 21-year old with his first chance at Double-A.
After dominating in nine starts in rookie ball last season, Alcantara has had a rough year:
His strikeout-to-walk ratio makes me very nervous, but he's still only 19, so he still has some time to improve.
It's probably never in good form to analyze a trade after only one (at this point, actually less than one) season. But right now, it really looks like Oakland won this trade. The difference in wins that Reddick has contributed to Oakland this season could be the difference between a playoff spot and the team sitting at home. For a franchise with the second-lowest payroll in baseball, who hasn't reached the postseason since 2006, that's kind of a big deal.
But even if Reddick can't lead the Moneyballers to the postseason, and both Head and Alcantara never contribute at the big league-level I still think it's going to be a tough trade for Boston to salvage a win out of this deal, in the next two years. Despite having both Bailey and Sweeney for two more years under club control, at a relatively low-cost.
All WAR data comes from FanGraphs.
All contract information comes from Baseball Prospectus' Compensation Tables.
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