I like Huston Street. I want to open up this article by stating this unequivocally. I like Huston Street as a closer, I think he's very good, and I voted for him in our Beyond the Box Score All-Star voting. He's good, and I like when teams acquire good players.
We're clear on all that, right? Okay, great.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim made one of the strangest trades I've ever seen yesterday, acquiring closer Huston Street from the San Diego Padres. On the surface, adding Street -- who is an effective closer -- for a team that's primed to make the playoffs and with a bit of a sketchy bullpen, it makes a lot of sense.
But here's the thing. To acquire Street (and minor league pitcher Trevor Gott), the Angels gave up four minor leaguers. At least three of these minor leaguers are legitimate prospects, though -- to be fair -- the Angels' minor league system is pretty bad. Nevertheless, the four players -- Triple-A second baseman Taylor Lindsey, High-A shortstop Jose Rondon, Double-A reliever R.J. Alvarez, and High-A starter Elliot Morris -- represent a massive overpay for a year and a half of Huston Street (and minor league pitcher Trevor Gott).
First, let's talk about what the Angels can expect from Huston Street going forward. Street has been a very consistent ninth-inning force since entering the league, though he's had to deal with injury issues over the last few seasons.
Though he'd been very consistent up to last season, Street's peripherals fell apart in 2013. At the same time, he developed a very interesting "skill" -- while he let hitters on base, he did a tremendous job of preventing them from scoring. His LOB% of 99.5% was insane! He led all pitchers with 50+ innings pitched in this statistic, and the next closest pitcher to him was the hella-dominant Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel had a 92.2% LOB%.
This season, Street has had little margin to improve on this number, but he has nonetheless. His LOB%? 100%. If you get on base against Street -- he does not allow you to score. You have to hit a home run to get across the plate -- so far.
Here's the thing, though. This is -- if not entirely, then mostly -- an artifact of luck. Street's career LOB% is 77%, and if we know anything, it's that LOB% will cause you to be eaten by a luck dragon. 100% is not sustainable. It's not even close to sustainable. Yet it is a main factor in the ERA / RA9 success that Street has had over the past two seasons. Street has a career FIP of 3.20 and a career RA9 of 3.09. That's a pretty decent expectation for his future performance.
It's probably fair to project Street to be a good closer -- albeit one with some potential injury worries -- over the life of a contract that will pay him fairly, or perhaps a little bit undervaluing him. He's got a $7 million option for 2015. He's what I'd consider a good fit for Los Angeles, but not a cure-all.
The interesting thing here, of course, is that the Angels had to give up four prospects to get him.
The prospects the Padres received aren't sure things. But they're pretty good. Let's start with Elliot Morris. Elliot is a starter in High-A ball without a lot of pedigree or great minor league numbers. He's not really much of a prospect. In essence, he's a complete wild card and unlikely to make a substantial dent in the major leagues. Acquiring Morris is like hitting on 16 in a game of blackjack. The odds are terrible that you'll get what you need, but if you do, it's a nice surprise.
R.J. Alvarez, is much more of a sure thing, but he's no starter. He's a reliever, he's a legitimate prospect, and he's currently carving up hitters in Double-A. His strikeout rate is high (38%) and his ERA is low (0.33). If you squint, you can see an eight-or-ninth inning option with a plus slider. If you squint harder, his arm might explode, so try not to squint at him so much.
Basically, R.J. Alvarez has a small chance to become something like Huston Street, but probably not tomorrow. And that's when the Angels need Huston Street in their bullpen.
We'll take a break here, after Alvarez, because, well, this might be where the Angels should have taken a break from negotiations. Alvarez is a good Double-A reliever, and Morris is a maybe-back-end starter type. To take on Street's (fair) contract, this might be the right amount to pay, given that there's 12 years of control in play, and the fact that Alvarez looks like he could recoup some of Street's value immediately, or at least soon.
In my opinion, Street for Alvarez and Morris would have been a perfectly logical trade -- the Angels giving up future control for some immediate certainty in their rotation. It costs them a little money, and some potential down the line, but it makes the team better immediately. Done deal.
But that's not where it stopped. Not at all.
Jose Rondon isn't a sure thing, not by any means. He's a very young shortstop with questions about his bat, and some solid defensive chops. But, and this is important, he's got a skillset that could be valuable in the big leagues. Defense-first shortstops show up in the bigs all the time, and Rondon is hitting well enough at High-A (106 wRC+ this season) to make people think he can keep moving up.
If the deal was Street for Rondon, Alvarez, and Morris -- I'd think that it was a bit of a high price to pay for the Padres' closer, but I wouldn't lose my mind over it. None of those prospects are sure things, and the Angels are desperate to compete in the playoffs this year. Sure, that's 18+ years of service time, but most prospects don't really pan out as we'd like. This could have been a justifiable deal -- though a team like the Angels, without much prospect depth, may be mortgaging their future to pay for today.
But that's not where it stopped either.
Taylor Lindsey is having a bit of a down season, but coming into 2014, he was the consensus best prospect in the Angels' system. He made the Baseball America Top 100 prospect list. Chris St. John's JAVIER prospect projection system gives him a rating of "Productive" based on his minor-league stats. There's a decent, but not perfect, chance that Lindsey will be a productive major league second baseman -- something that the Padres currently do not have.
If Lindsey were to be able to provide a small amount of value in each of his first six major-league seasons -- we'll say just a win above replacement -- he'd be worth approximately $40 million dollars, or probably $30 million in surplus value. And projecting Lindsey for one WAR per season is a lowball offer. The Steamer projection system estimated 1.9 FanGraphs wins above replacement (fWAR) for Lindsey were he to play a full 2014 in the bigs. And unlike Rondon, or Alvarez, or Morris, he's ready to be a big-leaguer right about now.
In the end, the Angels gave up four prospects, three with some very real upside, for a year and a half of Huston Street. Huston Street is a relief pitcher, and relief pitchers are possibly the most volatile asset in baseball. Their performance swings wildly, and they are pitchers, which leaves them open to a host of injury possibilities.
All the Angels had to give up to get him was a good chunk of the top-end of their already-weak farm system.
Sometimes you have to overpay in order to get the player you want, or the player you need -- or even the player you just think you need. The Angels had a need for a bullpen arm. But they also have a need for a starting pitcher. And while a package like the one they put together for Street couldn't bring back a Samardzija or a Price, it probably could bring back a Bartolo Colon or a Kyle Kendrick, I'd presume. And as good as Street is, I think a starter is a more valuable asset, and a bigger need for this Angels team.
But hey, I'm not sure if the Angels mis-read the market, because it's almost impossible to tell what the market is like. We don't have a ton of information. What we do know, is that the value coming into the Angels' major league roster doesn't exactly line up with the value exiting their minor league system. Trading a maybe-starter and a very good Double-A reliever would've been a decent deal for Huston Street.
Throwing in two decent up-the-middle positional prospects as well? The Angels should have more to show for this deal than a good closer on a 1.5-year contract.
. . .
Bryan Grosnick is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @bgrosnick.