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Trade retrospective: the A’s send Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox for Josh Reddick

Overpaying for relievers was not a good idea back then either.

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics Photo by Don Feria/Getty Images

For the second straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.

At the end of December 2011, the Athletics traded Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney to the Red Sox in exchange for Josh Reddick. In addition, two prospects, Miles Head and Raúl Alcántara, were also sent to Oakland

In this trade retrospective series, trades will still be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades because anybody can get lucky. Process over results. That being said, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.

The Deal

The Athletics were coming off their fifth straight season of not making the playoffs, a season in which they fired manager Bob Geren mid-season. The starting rotation was quite good, led by Brandon McCarthy and Gio González, but the offense had trouble putting runs on the board. Oakland had the third-worst offense in the AL even when accounting for their ballpark.

There was no reason to believe that the A’s were going to be competitive in 2012, so the best thing to do was to trade their closer, a luxury that a rebuilding team does not need. Oddly enough, though, the main return was a major league ready player. The A’s already had a great farm system that was ranked fourth in the league by Baseball Prospectus, so it could be that their thought process was to get a somewhat known quantity who will still be productive when the team becomes competitive again. The farm system indicated that competitiveness would arrive soon, but as it turned out, it arrived very soon.

Andrew Bailey had a stellar Rookie of the Year campaign in 2009, with a 1.84 RA9 and 28.2 percent strikeout rate in 83 13 IP. A 3.7 WAR from a reliever is very impressive.

Unfortunately, the following two seasons were plagued by injury, and Bailey ended up pitching only 90 23 innings total over those two years. He was still great when he did pitch in 2010 posting a 1.47 RA9; this however shot up to a 3.89 RA9 in 2011. Bailey always benefited from low BABIPs and high strand rates, so some of that was regression to the mean, but it still is a huge increase in run average. Perhaps it’s easy to say this now, but given Bailey’s injury history, that should have been a big red flag.

The Red Sox were coming off one of the most heartbreaking seasons in history, having suffered an epic September collapse in which they were eliminated from the playoffs on the last day of the season. Despite the late season dive, this was an excellent team that boasted the best offense in baseball. When Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies, the team needed some help in the bullpen, and the Boston brass decided to bolster the pen by trading away some of their outfield depth.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford were already locked into their positions, so the team had to decide between Reddick and Ryan Kalish for right field. Reddick had a stellar first half in 2011, hitting .393/.429/.672, albeit in only 70 PA; he also was aided by a .431 BABIP. His line fell to .244/.293/.389 in the second half. That was not just regression to the mean, either. Take a look a at these Zone Profiles from before and after the 2011 All-Star break.

Before 2011 All-Star break
Brooks Baseball
After 2011 All-Star break
Brooks Baseball

Pitchers figured out how bad Reddick’s approach was. They had an easier time getting him out by not throwing him hittable strikes.

Reddick was a surprising acquisition by GM Billy Beane. As a hacker who did not walk much he was capable of playing good defense and had a 70-grade arm, but his terrible approach at the plate and struggles against left-handed pitching led scouts to believe that he might end up as just a fourth outfielder.

Even though Kalish had a disappointing 2010 debut and missed almost all of 2011 due to injuries, the Red Sox believed that his bat showed much more potential than Reddick’s, so they chose to keep him. Still, Boston hedged their bets by acquiring Ryan Sweeney in the trade, and also by signing Cody Ross to a cheap one-year deal about a month later.

The acquisition of Bailey and the later acquisition of Mark Melancon gave the Red Sox the flexibility to try Daniel Bard in the rotation. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester were still good, but Clay Buchholz was frequently injured, and John Lackey just had a season where he was almost two wins below replacement. Bard seemed worth a shot (though in retrospect, it might have ended up ruining his career).

I am surprised at how this trade was perceived in the analytical community. At the time, it was more-or-less seen as an equal trade, with some writers even giving the slight nod to the Sox. They did not pay much for Bailey, but let’s say that a team today made the following trade:

  • Team parts with a fourth outfielder with the upside to be an everyday regular.
  • Team receives an oft injured reliever who once had Tommy John surgery in exchange for said outfielder.
  • That reliever has only had one great season where he pitched more than 50 innings.

I believe that the above trade would get panned today. I think more highly of then-Red Sox GM Ben Cherington than most, but I think he did poorly with this trade. Trading for relievers is risky enough because of the high variance in their performance but Bailey also brought with him questionable health. I understand that the Sox had a lot of outfield depth back then, and that this was still better than re-signing Papelbon to that deal, but if this was the best they could do for Reddick, then they should have just kept him in lieu of signing Cody Ross.

Today, one would expect a similar trade to work in favor of the team trading away the reliever. The results from the A’s perspective were so much better than that.

The Results

Believe it or not, the pitcher with poor track record of health continued to have a poor track record of health. He had to have surgery on the UCL in his thumb in 2012, and then in 2013 he had to have surgery on a torn capsule and damaged labrum in his shoulder. In two seasons with the Red Sox, Bailey only pitched 44 innings and had a 4.91 RA9. The team decided to non-tender him after the 2013 season.

Ryan Sweeney didn’t do much, hitting only .260/.303/.373 in 63 games played. He suffered quite a few injuries himself in 2012, with the major one being a broken finger at the end of July that ended his season. He then became a free agent and left the team.

The decision to pick Ryan Kalish over Josh Reddick is understandable when you look at the facts that we had at the time. Sadly, Kalish went on to suffer an injury history unlike any player I can remember. He only had 103 PA in 2012 and hit a paltry .229/.272/.260. He missed the entire 2013 season and was then non-tendered. He is currently with the Cubs and is expected to be out half the 2017 season recovering from knee surgery.

The Red Sox had the season from hell in 2012, winning only 69 games as a result of being wrecked by injuries. Manager Bobby Valentine got a lot of the blame, but not even Earl Weaver could have managed such an injury-riddled team to the playoffs. Obviously Josh Reddick would not have made a difference.

A great what-if, though, is would the Red Sox have signed Shane Victorino for 2013 had they kept Reddick? Victorino was a major contributor to the Sox’s championship that season. Remember that he had a big bases-clearing double in the deciding game of the World Series, too.

Red Sox Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Andrew Bailey 3 -0.2 $8.00
Ryan Sweeney 1 0.7 $1.75
Total 4 0.5 $9.75
All data are just from time spent on the Red Sox.

That is not a table that Red Sox fans are going to enjoy looking at. On the bright side, it really did not impact their 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Josh Reddick went on to surpass all expectations of him. He had the best season of his career in 2012, hitting a moderate .242/.305/.463, but combining that with good baserunning and elite right field defense earned him 5-win season.

Reddick never reached those 2012 heights again, but his all-around play made him an above-average player for the rest of his time in Oakland. The A’s were not competitive last season, and because it was a contract year, descided to trade him to the Dodgers.

As for the two lottery tickets in the deal, Miles Head never made the majors and has been out of baseball since 2014. Alcántara only just made his major league debut this past season. He only pitched 22 innings with a 7.25 RA9.

A’s Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Josh Reddick 5 16.8 $14.40

When a team is paying less than $1 million per win, that is a really, really good thing. It’s just the kind of thing that the low budget A’s need to be competitive, which happened shockingly quickly when Reddick arrived. Obviously no one player can completely turn a team around, but the A’s improved by 20 wins in 2012! How the A’s accomplished this is a topic for another day. They won the division in 2012 and 2013, and got a Wild Card slot in 2014 where they lost to the Royals in one of the most memorable games I have ever seen.

The Bailey/Reddick trade is just another example on the pile of evidence for not overpaying for relief pitching. The Red Sox got lucky and managed decently well without Reddick; this trade did not hurt them a lot more than it could have. The A’s did not win a World Series because the playoffs are a crapshoot, but the trade worked out extremely well. Reddick ended up being a significant contributor to a great three-year run for very little cost.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.