FanPost

Lets Play What If? Trade/3b Edition

In Nico's post about great 3b non-moves, after his best PT impersonation, grover issued this challenge:

LCJ is done. Anyone else want to give it a try?

The challenge was related to this general contention, that Beane should have taken the proposed Blanton to the Dodgers deal which consisted of LaRoche/McDonald/+ rather than insisting on LaRoche/McDonald/DeJesus.  I haven't talked to grover about bringing the debate here or quoting him so liberally but it rolled off the front page today and since he issued the challenge, I don't think he will mind (if he does I'll delete this).  The debate was just getting good.  Ill leave it to grover to explain his position:

We know, and the A’s knew, that Chavez’s shoulder was an ongoing issue. He played his last game (for the season, as it turned out) on July 26. He would go on the DL for back spasms August 3rd, but the A’s FO is going to wait a week before making that move because that’s what they tend to do. (So we’re forgetting your Chavez-is-healthy fantasy, ’cause the circumstances at the time say otherwise.)

The A’s send Marco Scutaro and his .624 OPS to man 3B. This is a bit of a problem for the organization because Bobby Crosby broke his wrist 7/24 and is probably done for the rest of the season. Scutaro should be manning SS but now Donnie Murphy gets a turn instead. J.J Furmaniak is Plan C down in Sac.

Then, around the 29th of July, it appears as if the Dodgers call about Blanton. This is key, because if the Dodgers initiated the talks than Beane holds that extra bit of leverage. Then again, considering the holes in the LA rotation at the time, plus the fact that Blanton would be under team control for the next 3.5 years, meant that Beane was bargaining from a position of strength anyways.

The article says the talks were about 3 prospects and considering the deals for Hudson, Mulder, etc. it seems more than likely that 3 is a real number. Clayton Kershaw was probably untouchable by this time but it was LaRoche who had entered 2007 as the Dodgers’ #1 prospect according to BA. LA had a healthy Nomar at 3B and 3 beat up pitchers in the rotation… if Beane had focused on LaRoche as the make or break target then it looks extremely unlikey that the Dodgers say no on account of LaRoche. The decision on the other two prospects would still need to be handled.

But would/should Beane have focused on LaRoche when the Dodger offer materialized? Let’s look at the circumstances at the time.

Chavez was hurt with a bad back.

The A’s had no viable alternative to play 3B on the bench (Scoot’s got a .624 OPS) and even less in AAA. Jeff Baisley, probably the top 3B prospect in the entire system, is struggling to stay healthy and hit in AA. Behind Baisley is nothing.

Is it really unreasonable to think that a competent GM wouldn’t at least consider Laroche in that situation? One of two things happened at the end of July, 2007. Either Beane did not consider LaRoche when talking to the Dodgers (in which case he fucked up) or he did like you did and wished for Chavez to be healthy (in which case he was wrong).

What would have been the worst case scenario had the A’s taken LaRoche and Chavez turned out to be healthy? The A’s would have had a reasonably priced, GG caliber 3B with 30 HR power either manning the hot corner in Oakland or attracting a ton of interest from a dozen or so potential trade partners and they would have had one of the top, if not thee top, 3B prospect in the minor leagues.

Oh what a horrible position to be in!

And what’s the worst case scenario if the A’s don’t take LaRoche and Chavez turns out to be seriously hurt, to the point where he may be done?

You’re living it.

 Further down he explains the Dodgers position:

Nomar signed a 1 year deal with the Dodgers in 2006, he ended up making the All-Star game that year. The Dodgers then re-signed him to a 2 year deal for 2007 and 2008. Nomar got hurt again shortly after the trade deadline in 2007, but at the time of the Blanton discussion he was healthy and hitting 285/330/360. That’s a .690 OPS btw, certainly not a great number but you’d have to be desperate or lying to call that a mid-600 OPS.

As for the 3B prospects, the Dodgers had LaRoche (1) DeWitt (8) and Bell (9). Sickels gave LaRoche an A-, DeWitt a B- and Bell a C+. They traded for Blake because LaRoche couldn’t get his bat going last year and after a hot start DeWitt, a 22 year old rookie, was struggling and the Dodgers felt he needed to work some things out in the minors. (He returned in late August and posted an .872 OPS in 100 Sept/Oct at bats.)

Nomar was of course hurt… again… so the Dodgers went out and traded Carlos Santana and Jon Meloan for two months of Blake plus cash. Santana was enjoying a break-out campaign a break out season at the time and entered 2009 as Cleveland’s #1 prospect, the 3rd best Catching prospect (behind Wieters and Posey) and the 29th best prospect in all of baseball. Sickels rated Santana as the 17th best prospect in the minor heading into this season.

Which just further proves that the Dodgers were willing to trade high quality talent in an effort to land veteran players that could help them reach the play-offs. They traded Carlos Santana for 2 months of Casey Blake… kind of hard to see how Blanton couldn’t have landed LaRoche.

An interesting position for sure, but I believe that it is flawed.  The first question that must be answered is what value Joe Blanton held in 2007.  Blanton was in the middle of his most dominant year, a year when he was far more than just an innings eating workhorse pitcher.  In 2007 Blanton was on his way to amassing nearly 6 WAR, which is elite and coupled with his 3.5 years of control his value has never been higher. Furthermore, Blanton was finishing his last pre arbitration year and making the league minimum, meaning that he would have been under Dodger control for three and a half years and the Dodgers wouldn't have to add payroll.

With over three years of control left, Beane had significant time left to reap the returns from a Blanton trade.  Beane could use any of the 3 off seasons and four trade deadlines left before Blanton became a free agent.  On the other hand there was a good chance that Blanton wouldn't repeat his outstanding 2007 season in 2008.  If that happened he would likely revert to his previous value as a innings eater, which was well established at that juncture.  If Blanton got hurt in 2008 he would still have a year to rehab and return to form by 2009 where he could be traded mid season or in the offseason before his last year of club control in 2010. However if Blanton had another 2007 in 2008 he would cement himself as one of the leagues elite starters and commanded a ransom similar to Dan Haren.  If Beane didn't get a very strong package playing the odds of holding Blanton would be a very viable, I would even say wise, option.

The question now becomes did the Dodgers offer a package that was strong enough to warrant trading Blanton.  Grover (grammar trumps personal preference in spelling right?) for the sake of debate has suggested that a package of LaRoche/McDonald/ plus a throw in equal to the value of Spencer at the time of the real Blanton trade should be the package gotten in debate.  As for Spencer, one should remember that he was widely considered a failed prospect at the time of the trade and would rank as a C level prospect on the Sickles system (yes, he started the year a C+ but hit attrociously in 08 before the traded so would probably rank at a C range).  Yes Beane has made a successful gamble so far with Spencer, but there are long odds that occurs.  So lets consider the two named prospects.

From a Sickles prospect retro on McDonald:

McDonald began 2007 at Inland Empire in the California League, going 6-7, 3.95 but with a 104/21 K/BB in just 82 innings. Promoted to Double-A Jacksonville, he went 7-2, 1.71 with a 64/16 K/BB in 53 innings. Again, very impressive K/IP marks, but with improving command. I gave him a Grade B+ in the book this year and rated him as the Number 13 pitching prospect in baseball. This seems to be a higher ranking than other sources are giving him.

It is also important to note that the Dodgers had moved McDonald to the outfield temporarily due to arm problems before he busted out as a position player necessitating a move back to the mound, where he wasn't even sitting higher than 86-89 till 2007.  I think Sickles overrated him at the time and the conventional wisdom would have had him in the high B range.  I have never been a big fan of his.

LaRoche is where the meat and potatoes of the package was.  Before the 2007 season, Sickles gave him an A- noting that he really liked his bat.  BA said this:

"LaRoche's most positive attributes are advanced pitch recognition and a good feel for hitting, as he lets the ball travel deep and has the bat speed to catch up to good fastballs. He's got average power for third base, where he is a below-average defender."

It is also important to note that the desire to replace a chronically (now at least) injured Chavez with LaRoche would likely lead to disappointment considering that, before the proposed trade,  LaRoche had broken his leg, needed surgery to repair a torn labrum (the same shoulder problem Chavez had), and had a bulging disk in his back.  Since he has ruptured a tendon in his thumb, and had his back problems reoccur.  This long injury history and his inability to hit MLB pitching in 2007 makes that grade too high for my blood at the time of the trade.

Cardenas/Outman/Spencer is a great package of talent (especially with Spencer performing well) that was traded at a much lower point of value for Blanton as Blanton pitched poorly out of the gate in 2008 and had less years of control. Laroche (who has had a ton of injury concerns including a bulging disk his back) hit well in the minors but so has Cardenas who has ARL on his side to make up for some of the power that Laroche had and is likely to be a better defender at 3rd. We all know that I love a certain 94mph fireballer lefty included in this trade and Sickles gave him a B in 2008 before the season started.  Grover acknowledged that he liked the talent in the Philly package better.  So, why would Beane accept a trade that is less sound when Blanton was more valuable, when he summized correctly that he could wait longer and even with a significant performance dip from Blanton receive an equal or superior package?

To take Grover's position one would have to argue, Beane should have taken a weak package due to it containing a good third base prospect. I strongly disagree. Lets look at our top prospects in 07 from Sickles:

  • Travis Buck, OF, Grade B+ (Ethier comparison looks valid to me)
  • Daric Barton, 1B, B (hurt by injury, but what about his power and defense?)
  • Matt Sulentic, OF, B (I really, really believe in his bat)
  • Jermaine Mitchell, OF, B- (good tools, speed, developing skills)
  • Kurt Suzuki, C, B- (a personal favorite)
  • Kevin Melillo, 2B, B- (I overrated him last year but I still think he will be a useful player)
  • Trevor Cahill, RHP, B- (Raw but projectable and promising)
  • Javier Herrera, OF, C+ (Injury casualty, great tools but skills?
  • Marcus McBeth, RHP, C+ (Needs a bit more polish but quite intriguing)
  • Jason Windsor, RHP, C+ (needs a bit more fastball but quite intriguing)
  • Jeff Baisley, 3B, C+ (will jump to Double-A in '07 and we'll find out if he is for real. I personally think he is)
  • Ryan Goleski, OF, C+ (assuming his wrist is OK)
  • Craig Italiano, RHP, C+ (immense potential if healthy)
  • Chad Lee, RHP, C+ (live arm from '06 draft)
  • Shane Keough, OF, C+  (good athlete from '06 draft, mom was in ZZ Top videos and Playboy)
  • Michael Mitchell, RHP, C+ (interesting reliever)
  • Cliff Pennington, INF, C+ (another injury casualty, I will cut him some slack)
  • Santiago Casilla, RHP, C (could still be useful bullpen arm)
  • Shane Komine, RHP, C  (swingman type)
  • Richie Robnett, OF, C (great tools but skills haven't developed)
  • A whole bunch of sh*t in a can, though you can add 07 draftees   Looking at the major league roster you have Shannon Stewart manning left, the corpse of Kotsay in CF, Buck in right.  Really only Buck pretends that he could be a long term answer and you could include Cust in that if you had to.  But CF is a black hole with no one in the minors even close (Herrera was hurt or suspended I can't remember which, Mitchel was far away and sucked it up in 07, and Corey Brown epitomizes boom or bust and was drafted just a month before.) LF was barren unless you want to play Buck/Cust in the corners, which means you're going to need a DH.  At 2b Ellis' contract was going to expire after 08, Crosby has never really been good and was always hurt, both black holes to be with no real internal replacement (Sickles has said that he generally waits too long on players he liked that bust and Melillo is a good example of that, and Pennington has always sucked). 1b and C are really the only positions you have covered with Barton and Suzuk.  Neither the rotation nor the pen were huge concerns, though you would need to get a starter back to replace Blanton.

    Third base becomes the question.  First it needs to be mentioned at this point it appeared that Chavez was only having back spasms, not that he would need two highly invasive and risky procedures to fuse multiple vertebrae.  Players recover from back spasms all the time, and the fact that the A's waited so long to put him on the DL indicates that they didn't think that it was a potentially career changing injury.  Baisley was not a terrible prospect at that point, and was just as good (2b) or in some cases as prospects we had at other positions (CF, SS, LF).  Secondly the need to acquire a SS (in DeJesus) was more relevant if you believed that Chavez could return to form from back spasms and play out the remaining 3 years and $37m of his contract (assuming a 2011 buy out). So out of SS, 2b, 3b, LF and CF, I think grover is irrationally focused on filling only one of those positions. I believe this is especially true since there are more viable FA 3b candidates than there are SS candidates.

    I believe that insisting on DeJesus was a good move by Been as the odds were on his side that he would have been able to get an equal or greater package of players latter.  Furthermore, Chavez's prognosis was not one that suggested that a ML ready 3b prospect was more of a priority than a SS prospect for when Crosby's contract was up this year.  Compared to their level of need and Blanton's value the Dodgers offered a poor package. Beane was right to try to squeeze a team that should have been much more desperate to giving up better prospects, and when they didn’t cave, wait and get a equal or superior package.

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