A Side Benefit of the Jeff Samardzija Blockbuster

I learned of the Jeff Samardzija trade at an Independence Day house party. That’s how long ago that deal took place, and most people have moved on. They’ve turned their attention to potential trades. We analyzed the Oakland-Chicago deal rather thoroughly, first with Mike Petriello, then with Tony Blengino. It seems like there shouldn’t be a whole lot left to say — the A’s paid steeply to try to win a World Series; the Cubs bolstered a position-player stockpile that’s not so easy to bolster. Classic, fascinating midseason blockbuster.

And I agree there’s not a lot left to say. But I do have one thought I want to throw on top of the others. It concerns a potential side benefit for the A’s — a side benefit they might not have even considered to be a benefit at the time. This is about the nature of how the deadline works, and how this particular deadline could be shaping up.

Generally, what is it that we observe around the trade deadline? Teams identify as buyers, holders or sellers. Maybe you just think in terms of buyers and sellers. But, overall, there’s a pattern: Sellers sell and tend to get worse, and buyers buy and tend to get better. Competitive teams try to strengthen themselves, while non-competitive teams turn their attention to the future. Those are very simple principles. Teams with short-term interests scour the market for upgrades, and they make upgrades when they agree to the cost.

The A’s upgraded their short-term roster when they picked up Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Let’s forget, for a moment, about 2015 — this doesn’t concern next year. Oakland improved its odds of winning the division in this season, and they improved their odds of advancing to and winning the World Series this season. That’s the whole point. Yet usually, upgrades aren’t made in isolation because other good teams are trying to upgrade, too. Depending on how you look at it, the deadline is about being a team that upgrades, or about not being the team that doesn’t upgrade.

But now look around the league. The deadline is a week away. There have been other moves already, but they’ve been fairly minor. The Yankees picked up a third baseman who hasn’t been hitting. They also picked up a mid-rotation starting pitcher, while losing a far superior starting pitcher. The Angels made two moves, but they both just added to the bullpen, which is important but not as important as the starting rotation. And it’s unclear how much more activity there’s really going to be.

Teams have checked in on both David Price and Ben Zobrist, and they’d be big splashes, but now the Rays are playing well and they might not want to sell. We have them projected as maybe the best team in the American League East, so the Rays might not give away anything. The Red Sox have played better, too, and even if they decide to shed some veterans, it seems unlikely they’ll deal Jon Lester. There’s no indication the Royals would consider moving James Shields, despite their record. The Padres don’t have a general manager and they’ve expressed reluctance to move Ian Kennedy. The Phillies have given some indications they don’t want to move Cole Hamels. And while Cliff Lee could go once he proves himself healthy, he’s so expensive that might be unworkable.

Here’s a line from Dave’s Wednesday chat:

12:02
Comment From Tradey Tradestein
Biggest name to be moved at the deadline will be?

12:02
Dave Cameron: If the Rays keep winning, maybe Chris Denorfia.

It’s not clear if Dave was joking. There just might not be much out there. Partly because some potential sellers might not be sellers anymore, and partly because other sellers don’t have a lot to sell. There are always bullpen pieces, but relievers are relievers. Alex Rios has a WAR less than 1. Josh Willingham has a WAR less than 1. Marlon Byrd has a WAR a little above 1, but his partial no-trade clause has proven an issue in negotiating with his most obvious suitor. The Rockies presumably won’t even think about moving big chips until the offseason, at the earliest. Maybe the Rockies trade Jorge de la Rosa, but he’s having a mediocre season and the organization overvalues him.

The A’s identified a definite seller, and they identified two pieces to be sold. The Cubs were way out of it, and Samardzija and Hammel were goners. Part of the benefit is the A’s got Samardzija and Hammel. Part of the benefit is that the A’s prevented competition from getting Samardzija and Hammel. And part of the benefit now might be that the A’s made the biggest move, period, paying a little extra to upgrade early where now not many good upgrades are readily available. Samardzija and Hammel were going to go somewhere. The A’s got in front of the market and wound up strengthening themselves considerably. For other teams these days, that might not even be an option.

Oakland was already perhaps the best team in baseball. This is, for them, a ripe opportunity to really go for it. Then they went and got better in a way other teams might not be able to match. In theory, if a lot of contenders upgrade at the deadline, the team that’s worst off is the team that doesn’t make a move. But at this deadline, with so few clearly available upgrades, the A’s seized an opportunity that no longer exists. It’s not just that Samardzija and Hammel aren’t available for Oakland’s competition, it’s that precious little is. Maybe this isn’t something Oakland was planning on, but I doubt they’re complaining. One of the good things about being the first to move is you don’t know how many moves there actually will be.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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hamjenkinsIII
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hamjenkinsIII
2 years 2 months ago

Rorge le da Josa

Ira
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Ira
2 years 2 months ago

“We have them projected as maybe the best team in the American League East, so the Rays might not give away anything.”

– I don’t see this in the playoff odds or the projected standings. Is this actually reflected on the site?

FuriousToaster
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FuriousToaster
2 years 2 months ago

Second time this week someone has written that the Rays “maybe” are projected as the best team in the east. What gives, FG writers?

Nicolas C
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Nicolas C
2 years 2 months ago

I think he means for rest of the season record, though I haven’t checked the numbers for that

Yirmiyahu
Member
2 years 2 months ago

http://www.fangraphs.com/coolstandings.aspx#ALE

He’s talking about the rosW% (rest of season winning %), which is a true-talent rest-of-season projection based on individual players’ projected rest-of-season WAR and projected playing time.

Starlin Castro
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Starlin Castro
2 years 2 months ago

To clarify what exactly the titular side benefit is: the A’s picked up these two SPs before they were traded elsewhere? The A’s, by pulling the trigger early, capitalized on the only sure-fire seller of a high-quality asset they needed?

#KeepNotGraphs
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#KeepNotGraphs
2 years 2 months ago

This side benefit is mostly driven by the Rays creeping back in. If they took a nosedive like Texas, Price wars would have made this whole stretch totally different.

#KeepNotGraphs

Nick O
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Nick O
2 years 2 months ago

This logic was bandied about by a few people around the time of the trade, but I don’t buy it. The A’s primary competition is the Angels, and they don’t have the prospects to add a frontline player anyway. And probalistically, the benefit of maybe preventing a team you might play in the ALCS from upgrading has to be pretty small.

Jason B
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Jason B
2 years 2 months ago

…but the benefit of staying ahead of the Angels and avoiding a one-game crapshoot entirely? IMMENSE.

Nick O
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Nick O
2 years 2 months ago

Right, but the article is about preventing the A’s rivals from upgrading, and the Angels don’t have the prospects to do anything more than get Huston street.

Matthew Murphy
Member
2 years 2 months ago

The Angels are the A’s primary competition in terms of baseball, but there are a lot of other teams that were significant competition in terms of upgrading their roster. The A’s knew they were buyers, and they identified a team (maybe the only team) that both knew they were sellers and had assets they were definitely going to trade. By acting early before other potential buyers were ready to make moves, they took themselves out of a potential bidding war between teams looking for an upgrade at the deadline, while the “sellers” who are still on the verge of contention have more leverage as they can make a case for keeping their guys for the remainder of the season.

Nick O
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Nick O
2 years 2 months ago

It won’t let me reply to Matthew’s comment below, but the A’s gave away a lot for Samardzija, so I think the price is pretty reflective of the sellers’ market, whether they were in a “bidding war” or not. Either way, the Angels were not getting Samardzija, Price, or any other difference maker without sacrificing a significant piece of their major league roster. And the benefit of making it marginally harder for the non-Angels contenders to upgrade is probably minimal for the A’s.

Carlos Williams Carlos
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Carlos Williams Carlos
2 years 2 months ago

Wouldn’t totally write off the Angels as buyers. They’ve got money and might be willing to take on more salary from someone dumping a Lee or a Kemp than another team would, so would have to give up less in the way of talent.

Very hypothetical, but enough of a factor that I don’t think the A’s could or would be more likely to stand pat because they were relying on the Angels not being able to upgrade.

companion cube
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companion cube
2 years 2 months ago

With the addition of a second wild-card and more teams being “in it” at the deadline and being unwilling to sell, what do you think about moving the deadline back so that more teams can sort out what they are doing, and more trades can happen at the deadline? This seems like a no-brainer to the MLB, as they can generate more interest in the trade deadline, higher tv ratings, and, therefore, more money in their pockets

AK7007
Member
AK7007
2 years 2 months ago

Dave has written about this the past two years. Yes, MLB has a no-brainer on their hands. No, they won’t make the change because “tradition.” Now cue commenter commenting on this post or yours about how it would ruin their enjoyment of the game for trades to happen later then July 31. People hate change, even when it’s good. They’ll get around to it someday way too late.

AK7007
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AK7007
2 years 2 months ago
companion cube
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companion cube
2 years 2 months ago

And here I thought I was some sort of genius. Silly me

joser
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joser
2 years 2 months ago

This “tradition” has only had its current date since 1986, and had various dates before that (see Dave’s article linked above), which doesn’t make it much of a tradition. And MLB has shown a recent willingness to mess with tradition (eg the wildcards themselves, replay, and futzing with the transfer rule) and to do so quickly when necessary (eg unfutzing the transfer rule again even during the season).

I suspect it’s more about inertia in this case, and the newness of the second wild card, and especially that there hasn’t been a lot of call for this change from the teams themselves. It’s one of those things that helps the sport as a whole more than any team individually, and the commissioner’s office tends to be reactive rather than proactive when doing things “in the interests of baseball.”

joser
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joser
2 years 2 months ago

Something else I think would be interesting: allow the teams that are below .500 at the end of July to expand their rosters to 30 players on August 1st (the 40 player expansion for all teams would still happen in September). This wouldn’t have a lot of competitive advantage — if those call-ups were going to have much impact, they’d already be in the majors* — but it would allow the rebuilding teams to showcase their prospects a bit to their fans (and to potential trade partners, I guess, if the trade deadline moved back, though these are teams like the Cubs who are accumulating prospects not selling them). “Yeah, this year sucks, but look what we have down on the farm!”

* Granted, it would allow the bad teams to crowd their bullpens and maybe have an advantage in the occasional extra-inning game against an over-.500 team, but hey: enhanced parity. I really don’t think a team bumping along .500 right at the deadline would deliberately tank a game to get the benefit, but if they did — so what? Even in a division where the best teams were .500 (like the NL West was a few years ago) it’s just not going to make much difference. It’s more about teams that are already moving on to “next year” getting a better sense of what they have today, and maybe giving fans in August who still have kids out of school another reason to come out to the ballpark.

cs3
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cs3
2 years 2 months ago

that idea would never work. what happens when there is a division where the top 2 teams are right around .500?
If first place is a 53-52 and the second place team is 52-53, the 2nd place team would get a huge advantage by having an expanded roster.
The same thing applies to the wild card race.

Also what happens if the sub-.500 teams climb back over .500? they have cut their roster down? and then if the fall back below .500? add the extra players again?

joser
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joser
2 years 2 months ago

No, a club that was below .500 on the date would get the semi-expanded roster until September when they all get fully-expanded rosters, even if it later climbs above .500.

In your scenario, my response would be “so what?” Like I said, I don’t think this would be anything close to a “huge” advantage — it’s just 5 more spots, most of which would be bullpen arms, maybe an extra catcher or some pinch hitters/runners/ defensive specialists. Or just prospects from AAA getting a try-out. There would be a slight advantage, sure, but I think a slight advantage would be a good thing to make pennant races even more interesting. This is more about letting teams that are probably not going to the postseason get started on planning for the next season, and give fans of those teams a (small) reason to come out to the ballpark.

If you really think the advantage is huge, then limit it to say .450 (which in the AL this year would include just the teams from Texas — and maybe the Twins if they keep losing — plus the bottom team in every division in the NL, as well as the Padres and D’backs… man, the NL is bad).

Featherstone
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Featherstone
2 years 2 months ago

I still think it’s understated that the A’s also go Shark and Hammel and their production a full month ahead of the deadline. Sure they paid a bit of a premium for it, but it definitely has value.

joser
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joser
2 years 2 months ago

Well, a month of Hammel hasn’t offered much benefit yet, in isolation or compared to the piece(s) he replaced in the rotation.

Brendan
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Brendan
2 years 2 months ago

sadly. that is hindsight tho. oak (we) at least had reason to believe hammel would pitch well during july.

Johnston
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

Hammel looks like a bust.

…I know, I know, small sample size, but still.

joser
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joser
2 years 2 months ago

Yeah Johnston, we heard you the first six hundred times. In every post about the trade. And in most of the posts that have nothing to do with the trade, whether his name came up or not.

You know what’s worse than a bad commenter? A tedious, boring commenter. You’re repetitive and boring, and you need to find something else to talk about.

spoonful
Member
spoonful
2 years 2 months ago

Oakland’s move reminds me a bit of another well known deadline trade by Sandy Alderson when he was Oakland’s GM in 1990. With the Red Sox and A’s battling for the 1990 AL title, Oakland acquired 4 time All Star and MVP Willie McGee from St. Louis. The Red Sox responded by trading potential Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell for an ornery lefty reliever named Larry Anderson. In defending the acquisition of Larry Anderson, Red Sox GM Lou Gorman famously said, “Where would we play Willie McGee?” The A’s went on to sweep the Sox in the ALCS that year.

Greg Golden
Member
Member
Greg Golden
2 years 2 months ago

LA is a righty and a hero to the largely disgruntled Phillies radio audience, but, great quote nonetheless.

gc
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gc
2 years 2 months ago

The McGee deal was on Aug 29, about a week after the A’s put starting CF Dave Henderson on the DL. I would expect that it was a waiver deal, and the A’s at 80-48 had the best record so Boston could have put in a claim. I remember being somehow away from news for a couple of days and was stunned to hear the A’s picked up Harold Baines for a couple of bags of peanuts and McGee for the modest price of Felix Jose.
Looking at that roster, the surprise was to see Scott Sanderson, 17-11, 3.88. I had forgotten he ever played for Oakland, but that was the most wins he ever got in one season.

DowntownChico
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DowntownChico
2 years 2 months ago

One more benefit to the A’s for making the trade:

By getting two starting rotation calibar pitchers, the A’s were able to send Tommy Milone to the minors for the time being.

This is important because should Milone stay in the minors for a given amount of time (estimates around 30 days), the A’s would be given the opportunity to pick up Milone’s 2018 option. So, by manipulating Milone’s service clock year, they are picking up an extra year. This also explains Milone’s recent request to be traded, since entering free agency one year earlier would be extremely valuable to him.

So, the A’s are actually receiving the following in this trade:

~ .5 years of Jason Hammel
~ 1.5 years of Samardzija
~ 1 year of 2018 Tommy Milone

Matthew Murphy
Member
2 years 2 months ago

This is an added bonus, but given that Milone is roughly a league-average pitcher right now, I don’t know that the A’s place a large value on an extra year of team control in his age-31 season.

However, in the more immediate future, the arbitration costs could make a big difference. Milone’s service was at 2.018 coming into this year, which means that after competing for the first 3+ months on the roster, he should be around 2.115, which will be safely under the Super-Two cutoff (usually 2.130 +/- 0.010). Assuming Milone doesn’t spend more than 10 or so days on the active roster for the remainder of the season, he’ll only earn the major-league minimum next year.

This is a big deal, as league-average starters get paid pretty well in arbitration. Maybe the best recent comp is Dillon Gee (numbers below are heading into his first arbitration case, before the 2014 season)

Player – IP – ERA – W – Salary
Milone – 468 – 3.84 – 32 – ?
D. Gee – 502 – 3.89 – 33 – $3.6M

If the A’s do indeed keep Milone in the minors for the rest of the season (or most of it), they could safe $3M in 2015, and since arbitration salaries escalate each year, that savings will compound each year. If Milone becomes arbitration eligible in 2015, he could make something like $3.5M – $5M – $6.5M for a total of $15M over the next 3 years. Push off arbitration for a year, and over that same time frame, they’ll pay $0.5M – $4M – $5.5M for a total of $10M. Plus, as mentioned above, they’ll have a chance of keeping him in 2018 if he’s still worth his arbitration salary at that point.

DowntownChico
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DowntownChico
2 years 2 months ago

Interesting! I would agree the discounted salary is more valuable to the A’s than the 2018 option, which would come at elevated arbitration costs.

dirck
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dirck
2 years 2 months ago

Matthew ,it appears that your math is faulty .3 months of service time for Milone should add more than .097 year to his service time .

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 2 months ago

.097 means 97 days. It’s weird, but it is how they do it.

There is something like 180 days in the season and for service time you just use years[dot]days.

Matthew Murphy
Member
2 years 2 months ago

Yes, thanks for clarifying. I estimated 97 days on the active roster this season (might be off by a couple), adding to the 2.018 (2 yrs, 18 days) coming into the season got me the 2.115 number, which should fall short of super-two status, even if they call him up for a couple spot starts.

HawaiiFO
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

The A’s are receiving the following in the trade:

Updated:

.5 years of Hammel
1.5 years of Shark.
1 back of the first round draft pick (#28-30) when Shark leaves after laughing at the QO.
1 2018 year of Tommy Milone. (#59 in SP WAR 2012-2014)
$$$ saved now by Milone being cheaper.

Jim Lahey
Guest
Jim Lahey
2 years 2 months ago

I think they should trade Milone since it seems they created a vacuum where the starter they demoted is now the best starter available on the market (if he is available). He’s not as good as the guys they got but he’s better than whats out there. Then next year they’re getting Parker/Griffin back and have depth again.

Matthew Murphy
Member
2 years 2 months ago

Another thing that the A’s did was set the market. While some may think that they overpaid, by giving up a top-5 prospect, they all but assured that any other team looking to upgrade is going to have to pay a steep price. If you’re the Rays, there’s no way you’re going to give up Price for less than what the Cubs got, and there are only a few teams that can put together that type of prospect package, even if they really wanted to.

Johnston
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

Incisive. That might just be the only smart thing about that trade.

gaius marius
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gaius marius
2 years 2 months ago

as a Cubs fan, i’m openly rooting for the Rays to keep going if only to keep David Price out of Saint Louis. the reverse angle of this story works as well — the Cubs, by getting Russell and McKinney, made it all the harder for the Cardinals to get somewhere without losing the likes of Oscar Taveras.

Goat Herder
Guest
Goat Herder
2 years 2 months ago

Also a Cubs fan, I would like to see Price end up in St Louis. The Cubs aren’t going to be competitive before Price leaves for free agency. Your reverse angle of taking future, cost-controlled talent out of the St Louis system is more beneficial long-term to the Cubs than the annoyance of listening to the self-declared “world’s greatest fans” talk about 2014/15 successes.

Matty Brown
Member
Member
Matty Brown
2 years 2 months ago

…so, what is the side benefit?

pisstake
Guest
pisstake
2 years 2 months ago

Okay, so I only browsed through the comments, and don’t know the official rules on trades, but is there anything preventing the A’s from turning around and flipping Hammels for a package now that the market is that much thinner? I realize Russell is a lot to give up for just Shark, but if they can get one or two young guys in return, since they value depth so much…

niall
Guest
niall
2 years 2 months ago

They can trade Hammel if they want to but I don’t think they will do that.

niall
Guest
niall
2 years 2 months ago

Getting two SP early with the A’s rotation at the time made a lot of sense. Chavez and Gray have never thrown this many MLB innings. They setup the rotation after the All Star break with Shark and Hammel at the beginning. Their rotation got a lot of rest (especially with 2 off days this week).

Never know how guys will handle the long season but having 2 200IP starters will hopefully help.

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