On Tuesday’s edition of our award-winning, critically acclaimed podcast, managing editor Dave Cameron suggested that Aaron Harang should donate a portion of his new $12 million contract (courtesy of the Dodgers) to the San Diego Padres. It was, after all, San Diego’s cavernous Petco Park that aided Harang in recording a career-best 3.64 ERA, even while posting an xFIP- (109) considerably worse than his career average (95 xFIP-).
While it’s unlikely that Harang will be making any sort of financial contribution to his former team’s coffers, it’s very possible that the new Padres front office has plans to leverage the effects of its pitcher-friendly ballpark to its benefit with the news today that they’ve acquired closer Huston Street from Colorado for a player to be named later.
The wisdom of such a move appears questionable when taken at face value. While the Padres have some interesting talent here and there, the team is unlikely to be particularly competitive in the upcoming season. Brian Cartwright’s OLIVER projection system, for example, has the Padres as a 71-win team at the moment — or, about 23 games out of first place in the NL West. Sabermetric orthodoxy suggests that the priotity for such a team is basically every other position but closer. And, in fact, it’s unlikely that the acquisition of Street will bring the Padres much closer to the the NL West title.
However, two things. First, there’s the fact that Colorado is reportedly picking up
all but $1 million of Street’s $8 million salary for 2012 , making him basically free. In terms of value, Street has only to produce something like 0.2 wins above replacement to earn his salary. meaning that, in terms of value, Street needs to produce something like 1.6 WAR. Street’s average WAR per 60 innings is 1.4, which we can call “close enough,” — especially given the crazy overpays we’ve seen for relievers this offseason. Furthermore, whichever PTBNL goes the other way, given the fact that he is a PTBNL, he’s more likely to profile as organizational solider than impact player.
Second, there’s the very real possibility that Huston Street won’t be a Padre past July. The right-hander is entering the final year of a three-year, $22.5 million deal he signed with the Rockies in January of 2010. Given that the Padres are unlikely to be in a playoff race at the trade deadline, Street is likely to become available to contending teams in search of bullpen help.
When general manager Josh Byrnes & Co. go start talking with those contending teams in July, they’ll likely have a more valuable commodity in Street than they do now. The popular narrative suggests that Street had his worst year as a professional in 2011. He posted the highest ERA (3.86) of his career, largely because he allowed the most home runs (1.54 HR/9).
Yet, Street’s defense-independent numbers reveal that he was basically the same guy he’s always been. The strikeout rate was a little lower (23.0%, compared to 25.2% career), but so was the walk rate (3.8%, versus 6.4%). A slightly lower ground-ball rate (34.9%, compared to 38.0% career) combined with an inflated home run-per-fly ball rate (14.5%) conspired to hurt Street’s end-of-season line. But, all told, Street posted an 81 xFIP-. His career average? 80.
Now, Street is the subject of a great experiment, moving from one of baseball most hitter-friendly parks, to one of its most pitcher-friendly. Per Baseball-Reference, Coors Field allowed about 17% more runs than other other parks in 2011; Petco, about 7% less. Apply the Petco effect to Street’s lifetime SIERA of 2.92 — a crude method, yes, but not the absolute worst — and you get something in the vicinity of a 2.72 ERA. That would represent Street’s best ERA since his rookie season of 2005, when he posted a 1.72 mark.
What could the Padres get for that kind of high-leverage reliever? One needn’t look far or wide for precedent: this same Padre team traded reliever Mike Adams to the Rangers at the deadline in 2011, netting pitchers Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland, the former of whom our Marc Hulet rated fourth in the Ranger system before the 2011 season. Wherever Erlin is ranked this year in the Padre system, given his 2011 performance it’ll likely be above whatever player San Diego sends Colorado-ways.
And there lies the point: San Diego has acquired in Street less a player to close out games for four months, and more the opportunity to acquire, at the trade deadline, one of a contending team’s top-10 prospects. Provided Street stays healthy for those same four months, that’s very likely what the Padres will be doing.