Oakland Takes a Second Holliday

Yesterday, I took a look at the two Mark DeRosa trades that Cleveland was involved in, both of which occurred within the last year. As a result, it got me thinking about the two Matt Holliday trades that also both occurred in roughly the same time period (Both DeRosa and Holliday oddly ended up with St. Louis). I was curious to see if Oakland came out on the plus side of both Holliday deals or not.

Dave Cameron and Erik Manning have both done a nice job of dissecting the Holliday trade to St. Louis, so I am not going to dwell too deeply on the trade itself. For those of you who don’t know by now, though, the Oakland Athletics received 3B/1B Brett Wallace, OF Shane Peterson, and RHP Clayton Mortensen. Wallace was St. Louis’ first-round draft pick in 2008 (13th overall), while Peterson (59th in ’08) and Mortensen (36th in ’07) were also highly regarded in college. All three players have seen their values increase since signing their initial pro contracts with the Cardinals organization.

Back on Nov. 10, 2008, Oakland general manager Billy Beane shocked baseball by acquiring Holliday from Colorado. The move was especially curious because Oakland was expected to be in rebuilding mode in 2009 and money is always an issue with the organization (The outfielder had a $13.5 million contract for 2009). But Beane obviously saw a chance to buy low (in his eyes) on a talented outfielder who could help the club contend sooner than expected in a weak American League West division. At worst, the A’s would end up with two high draft picks as compensation when Holliday headed for greener pastures as a free agent at the end of the ’09 season.

In exchange for Holliday, Oakland sent deposed closer Huston Street, left-handed starter Greg Smith, and the talented-but-frustrating young outfielder Carlos Gonzalez to Colorado. Street has had a resurgence in the National League after seeing his numbers decline in his fourth season with Oakland. In 2008, he posted a 3.47 FIP. Street allowed just 58 hits in 70 innings of work, but his walk rate increased more than one walk per nine innings over his career average to 3.47 BB/9. His strikeout rate also dropped from 11.34 in 2007 to 8.87 K/9 in 2008 (although this was a number closer to his rates in 05-06).

In Colorado in ’09, batters are hitting just .195 against the 25-year-old right-hander, which is the lowest batting-average-against that Street has posted since his rookie year in ’05 (.194 average). His strikeout rate is up to 10.20 K/9, while his walk rate is back down to 2.13 BB/9. Street’s line-drive rate is also down about three percent. His fastball is almost 2 mph harder than it was in 2007-08.

Smith, meanwhile, has had a terrible season filled with inconsistencies and injuries. After making 32 starts and pitching 190.1 innings in his rookie season for Oakland in 2008, the left-hander has yet to appear in a big-league game this year. The former sixth-round draft pick (by Arizona) has made just five triple-A starts, while also appearing in both high-A and double-A while on rehab. In his five triple-A starts, Smith has allowed 20 hits and eight walks in 23 innings of work. He also has a 5.50 FIP and has allowed four homers. Even as his rather successful 2008 campaign came to a close, a lot of baseball watchers were crying, “Fluke!”

Still only 23, Gonzalez has spent most of the 2009 season in triple-A after spending the majority of ’08 in the Majors with Oakland, where he hit a disappointing .242/.273/.361 in 302 at-bats. This year, the left-handed hitter has batted .339/.418/.630 with 10 homers in 192 at-bats. Recently recalled to Colorado, he is hitting .225/.288/.373 with one homer and seven steals in 102 at-bats. Gonzalez’ poor approach at the plate (and lack of patience) has played a large part in his weak MLB numbers.

Colorado really did not get as much value for Holliday as it likely had hoped. The organization received a solid, young closer with a lot of experience, a future left-handed reliever, and a toolsy young outfielder that is looking more Delmon Young than Justin Upton. With that said, comparing the three players that Oakland received for Holliday and the three players that the organization gave up for Holliday, it looks pretty even at this point especially when you consider how Street’s stability in the bullpen has helped Colorado remain in the playoff hunt.

Wallace, though, has the potential to significantly overshadow the loss of Street if he can live up to his potential, but that could take a few years. Even so, you have to figure that a lot of organizations would trade Street for Wallace, straight up. Trading Smith and Gonzalez for Peterson and Mortensen is a bit of a toss up, and really depends on how much you believe in Gonzalez. If he reaches his potential, he could be an impact player. Both Peterson and Mortensen look like complementary parts, but they should both end up being more valuable than Smith.

In the end, it’s hard to say if Oakland came out on the winning end of the two Holliday deals or not. In the long run, though, my gut says that they did.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

14 Responses to “Oakland Takes a Second Holliday”

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  1. Edwin Nelson says:

    What your omitting from the discussion though is what the move for Holliday does for the Oakland organization as a whole. This isn’t so much a deal of players as it is a communication to the Oakland fan base that Beane is willing to make a significant investment to make the team playoff worthy when the situation presents itself.

    Now it didn’t work out, but it shows that Oakland isn’t going to be in some permanent rebuilding mode that has no end (like Pittsburgh or Florida). That signal to the fans, that this team will be put together to win, is worth much more than anything that can be analyzed on paper. The fact that the cumulative value of the moves ends up close to even, or in Oakland’s favor, shows how great a GM Beane is.

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  2. Victor says:

    If I recall correctly, one reason Beane acquired Holliday was because ownership told him they didn’t want to wait to win.

    CarGon can still pan out. His defense is good and he’s hit well enough in the minors before. Just needs to hit in the bigs when his home park is freaking Coors.

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  3. mike says:

    But Beane obviously saw a chance to buy low (in his eyes) on a talented outfielder who could help the club contend sooner than expected in a weak American League West division.

    – How did Beane buy low? Holliday’s stock had never been low.

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    • Jacob Jackson says:

      The first Holliday deal could perhaps be considered “buying low” simply because players of Holliday’s caliber rarely even are available on the trade market.
      The Rockies wanted to trim payroll, the economy was bad, Holliday was making $13.5 million in the upcoming year = opportunity for a team looking to acquire him. Without those circumstances, he wouldn’t have been available at that price.

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  4. Ezra says:

    Beane wasn’t necessarily buying low on Holliday as much as he was selling high on Street. Street’s numbers had been in decline, and he had lost the closer’s job in Oakland on and off. Also, Street was starting to get expensive himself, with a $350K salary in ’07, $3.3M in ’08, and $4.5M in ’09.

    Perhaps Street was motivated by his original team giving up on him, perhaps he’s thriving in the NL. But Street has reversed his trend of decline and set himself up for a decent payday when he hits free agency after next season.

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  5. xacto says:

    Another thing to consider is that Oakland was dealing from abundance when they traded Street. At the time of the trade, their bullpen was solid with Zeigler, Devine, and Casilla. Though Street’s a good player, his skills were redundant, duplicated by cheaper players. Street was, essentially, an expensive spare part. Thus, the A’s traded spare parts to get Holliday so that they could then acquire an infield hitting prospect in Wallace, an area of need for them. In these two trades Billy Beane has traded excess for need. Even if the talent levels are even, that’s a plus for the A’s.

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  6. mattymatty says:

    Another important thing Oakland got in the deals was four months of Holliday in their lineup.

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  7. Ed Nelson says:

    Exactly. Four months of Holliday has (had) value.

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    • Paul Thomas says:

      How much? A couple million bucks, at most?

      In an inelastic market like Oakland’s, paying free agent wages for wins is a serious losing investment unless those wins take you to the playoffs.

      Personally, I find this to have been a distinctly poor sequence of trades for Oakland (I’d much rather have Carlos Gonzalez in their system than Brett Wallace right now, and Street for Mortenson-Peterson is a rotten trade in its own right), and that’s even evaluating the good return they got for him from St. Louis– which just makes the point that the original trade was brain-numbingly silly.

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  8. Joe R says:

    So, um, I think Holliday is kind of beating expectations…

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    • kris says:

      I’m really starting to think that the difference between a good hitter, and a great hitter is nothing more than the percentage of hittable pitches they get.

      In St. Louis Holliday’s getting infinitely more hittable pitches. Crudely speaking, he’s getting about 5% more pitches inside of the zone.

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  9. Ed Nelson says:

    I’m getting the feeling he really didn’t want to be in Oakland (and really who can blame him), and that he really does want to be in St Louis. Hitting behind Albert doesn’t hurt either…

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