Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Completely uninfluenced evaluation of the A's-Cubs Trade

I just saw the new on the Harden deal, and I was pretty instantly impressed. I haven't checked out any reactions around baseball or any scouting reports, so let me just give you what I see based on the data.

The Cubs seem to believe they have no use for Murton or Patterson, and I understand that from their perspective. They have moved into all out "Let's approximate an all-star at every position" mode. Donaldson, similarly, is the sandwich pick answer to LaPorta, someone who is blocked by an outstanding young player (or players) at the major league level and whose value to the organization always figured to be as much in trade value as in potential. For the Cubs, these three were assets to use to get something done, rather than assets to some day appreciate at the major league level.

From the A's perspective, though, I definitely like the three. Murton is a dead on great fit for the A's. The A's have a bunch of lefty bats in the outfield (Gonzalez, Sweeney, Buck, Cust) and Murton has quite a future there as the LHP smasher and a rotation / injury fill-in against RHP. Plus, Murton is a clear (in my mind) upgrade over Emil Brown, and he'll help the team this season. Murton is probably slightly below average as an everyday corner outfielder, but the A's are set up just right to maximize his value.

I don't know if people are generally up or down on Eric Patterson. I am certainly impressed with his minor league hitting. Drafted out of college, he dominated in the Midwest League at age 22, was above average in the Southern League at age 23, above average in the PCL at 24 (and even better so far in 2008). If he has an average glove, then he figures to be a pretty nice 1.5 WAR player playing at the minimum for a few years who, if he improves a bit, will be a solid regular. Patterson gives the A's a lot of flexibility in terms of what they end up doing with Mark Ellis, as well. And if the glove ends up being a plus, then the A's are going to have an above average regular for a couple of years at the minimum.

Donaldson showed a killer bat in low A last season, but his hitting in Peoria this season has disappointed. He seems like a decent enough young prospect who could work out great but who obviously isn't the centerpiece of the trade.

The Cubs, meanwhile, get someone the A's didn't care too much about in Gaudin. Gaudin is only under club control through 2010 (the A's get Murton through 2011 or possibly 2012 and Gallagher and Patterson through at least 2013) and has fairly unimpressive peripherals; his ERA probably ensures his contract in arbitration will not be particularly inexpensive relative to his expected production. He's also not particularly better than the A's other options for sixth starter (and, with Harden gone, the A's may well have less need for a sixth starter). In the bullpen, the A's don't seem to have any need for Gaudin with Street, Casilla, Brown, and Ziegler all being as good as or better than Gaudin with less service time, and Joey Devine fits that bill when he gets off the DL. Not surprisingly, each of these pitchers has a higher leverage index out of the Oakland bullpen in 2008 than Gaudin does. Gaudin is just as expendable to Oakland as Murton to the Cubs, and arguably much more so. That being said, the Cubs are not as full of quality young pitching as the A's, so he's definitely worthwhile to them.

So that leaves Harden for Gallagher. Harden has a cheap contract and is perhaps the best pitcher in baseball per plate appearance. Gallagher, though, is only 22 and is already an above average major league pitcher and his minor league numbers indicate that he could definitely emerge as an "ace." Harden obviously has more value to the Cubs because their goals are so short-term, and I don't see how it could be argued that Harden is truly more valuable to the A's, all things considered, than Harden.

The A's have made a move for the future that hurts their chances this year a bit, but not by much. The upgrade to Murton from Brown is pretty nice, and it cancels out a chunk of the difference between Harden and Gallagher. With Harden probably more likely to go down to injury, it's certainly debatable that in the end this trade has little or no negative impact on the A's ability to reach the playoffs, although I'd agree that it's fair to say that it downgrades their ability to win a postseason series.

All in all, this seems to be a mutually beneficial trade with the Cubs assuming more risk to add a championship.


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