Matt Holliday Explained
I know all of you out there have been dying for my analysis of the...er...unusual trade between the A's and Colorado Rockies. For those of you who are still operating a Cold Winter Stove, Oakland is sending SP Greg Smith, RP Huston Street (April swoons) and OF Carlos Gonzalez to the Rockies for All-Star outfielder Holliday.
Unusual because the A's are committed to rebuilding, are, by all accounts, two or three years away from their newly-stocked farm system producing at the Big League level. So why would they trade for a $13 million rent-a-player? Holliday has only 2009 left on his contract, he's a Boras client, and is not coming back to Oakland beyond next year by any stretch of the dollar or imagination. This is the same Oakland team that unloaded Dan Haren, Nick Swisher, Rich Harden and Joe Blanton in the last year. Did all that losing in 2008 affect Billy Beane that much? Is he doling out the bucks so the young team has a better chance to compete next year as a bridge to the future, bring some fans back to the ballpark?
The A's offense in recent years has been painful to watch. Young hitters prone to slumps, players like Travis Buck and Daric Barton seeming to have lost any clue they had ever possessed, the all-or-nothing Wheel of Chance that is Jack Cust, Eric Chavez's continuing injuries. Suck. A big ol' silo full of suck. Holliday helps. He's right-handed, which balances the middle of the lineup, as the A's are lefty-heavy (to put it mildly). The scuttlebutt is that Rafael Furcal is another Beane target. Add a year of seasoning to promising players like Ryan Sweeney and Kurt Suzuki and improvement is likely.
Still, the Angels are loaded in the West. These moves wouldn't seem to get the A's within striking distance of the Halos. Though the A's bullpen is in great shape, the starting pitching is raw, young and unlikely to blossom in '09. But it is precisely that young current and future staff that is the reason for the Holliday trade.
Beane watched his young pitchers struggle last year and surmised that at least some of their issues had to to with the mental strain of constantly working without any run support. Smith, Dana Eveland, Gio Gonzalez, Sean Gallagher all took to the hill knowing they'd have to be nigh perfect to stand any chance of winning the game. With a clutch of even more heralded young arms waiting in the wings, Beane wanted to minimize the effect he saw last year.
Hey, if Lew Wolff's got the $13 mil laying around, might as well use it. And while the move appears on the surface to be a one-year gig, Beane is once again thinking long-term (and, naturally, there's the possiblity Holliday gets traded at the '09 deadline; if not, the A's will get draft pick compensation, which they value more highly than other teams).
As for the players given up, only Carlos Gonzalez is cause for some consternation. The centerpiece of the Dan Haren trade, Gonzalez is one of those "5 Tool" players who...well...never seem to pan out in Oakland. Trust me, we've had a few. Javier Herrera, Mario Encarnacion. The club just can't seem to develop those guys, for whatever reason. Beane said, regarding Gonzalez, that there was some "redundancy" there, by whom he meant Ryan Sweeney, who hit .286 in his rookie season and Aaron Cunningham, who is a year younger and impressed in a September call-up.
So there ya go. The A's, as presently constructed, can flirt with .500. Add Furcal or some other player with the reported $16 million Beane still has to play with and odds are 50-50 whether the A's are buyers or sellers at the deadline.