Matt Holliday trade apparently final

By Jason Wojciechowski on November 11, 2008 at 11:03 PM

It looks like the final Matt Holliday deal is Holliday coming to the A's alone, with Greg Smith, Huston Street, and Carlos Gonzalez heading to Colorado.

It's an interesting deal, with a mix of selling high, selling low, money concerns, talent, and the possibility of future moves. Let's start with Holliday himself. He's a very talented hitter, a guy with catastrophic power who will hit the ball out of any park, Oakland included, with great frequency. He immediately becomes the A's best hitter, regardless of whether Jason Giambi joins the team and regardless of whether Eric Chavez comes back healthy. Furthermore, for a guy with his size and his offensive profile, he's not a Custian lumberer in the outfield: the defensive metrics I've seen grade him out comfortably above average, and he can apparently handle center field in a pinch. I am excited to have him on the team, excited that someone other than Jack Cust will hit 30 homers next year, excited to have a power righty bat.

Of course, it's Holliday's contract situation that made him available in the first place. He's due something like $12 million this year, and he's apparently thinking about deals in the five-year, $18M per range. This means that for a variety of reasons, the A's will not be resigning him. Yes, with an $80 million payroll, Holliday could fit. But no matter how good the player, committing 20-25% of your payroll to him can be problematic. Furthermore, he'll be 30 at the start of his new deal. Do the A's want to be paying $18M to a 34-year-old left fielder? He might keep hitting like Manny Ramirez through those years, or he might be like almost every player in the history of the game and decline to the point where he's good but not worth $18 million.

As for the guys going out, it's a mixed bag. Greg Smith was absolutely sold high. He had a solid ERA this year, despite his terrible record, but take a look at his peripherals. Too many walks, too many homers, and not enough strikeouts add up to "skyrocketing ERA next year". Maybe that's too harsh. He may not be a bad pitcher in the future, but given the A's depth at his position, isn't a "maybe fourth starter, maybe exploding pinata" something you trade for a year of Matt Holliday in his prime? Even when that guy is dirt cheap for two years and under team control for three after that? Ans: yes.

Huston Street has been on his way out this offseason since last offseason, it seems. Brad Ziegler taking his job and Joey Devine posting preposterous numbers to match Ziegler's only cemented Street's availability, although it also meant the A's would be selling low. Street will still be relatively cheap for the next three years, as he's only become arbitration-eligible this offseason. He's not a great reliever, but he's not a guy who's had just one good year, or half a good season: he's a proven very good reliever, a guy who will save a lot of games. I'll miss him on the team, but he's not a huge loss. Interestingly, the Rockies will look to flip him, so the Mets fans out there should turn their trade proposals to Colorado. Clearly what they're interested in is cheap talent.

Finally, Carlos Gonzalez. One wonders whether Billy Beane acquired Gonzalez, a very un-A's-like player, for this very purpose, sending him somewhere else that values him more highly for something the A's can really use. Gonzalez should be a doubles machine very soon, especially in Colorado, but the question will be whether he makes too many outs to really be very good. In short, is he Garret Anderson? A guy who hits 280/323/433 (as Anderson did in 2006, very similar to his 1997 line)? Now, out of center field instead of left field, and as a good center fielder at that, that's pretty good, but it's not exactly Carlos Beltran, either. Of course, Anderson had peak seasons in he had an OPS+ around 130, but for the most part, he hit within 5% of league average every year. In any case, this extended riff on Garret Anderson is merely to point out that this might be Carlos Gonzalez. That has value in the pre-arb and arbitration years, but it should be noted that Gonzalez didn't hit like that this year in the majors, instead putting up a line of 242/273/361. That walk rate is even lower than Anderson's, and the home-run power isn't there yet, either.

On reflection, I like this trade better than I thought I would, particularly if Jason Giambi winds up joining the team as well, the offense could suddenly be pretty good. Here's a lineup:

Ryan Sweeney, CF
Kurt Suzuki, C
Matt Holliday, LF
Jason Giambi, 1B
Jack Cust, DH
Eric Chavez, 3B
Travis Buck, RF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Bobby Crosby, SS

Not bad, right? The defense takes a hit with Sweeney in center instead of a corner, and with Giambi at first instead of Barton, but that's three 30-homer hitters in the middle of the lineup and Eric Chavez, who also has that kind of power when he's healthy, hitting sixth. Of course, if Chavez is hurt, like we all expect him to be, then swap in Jack Hannahan (and lose surprisingly little on defense) and bat him ninth, moving everyone else up a spot. Hannahan probably isn't a .218 hitter, and his walk rate and isolated power were nearly unchanged from 2007.

Amusingly enough, it's the starting pitching that looks questionable in 2009. That's with or without Greg Smith. The rotation looks like this: Justin Duchscherer, Dana Eveland, and ... uh. Ok, I guess let's say Sean Gallagher, who was terrible but who does strike people out. And Gio Gonzalez, who's Sean Gallagher again, only with even more walks and homers. Let's round it out with Josh Outman, who might actually be pretty good, because it looks like he got really hit-unlucky in his brief A's stint.

This has the potential to be a good rotation: if Gonzalez and Gallagher harness their stuff and quit walking people, if Duchscherer stays healthy, and if Outman is as good as he might be, it's a really good rotation. If none of that happens, it's a bad one. Most likely is something in between. Let's say Duchscherer pitches 150 innings, Dallas Braden puts up a league-average ERA+ in his stead, Gallagher and Gonzalez take steps forward to be adequate starters instead of terrible ones (but also not good ones, as the A's presumably think they can be), and Eveland pitches like he did from August 23rd to September 24th (3.98 ERA -- Still awesome!). What kind of rotation is that? Not the kind the A's are used to, but maybe the kind that can compete with an Angels team without 14 games of luck, without Mark Teixeira, and without Francisco Rodriguez? Maybe.