July 17, 2008
BASEBALL: Beane Overboard
You know, I've been more down the more I think about it on the Rich Harden deal from the Oakland standpoint - yeah, Harden's value is ephemeral given his injury history, but why'd they throw Chad Gaudin, who had value of his own, into the deal? I get that Billy Beane thought Matt Murton could help his offense ASAP, which makes sense when you look at some of the people they are running out there these days. Sean Gallagher looks like a serious prospect, albeit one who is not yet even with Gaudin as a major league pitcher. Eric Patterson doesn't. Josh Donaldson tore up low A last year but has crapped the bed this season in high A and thus has to be a few years away, if anything.
But even if you write off Harden, following up by dealing Joe Blanton to the Phillies for prospects really smacks of Beane having decided up front that no matter how competitive the A's are, they would stick to a rebuilding schedule this season. Yes, Blanton's pitched poorly (5-12, 4.96 ERA), yes the A's still have a lot of pitching, and yes Blanton's a free agent in the offseason. (You can read my offseason analysis of Blanton here).
There is some logic to deciding that 2008 is not Oakland's year. They're 6 games back of the Angels, who have the game's best record. They are third in the wild card race, five games behind Tampa in the loss column and with the Yankees breathing down their throats. Still, that's certainly a team that could still pull out a playoff slot. It's hard to sell the fans on coming to the park when you are so clearly signalling surrender when you are 7 games over .500 at the break.
I suppose the counterargument is just that the Oakland fans have had enough of first round playoff exits. Playing to bring home another one may be secondary to stockpiling young talent for a run later on, when the new stadium arrives.
So, what about the returns? The delightfully named Josh Outman is a 23-year-old reliever in AA with good K and HR rates but a poor control record. Adrian Cardenas, a 20-year-old 2B in high A, was presumably expendable to the Phils with Chase Utley in the way; Cardenas smacked 30 doubles last year as a teenager and is batting .309/.374/.444 with 16 steals, so he may be a real prospect but hasn't yet proven himself as a real high upside guy. His teammate Matt Spencer is two years older, an OF and a career .254/.318/.405 hitter with a more than 2-to-1 K/BB ratio, so I would assume he's a throw-in. Not a terrible yield for Blanton compared to letting him walk, but I don't see a major established blue chip here, either. I have to think Beane just feels that Blanton's not going to be that useful the rest of the season (to Oakland; to the Phillies, a 4.96 ERA looks real tasty). But he's really putting the fans' faith in him to the test.
If only Josh Outman were a hitter. Then someday he could face Grant Balfour.
A truly epic struggle would ensue.
Blanton's home/road splits suggest to me that he's just not a very good pitcher. I think this is a good move by Beane, and I think -- in terms of what he'll do with the Phils -- that he'll get lit up in Citizens Bank Bandbox.
Actually, Blanton is not a free agent at the end of the season. He's under arbitration through 2010. Bottom line for the Phillies: even though Blanton is basically average [career 100 ERA+], he's way better than Adam Eaton and the Phillies gave up prospects that probably would never have helped the big club in a big way [Outman is a two-pitch pitcher, so he's more suited for relief].
Would it be fair to say that Billy and Billy Ball have been the most overrated and least effective thing to come into baseball in a long, long time?
No, it would not. Since 1999, operating often on a shoestring budget, Oakland is 204 games over .500, with only one losing season compared to four division titles and five playoff appearances. This from a franchise that has had to dismantle its successful teams due to financial pressures repeatedly going back to the early 20th century.
Also, since 2001 they have won as many World Series as the Yankees.
Tom - That's odd, for some reason I had been convinced that Blanton was a free agent. That definitely makes the deal less sensible for Oakland.
I agree about Eaton - Blanton will help the Phils more than he will be missed in Oakland, even if his ERA is around 5.
Ouch. But fair. Still let's match up since oh I don't know 1980 or so. Little bit different. Building it up and selling it off doesn't seem like a great business model to me. I mean if our goal is to win championships and get in the playoffs. The Twins do a great job in much the same way without patting themselves on the back so much that they tear their rotator cuff.
Beane has only been running the show since the mid/late 90s, and it took him a few years to build on the ashes of the franchise at that point. In 1980, he was just being drafted by the Mets.
Well, I said 1980 because I didn't want to just go back to our last big run. The fact remains that the way to win it all is to do it the way the Yankees and the Red Sox and yes currently even your Met's is to develop some good young talent but also to spend the money in free agents or trade for big ticket players if you want to win it all. Money trumps everything and you have to spend it to win. Other wise you might as well be the Generals playing the Globetrotters.
While there is certainly a business case to be made for Lew Wolff and similarly situated owners spending more money on their teams, it's not remotely realistic to think the A's could ever spend the kind of money Steinbrenner has spent - it wasn't in 1975 and it's not now. They can't expand their market enough to support that. And Beane has only limited ability to coerce his boss to spend more money.
Cashman's a good GM, but what Beane has accomplished with far fewer resources is more impressive from a GM standpoint than anything the Steinbrenner-era Yankee brain trust has done.
Money doesn't trump everything. The Yankees have had the highest payroll in MLB since 2001 and they haven't won squat. They have consistently thrown money at free agents (mainly pitchers) who were past their prime (Johnson), no good to being with (Wright) or hurt (Pavano). The Yankees, in this century, are a sloppy, sloppy organization that overspends, underdevelops and performs thusly.
Don't talk crap abut Beane and then bring up the 80s when he was a ballplayer not a GM. Beane is a freaking genius for unloading crap like Zito and keeping a tight spending organization in the mix for the playoffs on a year in year out basis. So far Beane has been spot on in cashing out veterans (although he missed the boat on Chavez) and plugging in young talent. Blanton sucked. Crank, you even wrote (last year?) about how badly Blanton sucked. In the NL he'll be serviceable and by Phillies' standards he'll be a godsend.
I would bet on Beane's track record with respect to Gaudin. You know why smart GMs get rid of highly touted prospects? Because the prospects are over-valued by everyone but the team. Remember Andy Marte and how he was the hottest prospect in the minors yet he kept getting dealt like used clothing? He's .196/.253/.333 for his career. He stinks. If Gaudin starts blowing people in the bigs away I will be shocked. The bigger chance is that Harden stays healthy for some period of time.
Gaudin's not a prospect; he's been in the league for six seasons. Over the past three years he's thrown 330.2 major league innings with a 3.97 ERA. Maybe he will improve from that and maybe not (he's still just 25 and drastically improved his K/BB numbers this year; on the other hand, last season he collapsed in the second half), but I'm looking at him as a serviceable major league pitcher today.
Beane knows what he is dong, he's building the next great A's team not settling for the Toronto Blue Jays' fate. Blanton just isnt that great; he's a fly ball pitcher who, once removed from the Colesium's vast foul territory and placed into the Phillies' bandbox, is going to be tateriffic. The scary thing is that he still represents an improvement to the Phillies rotation. All 3 of the players in the Harden deal are major league ready, and just before their primes. In other words they themselves will be tasty trade chits soon if the A's dont return to contending in the next year or so. He got less for Blanton because Blanton isnt as valuable as Harden, even with the durability factored in. But still he got exciting young talent. He knows what he is doing.
While Gaudin is not technically a prospect he is a young pticher with 1 year of relief and 1 year of starting under his belt in MLB. While not totally unknown he is also not known in the sense of whether he will be an above average long reliever (2006) or below average starting pitcher (2007). He could be better than either of those. Or worse. He's 25 and the book is totally out on that guy. If Beane used him as bait it makes me wonder about his future.
Why isn't Eric Patterson getting any love? I know he's already 25, but he's put up some impressive numbers in the minors and wasn't ever given a chance in the majors . If he can handle second base, the A's could have a very inexpensive, good player manning a middle infield slot in his prime years. Add in Gallagher and Murton, and the downside associated with Harden, and I think Beane might look pretty good in a few years.
I would like to apologize. After the A's performance this weekend at the stadium, I have to agree that it is travesty that Billy Beane is not already in the Hall of Fame between Branch and Connie. My mistake.