Over Spilled Milk: Harden to the Cubs

Earlier this week the Oakland Athletics announced that Scott Sizemore tore his ACL and would be out for the entire 2012 season. As the Athletics don’t have many other options, they stated that they are going to try converted catcher Josh Donaldson at third. The notion rose an eyebrow here as Donaldson’s has had experience at the hot corner, in the past, but overall it is pretty limited. Then again, they brought Scott Hatteburg out from behind the plate a decade ago, so “why not”? (They don’t have Ron Washington around anymore to tutor him though) Regardless, Donaldson’s name piqued my interest as he was involved in a trade a few seasons ago.

As we neared the trade deadline in 2008, the Milwaukee Brewers were in a division title race with the Chicago Cubs. In a bold move, the Brewers traded for ace starting pitcher CC Sabathia. With little on the trade market of Sabathia’s caliber, the Cubs took what they could get and acquired Rich Harden, a starting pitcher that had been known to possess the stuff to compete with Sabathia, but never put it all together for a completely healthy season. At the time I stated,

“Rich Harden is a game changing starter when healthy, when rarely healthy that is.  He has electric stuff, but he really hasn’t turned into a star because of his injuries.  Although he’s only pitched 77 innings so far, it’s the most since 2005.  But he’s also dominated this season as he has carried a 2.34 ERA with 92 strikeouts, while compiling a 5-1 record.”

That level of dominance was enough to draw the Cubs’ interest with the hope that he’d stay healthy the rest of the season. Then GM Jim Hendry traded Matt Murton, Eric Patterson, Sean Gallagher and the aforementioned Josh Donaldson for Harden and and reliever Chad Gaudin.

Harden would go on to post 12 more starts in a Cubs uniform, with even more dominant numbers (5-1, 1.77 ERA, 0.972 WHIP, and 89 K in 71.0 IP). The Cubs certainly got what they were looking for and it helped keep them in the lead in the NL Central, ending with a league-leading 97 wins. However, the Cubs were swept by the Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs that season. Harden came back the following season, but didn’t pitch as well. In 26 starts, Rich only gave up 122 hits in 141 innings, while striking out 171. But he also gave up 67 walks, pushing his WHIP up to 1.34 and his ERA to 4.09. Between the increased walks and the fact that Harden still couldn’t get close enough to the 200 inning plateau, it was being realized that Harden couldn’t become the dependable ace that the Cubs envisioned. He was granted his free agency in the winter of 2009 and posted two seasons of 5.00+ ERAs with the Rangers and the Athletics since.

Gaudin had bounced between starting and relief in Oakland and the Cubs were intent on keeping him in the pen. But things didn’t work out as Chad posted a 1.427 WHIP and a 6.26 ERA after the trade. He was released by the Cubs in the spring of 2009 and has bounced around to five other teams since.

The Cubs’ return on the trade was a post-season birth that they (would likely have gotten to anyway), a 4.0 WAR for 1.5 seasons of Harden and a -0.5 WAR from Gaudin.

Outfielder Matt Murton was the first player mentioned in the Athletics’ return for Harden. He showed some promise for the Cubs, producing good OBPs early on, but lacked the power to really be considered a starting corner outfielder. But in 2008 he fell apart and the Athletics must’ve thought they were buying low with the thought that Murton would bounce back. Yet he sank even lower, batting .100 with a .262 OPS (-0.2 WAR). In February of the following year he was dealt to the Colorado Rockies for infielder Corey Wimberly. Like Murton, Wimberly had interesting OBPs in the minors, but never received a call-up. He recently signed a minor league contract with the Mets.

Eric Patterson rose through the Cubs system as a second baseman and put up some good OBPs along the way (see a trend here?). However some scouts questioned his defense and, although he has spent some time there in the majors, much of this time defensively has been in the outfield. Cast into a utility role, the Athletics kept him around for three seasons to see how well he fit into that role for them. Although he wasn’t hitting well when he was traded, Eric fell apart at the plate after the move to Oakland, batting .174 with a .269 OBP. He rose to a career-bast .287/.373/.394 line in 110 AB in 2009. Yet he hasn’t hit above .226 since and he’s shuffled around to Boston and San Diego as a result. The Athletics received Fabian Williamson from the Red Sox for Patterson in a December 2010 trade. The lefty hasn’t been able to post a WHIP below 1.70 since he was traded to the Athletics.

Gallagher was a right-handed starting pitcher that was at one time highly regarded. Yet Sean gave up too many hits and had some control issues. After the trade to the A’s, Sean gave up 9.5 H/9 and 5.7 BB/9 that resulted in a 5.88 ERA. He was switched to relief the following season and his statistics didn’t show an improvement from at as he was pounded to a 1.953 WHIP. He was eventually shipped off to San Diego in a package with two others in a trade for Scott Hairston. Sean has since moved around and is now with the Cincinnati Reds on a minor league contract.

That brings us to the man of the hour, John Donaldson. Donaldson is a former first round draft pick (48th overall) of the Cubs. A catcher since he was drafted, Donaldson has been tried out in the infield and outfield corners since he was traded for by the A’s. He’s displayed some pop in the minors and seems to be progressing with the bat overall. So far, he’s played a total of 53 games at third base in the minors, so his defense is surely in question at this time.

As it sits, Donaldson is Billy Beane’s best chance at coming out ahead on this deal, and the chances are slim. Although moving back out from behind the plate may allow for Donaldson’s bat to improve, I’m not sure if he will hit enough to warrant regular playing time. So far Beane’s efforts have resulted in a -2.6 WAR from the four players, much of it from Gallagher’s struggles.

At the time of the trade I stated in a post:

“Although other writers are claiming this an even trade for the teams or even a win for the Athletics, I believe that the Cubs will come out the winners if Harden can stay healthy long enough to get the Cubs into the playoffs.”

For this trade I give Jim Hendry a hearty B+ due to the fact that Harden was instrumental to the Cubs reaching the playoffs that season and that he didn’t give up anyone that has moved on to produce even league average in the majors. The grade would’ve been higher if there was a decent impact beyond 2008. As for Beane, this trade gives him a D grade that could quickly drop to a D- if he’s unable to get anything out of Donaldson. The players he traded had a cumulative negative WAR impact on the ball club. His only saving grace is the fact that he likely wouldn’t have been able to keep Harden after the 2009 season, especially if Rich had stayed healthy.

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Trade Bait: Athletics get Kouz

The Oakland Athletics have traded outfielders Aaron Cunningham and Scott Hairston to the San Diego Padres for third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and second baseman Eric Sogard.  It’s a notable trade from many aspects, but the most notable has to be: Is Billy Beane actually looking at his defense? 

When Kouzmanoff first came up in the Cleveland Indians’ system, he was known for his bat.  But a few seasons of hard work, Kouz is slightly better than average defensively, but his bat is somewhat mediocre now.  Playing half his games in Petco doesn’t help though.  He’ll drastically improve Oakland’s defense at the hot corner. But it also signals that the team isn’t counting on Eric Chavez to return.

Jake Fox, acquired earlier this off-season, now looks like a man without a position….much like he was in Chicago.  It was assumed that he would play an ugly third base for the A’s this season while Chavez spends most of his time in the trainer’s room.  He could push Daric Barton from first base, but Barton fields better and everyone knows that Billy Beane likes anyone with a .372 OBP (though with little power).  Barton’s line after the All-Star break is nice as well (.287/.386/.434).  He could also push aside the recently re-signed Jack Cust in the DH spot.  It would be the best position for him to play defensively.  Most likely he’ll be the right-handed platoon-mate for Cust, who’s horrid against left-handers (.221/.321/.300). 

The Athletics also received second baseman Eric Sogard, who was taken in the second round of the 2007 draft.  The infielder’s claim to fame in the minors is that he has walked 162 times, while striking out only 141 times.  He has only mild power, marginal in the field, and has troubles with lefties.  John Sickels, over at Minor League Ball, lists him as the #20 prospect in the Padres’ system.  He may be useful off the bench for Beane in time, but the team already has Adrian Cardenas (lefty hitter) and Jemile Weeks (switch hitter) in the system.

The prize of the trade for the Padres may be outfielder Aaron Cunningham.  Depending on who you talk to, Cunningham could be a decent starting outfielder with light power and speed.  He could easily snatch up a job in the outfield out of spring training if he hits well enough.  Defensively, he should be better than Chase Headley or Kyle Blanks in the outfield. 

The Padres also receive old friend Scott Hairston, who they traded away to the Athletics last year.  Hairston was pathetic with the A’s, but could take over in center for the Padres if he hits again like he did the last time he was in a Padres uniform.

The other notable impact is that the trade allows Chase Headley to move back to third base, his natural position.  Hopefully it will allow him to settle in and hit like scouts thought he would as he rose through the Padres’ minor league system.

Defensively, both teams will benefit from the trade as the Athletics will actually have a natural third baseman now and the Padres get at least one poor defensive outfielder from roaming the corners of Petco Park.  I’d give the slight edge to the Padres as Cunningham has more potential than Sogard.  I still think he’s a long-term fourth outfielder though.

Has Billy Beane learned something from Jack Zduriencik, or has he just finally realized the need to improve his team’s lackluster defense?

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Trade Bait: Hairston to the Athletics

On Sunday, in what seems like an ongoing effort to completely dismantle the team and rebuild it from scratch, the San Diego Padres traded outfielder Scott Hairston to the Oakland Athletics in return for three players.

Hairston will assumingly take over right field from Travis Buck and will eventually slide over to left field once Matt Holliday is traded or leaves via free agency. At the time of the trade Hairston was putting up a .307/.364/.547 line in 210 plate appearances. Pretty good numbers for playing half your games in PETCO Park, but Oakland’s won’t be much better. Scott is rather cheap right now and, although he’s entering his arbitration years, he should be worth his salary throughout his arbitration years.

The Padres received pitchers Craig Italiano, Ryan Webb, and a Player-To-Be-Named-Later who is already confirmed to be another pitcher that will likely be announced after the trade deadline. So far Italiano has the most potential of the players received. Craig was 5-6 with a 5.63 ERA for Single-A Stockton at the time of the trade. He’s given up 83 hits and has a 75/40 K/BB in 76.2 IP. He has a mid-90s fastball and a pretty good curve, if he controls it well. Without a solid third pitch, Italiano’s future may be in the pen though.

Webb has mediocre stuff, posting a 4.34 ERA with 39/15 K/BB ratio in 45.2 innings for Triple-A. Although Sacramento is in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, those numbers don’t ensure confidence in his stuff. But the Padres may be able to make something out of him as they have done with castoff relievers in the past. It is also interesting to note that his fastball has shot up since moving to the pen and has been clocked at 99 mph, according to Paul DePodesta.

According to Corey Brock of MLB.com, Padres GM Kevin Towers “sounded excited” about the PTBNL. I’ve never really seen a PTBNL be relatively interesting once named, but Towers and Oakland GM Billy Beane are definitely creative, we’ll see.

With Hairston gone, the Padres will rely on Will Venable and Kyle Blanks to man right field as Tony Gwynn Jr. takes over center field full time. This will be an UGLY lineup in the second half. Although there’s players with potential in it, they’ll have no protection. Why pitch to Adrian Gonzalez at all anymore? As I said before, it halfway looks like the Padres are making a run at nabbing the top pick next year to get phenom Bryce Harper.

Although Hairston may be playing a little above his abilities right now, this looks like a really good deal for Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s.

UPDATE: Pitcher Sean Gallagher was selected as the PTBNL.  Sean was once a top pitching prospect with the Chicago Cubs, but a shoulder injury has hurt his status.

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Padres Make Trade in Effort to Win Top Draft Pick

Yesterday the San Diego Padres traded outfielder Scott Hairston to the Oakland A’s for two pitchers and a player to be named later.  We’ll break this trade down in a Trade Bait posting soon, but right now we’ll look at the impacts of this trade to the Padres.

Most of the buzz that I’ve seen on the various sites about this trade has been about how odd the trade was from an Oakland viewpoint.  The Athletics are currently 11 games back in the AL West and in last place.

But I find the Padres’ viewpoint more interesting.  Scott was one of their better hitters and under team control until 2011.  Although he was going to start getting pricey as he entered his arbitration years, the production that they were getting out of Hairston for the price was pretty good.

Maybe the Padres are trying to make the team SO BAD that Jake Peavy won’t envoke his no-trade rights when the next trade comes along.

Maybe they think that this is the time to take a dive.  Right now the Padres have eight players on the D.L., including pitchers Jake Peavy and Chris Young.  Currently the “best” pitcher in their rotation is Kevin Correia, but “best” is the key word as he barely has an ERA below 5.00 and everyone else in the rotation is above that mark.  Hairston was the team’s second best hitter, and the lineup takes a dive after him and Adrian Gonazalez.

Maybe the Padres are setting up themselves for a run at the worst record in the Majors.  Why?  Bryce Harper.  The young phenom outfielder is enrolling in junior college to set himself up for the 2010 draft, where he would likely be the top overall pick in the draft.

Or maybe the Padres are just trying to be like the Indians in the movie “Major League”.  This team is looking ugly.

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