Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Trade Speculator - Done Deal!

MLB.com is reporting that the Chicago Cubs have acquired Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin from the Oakland A's for Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton, Eric Patterson, and minor league catcher Josh Donaldson. This is already shaping up to be one exciting Trade Deadline.

Despite being a rather knee-jerk reaction, the Cubs did well with what little they have. The feeling around the organization must be that Murton and Patterson are not going to provide much in terms of major league production, while Donaldson is undeniably blocked. The A's on the other hand must have decided that they were never safe with Harden, and that he was better traded, then 'being' traded.

I'll begin looking at how the Cubs did in this trade.

Initially, I thought, great job, and even now I am confident this is as good of a starter as the Cubs could have possibly acquired. They may have been able to do some other shuffling to bring aboard Erik Bedard, but outside of that, no one available is near the pitcher that Rich Harden is. However, with Harden's injury history-which will be beaten to death in other reflections of this trade-he does come as quite the gamble.

In Harden, the Cubs receive a legitimate ace. In Harden's 6 seasons as a Major League starter (including 7 outings from the pen), he has always performed at an extraordinarily high level. His career NRA (Normalized Runs Allowed) sits at 3.52 and his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is a strong 3.43. These are the numbers of an outstanding pitcher. For example, in 2007 there were only 8 starters with a FIP of 3.43 or lower.

The unfortunate issue, is that Harden has only once qualified for the ERA title and is no sure bet to make it for this year. Given the use and abuse the Cubs traditionally place on their starters arm, Cub-land will be holding their breath with every nasty pitch Harden throws.

As essentially a fastball-change up pitcher now, Harden has done his best to limit the amount of strain he puts on his arm. While his fastball has lost a bit of velocity, it is still one of the better pitches in the majors, as he has pinpoint control. Despite missing a brief stint thus far, by all accounts his arm has held up-in Harden terms.

The only worry that is not injury related is the fly ball rate. With the essential extinction of Harden's slider, has come an incredibly jump in his fly ball percentage (FB%). Owning a FB% of over 50% may prove to be detrimental in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Keep an eye on that as he also regresses towards the mean in home runs per fly ball (HR/FB).

The acquisition of Chad Gaudin is definitely an interesting one. At 25 years old, there is still a fair amount of upside left in Gaudin. He is in the midst of his 3rd straight quality season with the A's, and outside from a thumping in Toronto, Gaudin has been a decent major league starter. Especially when you take into account his age.

Gaudin is arbitration eligible for the next three seasons, and probably won't be a pitcher to cost all too much for those seasons. He will, however, be a very strong pitcher in the weak National League.

Being more of a ground ball pitcher will help Gaudin in Chicago. What will also help is facing weaker lineups, where his high walk rate (BB/9) will not be as prominent. With any luck, the Cubs traded for the pitcher Gaudin has been this season, and considering his recent trends, that isn't all too unlikely.

In 2004, Gaudin earned honorable mention on Baseball Prospectus' top 50 prospect list. The authors cite Gaudin's incredible run through the minors as a 19 and 20 year old, where he eventually got the call to the bigs by the then Devil Rays. After an impressive big league showing Gaudin was abused by the Devil Rays management, jumping between the starting rotation and the bullpen. He was later moved to Toronto for catching prospect, Kevin Cash. Toronto then decided he wasn't worth their time, and was moved for a PTBNL.

In return for Gaudin and Harden, the A's received one of my favorite pitching prospects, Sean Gallagher. The 22 year old righty has been a disappointment thus far in the majors, although he has made some substantial adjustments this season, and has a lot of potential.

n Gallagher, the Athletics receive a B rated prospect entering 2008 according to John Sickels-the prospect is also #3 overall and the top pitching prospect in the Cubs system. Sickels also rated Gallagher as a B level prospect entering the 2007 season, at #4 overall and as the #2 pitcher within the Cubs system. So it is good to see Gallagher has at least maintained course. Overall, Sickels had Gallagher rated as his #38 prospect in all of baseball entering the 2007 season.

At the beginning of the 2007 season Sickels compared Gallagher to Kevin Slowey of the Minnesota Twins having the following to say about him,
...improved to 89-94 last year, with movement. His curveball is excellent, and his changeup has developed into an average pitch. His mechanics are usually solid but at times they will wander a bit, hurting his command.
A fastball topping out at 94 mph is nothing to write home about, but if the movement is legit, and he is capable of controlling his curve ball, Gallagher should be a quality major leaguer. Sickels saw him live this season and confirmed what he already thought.

Baseball Prospectus wrote about Gallagher in November of 2006, saying, "a 91-93 mph fastball, and with his hard, biting breaking ball, he has two plus pitches."

As a 3 star prospect, Gallagher isn't expected to be much more then a middle of the rotation innings eater, something that is highly valuable in this day and age of baseball. In a perfect world, I think Sean Gallagher turns out to be a Joe Blanton-type.

The ginger in the equation, Matt Murton, simply cannot seem to stick it in the bigs. At 26 he is too old to be in Triple A, and really isn't going to get any more seasoned at that level. His major league stats have been fine, yet unspectacular and lacking power, the move to Oakland and the American League certainly will not help.

At worst Murton is a 4th outfielder, another piece a club needs. However, this piece isn't really one you build a trade around, which leads me to believe the A's have the same hope for Murton that many experts had when entering 2006, as an essential rookie. I would say an optimistic annual expectation out of Murton would be 25 home runs and an on base percentage (OBP) around .380, realistically, we're looking at 15-20 home runs with a .350 OBP, nice, but not spectacular.

Probably the most impressive player involved in what is feeling like a rather disappointing trade for Mr. Beane is Eric Patterson. At 25 years old, Patterson must start producing at the major league level. While he cannot be blamed for his lack of production to this point, the pressure will be on for him to follow through with the promise, especially after being moved to a more demanding outfield position-although I have to believe Patterson's arrival is the beginning of the end for Mark Ellis, whom a lot of teams would love to have.

Hurting Patterson, in my opinion, is that he has somewhat regressed in the eyes of John Sickels. Sickels rated Patterson as a B+ prospect entering 2007, and dropped him down to a B this season 'due to defense'. However, entering 2006 Patterson sat at a B, so overall he hasn't really moved up or down. Is that a positive or a negative for a toolsy hitter like Patterson?

Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus breaks down the good and the bad of Patterson, while rating him a 3 star prospect and the 8th best within the Cubs organization,
The Good: Patterson can beat you in many ways offensively. He can hit for average, draw a decent amount of walks, steal a base at the right opportunity, and he surprises many with the amount of juice in his bat. His best tool is his speed, but he has no major weaknesses at the plate or on the basepaths.
The Bad: Patterson's defense has always been a concern, and he was moved to the outfield because of his defensive shortcomings as much as he was moved there in order to increase his versatility. He still struggles against good left-handers.
'No major weaknesses', although there really aren't many absolute strengths either.

Entering the 2007 season, Patterson just missed making Baseball Prospectus' top 100 prospects list, joining notables Dustin Pedroia, and Alexi Casilla among others. Overall, Patterson's best case scenario would be to become Brian Roberts with Chris Burke would being on the low end of the spectrum.

Finally, checking in with catcher Josh Donaldson, we see a 22 year old catcher who hasn't done anything particularly special since being drafted in 2007. While his strikeout rate has dropped during his promotion to A ball, his walk rate has also taken a hit. Additionally, the power looks worse, although only slightly less impressive. Drawing a conclusion on a catcher of this age is nearly impossible and surely a wasteful thing to do. That is, consider the strides Victor Martinez took between his 22nd and 23rd birthdays while jumping from High A ball to Double A. A lot can click for a hitter in his early years.

Checking in with Kevin Goldstein, who rated Donaldson as the cubs 5th best prospect, ahead of both Gallagher and Patterson, a three star talent, reveals the following,
Year In Review: The offense-oriented catcher had a monster debut, and would have led the Northwest League in both slugging and on-base percentage if he'd gotten enough plate appearances to qualify.
The Good: Donaldson is an on-base machine who had more walks than strikeouts in 2007 while also showcasing solid hitting skills and average to slightly-above power. He's a good athlete for a catcher, and his arm rates as above average.
The Bad: Much of Donaldson's future projection relies on his ability to stay behind the plate. While Donaldson has the potential to become an average defender, he's only been catching for two years and is a well below-average backstop beyond that throwing arm.
Nothing overly impressive, granted there isn't a lot of information to draw a conclusion from. What should stick out for those who read Moneyball and felt as though they had somewhat of an understanding of Billy Beane, is that both Murton and Donaldson fit into the 'patient hitter' mold.

Sickels is equally as impressed with Donaldson and his professional debut, rating him as a B prospect, and the 6th best prospect in the Cubs system. I imagine one would be hard pressed to find many catching prospects rating higher then Donaldson, so this is quite the compliment. Granted, I would assume there are a few (namely Maximilano Ramirez of the Rangers) who have jumped Donaldson this season.

Overall, I have to give this one to the Cubs. They sent away only one piece that had a legitimate shot at being apart of their future (Gallagher), while sending away a major disappointment (Murton), and two unknown variables who are blocked (Patterson-DeRosa/Cedeno and Donaldson-Soto). Furthermore, with the haul the Indians got for Sabathia, it is hard to believe this is the best trade that was out there for Harden. Interestingly, the A's also appear to be raising their white flag relatively early.

That is, sitting only 6 games behind and having a vastly superior Pythagorean record (for runs scored/allowed, EQR/EQRA, and aEGR/aEQRA) the A's should be actually doing better then they are, and the Angels should be doing worse.

Furthermore, it would be startling to me if Gallagher turned out to be a better pitcher then any of the Athletics current top pitching prospects. If that is true, the A's essentially traded Harden for Patterson and some essential spare parts. Albeit, they are parts Beane may be able to flip down the road.

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