Sunday, January 18, 2009

Baltimore + Pie = An Uncreative Title for an Analysis of a Trade

How many authors are going to drop some lame Baltimore desiring a piece of Pie joke on this one?

On January 18th, 2009, the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs came to an agreement on a trade that would send outfielder Felix Pie to Chicago in exchange for left handed starting pitcher Garrett Olson and righty Henry Williamson. Pie had been highly coveted by the Orioles last off season, however I am uncertain why the Orioles felt the need to add him now.

From the Cubs perspective this doesn't make a lot of sense although it fits well with their previous deals (which have been about dealing hitting surplus for arms). While this is not a terrible idea, it will not prove beneficial if the Cubs treat the arms they are acquiring the way they treated Donald Veal. With the rotation currently looking seven or eight arms deep the addition of Olson certainly signals the start of something much larger-something I will touch on at the end of this article.

I will begin with breaking down what the Cubs received.

First, the 23 year old right handed reliever, Henry Williamson. Selected out of the 14th round of the 2007 first year player draft, Williamson has not been around long enough nor was he a high enough rated prospect entering the draft for information to be readily available.

Despite the lack of written reports, the numbers (a 10.93k/9 and a 2.25bb/9) show a guy with a fairly sound arm. Given he hasn't really put a dent into the minor leagues Williamson is very far away at this point, he's not a bad guy to have in the system, but not a guy that anyone should expect to make the Majors prior to September of 2010.

Garrett Olson is the real 'prize' of this deal, in that he is still young enough and lacking the big league experience to know exactly what type of pitcher he will become. That said, Olson's once "middle of the rotation" starter status has certainly diminished to the point where he's probably a long shot to be a quality end of the rotation guy.

Olson's stuff isn't phenomenal, owning three nice pitches, but no true out pitch. With that in mind, there is a possibility that being a left-handed pitcher has carried Olson to this point in his career and inflated his minor league numbers. Kevin Goldstein mentioned that during Olson's debut season (2007) he got too "cute...trying to paint corners and fool hitters by changing speeds".

While Olson has been hit fairly hard during his brief Major League tenure. He hasn't benefited from any luck however, which is due to the fact that he has pitched in front of a fairly mediocre defensive team. Add in the fact that he would be the worst rated pitcher in terms of getting hitters to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone.

The move to the National League cannot hurt Olson, I imagine he will be hard pressed to make the starting rotation out of camp. With Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, and Rich Harden manning the front four spots in the rotation, Olson will have to be absolutely dominate to beat out Chad Gaudin, Rich Hill (remember him?), Sean Marshall, and long shots Angel Guzman and Jeff Samardzija for the final spot in the rotation.

All in all, we're probably talking about an arm that starts the year in Iowa and makes very little impact for the Cubs in 2009.

In exchange for the equivalent of "future considerations", the Cubs moved "the future in center field", Felix Pie. This is, however a defensible move for the Cubs who are out to win and not really in the position to go through the aches and pains of running out the equivalent of a second year player.

Pie has had a phenomenal Minor League career, something that is even more impressive when one considers he has consistently been one of the youngest players at each level he has played. The young outfielder has only recently begun to utilize his legs, adding to the high power potential that he displayed with his always quick wrists.

For the Orioles Pie is in the perfect spot to come aboard and get a fair amount of playing time. Pie has always rated as having an extremely high ceiling, his tools even being compared to that of Carlos Beltran's and at just 23 years old (24 for Opening Day), Pie could still develop into an excellent hitter.

Being left handed the Orioles will give him the better half of a platoon with Ryan Freel. This will allow Pie to slowly adjust to Major League pitching and help him get comfortable with his new position in the outfield.

If Pie can at least put some of his tools together and become an everyday player, the Orioles are set for years to come-not to mention the fact that the trio of Pie, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis will be an outfield that hitters do not want to hit into.

The Cubs certainly gave up the best player in this deal, and the return wasn't really franchise altering in terms of value. However, Pie was going to be hard pressed to make the club out of Spring Training which would have put the Cubs front office with their backs up against the wall as Pie is out of options. With better in-house options, the Cubs were better making a move sooner, rather then Shapiro (read, later).

For the Orioles, if they can be as patient with Pie as they were with Jones, this has a lot of long term potential. Understanding that the club is extraordinarily deep with pitching prospects and that Olson's long term value with the club was minimal at best, this was a no-brainer.

With those individual scenario's in mind, I am going to give this to the Orioles. The risk (an end of the rotation starter and a questionable reliever) is far less then the reward (a solid all around outfielder). If this doesn't work out for the Orioles, they can patch the Olson hole with any number of in-house or free agent options.

Conversely, the Cubs, while sticking to a plan of acquiring a boat load of pitching, may end up on top here if this allows them to acquire Jake Peavy. Keep in mind that Olson was said to be an arm the San Diego Padres were interested in. The worst case scenario for the Cubs is better today then it was yesterday.

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