Saturday, November 29, 2014

Toronto Trades for Donaldson

Oakland unloaded its best player at the worst possible time (SFGate)
When you have not just the best third-baseman in baseball, but the sport's second most valuable position player over the past two years behind the one and only Mike Trout, and you have him under team control for four more years, and he's still only 29 years old, you'd be crazy to trade him, right? Especially when you're at a point on the win curve where one win could mean the difference between making the playoffs and playing golf in October. Unless you get so much in return that the trade is a can't miss opportunity, you thank your lucky stars that your late-blooming third-sacker unexpectedly evolved into one of the best all-around players in the game and wave him good bye when he hits the open market at 33.

For the Oakland A's to justify trading Josh Donaldson, their All-Star third baseman who finished fourth in the 2013 AL MVP race and eighth last year, they clearly needed to win such a trade. And while they're getting a four-for-one in their latest deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, I think they're probably looking at a loss, at least in the near future. The best they can hope for is a push.

The main piece Oakland gets in return for their All-Star third baseman is Brett Lawrie, who looks like a lost cause at this stage in his career. Since bursting onto the scene in 2011 with a .293/.373/.580 slash line, Lawrie's turned in three straight subpar, injury-plagued seasons. He's batted just .261/.316/.406 over the past three years with 34 home runs and 5.4 fWAR in 302 games, failing to deliver on the enormous promise he displayed as a rookie that drew comparisons to Ryan Braun. The soon-to-be 25 year-old is still young enough that an Alex Gordon or Donaldson-esque breakout might be looming, but right now there's not much to suggest such a transformation is coming. Moving from the Rogers Center to Oakland's Colisieum, a hitter's nightmare, won't help speed that process along.

The best-case scenario is that Lawrie puts it all together and becomes as good as Donaldson (it's pretty much impossible to be better), but even if he does the A's will only control him for three years rather than the four they had left with Donaldson. Granted, one player's age 25-27 seasons are more appealing than another's age 29-32 years, but Donaldson's already a finished product. Lawrie's still a project. Think of it this way; would you rather have the next three years of Jackie Bradley, Jr. (25 next year) or four more years of Andrew McCutchen (28)? Or how about Lawrie versus Evan Longoria (29)?

Lawrie's not Donaldson, and he's probably never going to be Donaldson because Gold Glove-caliber defenders with 30-homer pop are exceptionally rare these days. But the A's got more than Lawrie; they got three other players as well, all prospects. The most promising of those is Franklin Barreto, an 18 year-old shortstop who hit well in low-A ball last year (.399 wOBA, 141 wRC+ with 29 steals in 73 games). Barreto, Toronto's No. 5 prospect per Baseball America, could be something special, but he also won't be major league ready for at least a few more years. I'd feel a lot better about this deal for the A's if he becomes their franchise shortstop, but right now that's far from guaranteed.

The other two prospects are arms, neither of whom were considered among Toronto's 10 best prospects. One is lefty Sean Nolin, who's about to turn 25 but has only pitched one game in each of his two major league seasons. Even so, his solid minor league track record (3.06 ERA) suggests he's major league ready and could crack Oakland's rotation next year. Ditto Kendall Graveman, a righty and the other pitching prospect in this deal. Graveman's going to be 24 next year but shot up through Toronto's farm system, making his major league debut little more than a year after being drafted. He dominated at every minor league level last year with a 0.34 ERA at A ball, 2.23 in high-A, 1.50 at Double-A, and 1.88 in Triple-A. Just as playing in Oakland will hurt Lawrie, pitching there should only help Nolin and Graveman's development.
Lawrie leaves a lot to be desired (CBC Canada)
Looking at the swap from Oakland's perspective, my concern has more to do with the timing of it than what the A's got in return. Lawrie's an everyday third baseman: not a great one, but a major league regular at the very least. Barreto's the shortstop of the future, and on top of that Oakland nets a pair of major league ready arms to bolster its staff. If the A's were in rebuilding mode, this would be a fantastic move for them.

Only the A's are in no position to rebuild coming off last season's soul-crushing wild card game defeat. They were the best team in baseball in last year's first half, for crying out loud, and still mortgaged their future to acquire Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija from the Cubs (and then traded Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes). You can't blame Billy Beane for wanting to restock the farm system a bit, but with that roster he should be focused on winning now, not five years from now. When you're on the cusp of your first World Series title since 1989, you don't trade your best player unless you're getting someone of similar value in return. Lawrie, Nolin, and Graveman combined probably won't provide as many wins as Donaldson will for the Blue Jays next year (Steamer says they'll produce 3.9 fWAR to Donaldson's 5.6 in 2015), and they take up three roster spots to Donaldson's one. Seven win players are incredibly rare and worth their weight in gold. Beane was lucky enough to have one, then crazy to trade him.

If you're the Blue Jays, though, you have to be excited with how your team's looking these days. Adding Donaldson to a lineup that already featured Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, and the recently acquired Russell Martin gives Toronto one of the best offenses in baseball (after they ranked fourth in runs and second in OPS among American League teams last year). The rotation isn't as formidable, but projects to be solid nonetheless. When you have a lineup like that, you can win plenty of games without top-shelf starting pitching.

Toronto's trying to be the top dog in an unstable AL East, and you have to commend the Jays for going for it. They know the time to win is now, with Boston, New York, and Tampa Bay all reeling from disappointing seasons, and they're doing all they can to end what is now the longest playoff drought in the four major American sports. Toronto's last two seasons have yielded disappointing results, but that hasn't stopped them from trusting their talent and doubling down on a championship-caliber core.

The A's could learn a thing or two.

No comments:

Post a Comment