Tuesday, January 08, 2008

D-backs Re-Arms: Haren Trade

Now that's an upgrade! I'm a bit late but wanted to post my thoughts on this trade. The Arizona D-backs traded for Dan Haren by giving up nearly half of their 2008 Baseball America Top 10 (#1,3,7,8) - Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Aaron Cunningham, and Chris Carter - plus Dana Eveland and Greg Smith, a pair of pitching prospects (Eveland was once #7 on BA Top 10 for the Brew Crew).

The A's get a bundle of top prospects/suspects in their haul for Haren. It reminded me of the Vida Blue trade, young popular pitcher for the A's, traded for a bushel-load of players. But it is a pretty good haul for the Athletics. Eveland has dazzled as a starter in AAA but has struggled in the majors; however, he's still only 24 years old. Greg Smith reached AAA in 2007 and could be ready soon for the majors; he had great command in 2007 (96 K/32 BB in 122 IP). And the BA Top 10 prospects could comprise 2/3rds of the A's outfield in a year or two (Gonzalez and Cunningham), a 1B/DH in Carter, and another starting pitcher (Anderson) to add to Eveland and Smith. Of course, not all of them are going to pan out, but there's a lot to work with here, plus Beane will probably pick up some more prospects when he trades Blanton and Street at some point.

Tim Kawakami took a swipe at the A's for not having a good farm system, when the trade happened, but as I have been noting, when a team is consistently winning for a long period of time, the odds of selecting a good prospect with their first round pick is severely diminished and thus the farm system will get progressively worse over time unless they invest money into the international free agents and/or save up money to select the great prospects who happen to fall down to them in the draft, like when Detroit picked up Porcello, a clear Top 5 pick (if not #1) with their pick - 27th overall - in 2007's draft or Arizona picking up Stephen Drew #15.

Twin Aces

Seems like the D-backs have been reading my thoughts! :^) But, truthfully, I got my "aha" moment from the D-back's Johnson/Schilling pairing for their World Series championship team and cemented it with the D-ger's Koufax/Drysdale pairing during their nice run together.

The D-backs essentially replace Livan Hernandez with Dan Haren, pairing him with Brandon Webb in a duo aces rotation that I've been advocating for the Giants as a way to improve their chances in the playoffs. In particular, they now have two pitchers who can put up good PQS stats. Webb had a 65% DOM/0% DIS in 2007 and that's pretty much what he put up in 2005 and 2006, an amazing run of consistency and domination. Haren was good previously (50%/18% in 2005; 53%/6% in 2006) but elite in 2007 with 74% DOM/3% DIS.

The only negative I can see is that Haren had a huge leap in 2007 that was created by improvement in two areas that might not repeat in 2008: HR/FB about 40% less than normal and a BABIP that was unsustainably low (0.23) in first half of season; when they did not repeat, he had a pretty normal ERA relative to his past career with the A's. In addition, analysis by Baseball Forecaster says that, still, overall, his second half and first half were about the same skill-wise, and similar to his previous two years with the A's, so he probably won't be as good as he looked in 2007 (i.e. Billy Beane sold high on Haren, perhaps very high). Still, he benefits from joining the NL, where he gets to face pitchers, and is hurt by pitching in Arizona, where offense rules. It will be interesting which Haren shows up.

Meanwhile, they have mortgaged their short-term prospects who might have come up and help, but they were all extraneous to the team, as they are set in the OF long-term with Brynes, Young, and Upton, and with this trade they are set in their rotation long term with Webb, Haren, and Owing, with Doug Davis and Randy Johnson as the rest of the rotation (though Johnson's poor health in recent year suggests they will have to use someone from the minors, like Yusmeiro Petit and their new acquisition, Billy Buckner, from the Royals. In addition, they saved a lot of money long term by trading away their closer, Jose Valverde, money they can use to sign their young players long-term.

Speaking of which, I was shocked by the timing of the Valverde trade, clearly they are related, because you don't trade away one of the league's top closers when you think you are World Series worthy. There's no reason to do a trade to get Haren unless you think you close enough to going all the way.

I think the D-backs did what they had to, should do, but that they will be second guessed after the 2008 season if it does not turn out to be as great as 2007, which is my expectation. They were horribly over their expected wins based on their runs scored and allowed, so they would have to duplicate that in 2008 in order to contend because they should have been 79-83, not 90-72, an 11 game swing. Part of that was their ability to close out games, led by Valverde plus a bunch of relievers that I would have to say had career years. They had better hope that Qualls is ready to close.

Plus, as I noted above, Haren will have some obstacles against him repeating 2007 in 2008. His home park is a big question mark, there is 11% more runs scored there than in an average park (according to Bill James Handbook), that pretty much eliminates the advantage of moving to the NL for Haren. His FIP was 3.66, much above his actual 3.07 ERA, though still better than his previous years. But he's just 27 years old in 2008, so these are the years one would expect to see sustained improvement as he enters his peak physical years. But those are pretty strong forces pushing towards an ERA at least in the mid-3's. Still, that's pretty damn good.

Giants Thoughts

As a Giants fan, I cannot help but feel afraid that the D-backs could be the cream of the division for a while, with their combination of vets and a lot of youth, good to great youth. Plus the 'Dres and D'gers appear to have a similar mix of vets and good youth, remaking the NL West from the NL Worst to NL Best. The Giants more than ever need to hold onto Cain and Lincecum this season and then figure out everything else around them. I think that the D-backs will be formidable starting in 2009, with several key young players needing to further develop in 2008, resulting in what their fans would view as a disappointment relative to their great success in 2007.

Still, they are in a much better situation than the Giants. But I must note to those who are down on the Giants because of this, that the D-backs are deeper into their rebuild cycle than we are, they have been rebuilding since 2004 and their rebuild got a big boost of a year or two when Stephen Drew fell to them when they had a relatively bad #15 pick overall. If they had not gotten him, it could have taken another year or two for them to rebuild.

That's a benefit the Giants did not take advantage of when they passed over Porcello and drafted Alderson; nothing against Alderson, I still think that he can be very good, but Porcello was considered among the top picks of the draft and Detroit, who was in the World Series the year before, was able to pick him, subverting what the draft is suppose to be doing, driving talent to the weaker teams. That enabled them to trade Andrew Miller to the Marlins and pick up Cabrera and Willis.

This emphasizes for me even more that the Giants must look towards punting the 2008 season, try out a bunch of young guys and see who can actually play in the majors, select a good HITTING prospect in the June draft, and then look to getting competitive in 2009. Even with our weak offense, our pitching is very good and should only get better, barring any injuries. But it won't be good enough for even this weak offense to be more than a .500 team, so the Giants should look more to the future in 2008, and think ahead to 2009. By then, hopefully the young pitching will have matured enough to be consistently good to great, and we would have picked up another good bat that will boost the offense enough to get the team to and past .500 in 2009.


  1. Couple quick thoughts. The Vida Blue trade is an interesting comparison because it ended up being an absolutely horrible trade for the A's. Thomason was done, Alexander had two decent years as backup for the As, Heaverlo had two decent years out of the pen, John Henry Johnson they turned around and traded for Dave Chalk. Really all they got was bodies. The Giants won both trading for Blue and then again sending him on the KC for Atlee Hammaker and Renie Martin (KC released Blue I think later that same year).

    Aside from my perpetual debate with your discounting the extraordinary differences in context between the 60s and today that make any comparison to Koufax/Drysdale particularly relevant, I think you should notice what you're saying about the Schilling/Johnson tandem. Both of these guys were veterans on the far side of 30 brought in at great, great cost. Stars whose original teams couldn't afford to keep them. Most of the great pitchers of our era have large portions if not the bulk of their great years after using market forces to leave their original teams. That could suggest that we're doing more to strengthen some future home of Cain and Lincecum's World Series hopes than our own, quite sadly.

  2. Yeah, the A's got a bit bamboozled on that trade but got a bit of benjamins as well.

    They would have gotten two average years out of Alexander except they traded him for Joe Wallis, who flopped.

    I disagree on Thomassen, they would have gotten two average years out of Thomassen, basically backup, but traded him for Dell Alston, Mickey Klutts, and $50K. He was basically league average 4th OF for two years. And Klutts gave a league average season as backup as well.

    They would have gotten 3 years out of Heaverlo if they didn't waive him, and he was a above average reliever for those three years, about 105 ERA+, which was approximately 3.8 ERA vs. 4.0 league ERA.

    John Henry Johnson was a great reliever for 7 seasons, not the Giants fault if the A's screwed up and traded him for Dave Chalk, but you left out Mike Heath, who then played 7 seasons for the A's in a backup role, but pretty significant in that he regularly got into over half the games in the season and had around 300-400 ABs, culminating in starting role his last two seasons before being traded for Joaquin Andujar, who had one average season, then was basically done. Plus they got some cash.

    Phil Huffman was traded in a package for Rico Carty, who hit .928 in like the last two months for the A's. Then the A's sold him back to Toronto for money.

    Lastly, the A's got a nice half season out of Alan Wirth and cash for Mario Guerrero.

    Oh, and the A's got $300,000 for Blue as well.

    Altogether, they got around $400K for Blue, two good relievers in Heaverlo and Johnson, a league average starting catcher for two seasons, and a bunch of backup players who had average type seasons.

    So the A's didn't get a lot for Blue, true.

    However, I would note that for the 6 seasons before the trade, Vida Blue was essentially a slightly above average starting pitcher. His ERA+ was 102, 108, 103, 121, 142, 104 for those seasons, meaning he was barely above average in 3 of those seasons, above average in one, great in two.

    Excluding his two superlative years at the beginning of his career, meaning after the demons that has haunted his life since then took over, he had 2 of his best 3, and 3 of his best 5 seasons while with the Giants, using ERA+.

    So while in context of what he did for the Giants - then who they acquired trading him - makes the trade look bad, he was basically ordinary for 4 of the 6 seasons before the Giants picked him up, and for him the A's got $300K, which represented about 10% of the payroll back in 1977 (average team had $8.9M in revenues, $3.2M in team costs, which I interpreted as payroll for players, as there was also a category for salaries, which I took to mean other personnel; $1.0M on player development, $1.2M on team replacement, whatever that is). That's the equivalent of paying $6-8M for a player today.

    Plus two good relievers, an average starting catcher, an average 4th OF, and some more cash ultimately, between $50K and $150K, I would guess.

    Yeah, still a steal, but I think the main thing Finley wanted was the money, that was a big chunk of change to get.

  3. I'm probably alone here, but I don't think the D-Backs are going to be as great as everyone thinks they will. While they did pick up Haren, getting rid of Valverde takes away from the stability of their bullpen. I still think they'd have a good shot at being top of the division, though. But I think (and fear) the D'gers might be right up their with them, especially if their young players, like Kemp, Loney, and Laroche really pan out this year. Of course, this is assuming Colleti doesn't make the stupid decision and refuses to play them, but we can all pray.

    And another thing, I think we passed up on Porcello because we picked Bumgarner. Porcello fell down the draft because of the concern about the ability to sign him, and we already picked another player who was quite possibly not going to sign (Bumgarner signed a letter of intent to go UNC, and it took until the deadline for signing draft picks to land him) But I'm quite satisfied with Alderson. I think he could be great for us someday, maybe even in the bullpen if there's no room in the rotation

  4. I agree that the D-backs won't jump from 90 wins this season to more just because they picked up Haren. I think getting Haren helps them have a better chance of reaching 90 again, though (I know, obvious statement :^).

    I agree about Valverde too, I was pretty shocked about it too, they pretty much traded down to Qualls in hopes that Qualls can become the quality arm they need at closer. I think they made a mistake doing the trade, because the bullpen, for the most part, if I remember right, almost all had career years there; that's probably not going to happen again. So losing Valverde's quality is a blow.

    But Qualls is pretty good in his own right, so it will be interesting if he can pull it off for them. It's a calculated risk, but one well worth it as long as, as I noted above, they are aware that they might have a comedown year in 2008 before being really good in 2009 and beyond. They have Young, Upton, Drew, Owings, Webb, and now Haren, plus Reynolds, Connor, and Qualls, that's a pretty good core of the team, but I suspect they will have growing pains in 2008.

    I think the D'gers will be kept down as long as Colletti does the "vets are best" strategy like this. They have Kemp but then go out and get Pierre and Luis Gonzalez, then Hunter this year. Plus they got Garciaparra blocking LaRoche at 3B.

    The signability of Porcello was strictly because of one thing: the Boras factor. He made it known what exactly he wanted for his player, knowing that this will scare off the cheaper teams, leaving his client to get selected by a richer and more talented (i.e. more likely to win) team. However, if you know that going in and prepare to meet higher signing bonuses (assuming you think the prospect is worth it, naturally, but Porcello was pretty much the concensus best prep pitcher available), then you can get a good prospect later in the draft that normally would have gone higher. Obviously, I want the scouts to think the guy is going to be a keeper, but once that is settled, then you have the money in reserve somewhere to tap and get the player.

    I like Alderson a lot, and in some ways, like him more than Porcello (mainly the Boras factor), but I chose Porcello to illustrate what I mean. A couple of years ago, I would have used the Stephen Drew and D-backs example instead. The main point is that I want the Giants to put aside "rainy-day" money (or use the "Maddux" money) and be willing to use it in the draft, say, in the third round (which is their next pick since they lost their second round pick to the Phillies by signing Rowand), to select a player who fell down to their position because of signability issues (meaning they want more money than teams were willing to give), and just overpay, again, assuming the scouts think the prospects is that good. They have done that before, with Ishikawa in the 20th round or so, so it is not a foreign thing to them, but I just want to see them doing that more often.

    I think that the Giants must be envisioning bringing both Bumgarner and Alderson up quickly and then inserting them as relievers as their first taste of the majors, if they are to fulfill what Sabean said when he drafted them, that they could make the majors in two seasons (meaning by 2009). That's Earl Weaver's preferred way of bringing up prospects anyway, let them be long relievers their first major league season, work them in situations that builds their confidence and play to their strengths, then put them in the rotation the next year (assuming they deserve it I assume)

  5. Martin, I missed Sabean making a two season comment on Bumgarner and Alderson, and I thought I caught most of his interviews (MiLB.com, ESPN, SF writers). Are you sure he said that? What I consistently heard him say was that they both could move as fast as Matt Cain. Matt was drafted in June of '02 and made his debut in Sept. '05, (ok Aug. 29 technically). That's essentially 4 seasons in the minors (counting his drafted season when he threw very few innings in the AZL, much like Alderson did this year). To me that puts these guys in a September 2010 callup in a pretty much best case (Matty-like dominance) scenario.

    Oh and for what it's worth, I'd say haren is a great addition to the Dbacks, and I do predict them 1st place, but I'd say the determinant factors will be the young stars progressing offensively, particularly Drew and Young. Also RJ giving them one more decent year would help a bundle.

  6. I guess you had to be there. MLB.com had a setup so that you could view the draft live and the Sabean interview was just after drafting the three of them that day.

    Yes, Haren is a great addition, sorry I didn't make that clear, but I view him and Webb as the double ace configuration I like.

  7. I was watching the MLB.com draft day live and I'm pretty sure all he said was they had a chance to move as fast as Matt Cain. I Tivo'd ESPN's draft day show and I know that's what he said there (only minutes later).

  8. And I was pretty sure he said they could make the majors in two years. Oh well, I guess we'll just have to wait and see. :^)

    I didn't get ESPN's draft day show so I don't know about that.

    I love Tivo!

  9. Oh, and what you heard is much more believable, so I'll concede that perhaps I misheard it, I was pretty shocked when (I thought) he said that. If I remember right, I re-played the video a few times to be sure I heard everything right. But my computer system's a dinosaur with cheap (mfg) speakers so the quality is not the greatest.

    Still, coming up as fast as Cain would still be pretty darn good.

  10. OK, just happen to find my notes I took.

    Tidrow and Sabean were speaking, Tidrow was asked about the 10th pick and noted that the Giants had targeted Bumgarner and another pitcher, then said that they think that in "one to two years, he'll be ready for the MLB." They see him as being on the fast track, a fast mover, particularly with his power curve.

    Then a little later, they noted that both are on the fast track.

    So the Giants didn't even target a position player with the #10 pick, plus viewed "talent first, signability and agent second," implying that they viewed both Bumgarner and Alderson to be better than Porcello (Detroit eventually drafted him). This was in response to a question on whether Boras being a prospect's agent would affect their selection.

    The cool part was when they corraled the prospects to make some statements to the press; they got Bumgarner, Alderson, and Fairley to talk. Bumgartner just talked about the whole experience and passed on the question on whether he would sign. Alderson said that they would definitely talk and see how it goes, but then noted the allure of playing high school ball at the Giants spring training facility. Fairley said, "I'm a Giant now." (unfortunately, it took him until the last day to sign to make that come true).

    Looks like it was a live feed with no replay function, else I would have went back and filled in the holes in my notes...



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