Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Trade: Harden to Cubs

The Cubs wasted little time in answering the Brewers' aquisition of CC Sabathia. Rich Harden isn't quite as much of a sure thing as Sabathia is, but if he can stay healthy he can provide similar results.

While I liked the Sabathia deal for both the Brewers and the Indians, I'm not as sure that I like this deal for Oakland. Perhaps they felt that they had to strike while the Cubs were still feeling the pressure of the Brewers deal or perhaps they wanted to make the move before Harden could hurt himself again, but the move seems a little premature to me. Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus wrote that he believed that the Indians could have gotten more for Sabathia if they had waited until closer to the trade deadline, I can only imagine what he thinks of this move (actually, I'll probably read about it tomorrow). It seems to me that Oakland had even more incentive to wait to trade Harden: with Sabathia off the market, Harden became the best available starting pitcher on the trade market. Had Oakland waited and played all of the potential suitors off of one another, they could have driven the price up - potentially higher than what the Brewers paid for Sabathia.

There are several differences between this trade and the Sabathia trade. First, Harden will not be a free agent until after the 2009 season, so he is not merely a second half rental, as Sabathia is expected to be. Second, Oakland is also sending Chad Gaudin to the Cubs. Gaudin is a young (25 years old) right handed pitcher that has started some in his career and has also come out of the pen. He is the type of pitcher that will not be a difference maker, but can be a valuable pitcher to a contender. Third, none of the players that Oakland received back from the Cubs appear to have star potential like Matt LaPorta does in the Sabathia trade. Sean Gallagher is probably the best prospect in the deal; he is a twenty-two year old starting pitcher that has a pretty decent strikeout ratio. I've never seen him pitch, but he seems like he might have the potential to be a decent mid-rotation starter. Matt Murton has proven to be a valuable fourth outfielder for a major league team (he was probably being under-utilized by the Cubs, actually). Eric Patterson is an exciting slash and burn type of player that would be much more valuable if he could stay at second base, but the Cubs had decided that he would have to be an outfielder if he was to make it in the big leagues. Perhaps Oakland disagrees and will shift him back to the infield. The final piece is Josh Donaldson, who is a catcher that is still at low A Peoria, so it is difficult to know what they've got in him.

So, while LaPorta seems to be the type of player that can be used by the Indians as a foundation to their offense, Oakland hasn't really received anyone with quite as clear of a path. Gallagher represents one of the most valuable commodities in baseball: a cost-controlled starting pitcher, but those are also much more speculative than players of LaPorta's ilk (as Oakland knows - it worked for them with Danny Haren and did not with Dan Meyer).

I'm not trying to argue that Oakland should have received as much as Cleveland received for Sabathia, I am only wondering why they made the deal now, for a package that can hardly be described as 'bowling them over'. It is almost heresy in some circles to criticize Billy Beane's moves, but they don't always work out (as the Tim Hudson for Dan Meyer deal showed). Oakland almost certainly got some useful pieces in this deal, but I have to believe that they could have gotten more had they waited until July 31st to make a trade. They may get to test that theory if they decide to also trade Joe Blanton this month.

The questions we are left with are: Is AJ Burnett the next pitcher to get traded? Erik Bedard? Which team will feel the pressure to make a move next (St. Louis?)?

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