9 players, 1 clear winner in Halladay-Lee trade

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OK, so it’s not officially a four-team deal, but I’ll treat it like one, since it’s that much more fun.
First, a recap of who is landing where (ages as of Opening Day, 2010):
Phillies
RHP Roy Halladay (32, from Blue Jays)
RHP Phillippe Aumont (21, from Mariners)
$6 million (from Blue Jays)
RHP J.C. Ramirez (21, from Mariners)
OF Tyson Gillies (21, from Mariners)
Mariners
LHP Cliff Lee (31, from Phillies)
Blue Jays
RHP Kyle Drabek (22, from Phillies)
INF Brett Wallace (23, from Athletics)
C Travis d’Arnaud (22, from Phillies)
Athletics
OF Michael Taylor (24, from Phillies via Blue Jays)
In truth, it’s three two-team deals.
The Phillies give up one top-five pitcher a year away from free agency in exchange for another and downgrade their minor league system in the process. They think it’s worth it since Halladay is the better of the two and will sign the cheaper extension. I think they see the second factor as being more important than the first, and I’m not going to be convinced that they were better off doing this than they would have been keeping Lee and trading Joe Blanton to make room for Halladay.
Again, the Halladay trade is simply a two-team transaction. The Phillies didn’t need anyone from the Mariners to make it work. The Blue Jays even willing to kick in enough cash to bring Halladay’s 2010 salary down to $9.75 million. Instead of trading Lee, who is due $9 million, the Phillies could have dealt Joe Blanton, who will make $7.5 million in arbitration. Such a move probably could have produced the eighth-inning setup man that team still needs now. And when Lee proved impossible to sign next winter, the Phillies would have received two draft picks for him.
It’s not necessarily a bad trade, mostly because Halladay was willing to sign the below market extension. But the Phillies had a chance to put an even better product on the field in 2010 and passed. Plus, they’ve lost a top talent in Drabek, who was shaping up as the ideal replacement for Lee in 2011.
Phillies grade: C-
I called the deal a steal for Seattle last night and the addition of Ramirez to the package doesn’t change much.
Concerns about Aumont’s durability and a desire to see him in the majors as soon as possible caused the Mariners to move the big right-hander to the pen last season. He posted a 3.88 ERA and a 59/23 K/BB ratio in 51 innings between Single-A and Double-A. The 2007 first-round pick also pitched in the AFL and, despite averaging 95 mph with his fastball, he gave up 16 earned runs in 12 innings.
If the Blue Jays had acquired Aumont, I imagine they would have put him back into the rotation. The Phillies, though, may well keep him in the pen and hope that he develops into a long-term closer. It’s certainly a possibility, and I’d rank him among the game’s top-five relief prospects. However, he comes with plenty of risk.
Ramirez went 8-10 with a 5.12 ERA for high-A High Desert last season, but that was as a 20-year-old pitching in an extreme offensive environment. He had a 3.09 ERA in road games, even though the California League is filled with nice parks for hitters. That his slider hasn’t developed into a big strikeout pitch is a concern, but he has a nice arm and plenty of time left to improve.
Gillies was a teammate of Ramirez last season, and he took advantage of the very favorable conditions to hit .341/.430/.486. Eight of his nine homers came at home. Gillies is never going to hit for real power, but he does have a knack for getting on base and plenty of speed, though he’s a mediocre basestealer (he was 44-for-63 last season). The package should make him a fourth outfielder in the majors, but he’s an overachiever and it’s possible he’ll continue to surprise.
And that’s it. Three minor leaguers, only one of whom will make any of this winter’s top 100 prospects lists. That the Mariners could get Lee and keep Brandon Morrow, Michael Saunders, Shawn Kelley, Carlos Triunfel and Adam Moore makes this a huge win for the Mariners. They’re only spending $9 million on Lee, so there still in position to add one more key player this winter. There’s every reason to think that the team will contend next year, and on the off chance that things blow up, Lee should bring a superior package in return at the trade deadline. Just the draft picks the Mariners would get for losing Lee next winter would recoup a great deal of what they lose with the trade.
Mariners grade: A
The Blue Jays had to settle for two top prospects as the return for Halladay, and neither is the up-the-middle acquisition that should have been a priority.
Still, I’m not sure they could have done better.
In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Drabek went 12-3 with a 3.19 ERA and a 150/50 K/BB ratio in 158 innings between Single-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading. His fastball-curveball combination gives him top-of-the-rotation ability, though he still needs to come up with a better changeup to counter left-handed hitters. Lefties hit .322 off him in Double-A last season. A half-season in Triple-A will surely do him some good, and it figures that the Jays will give it to him.
Getting Wallace from the A’s for Taylor is interesting. Third base is a big hole in the Oakland organization, so the A’s wouldn’t have made the move if they thought Wallace could stay there. But it’s been assumed since the day he was drafted 13th overall by the Cardinals in 2008 that Wallace would end up at first or at DH. Wallace delivered a .293/.367/.455 line in his first full pro season, most of which was spent in the PCL. He’s been a disappointment in the plate-discipline department since being drafted, as he’s amassed a 155/66 K/BB ratio in 734 at-bats. Wallace doesn’t project as a 30-homer guy, so he’ll need a .380-.400 OBP to become a star and he’s not showing that ability yet. I still like him as a long-term regular, but I’d put Taylor slightly above him at this point.
D’Arnaud, a 2007 supplemental first-round pick, hit .255/.319/.419 for Single-A Clearwater in the pitcher friendly Florida State League last year. He’s still raw as a catcher, though scouts like his tools. At this point, there’s not enough to his game offensively or defensively to project him as a regular. However, he’s still awfully young and catchers tend to develop slowly.
It’s well worth noting that the Blue Jays also gave away $6 million here. Now, that doesn’t take away from their non-existent chances of contending in 2010, but it’s $6 million that can’t be spent on draft picks or international signings. It’s a big loss, and it drops the grade here.
Blue Jays grade: D
The A’s apparently injected themselves into the deal at the last moment, taking the prize from last summer’s Matt Holliday deal with the Cardinals and turning him into Taylor, a chiseled 6-foot-6 outfielder who has put up some of the best numbers in the minors over the last two years. Taylor hit .346/.412/.557 for two A-ball teams in 2008 and .320/.395/.549 between Double- and Triple-A last season. He doesn’t hit for quite as much power as one would expect given his frame, but he also doesn’t strike out very much and he has an above average walk rate and plus speed. It’s just too bad he’s not quite a legitimate center fielder. He’ll probably settle into right, and he could be ready to compete for a job in spring training, though the A’s have several options at the position. I doubt he’ll be quite the player his minor league numbers suggest, but he should have a nice run as an above average regular.
Athletics grade: B

The deeper implications of the A.J. Ellis trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers heads to the dugout at the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The trade of a light-hitting backup catcher is normally about as inconsequential as it gets. The trade of A.J. Ellis by the Dodgers to the Phillies, however, is anything but that. Indeed, it may be the public manifestation of long-simmering, well, maybe “feud” is too strong a word, but a definite butting of heads between the team’s front office and its best player.

While almost all of the clubhouse drama in Los Angeles has surrounded a talented but aggravating corner outfielder currently toiling in the minors, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night that the Ellis trade could very well be seen as the front office’s shot across Clayton Kershaw‘s bow:

Kershaw’s preference of Ellis was the subject of a longstanding tug-of-war between Kershaw and the front office, which wanted Yasmani Grandal behind the plate as much as possible . . . Some players interpreted the trade as a message from the front office.

This isn’t Kershaw’s team. It’s not Corey Seager’s team or Adrian Gonzalez’s, either.

It’s Friedman’s.

The notion that Kershaw likes to pitch to Ellis is pretty well-known, but the idea that it was so strong a preference that it created a dispute as to whether he has final say over a roster spot is news, at least to people who aren’t around the Dodgers all the time. Hernandez is a good columnist and is particularly well-plugged in to the Dodgers after many years of being their beat writer for the Times. He wouldn’t throw the notion of there being something of a power struggle in this regard out there all willy-nilly in order to stir the pot or something. I don’t doubt for a second that something bigger than most of us have seen is going on here.

As for the trade itself: yeah, it’s pretty debatable as to whether it makes any kind of sense. Carlos Ruiz is likely an upgrade over Ellis, but it’s a pretty marginal upgrade when you consider how few plate appearances the Dodgers backup catcher will make for the rest of the year. It’s especially marginal if you assume, as Hernandez and others assume, likely with reason, that the loss of Ellis is going to harm morale. At least in the short term before they get to know Ruiz well (worth noting, though, that he comes pretty highly recommended from Kershaw-caliber aces for all the same reasons Ellis does). I can see a lot of reasons not to make that deal even for an extra hit or two a week that Ruiz may give you over Ellis.

All of which speaks to what we don’t know. What we don’t know about the mind of Andrew Friedman and whether or not there is something more going on here than is immediately apparent. About the relationship between him and Kershaw and, for that matter, him and the rest of the team that would cause him to make a deal that plays as poorly with his own players as this one does. It could be something about Ellis. It could be something about Friedman’s relationship with Kershaw. It could be something totally unrelated to any of that, such as offseason plans and the roster in 2017 (Ruiz has a team option for next year, Ellis is a pending free agent). Unless or until Friedman speaks or a reporter gets someone to shed more light on this, there will continue to be questions.

In the meantime, I’ll grant that there are certainly different rules which apply to superstars than mere mortals, but veto power over a trade and/or playing time for other players isn’t typically one of them. If, as Hernandez suggests, there was a sense that Kershaw and Friedman didn’t see eye-to-eye on that and it wasn’t otherwise being resolved, it makes Friedman’s move somewhat more understandable.

World Baseball Classic pools, venues announced

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 10:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of Venezuela gets a hit and drives in a run against Spain during the first round of the World Baseball Classic at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on March 10, 2013 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Yesterday the folks who run the World Baseball Classic (i.e. the Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people, under the supervision of the reverse vampires, the Illuminati and the Trilateral Commission) announced the groupings and venues for next springs’s tournament. It breaks down thusly:

  • Pool A will play in Tokyo, featuring Australia, China, Cuba, and Japan;
  • Pool B will play in Seoul, featuring Chinese Taipei, Korea, the Netherlands, and either Brazil, Israel, Great Britain, or Pakistan (final participant to be determined at a qualifying tournament in New York next month);
  • Pool C will play in Miami, featuring Canada, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and the United States;
  • Pool D will play in Guadalajara, featuring Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

A winner and a runner-up will advance from each pool following a round-robin competition. That will result in a second round robin made up of Pool A and B — which will be called Pool E, because it HAS to be complicated — and which will be played in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Pool C and D’s representatives will make up Pool F, who will play in San Diego at Petco Park.

The winner of Pool F will then take on the runner-up of Pool E in a semifinal at Dodger Stadium, while the winner of Pool E will face Pool F’s runner-up there as well. The winners of those matches will play in the WBC final, also at Dodger Stadium.

Got it? Good.

Now we wait. And listen to people tell us how much we should care about the World Baseball Classic between now and March.