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Deal of the Century

Matt Holliday was 4-5 w/ a double last night. Therefore, the trade was a tremendous coup on Mo’s part. Thank goodness, Holliday has arrived to solve all of our offensive woes and the price we’ve paid will be nothing in comparison to the gains we’ll get these next 2 (dare I say, 3?) months of Matt Holliday.

It’s important to note that none of us disparaging the trade believe Brett Wallace to be the 2nd coming. But he is an outstanding prospect – ranked recently by BA as baseball’s 21st best – and he’s close to being ready for the majors as well. It was likely that, had he remained a Cardinal, he would have stepped in to the 3rd base position next spring and, assuming a Schumaker-like competence at the hot corner, solidified the team at 3rd for the next 6 years. For all those questioning his defensive talent and ability to stick at 3rd – and I’m one of them – how long do you think it would take him to become a better offensive performer than Skip Schumaker? I’ll bet it’s not very damned long and if we’re going to continue running Skip out to 2nd there would be no reason not to run Wallace out to third.

For those of you unfamiliar w/ Victor Wang’s research on prospects’ values, I’ll explain it briefly and allow you to read the links for more details on the methodology. The bottom line is that Victor analyzed historical performance by draft picks and prospects and compared their performances to the salaries they’ve received in their first 6 years in the league. Why 6 years? Because that’s how long they’re under their teams’ control. Sky Kalkman over at BtB put together a chart summarizing Wang’s conclusions and you’ll see from that chart that a hitting prospect ranked between #11 and #25 – as Wallace is – has historically averaged being worth more than $25 M more than they’ve been paid over that time period.

Let’s pause here for a moment. Many will say – as many did yesterday – that prospects don’t always pan out. There’s nothing guaranteed in a prospect and Wallace may end up being worth nothing. That’s true. That’s accounted for in Wang’s research. Wallace may also end up being a perennial All-Star or end up in the Hall of Fame. (Why are those possibilities never stated by anyone who disparages the value that a prospect has?) Holliday may blow out his knee tomorrow and never play another game for the Cardinals. The bottom line is that the $25 M quoted above is an AVERAGE of all those hitting prospects rated between #11 and 25. He might turn out to be worth 0 or maybe he’ll be worth $50 M but the $25 M is a weighted average based on 70 prospects from 1990-1999. We can, therefore, dispense with the disingenuous argument that "prospects may flame out." Ok, so back to the trade.

Wallace figures to have surplus value of $25.1 M. Mortensen is graded by John Sickels as a C prospect (though I think he’s really closer to a B minus) who is 24 years old so his surplus value is $1.5 M. Peterson is also a grade C prospect whose surplus value is $0.5 M. Add all these together and the Cards traded away $27.1 M in surplus value. Again, that’s not the value these players expect to provide but rather the value in excess of their salaries that they would have provided the Cardinals and now will provide the A’s. Is that guaranteed? Of course not, but nothing’s guaranteed. They may all become Hall of Famers and Matt Holliday may suffer a career-ending injury tomorrow.

So what’s Holliday’s value to the team? Well, he’s probably worth 2 wins over Ankiel the rest of the way (though less than that over Rasmus if Tony persists in allowing Slick Rick to take Colby’s playing time away) so that will provide the team $9 M in value (not surplus value, however). Erik over at BtB estimates that the Cards’ increased playoff odds as a result of the trade provide about $4 M to the team. Apparently, Billy Beane was nice enough to throw in $1.5 M. When Holliday leaves via free agency the Cards will receive a first round pick and a supplemental since he’ll be a Type-A free agent. That value, using Wang’s research, -- assuming (generously) that Holliday doesn’t sign w/ a team selecting in the first half of the first round and that he isn’t the 2nd highest rated free agent signing w/ a team – is worth about $7.8 M to the team. Add all that up and it comes to $22.3 M. Subtract now Holliday’s salary. The Cards are on the hook for about $6 M so Holliday’s surplus value to the team is about $16.3 M – well beneath the $27.1 M that the Wallace, Mortensen, Peterson trifecta would have been worth to the team. In fact, it’s pretty clear that Holliday wasn’t worth Wallace BY HIMSELF.

Many of you will take issue w/ the SABR slant of this analysis and say "how do you place a value on things you don’t know for sure will happen?". What if the team wins the World Series? Is it worth it then? Perhaps, but what if they fail to make the playoffs or lose in the first round? If we’re going to play the "what if?" game, it can’t just be "what if we win the World Series" or "what if Wallace can’t play 3B or never makes it as a major leaguer?" We’ve gotta look at the other side as well. What if we don’t make the playoffs and Wallace becomes a perennial All-Star? Those are possibilities as well. Holliday simply wasn’t worth the cost…period. I hope we win this year and that Holliday plays really well and brings us 2 picks that Luhnow, the guy responsible for drafting Wallace btw, turns into great prospects as well. But the likelihood is that Billy Beane got the better of us again. In this case the likely return to the A’s will be 66% higher than the value we receive.

I’ll deal w/ the possibility of resigning Holliday in the offseason tomorrow b/c I know that many are saying that this becomes a great trade if we resign him to a long-term contract. It’s worth noting that Holliday will, undoubtedly, receive a 5 or 6 year contract worth somewhere between $15 and $18 M per season this offseason. We’ve already got Carp signed for $14.5 and $15 M the next 2 seasons. Lohse will receive almost $34 M the next 3 seasons. Ludwick is arbitration eligible each of the next 2 seasons and set to receive pretty decent raises, even with a decrease in performance this year. Wainwright is set to receive a pretty healthy raise each of the next 4 seasons, assuming the team picks up his 2 options. Rasmus is going to become arbitration eligible and see his salary go up in the next 3 seasons. And we’re all too aware that Pujols’s contract is going to need to be renegotiated, if not this offseason, then probably next offseason. Expect him to get a raise between $10 and $15 M PER SEASON. That’s Holliday’s salary (almost) right there! And we don’t have a 3B, we don’t have a closer (past next season), and we only have 3 starters. Plus we have little depth. The bottom line is that, to afford Pujols’s extension, we’re going to have to find more good, young, cheap players and not more older, $15 M players. Wallace was one guy we could have used.

The last thing I’ll say in this thread is that there appears to be a disturbing trend developing. The last 4 trades made by Mozeliak have all involved the team trading younger players for older players. I still say the Lugo trade was a good deal. I’ll also say that the Greene trade was worth the risk, though the Padres will clearly win that one. The jury is still out on the DeRosa deal, considering we don’t yet know who the PTBNL is and therefore don’t really know how high that cost is. There is an increased recognition of the importance of scouting, development, and young players in general and the team has done a great job over the last 3-4 years particularly in developing young players. But the days of developing prospects simply to trade them for older, more expensive veterans and being able to prosper as a result are over. The team’s future will be built around guys like Rasmus more than they will people like Matt Holliday and if we think that the only purpose for developing young guys is to trade them for older guys, we’ll lose far more often than we’ll win.