Big Trade, Under-the-Radar Deal, and Other Recent Moves

In case you missed it, over the Thanksgiving weekend there was a blockbuster deal involving the Athletics and Blue Jays. There was also a trade involving an NL East club that slipped under the radar, as well as a few other transactions in the past week.

Let’s quickly go over the highlights …

First off, the Oakland A’s traded their best player, and one of the top-ten players in MLB, Josh Donaldson, to the Toronto Blue Jays in return for Brett Lawrie, LHP Sean Nolin, RHP Kendall Graveman and minor-league shortstop Franklin Barreto. I don’t really understand this deal from Billy Beane‘s point-of-view, especially considering that Donaldson was under team control at a fair price for the next four years, but I’m guessing that he’s pulling his old “sell high” trick and banking on Lawrie turning into a monster. A few things wrong with my guess, though. First, the “sell high” thing that Beane has done in the past almost always was involving selling high on pitchers — who tend to get more serious injuries and/or decrease in performance. Second, if Beane was selling high on Donaldson, was that really the best package he could muster, especially with the going rate for sluggers? There’s an interesting piece on Forbes.com that explains the deal from the “Moneyball” perspective; basically, Beane is betting that Lawrie — who is only 25 years old — will be as good as Donaldson (currently 29 years old) over the next six seasons. OK, I’ll buy that, but I still don’t know that Beane obtained the best package he could find for Donaldson. With power such a rare commodity, I’d think he’d have been able to get either the Blue Jays or another team to overpay a bit more. Maybe I’m wrong.

Oh, there’s also a rumor that A’s officials were unhappy with Josh Donaldson’s Twitter reactions to free-agent signings on November 18th (that were quickly deleted) — in particular, tweets that called out the ownership for publicly portraying themselves as having less money than they actually have. So, maybe Beane had some pressure from above to move Donaldson sooner rather than later.

How does the Donaldson deal affect the Mets? For one, it means the Blue Jays still are in the market for a second baseman. Lawrie bounced between second and third during his Toronto tenure, and there was some possibility that he’d handle 2B full-time if the Jays found a third baseman. With Lawrie in Oakland and Donaldson at 3B, maybe Toronto will be interested in acquiring a veteran second baseman such as Daniel Murphy. What might the Mets get in return? I have no idea; it seems that Nolin, Graveman, and Barreto were the closest to MLB-ready pieces that the Mets would’ve been interested in. Perhaps a package that would include a LOOGY such as Aaron Loup or Brett Cecil, along with first baseman / outfielder John Mayberry, Jr.? That may not sound like a great return for Murphy, but look at it from the perspective that the Mets would do it in part to “create payroll flexibility.” Maybe the Mets would trade Murphy for Dioner Navarro, therefore creating a true surplus behind the plate and allowing them to be comfortable packaging one of their current backstops for a big bat. Who knows?

On to other news …

One seemingly minor trade that was overshadowed by the Donaldson deal was Miami’s acquisition of RHP Aaron Crow from the Royals in return for LOOGY Brian Flynn and minor league RHP Reid Redman. Crow was not at his best last year, and experienced a significant drop in velocity as well as K rate, but was a stellar setup man from 2011-2013, when he was humming in the mid-90s range. Interestingly, the Fish may give Crow a shot as a starter, something the former first-rounder hasn’t done since his time in the minors. I’m not sure that makes sense, especially considering that his velocity is likely to drop further with the typical routine employed by most MLB starters that robs them of proper rest. If there’s nothing physically wrong with Crow, and his drop in velocity has something to do with a mechanical flaw that the Marlins can correct, they may have scored a very solid late-inning reliever for the cost of two arms that might not see MLB duty in 2015.

At least one reason the Royals were OK with shedding Crow was their re-signing of free-agent reliever Jason Frasor to a very affordable one-year, $1.25M contract.

Also of note, notorious Mets killer Gaby Sanchez was DFA’d by the Pirates, who needed to make room on their roster after making a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for shortstop / utility man Sean Rodriguez. While Sanchez hasn’t done much since back-to-back 19-HR seasons in 2010/2011, he has brutalized the Mets, hitting .321 with a .959 OPS and 9 HR and 34 RBI against them in 58 career games. It might be a good idea for the Mets to take a flier on Sanchez, partly so that he can’t do any more damage against them, but also because he could be a good platoon partner for Lucas Duda at 1B. In his career, Sanchez has against LHPs a .291 AVG., .382 OBP, and .863 OPS with 22 HR in 714 PAs. Not too shabby.

As for Rodriguez, he hit a surprising 12 HRs in only 237 at-bats last year, spending some time at nearly every position on the diamond. I don’t think he would’ve been the Mets’ everyday answer at shortstop, but he should be a valuable “super utilityman” and dangerous pinch-hitter for the Bucs.

A more “true” shortstop — Ryan Jackson — was traded by the Dodgers to the Royals. Jackson once was a big-time prospect who was supposed to be the Cardinals’ “shortstop of the future” as recently as 2012, but that fizzled quickly as the sure-handed glove man has bounced from St. Louis to San Diego to Los Angeles and now to Kansas City, with only 24 MLB at-bats on his resume. He spent most of 2014 on the shelf with a wrist injury, and projects as a utility infielder. Could he be good enough to play shortstop full-time at the MLB level? Who knows? But he likely won’t get that opportunity with the Royals, who have Alcides Escobar manning the position.

In more recent news, the Dodgers have acquired outfielder Chris Heisey from the Reds in return for minor-league pitcher Matt Magill (his name is Magill, but he calls himself “Lil,” while everyone knows him as Nancy). I suppose the deal clears some salary for Cincinnati, and offers the Dodgers some depth if they wind up trading away one of their outfielders — i.e., Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, or Carl Crawford.

Finally, Torii Hunter has returned to Minnesota, signing a one-year, $10.5M contract. Whoa. That’s the price of a sharply declining 39-year-old outfielder who can still hit 15-20 HR and 30+ doubles with regular duty.

Did I miss any other notable transactions, other than non-tenders, which I’ll try to get to shortly? Post in the comments.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. meticated December 3, 2014 at 8:19 am
    Crawford and Ethier are traded for pitching, but not ours!…perhaps it’s Hamels. Watch Crow get his wing fixed and start again…maybe literally. Beane is nobody”s fool, so I would venture to guess he’s got a definite plan in mind…so far, he has been a competent Magician and pseudo Riverboat gambler …I wouldn’t bet against his history of success under that duress of Oakland’s budget and its obvious challenges. How’s the Bordeaux?
    • Joe Janish December 5, 2014 at 1:30 pm
      Bordeaux? Do people still drink that plonk? Brunello, my friend, Brunello. And always Banfi. Stock up on the 2010 when it becomes available next spring — it is the vintage of a lifetime.

      Beane’s plan is to keep being relevant on a shoestring budget.

  2. Anthony December 4, 2014 at 9:41 pm
    http://www.fangraphs.com/community/josh-donaldson-vs-the-elite/
    Check out this article…you want to know why the real reason why Mr. Beane can’t survive with Donaldson playing for him? HE CAN NOT HIT ELITE PITCHING! What do you face in the playoffs? ELITE PITCHERS! Just because he kills the mediocre to poor pitchers, his numbers are a little inflated. His defense his top of the league, no doubt about that, but Beane does not stress defense, it is all analytical offense. This was a great move for the post season, not regular season. The man is a serious liability against good pitchers, which is what you face in the playoffs, and that is a problem.
    • Joe Janish December 5, 2014 at 1:40 pm
      Anthony, that’s an interesting point. At the same time, I don’t think the trade was about Donaldson’s ability to hit in the postseason as much as it was about Beane’s desire to continue fielding a team that has a shot at the postseason over the next five or so years while operating with an extremely limited budget. See the Forbes link I mentioned in my post, it does a really nice job of explaining.

      Beane doesn’t give a squat about winning championships — his goal is to get into the playoffs and see what happens from there. Like lotto, you have to be in it to win it.

      BTW, how many hitters hit well against “elite pitching”? I’d be curious to see how well other All-Stars fare against that same selection of pitchers cited in the Fangraphs piece. I did see that that author included the “league average” against those pitchers, but that doesn’t really help.

      • DanB December 5, 2014 at 7:42 pm
        Joe, you are only reinforcing the philosophy that has been making the rounds in baseball — with the extra wild card team, it doesn’t take a lot of payroll to in the mix for the playoffs. The jump from 85 wins to 95 wins (where most World Series winners live), however, takes a lot of payroll. I think Beane (and Alderson) don’t think it is worth the extra payroll.
        • DanB December 5, 2014 at 7:45 pm
          I mean your comment about Beane reinforces it, not your personal opinion.
        • DaveSchneck December 5, 2014 at 10:59 pm
          Dan,
          Yes, your point is very valid. The question that I have, is what is the estimated cost to get from 85 to 90 wins? More specifically, what is that direct cost to the 2015 Mets? This is exactly what Alderson is focusing on tonight. Agree with it or not, he fancies the current roster at about 85 wins, costing $100 million in payroll, with excess starting pitching and excess money in those excess starters. Jeffy has him on a monetary string regardless of what is said in public, so he is acting like he needs to clear the starting pitching issue first before addressing the needs. I think he can add 3 more wins with $10 million additional payroll – sign Drew, trade for a good LH reliever, and trade for/sign a RH bat with pop to backup the corner IF positions. Deal Colon and chip in a few million, and they can project to 85-88 wins with a payroll slightly over $100 million and retain all the young arms and position prospects for 2016-2019.