July 24, 2009
'Tis the season to be dealing, so in a recurring feature, Big League Stew analyzes the bigger trades made around the majors.
This is Fair Trade.
What's the deal: On Friday afternoon, St. Louis and Oakland agreed to a trade that will send outfielder Matt Holliday(notes) and $1.5 million to the Cardinals in exchange for a trio of young players that includes third baseman Brett Wallace(notes), one of St. Louis' most prized prospects.
What the Cardinals are getting: The Busch Stadium faithful have long coveted a corner outfielder who could provide Albert Pujols(notes) protection in the otherwise-thin Cardinals lineup and Holliday has always fit that mold. Today, Holliday is finally bound for the Gateway Arch — actually, Philadelphia, where the Cardinals are playing — and will bring his rejuvenated season with him.
Though Holliday's early-season struggles in pitcher-friendly Oakland were well-publicized, he's rebounded in recent weeks and has hit .338/.413/.574 with three homers and 14 RBIs in the month of July. He'll be a great fit for a team that has plenty of pitching, but not very much hitting, and here's betting he'll enjoy playing in Busch Stadium, which trends more neutral than stingy Oakland Coliseum. Oh, and that sound you just heard? Yeah, that was managers in the NL Central groaning over the loss of the ability to focus solely on stopping Albert Pujols.
What the A's are getting: During the offseason, GM Billy Beane felt the AL West was a very winnable division and made the big trade to get Holliday from Colorado. Oakland, though, never became a contender and Beane was forced to make this move so he could recoup Huston Street(notes), Carlos Gonzalez(notes) and Greg Smith(notes) to the Rockies.
Wallace is clearly the crown jewel of Oakland's haul and is the key to how this trade will be judged in the future. A first round pick of the Cardinals in 2008 and ranked as the 42nd best prospect in all of baseball, Wallace is a big third baseman with a big bat and an ever bigger behind. (Described as "a good athlete stuck in a bad body," some might even call him the proverbial "load".) Wallace bats lefty and is currently hitting .293/.346/.423 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs in stops with Springfield and Memphis this year. He'll never be a defensive presence, but with his bat, no one will even think to ask him about being one. He'll be a great fit in the American League.
Oakland is also said to be receiving outfielder Shane Peterson and righty Clayton Mortenson. Peterson is a 21-year-old who was just named to the Florida State League All-Star team, while Mortenson, 24, was recently called up to the Cardinals for three innings of work.
Knee-jerk evaluation: It's always dangerous to judge a trade while the ink on the paperwork is still wet and my initial thought is that both Beane and John Mozeliak achieved what they set out to do for their teams. Both could end up very happy with their result.
However, it's no fun to declare ties, which is why I'll give the initial edge to Beane and the A's based on the fact that they regained the kitty lost on the trade with Colorado over the winter and that it remains unseen if the Cardinals will hang onto Holliday when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. (St. Louis will get two draft picks if they lose him.)
I have the feeling that everyone is going to point to the 1997 Mark McGwire trade between the two teams — which the Cards no doubt won — and issue a precautionary tale for this deal. It should be noted, though, that the Cardinals didn't win the division that season and it was only McGwire's extended stay in St. Louis that made the deal such a winner.
If Holliday, a 29-year-old Oklahoman, decides with his free agent (Scott Boras) that he'd like to make the Midwest his long-term home, I'll definitely feel differently about this deal.
However with St. Louis investing more risk, I'll laud Oakland just a bit more right now.