Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mr. 500 Foot Bombs

A quick look through various posts on Cleveland sports blogs and websites seem to identify one thing. A collective look of puzzlement. People are moaning and groaning that Matt Laporta will now have to shift around the diamond to ensure Branyan will get the at bats he may have been promised. Others are nervous that this is a case of Shapiro signing a veteran free agent to "give more time" for Michael Brantley's development in AAA (reeking of signing Juan Gonzalez to play over Grady Sizemore, before Gonzalez inexplicably left his hamstring in the batter's box while running to first base, forcing Shapiro's and Wedge's interlocked hands). Some don't understand where the $2 mil to sign this guy is coming from (and rightly so, why spend money on a guy who will fortify a lineup that isn't supposed to compete anyways). However, I have a different take on this investment...

I don't propose to be an expert on player movement. I have a pretty good idea of the transaction wire, based on the fact I love baseball and have an above average memory. I don't study the boards, look very deep into statistics, or surf a million websites. But I do work in baseball, and being around it all the time helps one think about it all the time. Around the baseball trading deadline last season, I was coaching a high school travel team in a tournament in Missouri. One of our pitchers was getting recruited by Vanderbilt, and their assistant coach, Josh Holliday was their scouting. Josh's brother Matt had just been traded to the Cardinals from the A's. This got me thinking. Why would the A's, a traditional small market/low budget team decide to pick up a player like Holliday, and trade him mid year. Then I started thinking....

How have the A's built and maintained success? By drafting smart and trading their groomed stars for other team's prospects of course. In a game where, like it or not, statistics are so dominant, the players that put up the best statistics are going to win out time and time again. The reason why professional poker players play millions of hands is to make sure they play enough hands that the 63% chance they will win a hand, happens 63% of the time (the singular "bad beat" hands you see on television are the anomaly, whereas, if that hand played out enough times would produce the expected percentage results - quick little stats lesson for ya). But success breeds copy-cats, and Billy Beane's secrets to success were out. Couple that with the fact that large market teams were using those secrets, Beane went back to the drawing board.

Now this is only my opinion, and I could be way off but... I think Beane said, "well, I've got no star players of my own to trade anymore... so why don't I go and get someone else's star player to trade." He gave up one of his biggest name's in Street, and a couple of prospects whose ceilings were in the process of being lowered, for one of the best pure hitters in the game. Holliday came, Holliday didn't hit too well, and Holliday left. Even if he put up monster numbers, I am fairly certain he would still be shipped out of town. And their inlies the genius. He traded his prospects that weren't panning out, for other prospects who have tremendous upside... "Not only did the A's receive nearly four full months of service from Holliday, whom they acquired from the Rockies last November, but in trading him to St. Louis (along with $1.5 million), they received arguably a greater return than what they paid the Rockies last year. Landing Wallace alone could provide more value to Oakland than the combination of Huston Street, Carlos Gonzalez and Greg Smith ever will to the Rockies." .This year he signed Ben Sheets. I am fairly certain that, once again, he plans on shipping him out at the deadline for more young prospects.

This is where Shapiro/Antonetti come in. Even if Branyan hits 35 bombs, drives in 120 rbi, and cuts his strike out numbers in half, what value does he really bring to this club? A $5mil mutual option for next year?? Does that sound like something an owner would pickup who treats money as if it will never be printed again? Or, does that sound like a cheap price tag for a contending big market team to pick up for a guy who could potentially be a middle of the order guy?

I hope you see where I am going with this. Do not get all bent out of shape over this signing. Yet. Laporta needs some time to come back after the surgeries. He needs some time to learn how to play first base competently. He can do all of this while Branyan hopefully mashes, and brings in well more than $2mil worth of prospects at the trade deadline.

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