When Matt Holliday was traded this offseason, Colorado Rockies fans were not a happy bunch.
Fans and media members alike claimed the trade was proof that Rockies owners Charlie and Dick Monfront were not willing to make the necessary financial commitment to field a winning team.
Most people claimed that General Manager Dan O’Dowd would never reclaim the success he had with the Cleveland Indians in the late 1990’s.
To put it simply, most fans thought that without Holliday the Rockies would suffer and it was management’s fault.
Now, sitting 3.5 games ahead of the rest of the field in the NL wild card race, it’s Colorado’s management team that is laughing its way to the playoffs.
So what in the world happened? Shouldn’t the team be floundering away in last place?
The short answer is yes. But that’s not how baseball works.
Instead, while no one was watching, the Holliday trade helped pave the way for the Colorado Rockies to make the playoffs. If the team had not driven its single best player from the team, the Rockies would be nowhere close to where they are now. It is as simple as that.
This year, splitting time between two teams, Holliday has hit .314/.393/.528 with 23 home runs and 99 RBI. It’s been a good season for the left fielder, but probably less than Billy Beane expected when he traded for one of the premier bats in the game.
In his place, the Rockies have primarily platooned Seth Smith, a 26-year-old lefty who barely had 100 at bats coming into the season, and Carlos Gonzalez, a 23-year-old former top prospect considered to be the centerpiece of the Holliday trade.
Together, the two have combined to hit .298/.377/.531 with 26 home runs and 76 RBI. They have combined for three more stolen bases than Holliday (with three fewer failed attempts) and have played markedly better defense in the outfield.
According to WPA (an advanced statistic that attempts to gauge the number of wins each individual player is worth to his team), the two have combined for 2.01 wins. Holliday has been worth about one win more between his two teams.
Though it would be difficult to prove that Smith and Gonzalez have completely replaced Holliday’s production in Colorado’s lineup, it is clear that the two have done an admirable job smoothing over the loss.
To review the Holliday trade, the Rockies picked up three major league ready pieces in Gonzalez, closer Huston Street and injured starter Greg Smith. While Smith hasn’t yet pitched for the team, Street immediately took over as the team’s closer, quickly establishing himself as one of the premier relievers in the National League.
This season, Street has been worth nearly three full wins to Colorado, a remarkable number for a relief pitcher. Even more impressive, he has completely covered for the lack of Brian Fuentes in the bullpen, going 33 for 34 in save attempts while carrying an ERA under 3.00.
The trade may have been a risk, but it was a calculated risk. With Holliday still in the lineup, the Rockies may have still made a playoff push, but the team would have had to do so without the likes of Street and Gonzalez, not to mention a reduced role for Smith.
Erasing the Holliday trade would effectively remove three of Colorado’s primary playoff producers, clearly a high cost for the soon-to-be free agent.
Not even counting the contributions of Seth Smith, the trade has been technically worth about a half a win in the standings this season alone. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that the Rockies still control Street through next season and Gonzalez for the next five.
Assuming Carlos Gonzalez picks up more at bats next season and Street continues at the same pace, it’s not hard to imagine that the Rockies will pick up another five total wins in 2010 as a result of the offseason trade.
Then, count up four more years of Gonzalez in his prime and even a rough estimate would result in 10 wins over that time, making the trade worth a net gain of 15.5 wins over the long term, assuming Greg Smith never throws another pitch in the majors.
To put it in perspective, 15.5 wins is the rough equivalent of two seasons of Albert Pujols type production.
To break it down simply, the Rockies traded one year of Matt Holliday for two years of Huston Street and six of Carlos Gonzalez, and further, did so with a productive outfielder in Seth Smith waiting in the wings.
Knowing what you know now, would you make the same trade again?
You can make a good bet that O’Dowd would.