Here's a Thought: Examining Both Matt Holliday Trades

Nathaniel StoltzSenior Analyst IJuly 24, 2009

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 12: U.S. Futures All-Star Brett Wallace of the St. Louis Cardinals plays third base during the 2009 XM All-Star Futures Game at Busch Stadium on July 12, 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Last offseason, the A's sent Carlos Gonzalez, Greg Smith, and Huston Street to the Rockies for Matt Holliday.

Today, they unloaded Holliday to the Cardinals for Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen, and Shane Peterson.

I'd like to take a look at this trade in a big-picture sense.

So forget Holliday.

Over the past year, the A's traded three young players for three different young players.

Did they ultimately get the better end of that deal?

The A's sent out Gonzalez, Street, and Smith, and received Wallace, Mortenson, and Peterson.

To examine how well the A's did, let's break each group of three down into a "primary" player (the key to the deal), a "secondary" player (also important to the deal), and a "tertiary" player (needed for the deal, but more of a throw-in).

                   Traded               Acquired
Primary         Gonzalez             Wallace
Secondary     Street                Mortensen
Tertiary        Smith                 Peterson

So let's quickly look at Gonzalez-Wallace, Street-Mortensen, and Smith-Peterson.

Carlos Gonzalez is a "toolsy" outfielder who has pretty much mastered Triple-A but can't hit a major league fastball or changeup.

He's already about to turn 24 and his once-considerable upside is diminishing. In a best-case scenario, he becomes a lefty Jose Guillen.

Brett Wallace is an oversized third baseman who may have to slide to first, but has a potent singles and doubles bat and should be good for 20-25 homers a year.

A year younger than Gonzalez, Wallace is almost ready for the majors, and his superior plate approach should give him an easier time there than Gonzalez.

Wallace obviously isn't the quality defender Gonzalez is, but he's significantly more likely to develop into a quality bat.

Overall, the A's win the swap of primary players, which is the most important one.

Huston Street is a relief pitcher who turns 26 next week. He won AL Rookie of the Year in 2005 and owns a 2.93 career FIP. He's everything you'd want in a relief pitcher.

Clayton Mortensen is a sinker-slider guy who could pitch at the back of a major league rotation or in middle relief. At age 24, he was having a decent year in Triple-A (4.09 FIP).

Mortensen throws an 89-93 mph sinker and backs it up with a good slider that comes in around 86 mph. He also throws a fringy 80-85 mph changeup.

The faulty changeup renders Mortensen ineffective against lefties, so he probably fits best as a solid middle reliever. A move to the bullpen would help his numbers, and he could contribute immediately in the majors in that role.

Mortensen might be a quality reliever down the line, but expecting him to be anywhere near as good as Street is incorrect.

The A's give back all of the advantage in the Gonzalez-Wallace swap here, and a Gonzalez/Street-Wallace/Mortensen swap is basically even, if not slightly hurting the A's.

Greg Smith is a lefty who struggled quite a bit with the A's last year (4.82 FIP). He's about to turn 26 and struggling in Triple-A this year (5.50 FIP).

A finesse guy with a great pickoff move and little else of note, Smith makes for a decent fifth starter or lefty reliever, but he's a very replaceable commodity.

Shane Peterson had an All-Star year in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League at age 21 (.298/.367/.428; 10-for-11 in steals). Promoted to Double-A, he's held his own (.284/.338/.405) in 18 games. 

Peterson is sort of similar to current A's prospect (and now Double-A teammate) Matt Sulentic: He's a high-average hitter with a decent approach, good speed, and average-plus right-field defense, but lacks the home run power to be a true prospect at the position.

Still, he's young for his level and could carve out a career as a fourth outfielder. It's also possible for Peterson to add power and become the next Nate McLouth, although McLouth is more the exception than the rule for this type of player.

Ultimately, the Smith-Peterson swap is a win for the A's, because while neither player is likely to have any sort of difference-making career, Peterson is younger and thus has more time to improve and develop into more of an impact player.

So, to recap, the A's upgraded from Gonzalez to Wallace and from Smith to Peterson, but took a big hit downgrading from Street to Mortensen.

Ultimately, they traded a good set of three young players for an equally good and maybe very slightly better set of three slightly younger players.

So the A's did ultimately make an upgrade with their two Matt Holliday trades, but it's not a huge one.


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