Saturday, January 5, 2008

Billy Beane vs. Ken Williams... Tie?

Who would have thought that in a battle of wits between Kenny Williams and Billy Beane, there would be no discernible edge in the aftermath of this trade. Beane has always been in a separate class from his other GM's in receiving talent in trades. I'd place him and Larry Beinfest in a class all their own. That's why I was nothing less than stunned when I learned that the trade between the soon-to-be Fremont A's and the Chicago Whitesox is, at least currently mutually beneficial. When a trade involves highly rated prospects it often can't be judged for true value until several years down the line, but it is only natural to try to determine who came out ahead directly after a trade happens.

The Trade: Oakland Acquires: Nick Swisher

Chicago Acquires: Gio Gonzalez (AA)
Fautino De Los Santos (Hi-A)
Ryan Sweeney (AAA)

Quick Take: This trade is something of a draw to me. The overall consensus of this trade seems to be that Billy Beane has once again worked his magic, but I think these people are both overvaluing the prospects received, and undervaluing Nick Swisher.

Chicago: The White Sox got something they desperately needed in this deal in a young position player capable of playing all three outfield spots as well as gold-glove caliber first base. Swisher is just 27 and is locked up for only $26 million through 2011, meaning he'll be with the White Sox through his prime at a reasonable cost. Not only do the White Sox get younger, something they desperately needed to do, but they get someone who excels at getting on base which they were absolutely dreadful at in 2007. While Swisher had an off year in 2007 he still recorded a .381 OBP despite hitting only .262. The White Sox finished dead last in baseball with a team on base percentage of .318, which would explain a lot of their troubles in scoring runs. Not only does Swisher become the best answer for the #2 hitter in the White Sox order, but he is also a viable option in both left and center field. He may not be the best defender in center, but he is adequate.

Oakland: The A's received Chicago's top 2 pitching prospects, plus Ryan Sweeney in this deal. This sounds far more impressive than it really is, as Chicago's farm system was nothing to write home about before this deal. Gio Gonzalez is the top prospect received in this deal although he doesn't necessarily have the highest ceiling. Gonzalez began in the White Sox farm system, was traded to the Phillies as part of the Jim Thome deal, returned as part of the Aaron Rowand deal, and is now being sent away once again. He doesn't project as much more than a #3 starter and that's if everything clicks. His best pitch is a 2 place 12-6 breaking ball that can absolutely devastate hitters. His fastball sits around 88-90, and has been clocked as low as 83-84 and as high as 96. He led the Minors in strikeouts this past year but that is deceiving. He was in Double-A, and many think he is major league ready. I think he will struggle at the higher levels because he pitches mainly off his curveball, when most pitchers use their fastballs to set up their strikeout pitches. In addition to the issue of pitching off his curveball not being as effective at higher levels, his preference to use his curve so much has resulted in less than ideal fastball command. He also features a good 78-81 mph change-up that is straight but has good arm action. He is also prone to getting rattled when he makes a mistake or something goes wrong behind him. These kind of mental lapses are part of what is holding him back from becoming a #2 type of pitcher.

The key to this deal may in the end be Fautino De Los Santos. He is ranked behind Gonzalez as a prospect right now because he is further away from the Majors, but he has more upside and will likely be the biggest factor in how this trade turns out for the A's. De Los Santos owns a power repertoire featuring a 92-96 mph fastball with late life, and a hard curveball that some have been calling a slider. The curveball already grades out better than average but is inconsistent according to ESPN/Scouts Inc's Keith Law (subscription required). He has higher upside than Gio Gonzalez, but must develop a third offering in order to make it through Major League lineups enough to be a successful starter. What is exciting about him is not only his power pitches but the control he displayed in Low and Hi-A this past season. He posted a combined WHIP of .92 and a K/9 ratio of just over 11.

Ryan Sweeney comes over to Oakland after not taking advantage of his opportunities in Chicago. He was rushed through Chicago's system after a quick start several years ago, and has never really recovered from that. He was originally a second round pick, and shows plus pull power in batting practice, but that has yet to translate to any sort of power in games. He will most likely get a chance to compete for a spot on the A's roster to begin the year but it would be no surprise to see him return to Triple-A for a little more seasoning.

Summary: I think this trade works out well for both teams. Nick Swisher is a boon to the White Sox for all the aforementioned reasons, as well as his preparing them for a transition from older to younger players over the next few years. On the other hand I think this is a great decision more than a great return on the part of Billy Beane and the Oakland A's. The A's will not be competitive in the next few years, and the farm system has been barren as the last few drafts have not been kind to Beane. They are lacking in both position and pitching prospects, but by taking quantity over quality in the Haren trade, and finding a nice combination of both in this deal, he has done a nice job of adding both quality and depth to his farm system and he still has nice chips to deal in Joe Blanton, Huston Street and possibly Eric Chavez.

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