It was only a matter of time. Holding onto pricey superstars in losing seasons isn’t a part of Oakland’s business model, and 2009 is no exception, as Billy Beane has found a team who he believes to be a proper suitor for Matt Holliday’s services.
Oakland trades Matt Holliday (OF) to St. Louis in exchange for Brett Wallace (3B, AAA), Clayton Mortensen (RHP, AAA), and Shane Peterson (OF, AA).
It’s no secret that the Cardinals needed a left fielder badly. Their production from the position thus far this season: .212/.294/.342. “Yikes” is the word that comes to mind. So they replace that “production” with a career .315/.385/.541 hitter, an improvement that will potentially add 3 or 4 wins (sabermetrically) to the Cardinals’ end of season record. It’s a good fit for Holliday, it’s a good fit for St. Louis, and it certainly makes the Cardinals the odds-on favorites to win the NL Central.
But did they give up too much to get him? Certainly Billy Beane has demonstrated the ability to acquire minor league players who become key contributors in the past, so anytime you see he’s acquired three prospects, it’s definitely worth a bit of investigation.
Wallace is a good start. Already in AAA at 22 years old, and in his second professional baseball season, Wallace has hit .306/.390/.466 in his minor league career, and you’d better believe that Beane focused in on that middle number when asking for Wallace in the Athletics’ return package. He may not become a genuine middle of the order power hitter, but he profiles to be a solid lineup contributor and on-base guy. The question with Wallace is where he’ll play: is his glove good enough for the hot corner, or will he be relegated to first base? If the latter was true, then Wallace certainly wouldn’t have worked out in St. Louis: some guy named Pujols is playing first for them at the moment. For Oakland, though, Wallace figures to be an asset regardless of position.
Mortensen, on the other hand, does have major league experience… three whole innings of it. Still a minor leaguer at 24, he’s not a particularly exciting prospect: he sports a career minor league ERA of 4.31, with a good strikeout rate but mediocre walk rate. He’s likely to be a fifth starter for the A’s, as he’s started all but three of the professional games he’s appeared in.
That brings us to Peterson, a 21 year old outfielder in his second professional season. Peterson’s hit .284/.338/.405 in a brief stint so far at AA; for his career, his rates are a not-too-shabby .294/.377/.418. Again, that on-base percentage is certainly the number Beane looked at, and suggests a potential solid but unspectacular big league career.
Overall, I’d label the return Oakland got for Holliday as “decent”: they got a couple players who could be solid regulars, particularly Brett Wallace, as well as a pitcher who will likely be a back-end starter or long reliever. While it may not sound like much given Holliday’s history, keep in mind that Holliday’s production this season has been merely good, not great, and that if the A’s found a way to get two (or maybe even three) solid players in return for one, then they didn’t do all that badly.