Monday, August 24, 2009

Ladson's Bulging Sack: 8/23/2009

Surprisingly, this week's Ask a Professional "Reporter" wasn't as bulging-vein-inducing as usual. The only interesting bit was a resident of the Nutmeg State asking R.B. whether Milledge/Hanrahan for Morgan/Plush/Burnett was the best trade of the season. Ladson:
I'll take it further than that. It's the best trade since I've covered this organization. Morgan will solidify the center-field spot for years to come. And let's not forget left-hander Sean Burnett. I'll take him any day over the relievers general manager Mike Rizzo got rid of this season.
Harper at Oleanders and Morning Glories looks at this recent deal in the context of most of the Nats' other major trades, but it's curious that he neglects to even mention two obvious candidates for best Nats trade -- the July 2006 deal that sent Royce Clayton, Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, Brendan Harris, and Daryl Thompson to Cincinnati for Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez, and Ryan Wagner and the December 2006 deal that sent Jose Vidro and $4m to Seattle for Chris Snelling and Emilano Fruto.

Let's take the easy one first. By the time of the trade, Vidro was in serious offensive and defensive decline. The scene pictured at the top of this blog was a regular occurrence, and the phrase "past a diving Vidro" was the unofficial catchphrase for the Nats' 2006 season. With Vidro due another $16m for the 2007-8 season, the Nats had a serious problem on their hands.

Give Jim Bowden props for this one; he fleeced Bill Bavasi. Getting out from under that contract would have been victory enough, but Bavasi actually sent something substantial in return. While oft-injured, Chris Snelling was a legitimate hitting prospect and a stathead's wet dream. Fruto was a chunky reliever with a fastball in the low- to mid-90s and a plus change.

Fruto never pitched an inning in DC. Snelling was traded to Oakland in May 2007 for Ryan Langerhans (who was traded earlier this year to Seattle for Mike Morse, thus completing the circle). Those facts are almost irrelevant in judging this trade. Bowden took a black hole and turned it into payroll and roster flexibility. He was lucky there was a Bill Bavasi out there to be fleeced.

Bowden was also lucky there was a Wayne Krivsky out there to be fleeced.

The trade that brought Kearns and Lopez to DC remains controversial. What looked at the time like a clear win for the Nats is a little more obscure three years later. Kearns' contract extension was the trigger for him to turn into a pumpkin. FLop's bad offense and defense, and even worse attitude, experienced a dramatic turnaround seemingly the instant he crossed the DC border. Wagner retired after surgery and a brief rehab attempt.

The trade doesn't look much better from the perspective of the Reds, who missed the playoffs despite acquiring Royce Clayton. Majewski is an Iron Pig. Clayton is out of baseball. Bray's in Louisville. Harris bounced from the Reds to the Rays to the Twins, where he is inexplicably taking up a spot on the 25-man. Thompson had an unsuccessful cup of coffee in 2008 and is now in the GCL.

While Kearns and Lopez put up respectable numbers for the remainder of 2006, it's remarkable how quickly they both fell off the table. Still, this deal remains a win for the Nats.

At the time of the trade, the 26-year-old Kearns was in having his best offensive season and playing a stellar right field. Lopez, also 26, was coming off a 2005 season that saw his power surge rewarded with an All-Star selection, although signs of trouble were already present in 2006. This wasn't a trade for projectable prospects where you have to wait around and hope they develop. Kearns and Lopez were known quantities. They were expected to be Cincinnati mainstays until Krivsky traded them. Bowden expected them to be DC mainstays, too.

Kearns and Lopez both flamed out, the Reds missed the playoffs and Krivsky got canned, so the trade is at best a push, right? No, the Nats won the trade even though Kearns and Lopez ended up being zeroes.

When you factor in the woeful DC tenures of Kearns and Lopez, the trade looks pretty similar to the Vidro deal, with Clayton/Majewski playing the role of Vidro. (The Kearns contract extension was a separate transaction and shouldn't be considered when evaluating this trade.)

Bowden took crap (Clayton), easily replaceable assets (Majewski, Harris), and two mid-level prospects (Bray, Thompson) and turned them into two huge pieces of the (in-)famous Plan. Put another way, Bowden took players that either weren't going to be on the next good Nats team or were going to have an easily replaceable role and traded them for two good young players under team control for the next several years.

Granted, Clayton wasn't nearly the roster and contract problem Vidro was, but he was still literally a spare part, brought in to replace the sore-shouldered Cristian Guzman.

The Nats didn't miss any of the players they sent to Cincinnati. At worst, Bowden took a mixed lot of pieces and gambled that two players who were generally perceived to be major-league regulars would continue to be so.

Maybe it didn't pan out the way we all thought it would, but it remains a trade worth making.

No comments: