You have to say this about Billy Beane: The guy isn't afraid to make big trades.
The Oakland Athletics and Toronto Blue Jays completed an intriguing challenge trade on Friday night, in which the A's sent All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for third baseman Brett Lawrie and three unproven players -- pitchers Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman and minor league shortstop Franklin Barreto.
Most of the reactions on the Internet were like these ones:
Can't be shocked by the A's trading Josh Donaldson. They're going to trade everybody at some point. That's what they do.
— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) November 29, 2014
How does Oakland give up the best 3B in the game, and a potential franchise player, in Josh Donaldson for any price? This blows my mind.
— Steve E. (@KevinBassStache) November 29, 2014
the other crazy thing about the Josh Donaldson trade is that he's probably still only the third best hitter on the Blue Jays
— Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) November 29, 2014
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos adds one of the best all-around players in the majors in Donaldson, who has finished fourth and eighth in the American League MVP voting the past two seasons. Baseball-Reference WAR rates Donaldson the second-most valuable position player in the majors over the past two seasons at 15.4, behind only Mike Trout and ahead of Andrew McCutchen and Robinson Cano. Donaldson hit .255/.342/.456 in 2014 with 29 home runs and excellent defensive metrics.
Beane says that #Athletics were pretty adamant they weren't going to deal Donaldson but #BlueJays essentially overwhelmed them.
— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) November 29, 2014
The acquisition now gives the Blue Jays one of the strongest trios of hitters in the majors as Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion all ranked in the top 10 in the AL in home runs in 2014 with a combined 98. On top of the that, they added Russell Martin, who posted a .400 on-base percentage with the Pirates. Their lineup right now would look something like this:
SS Jose Reyes
C Russell Martin
DH Dioner Navarro/John Mayberry Jr.
2B Maicer Izturis/Steve Tolleson
For a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 1993 -- the longest playoff drought in the majors -- you have to love the top of that order. It certainly projects to be one of the best lineups in the league. The Blue Jays were fourth in the AL in runs scored last year with their third basemen hitting .234/.287/.400. Donaldson would project to be about a 30-run improvement at the plate over what the Jays received in 2014. Donaldson is arbitration-eligible for the first time and is set to receive a big raise to the neighborhood of $4.5 million, but he's still under team control for four more seasons.
Manager John Gibbons also has lineup flexibility with the likes of Danny Valencia and Justin Smoak and second baseman Devon Travis, acquired from the Tigers for Anthony Gose, who could crack the lineup at some point during the season as well. The lineup leans right-handed with Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion and Martin all hitting from that side, so maybe the Jays could still attempt to re-sign switch-hitter Melky Cabrera for left field. It's all about winning now, with Bautista and Encarnacion still two of the best hitters in the league but on the other side of 30 and both with two years remaining on their contracts, plus rotation anchors Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey likely nearing the end of their production years.
The rotation currently looks like this:
Norris is one of the top pitching prospects in the game, a power lefty who climbed from Class A ball to the majors. If he's ready to make an impact, it could be a solid rotation with second-year righty Stroman perhaps ready to become the staff ace. And the Jays could still look to add another veteran arm here to add depth (although I like Stroman and Hutchison to improve in 2015).
All in all, it's a good deal for the Jays, who are making a big upgrade at third base without giving up players who figured to have a big impact in the next two seasons (other than losing Lawrie).
It's hard to see how this trade improves the A's for 2015. Lawrie, who turns 25 in January, is actually about four years younger than Donaldson but has more service time and is under team control for three more years. But he's nowhere near as good as Donaldson, although there's the chance he's worth 3-4 wins if he stays on the field for 140 games. After a strong 43-game stint as a rookie in 2011 during which he slugged .580, Lawrie hasn't hit as much as expected and has had trouble staying healthy. He's played just 177 games the past two seasons, hitting .252/.310/.406.
For the A's, then, it's also about the other players in the trade. Nolin, a 24-year-old left-hander has pitched two games in the majors, and Graveman, a right-hander drafted in the eighth round in 2013 who rose from Class A to the majors in 2014, were both starters in the minors. Neither were rated among Toronto's top 10 prospects in Baseball America's recent list but are viewed as major league-ready and so could compete for spots in the Oakland rotation.
Barreto, Toronto's No. 5 prospect, is the key to the deal for Beane, the one player with star potential. Barreto hit an impressive .311/.384/.481 with 29 steals in 73 games at short-season Vancouver, playing as an 18-year-old in a league consisting mostly of recent college draftees.
Oakland's lineup now looks something like this:
CF Coco Crisp
LF Brandon Moss
DH Billy Butler
RF Josh Reddick
1B Ike Davis
2B Eric Sogard
SS Andy Parrino or other
Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld are also around as a potential left-field platoon if they want to slide Moss back to first base. Of course, the A's will mix and match as always, with John Jaso around to DH or Butler sliding over to play some first base. The rotation, minus Jon Lester, now checks in as:
1. Sonny Gray
3. Scott Kazmir
4-5. Jesse Chavez, Nolin, Graveman, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin
Without a shortstop who can hit -- Parrino is considered a plus defender -- the lineup is counting on a big comeback season for Butler and Moss to recover from the hip injury (and offseason surgery) that bothered him in the second half. The rotation has a solid front three, but Nolin and Graveman are unproven and Parker and Griffin are trying to come back from Tommy John surgery.
You wonder if there is another deal in the works with Samardzija, who has one season left until free agency. Certainly, at least one A's player thinks so:
Josh Reddick says it's clear to him and other #Athletics players that team is now in rebuilding mode.
— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) November 29, 2014
I don't know if that's necessarily true. Players tend to overrate the value one teammate brings to the win-loss ledger. Still, Donaldson to Lawrie is probably a downgrade of at least 3-4 wins, so the A's will have to improve in other areas just to maintain 2014's status quo.
I wouldn't count out the A's just yet, but I'm certainly counting on the Blue Jays to be a force -- maybe the force in the AL East.