Revisiting the Bradley-Ethier deal

As Andre Ethier piles up big hit after big hit, it's only natural for A's fans to look south and wonder what might have been, as Ethier is a product of an Oakland farm system that's not been real productive in recent years. At least not when it comes to hitters of Ethier's caliber. Of course, Ethier went to the Dodgers in a now ill-remembered trade for Milton Bradley, as Athletics Nation's baseballgirl remembers in some detail: Ethier Bradley

    We remember Milton Bradley for all of his dramatic moments during the season and the playoffs, and it has been widely accepted that he lead the A's to their postseason berth, but the numbers simply don't bear that out. Bradley only played in 96 games in 2006, hitting .276 with 14 home runs (one very dramatic one on AN Day), 52 RBIs, an OPS of .818, just ahead of his replacements; Jay Payton .743 and Bobby Kielty .743. In fact, Milton Bradley only once in his whole career played over 130 games in a season, only once hit over 20 home runs, and only once has had over 70 RBIs.
    In contrast, Andre Ethier has been an absolute stud for the Dodgers the last four years; he is also the walk-off rival of Marco Scutaro, except with the career .294/.364/.495 line instead of Marco's .266/.337.385. In the very season he was traded, Ethier played twenty more games than Milton Bradley did, batted 30 points higher, with almost as many home runs, and a 30 percent higher slugging percentage. In his rookie year!

    As an A's fan, who really questions the A's scouting system (Ethier is one of the rare offensive players from the A's system to be legitimately great, since Tejada? Chavez?), these numbers were painful to look up. As much as I enjoyed 2006, I don't want to think about what Ethier has done, or what he'll continue to do in his career. And somehow, looking at his 2006 numbers, and knowing that he could have had those numbers for us, it makes it worse. It's one thing if he was in Double-A during the playoff run. Instead, he was in the league, and actually outperformed his replacement. Ouch.

Remember, process over product. While today we can't really explore the real process that led to the trade -- what was Billy Beane thinking, really? -- we can look at the players as they were, then.
As baseballgirl notes, Bradley hadn't exactly established himself as a superstar, or even a star. He'd played more than a 101 games just once, and exited the 2005 season with a .269/.350/.426 career line. His behavioral issues were already well known. He was, on the other hand, a fine defensive outfielder.

Meanwhile, at the time of the trade, Ethier was 23 and hadn't yet played in the majors. His most impressive play had come during the previous season, when he batted .319/.385/.497 in the hitter-friendly, Double-A Texas League. I don't mean to diminish his accomplishments, and those numbers did suggest a future major leaguer and perhaps a pretty good one. But going strictly by the numbers, there simply wasn't any reason to believe that Ethier would outperform Bradley in 2006.

Which, by the way, he didn't. Not quite, once you've factored in defense. Bradley was the better player in 2006. But he was just a little better, and the A's probably would have finished ahead of the Angels even if they'd installed Ethier as their every-day right fielder on Opening Day and left him there all season.

But, again, it would have been very hard for them to have known that at the time. Looking ahead just one season or even two, Bradley was the better bet. Which apparently is all the A's were playing for. And in the long run, the A's didn't come away empty-handed, trading Bradley (and some cash) to the Padres for relief pitcher Andrew Brown, who pitched effectively in limited action last season (but hasn't pitched at all this year).

All in all, the process probably worked about as well as it could have. The A's did get the better player and they did win a division title. Would they rather have Ethier now? Of course. Particularly because none of their other outfield prospects -- and they had a few of them in 2006 -- have really panned out. But when you make a deal with the devil, you have to figure that eventually a balance will come due. And sometimes it's particularly painful.