Friday, July 11, 2008

Cubs Countermove

On Monday, July 7th, the Milwaukee Brewers traded for pitcher C.C. Sabathia to try and help their chances of passing the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. The very next day the Cubs countered with a pitching addition of their own, trading for the Oakland Athletics’ Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. Four players were sent to Oakland: pitcher Sean Gallagher, outfielders Matt Murton and Eric Patterson, and catcher Josh Donaldson. All but Donaldson can help the A’s right now.

The Cubs get two pitchers who will contribute immediately in Harden and Gaudin. Harden has tremendous ability and can be one of the more dominating pitchers in the league – when he’s healthy. The problem is that he’s had a hard time doing that. He’s made 13 starts so far this year and it’s the first time he’s made double-digit starts since 2005. To date, 2004 is the only season that he’s been able to put in a full-season’s workload. But the idea of what a healthy Harden could mean for the Cubs was too much to pass up. Although, he is signed through 2009, so an injury wouldn’t be the end of the world because they’d still have next year for him to contribute. However, it’s obvious that this deal was made with 2008 in mind.

Don’t forget about Chad Gaudin, who isn’t just a throw-in. He’s a solid arm for their bullpen with the ability to start as well – he spent all of 2007 in the A’s rotation. That versatility should be valuable for the Cubs. You never know when they’ll need another starter, especially with Harden’s injury history.

The players headed back to the Athletics have a different flavor than the ones the Indians got in the Sabathia trade. None of them have the upside of Matt LaPorta. Sean Gallagher is a nice pitching prospect though. He’s a 22 year old righty with good size, at 6’-2” 225 lbs. He throws a good low 90’s fastball and an above average curveball. His change-up has been progressing nicely as well. He’s more than just a prospect though, having already thrown 58-2/3 innings this year over 10 starts and 2 relief appearances. He’s played pretty well with a 3-4 record and 4.45 ERA. He should have a nice future as a middle of the rotation starter.

Matt Murton has a good approach at the plate and hits lefties very well. When he first came into the league I thought he could be a 20-HR guy, but it looks like he’s settling into the 15-20 range, and that’s if he got regular playing time, which he doesn’t. That power range and the righty/lefty split peg him as a platoon player. I think he could surprise some people if he’s given a chance to play everyday, but even if he doesn’t he’s still useful.

Eric Patterson used to be a second baseman, but has played himself off of that position and into the outfield. He doesn’t have the arm for right field so he’s limited to center and left, but he isn’t ideal for either. He’s sort of a tweener with a below average arm for center and below average power for left. He has a solid skill set though, and even if he doesn’t start for any championship clubs, he has a good shot at being more successful than his brother Corey.

Murton and Patterson both have talent, but it’s most likely that neither would be starting on any playoff teams.

Josh Donaldson is the wildcard. He was drafted 48th overall in 2007 and played extremely well in his first taste of professional baseball. He hit .335/.460/.590 with a 39:38 BB:SO ratio, spending almost the entire season in low Single-A. He’s still a work in progress defensively (he didn’t start catching until 2006) but he’s athletic and has the potential for above average arm strength from behind the plate. The reason he’s a wildcard is because the wheels have come off in 2008. Thru 68 games at Single-A, he’s hitting .217/.276/.349 with 17 walks and 41 strikeouts.

In my opinion, this deal is harder to evaluate than the Sabathia trade and that is due to the erratic value of headliner Rich Harden. If he stays healthy, this trade will be a major boon to the Cubs playoff aspirations. If he gets hurt, Oakland GM Billy Beane will once again look like a genius for trading him while he still had value. The package of players Beane got is solid, but unspectacular for someone with Harden’s ability, and his health risks are the #1 reason for that.

One thing I’d like to point out as an Orioles fan is the timing of this deal for the Athletics. They’re currently 50-42, only 5 games out in the AL West. However, Beane looked at his roster and saw that they were playing over their heads and weren’t really in the position to make a playoff run. This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The Orioles aren’t even in contention (already 10.5 games back), and there are still fans saying that we shouldn’t look to trade major pieces off to aid the rebuilding efforts, because it’ll pull the rug out from under the team. I wouldn’t trade any of our starting pitching because we have no depth there right now, but there aren’t many other players that I would consider off limits – essentially just Nick Markakis and Adam Jones.

No comments: