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December 21, 2007

Revisiting the Gonzalez-Young-Sledge for Eaton-Otsuka-Killian Trade

I have a theory about Adam Eaton. Not a theory in the technical sense (a rigorously tested and accepted explanation of certain phenomena; e.g., evolution) but in the non-technical sense (a crazy-ass idea; e.g., what nitwit ID’ers think of evolution)

My theory: Adam Eaton is “The Wiz” from Seinfeld.

You may remember The Wiz mostly for prancing around the coffee shop and bellowing, “I’m the Wiz and noooobody beats me!!!” More to the point, this very ordinary-looking guy had the power to entrance anyone who looked into his eyes. Upon meeting him, Elaine ditched Puddy immediately via a phone call. (“You dumped me for some idiotic TV pitchman,” he later groused.)

I believe Adam Eaton has this power. Jon Daniels looked into his eyes and turned to goo, giving up Chris Young, Adrian Gonzalez, and Terrmel Sledge for Eaton, Akinori Otsuka and Billy “Irish Red” Killian. How else to explain such affection for a pitcher who in six years had failed to pitch 162 innings four times and failed to post a league-average ERA five times.

Philly GM Pat Gillick suffered the same fate, giving Eaton $24 million in November 2006 after another spotty and injury-plagued season. Before the next season began, the Phillies were already considering moving him to the bullpen because of a surfeit of rotation candidates. He survived that scare but proceeded to have his worst season (6.29 ERA with nightmarish peripherals), was omitted from the postseason roster, and once again might be banished to relief. Oh, but to look in his eyes…

Anyway, my initial take on the trade (edited, click for full version if you dare):


At best a lateral move in the short run, possibly a terrible move in the long run. Both Eaton and Otsuka are free agents after 2006 [note: Aki actually couldn’t become a free agent until after 2008. Wouldn’t have changed my opinion.], Eaton will earn in excess of $4 million, and he almost certainly won’t resign with Texas. Meanwhile, Young, Gonzalez and Sledge are company property and inexpensive for the next several years.

Two weeks ago with rumors bounding, Eaton expressed mixed feelings about pitching in Arlington: “It's not conducive to my style of pitching; I'm a fly-ball pitcher. If I was to stay there, it'd have to be for crazy money. Granted, that is an offense that's going to put up some runs. You could take a Coors Field approach to the game." Texas isn’t Coors Field, but the well-spoken Eaton nailed the disconnection between his pitching style and The Ballpark. Petco Park and its predecessor kill fly balls, whereas The Ballpark propels them into the ionosphere.

Moving from Petco to The Ballpark adds about 0.90 to [Eaton’s] ERA. During the last five years Eaton never finished with an above-average ERA+ in a park tailored to his skill set, so why would he do so in The Ballpark? After the Park fiasco, I’m assuming Ranger management isn’t so daft as to ignore park factors. So, what gives?

San Diego led off the NLDS against St. Louis with Jake Peavy, Pedro Astacio and Woody Williams. Eaton would have pitched Game Four had the Pads not been swept, but what does it say when rampant mediocrities like Astacio and Williams rank higher than him on the pecking order?

Chris Young is a year younger than Eaton and signed for $1.1 million over the next two years followed by three years of arbitration-eligibility. Young struggled as summer waxed but still finished his rookie season with a WARP of 4.8, better than Eaton’s career-high of 4.6…If Eaton has a 4.75 ERA and Young’s hovers in the low threes, Ranger fans will howl. And they should.

Adrian Gonzalez has yet to display his talents to full advantage in the Majors, but his Age-23 season in pitcher-friendly Oklahoma (.338/.399/.561) indicates he warrants a full-time job. Texas surprisingly gave him a part-time DH role to start the season but seemed to sour on him within just two weeks, and he spent most of the next four months in AAA.

Otsuka keeps the ball on the ground and won’t suffer as much damage moving to Arlington. He represents a substantial addition to the bullpen at a considerable discount ($1.75 million) from the crazy-money teams are throwing at middle relievers.

My unease regarding Eaton increased substantially when he commented on his former team:

Everybody looks at everything else besides the end result, and that’s one thing I’ve kind of been able to do in the past (focusing on wins), for an offense that really didn’t put a whole bunch of runs up for me in the past few years in San Diego… I have a real hard time figuring how or what I’m going to do with run support [in Texas]. I haven’t had that luxury in a long time… [Eight runs] is like a nice two-week span for me at times. There was a time that I would be told, how hard is it to throw a shutout and hit a home run. That was true, you actually had to do that to get a “W” the past few years.

Through a little research, I determined that: 1) San Diego did not have a bad offense, 2) Eaton received better run support than the rotation as a whole, and 3) his won-loss record during 2003-2005 was better than he deserved (31-31 despite three consecutive sub-par years).

Where Are They Now?

Eaton departed after one season, as expected, and Texas didn’t offer arbitration, as expected. Otsuka spent half of 2007 injured and has yet to recover fully. Uncomfortable with offering arbitration to a convalescing 35-year-old, Texas non-tendered him. Killian never surpassed low-A and was traded to the White Sox for “future considerations” (bootleg copy of Dance Dance Revolution). After two seasons, Texas’s production from the trade is complete, without even a compensatory draft pick to provide hope of future benefits.

Meanwhile, Young and Gonzalez are signed to four-year contracts through 2010 (plus team options for 2011) for a combined $24 million. Both have postseason experience. Young tossed 6.2 shutout innings in the ’06 NLDS, and Gonzalez batted .357 with three walks. Sledge migrated to Japan after two indifferent seasons as a backup and AAA insurance policy.

How Bad Is Bad?

Once again, I’ve compared the value of this trade using Win Shares and Wins Above Replacement Player.

WIN SHARES 2006 2007
Gonzalez 17 27 44
Young 12 13 25
Sledge 1 4 5
Eaton 2 0 2
Otsuka 11 5 16
Killian 0 0 0

Texas Win Share Deficit: 56 (18 wins)

WARP 2006 2007
Gonzalez 8.6 9.3 17.9
Young 4.9 5.7 10.6
Sledge 0.4 1.6 2.0
Eaton 1.8 0.0 1.8
Otsuka 5.9 1.7 7.6
Killian 0.0 0.0 0.0

Texas WARP Deficit: 21.1 (about 21 wins)

In just two seasons, the difference in production is worth about twenty wins, an astonishing number. To salt the wound, Texas paid $9.4 million to Eaton and Otsuka during 2006-2007 while Gonzalez, Young and Sledge earned under $2.5 million.

How does this trade compare to two other infamous deals I've written about, both by John Hart: the Giles-for-Rincon trade between Cleveland and Pittsburgh and the Hafner-for-Diaz swap between the Tribe and Texas? Pretty terribly, that's how:

Win Share Deficit After Two Years
WARP Deficit After Two Years
Young / Gonzalez / Sledge for Eaton / Otsuka / Killian
Giles for Rincon
Hafner / Myette for Diaz / Drese

This trade surpasses the one-sidedness of John Hart’s infamous Giles-for-Rincon deal. The Hafner trade took a while longer to inflict its pain. Hafner spent part of 2003 in the minors and generated only a .327 OBP, and in 2004 Texas received an improbably fine season from Ryan Drese. Including the entire post-trade outcome, I calculate an advantage of 50 win shares and 11.1 WARP for Cleveland, still less disastrous than the Young/Gonzalez transaction.

In sum:

This trade is already worse than the Giles-for-Rincon and Hafner-for-Diaz trades. Right now. And forever.

In a few years, I hope the trades of Teixeira, Gagne and Lofton provide the opportunity to write a similar article in Texas's favor.

Posted by Lucas at December 21, 2007 12:43 AM