Harden traded!

By Jason Wojciechowski on July 9, 2008 at 1:07 AM

So with the A's six games back, Billy Beane throws in the towel, trading Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Cubs. Baseball Musings had the first story that I saw. Dave Pinto's initial reaction is that Beane didn't get enough back.

So who did the A's get back?

Sean Gallagher's a 22-year old righty starting pitcher. He threw eight games out of the Cub bullpen last year and has made ten starts this year, with an ERA of 4.45, but a DERA (defense-adjusted ERA) of 4.86. His homer rate is low in the minors (0.49) but high this year (0.92). His strikeout and walk rates are 7.52 and 3.38, so he's missing bats, but you'd like to see him cut a walk or so off those numbers. His BABIP of .310 looks about right given his line drive percentage (17.9%). So what's Gallagher? How about a younger, cheaper, better Chad Gaudin who's under the A's control for the next four (?) years, and still has one (?) year before he hits arbitration.

Next is Eric Patterson. He's a lefty hitting second baseman with a grand total of 20 big-league games under his belt. He is, of course, the brother of the much-maligned Corey Patterson. His PECOTA had him hitting .270/.340/.441, which around here is what we like to call "Mark Ellis". His walk rates in the minors have been just shy of 10%, but down to just 5.6% this year, while his ISOs have trended up: .145 at AA in 2006, .159 at AAA last year, and .197 this year (though his .388 BABIP is likely fueling some of this). Patterson's already 25 this year, so he's not likely to make any more huge leaps forward, but he does seem like a nice player to have around at second base when the A's don't resign Mark Ellis. (As much as we'd like Ellis to stay, doesn't it seem rather un-A's-like to give a guy who'll be 32 next year a free-agency-fueled extension?)

Third is Matt Murton. Murton's been talked about for a while as an easy "plug him in and let him hit" solution in left field for the Cubs, but they've never really given him a shot. He's already 26, and while he's hitting .298 with an OBP of .391 in Iowa, his slugging his dropped to just .382. This is a guy whose ISOs in the minors were normally in the .150 range, so unless something's gone horribly wrong, we might expect him to hit better than he's showing right now. In fact, given his years of being jerked around, this might the kind of scenery-change trade that gets him back on track. PECOTA had him hitting 288/354/453 this year, producing an EqA that would rank him sixth on this year's A's, just behind Ryan Sweeney.

Finally is the first guy I haven't heard of, Josh Donaldson. Donaldson's 22 this year, a former sandwich pick out of Auburn who plays catcher. Despite his age and college pedigree, he's playing at A-ball after spending last year at the Rookie and Low-A classifications. He hit 346/470/605 last year at Low-A, but he's not exactly tearing up Peoria, hitting just 217/270/349. His BABIP is way down, but so are his walk rate and strikeout rate, so who knows what's going on.

John Sickels had Donaldson as the Cubs' sixth-best prospect coming into the year, and the best catcher not named Geovanny Soto. He gave him a B, which is a nice grade for a guy with just one pro season under his belt. Baseball America ranked Donaldson seventh. Gallagher was fifth on BA's list, with Patterson not making the top-ten. Sickels has Gallagher third and Patterson fourth, both grade-B, with a note that Patterson would be a B+ except for his defense.

So for Harden and Gaudin (a guy whose ERA is deceptively low, given his high walk rate and low strikeout rate; Cubs fans may end up unpleasantly surprised with him), the A's get three of the Cubs eight or so best prospects, just one of whom is a ways away from the majors, as well as a guy who could slot into left field and be a decent power bat right away. A's fans might tear out their hair that Josh Vitters wasn't in the deal, but even for a pitcher of Rich Harden's caliber, asking for Vitters was probably too much. Harden is simply too much of a question mark (still) to get a top-notch prospect in return, especially since he's being traded to the NL, where he'll have to swing the bat and run the bases. Who knows what could happen to him on a slide into second base.

What does this mean for Oakland's roster? I assume Gallagher slots directly into the rotation, since Oakland is now a starter short (where yesterday they were a starter long with Gaudin sitting around not doing much of anything). I hope that Murton now slots in as the everyday left fielder, with Ryan Sweeney in right and Carlos Gonzalez in center. Jack Cust can DH, Em(a)il Brown is the fourth outfielder, and Rajai Davis continues his role as defensive replacement and pinch runner. Oakland had been carrying twelve pitchers, so hopefully they use this opportunity to get back down to eleven, putting Murton on the roster without having to send anyone down. (A bullpen of Street, Embree, Andrew Brown, Ziggy, Jerry Blevins, and Sandy Casilla is a damned good one, and I see no need to go dipping into Sacramento to pull up Dallas Braden.) Eric Patterson is more of a mystery. Do the A's keep him in Oakland as a utility infielder and send Gregorio Petit back down? Even though Patterson can apparently barely even handle second base? Is the acquisition of Patterson a prelude to a trade of Mark Ellis? My guess is that for now, Patterson will be the backup infielder and Petit will go back down to Sacramento. Donaldson will presumably join Kane County, where Jake Smith, a 25-year-old, is currently the starting catcher.

The next question is what happens when Frank Thomas comes back. Three-way platoon for two spots between Cust, Sweeney, and Murton? And what about when Travis Buck gets himself right? And what about Patterson, who may already be transition to the outfield since his infield defense is rocky? The "too many players" problem has never been nearly as big a worry as the "not enough players" problem, though, so I think Billy Beane is probably not fretting overmuch about this.

It is a sad day as an A's fan to see Rich Harden go. I'll root for him in Chicago because he was always a guy you wanted to see succeed. It's a cliche at this point to say that Harden is a guy who looks like he can throw a no-hitter every time out, but it's true. What's even crazier is that people still say that the fact that he's now a two-pitch starter: fastball and changeup. But what a changeup!

Milwaukee's acquisition of CC Sabathia appears to have set off a chain reaction in the NL Central, so the next question is whether the Rich Harden trade sets of a similar chain reaction in the Oakland front office. Mark Ellis? Huston Street? Joe Blanton? Alan Embree? If any of these trades happen, can we please get a third baseman who will outhit Jack Hannahan? Or maybe Eric Patterson is already in the A's designs to be that guy? (Patterson has played nothing but second and outfield in his professional career, so third base may be asking a bit much. But he'd have to hit better than Hannahan, right?)

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