The Oakland A's traded their second starting pitcher away in as many weeks, this time dealing RHP Joe Blanton to the Phillies for LHP Josh Outman, 2B Adrian Cardenas, and OF Matthew Spencer. This is not nearly as big of a deal as the Rich Harden one, but still points towards the A's plan to re-stock their system with young players that will come of age (hit free agency) in their new ballpark in Fremont (when they have a bigger budget). In the wake of the Rich Harden deal, and going back to the off-season where Dan Haren and Nick Swisher were traded away, this pales in comparison. Nonetheless, a Billy Beane deal should never be overlooked:
The Phillies side - Welcome to the closest thing to the mid '90s Mariners since...well, the mid '90s Mariners. Philadelphia's lineup is loaded, but their pitching is rather weak, with the major exception of Cole Hamels, a tall lefty with a penchant for strikeouts (I'm not kidding, this team is similar to those mid 90's M's squads). Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick are both somewhere between serviceable and solid, so the rotation could really use at least two arms. However, with limited depth in the farm system, getting impact pitchers may be tough. Enter Joe Blanton, who at the very least will eat up some innings and did not cost the team everyone down on the farm. He is an upgrade over Adam Eaton, the man he is likely to replace, and as an added bonus he won't hit free agency until 2010.
However, how well Blanton will do is up for debate. Conventional wisdom says that he should fare a little better in the NL because a talent gap still exists. However, while every other pitcher on the A's staff seems to produce beyond their ability level, Joe Blanton was having a worse year than expected. The rise of the entire pitching staff is likely due to an underrated defense, and yet Blanton is still worse despite that. So, between going to a worse defense and a worse park for pitchers, I do not see Blanton gaining anything from playing a bit worse competition. Still, I am not sure the Phillies could get a better pitcher for the price, especially when Blanton's favorable contract situation is also considered.
The Athletics side - Trade rumors have swirled around Joe Blanton for a very long time, and this is one of the few guys the A's have traded in recent memory at less than peak value. They very likely would have received a better package for him if they had traded him in the off-season, thanks to a sub-par showing thus far in 2008. That does not make this a disappointing deal necessarily though.
Blanton was the A's opening day starter, but at this point he was pretty clearly the fifth best starter in their rotation, even with Sean Gallagher replacing Rich Harden. Oakland also understands that their underrated defense has helped their pitching staff produce beyond expectations, making Joe Blanton's disappointing season even more disappointing than it may seem at first glance. Thus, even though Blanton's value has dropped some since last off-season, he probably is still overrated, especially in the trade deadline market, where teams tend to be willing to give up more for starting pitchers.
Oakland received three prospects in this deal, Matthew Spencer, Josh Outman, and Adrian Cardenas. I do not think Spencer will amount to much, though he is still only 22 years old. If he amounts to something, it will be with a powerful bat. Outman is a 23-year-old lefty in AA right now with both starting and relieving experience. What the A's will have him do in their system I do not know. Overall, his numbers are quite good, but not eye-popping. He seems to be a safe bet to make the majors, but be closer to a spare part than permanent fixture.
The best player Oakland got in this trade is Adrian Cardenas. He is just 20 years old, and holding his own well in high A right now. He has good speed, which should also mean good range at second base. He also already hits for good average, and shows a good approach at the plate. Cardenas is still a minimum of two years away from the majors, but he should be a good starting option at second base once he develops.
Bottom line - This should be a trade that helps both sides. Joe Blanton does upgrade the Phillies starting staff, and they certainly could afford to give up a second base prospect with Chase Utley entrenched there for many years to come. As for the A's, I think this deal is remarkably good for them. Gio Gonzalaez and Trevor Cahill both look like great starters down the road, so they will not have any problem replacing Joe Blanton in their long-term plan. In the short term, Gonzalez is also an option, but I think they should give Dallas Braden a look. He performed very poorly when given a chance last year, but his AAA numbers are too good over the last two years to not give him a chance. I would not be surprised if Braden ends up being an upgrade over what they have got out of Blanton this year. It would wreak of Billy Beane magic.
This trade is not badly lop-sided, but I still think Oakland got the better end of it. They have in-house options to fill Blanton's spot that are likely at least as good as Blanton has been. In the long-term, they definitely have guys who look even better. If I were the Phillies I would have tried to keep Outman out of the deal, given that they are trading for pitching because their pitching is thin in the first place, and Outman is ultimately what tips the scale in favor of the A's for me in this deal. However, it is not like Outman is going to make this deal look awful for Philadelphia.
In the end, this trade proves once again how bold, borderline insane, and brilliant Billy Beane is. Is there another GM that would trade two pitchers the caliber of Harden and Blanton mid-season, and seriously believe their team can still contend? I am not sure any other GM would even be allowed to do what Beane has done in the past year. He continues to be proactive in a sport where most are reactive, and above all, he understands how to maintain the upper hand in bargaining like no other. Beane has some old-fashioned traits that are integral to his success; he is more than Moneyball and sabermetrics.