Evaluating the Rich Harden trade

The Rich Harden trade seems to have been a lot more controversial in comparison to the CC Sabathia trade. It seems on one side there is group that feels Billy Beane should have gotten a lot more for, when healthy, arguably the most dominant pitcher in the game. Most of the people in this group would have liked to have seen the A’s receive more “impact” talent. On the other side is a group that believes Rich Harden is a ticking time bomb and Beane was wise to trade Harden. So which side is really correct? Did Billy Beane sell high or did Jim Hendry get the better of him?

I’ll be honest here and admit that this trade is a lot harder to evaluate than the Sabathia trade. In my most recent article I talked a little bit about uncertainty when it comes to risk management. I still feel that it would be pretty tough to give an accurate innings projection for Harden for the rest of the year and next year. I would like to note that the A’s and Cubs probably put some sort of injury risk measurement on Harden using the medical reports and maybe even some mechanical breakdowns. However, no matter how optimistic you are with Harden’s health, in most cases the A’s are going to receive more value in this trade. By value I mean surplus value (win value equivalent in salary minus actual salary), which can also be called net present value.

Let’s say Harden stays healthy for the rest of this year and next year. Number one starters, which I think most would agree Harden is when he’s healthy, are worth about $20 million so that’s $30 million in performance value Harden brings. Given his salary in the future that’s about $16.8 million in surplus value. Marcels evaluates Gaudin as about 2.1 wins above a replacement level pitcher. Factoring inflation and aging, Gaudin projects to give the Cubs about $8 million in surplus value. Factoring in the slight increase in playoffs odds for the Cubs this year and draft picks, the Cubs are probably getting around $30 million in surplus value, if Harden stays healthy for the rest of his contract.

Now a lot of people aren’t too high on the players and prospects the A’s received. For now I’m going to ignore Josh Donaldson in the analysis. I’m not exactly sure what the track record is for 22-year-old catchers hitting .217, but I don’t think it’s very good. The consensus on Sean Gallagher seems to be that he’ll either be a No. 3 or No. 4 starter, while analysts and scouts seem to be split on whether Matt Murton and Eric Patterson will be regulars or good bench players.

Baseball America rated Gallagher as their No. 82 prospect coming into the year and based off my prospect valuation tables, Gallagher has a surplus value of $8.16 million. There doesn’t seem to be as much consensus with Murton and Patterson. Some seem to think that Murton could an everyday corner outfielder, while others see him more as a pretty good fourthoutfielder. In regards to Patterson, it seems that a few think he could be an everyday second baseman or even a center fielder, while most seem to think he’ll be a pretty good utility player. For now let’s say Murton and Patterson become pretty good bench players. We’ll say Murton is a three WSAB player, or one Win above Bench (WAB). We’ll discount Patterson to 0.8 WAB since there is a little more risk of him sticking in the majors. If we give Murton and Patterson these ratings, given Gallagher’s rating, the A’s would come out with a surplus value of $33 million.

So, if Harden stays fully healthy, and if Murton and Patterson do not become anything other than bench players, the A’s and Cubs are still about split on the deal, factoring in the A’s decreased playoff odds for this year. Of course, we have to be much more reasonable with our assumptions. There is no way we can expect Harden to stay healthy over the next 1.5 years, while there is probably at least a decent chance Patterson and Murton become everyday players. When we factor this in, I think it is fair to say that the A’s are getting more surplus value in this deal, even when knocking off some value for their decreased playoff odds this year. In fact, I think we can say the A’s are clear winners when it comes to the value side of the trade.

What makes this trade hard to evaluate, besides the risk and uncertainty involved in it, is that while the A’s win on the value part of the deal, I’m not sure it improves their chances that much of winning a championship. To use a scouting term, I’m not sure Patterson and Murton profile as first division regulars. Of course, whenever someone says something like that you can always point to the fact that the Red Sox won a World Series with Julio Lugo as their starting shortstop for an entire year. But still, the A’s are going to need to develop some or acquire some star players to make their rebuilding a complete success. Now when we look at the big picture, the A’s do have some players with that type of potential, and the players they received are still some valuable pieces. It looks like Beane may have been intending to add depth via this trade.

From the Cubs point of view, I know a lot of people will say who cares if they lost on value, the players they traded were never going to play anyway. And I also bet many of them would deal the entire farm system if they could see the Cubs World Series drought end. However, I think the Cubs themselves can be partly to blame for this with their unwillingness to give younger players a complete chance. For example, a team like the Red Sox went into last year basically saying Dustin Pedroia is second2nd baseman no matter what happens. In conclusion, the A’s win in value in this trade while slightly decreasing their playoff odds for this year while the Cubs slightly increase their already very good odds.

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