Trade review: Bobby Abreu

You folks seemed to enjoy my trade analysis of Edgar Renteria and Andy Marte a month or so back. Unsurprisingly I got a ton of e-mails asking me to look back at some other recent trades. Today I look back at the Bobby Abreu trade that moved him to the Yankees from Philadelphia in July 2006. Thanks to Mark Heil for suggesting this particular deal.

The background

If you cast your mind back to July 2006, you may remember that it didn’t take a Nostradamus to prognosticate that Abreu was on the trading block. The Phillies were a catastrophic 49-56—a back-breaking 14 games behind the charging Mets (albeit a good enough record to be second in their division). Bobby was being paid roughly $14 million and was due a pay raise in 2007. And worse, his form wasn’t what it had been; he was hitting .277/.427/.434, which was some way below his career norm (check out that obscene walk rate).

It wasn’t even a question of where he’d go. Which team would fork out the moolah to bring an aging player who is owed a ton of money on to its books? Uhhhhhh … the Yankees? Of course. If you recall no other team was in the bidding, so the Yankees were able to name their price as no one else wanted to stump up the $22 million that Abreu was owed over the coming 18 months.

The Phillies had been shopping Abreu for some months, and according to reports, they were initially after a front-line starter in return. The eventual deal saw the Yankees snap up Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle for four minor league prospects. The Phils got the 2005 number one draft pick C.J Henry, hurler Matt Smith, catcher Jesus Sanchez and right-hander Carlos Monasterios.

Reaction

The Yankees-led media was cock-a-hoop about the deal. Here is what Jayson Stark at ESPN had to say:

Now presenting the most lopsided deadline deal of this millennium: Abreu and Lidle for four guys the Yankees already have forgotten they ever employed …

…”I keep asking myself, ‘Is there something I don’t know about Bobby Abreu that they know?’ ” said a high-ranking official of a team that would have loved to add Abreu in a less complicated, dollar-signed world. “I’m just baffled that they could not get anything back for a guy this good. And they paid him $1.5 million to waive his no-trade clause. And they just tossed in Cory Lidle—tossed him in. I know for a fact there were teams that offered better prospects for Lidle alone. I don’t get it.”

Baseball Prospectus said largely the same thing:

Pat Gillick, who picked up the moniker for his lack of trading activity during stints with the Blue Jays and Mariners, made a deal yesterday that benefited a team he worked for 30 years ago: the Yankees. By trading Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to New York in exchange for four of the Yankees’ downlist prospects, Gillick set his Phillies on a rebuilding path while potentially locking up a postseason spot for the Bronx Bombers … This was a salary dump, nothing more, and pointing to C.J. Henry’s youth and athleticism, or the upside of two Venezuelans playing five levels from the majors, doesn’t begin to change that evaluation.

Reaction among the Phillies’ blogosphere was a little more muted. Although Beerleaguer was bearish on the trade …:

Bobby Abreu arrived in Philadelphia in one of the most lopsided deals in Phillies history. As it turns out, that’s probably how he will depart. Abreu, along with pitcher Cory Lidle, was traded to the Yankees this afternoon for four unheralded minor league players, none of them appear ready to step in and contribute at the big-league level.

… other blogs choose to look back on what Abreu had given to the club and not what the Phils got in return for two of their better players. This is from the Good Phight:

I didn’t think this day would come. I figured the Phils would be in contention this year, and Bobby would continue to be where he was for the previous eight years, manning right field and achoring the middle of the lineup. Of course, losing changes things, and thus, it often falls on the best player on the team. I just would like to take this moment to thank Bobby for the best 8+ years I have ever seen from a player on my Phillies. Bobby not only is one of the best players to ever put on the red pin stripes, but I was able to witness all of his play. Bobby wasn’t perfect, but he was as complete of an offensive player we have ever seen.

The players

Let’s have a look at what has happened to each player since the trade was consummated.

Bobby Abreu

Year    AB      HR      BA      OBP     SLG     OPS+
2006    209     7       0.33    0.419   0.507   138
2007    605     16      0.283   0.369   0.445   114

Abreu has been a bit of a success for the Yankees. His propensity to get on base for an offensively oriented Yankee team immediately upped their RBI opportunities. When he came across to New York in 2006 the Yankees and Red Sox were going toe to toe for the division. In his 209 at-bats Abreu posted an impressive line of .330/.419/.507. After the trade the Yankees and Abreu comfortably swept to the AL East title—although faded badly in the playoffs to the Tigers.

There was more of the same in 2007, (except the Red Sox, of course, won the division) although as expected, Abreu regressed in all departments. Still in an age of rising salaries he was deemed valuable enough to have his hefty 2008 option exercised.

Cory Lidle

Year  W    L    IP    ERA    WHIP
2006  4    3    45.3  5.16   1.5

We are all au fait with the tragic story of Cory Lidle. Although not especially effective for the Yankees, he was a lot better than the dross he replaced on the roster. It was rendered immaterial when Lidle crashed his light airplane into a New York building and died shortly after the 2006 season closed.

C.J Henry

Year    Class  Team         AB      HR      BB      SO      AVG     OBP     SLG
2006    A      Lakewood     91      1       7       25      0.253   0.313   0.407
2007    A      Lakewood     342     9       18      139     0.184   0.237   0.322

Henry has not been especially impressive in either stint in Class-A Lakewood. In 2007 he hit an ugly .184/.237/.322—at present the odds of his getting to the big leagues are minuscule.

Matt Smith

Year    Age             Team            G       IP      ERA
2006    27      MLB     Philadelphia    14      8.2     2.08
2007    28      AAA     Ottawa          16      17.1    2.6
2007    28      MLB     Philadelphia    9       4       11.25

Smith has posted some good ERA over the years but never on a statistically robust number of innings. Since coming to Philly he has flitted between Triple-A and the majors. As I said the sample size is too small, but based on age and 2007 performance the only conclusion is that Smith is a bust.

Jesus Sanchez

Year    Age    Class    Team             AB      AVG     OBP     SLG
2006    18     Rookie   GCL Phillies     26      0.192   0.241   0.269
2007    19     Rookie   GCL Phillies     93      0.204   0.302   0.237

This is not getting any better for the Phillies. Sanchez remains a young, raw talent. Hang on … perhaps the talent assertion is generous. If he is to have any hope of making it he needs to impress this year. A line of .204/.302/.237 in rookie ball is, quite frankly, dismal—the only bright spot is his walk rate.

Carlos Monasterios

Year    Age     Class   Team            G       IP      ERA
2006    20      Rookie  GCL Phillies    4       14.2    3.68
2007    21      A       Lakewood        26      156     4.62

Another pitcher and another mediocre player. Based purely on the stats Monasterios might actually be the most promising player the Phillies acquired in this trade. An ERA of 4.62 in A ball does not suggest great things lie ahead. Oh dear.

Wins analysis

This analysis is relatively straightforward. Right now the players the Yankees sent to the Phillies have close to no value. The question is have the Yankees had fair value from Lidle and Abreu. To ask the question another way, how much have the Yankees spent per win compared to what they could acquire on the free agent market?

Using the OPS wins shortcuts: WAA = 0.025x(1.7 OBP + SLG – 1) and converting to replacement level weighting by playing time (using 650 at-bats as a season) Abreu ends up being 4.75 WAR for the one and a bit season he played in pinstripes.

During his time at Yankee Stadium, Abreu has received about $19.5 million. Doing the math that is about $4.1 million per win, which isn’t too different to the Yankees signing Abreu as a free agent. In the end the Yankees were right not to give up too much to the Phillies.

It’s all about context stupid!

The final thing to consider: had Abreu stayed at the Phillies would they have increased their odds of making the postseason, as that is obviously pretty lucrative? In 2007 the Phillies made the playoffs only to be dispatched with a whimper by the Rockies—Abreu would not have made much of a difference.

In 2006, though, Philadelphia missed out on the wild card by three games, although it seemed closer than that at the time. Abreu would not have made that up despite going on a tear with the Yankees in the last few month of the season.

This remains a tie I’m afraid.

References & Resources
Thanks to Baseball Reference for all of their stats and the readers who wrote in and asked me to do an analysis of this deal.

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