Baseball BeatNovember 12, 2008
Billy-Holliday Hook Up in Oakland
By Rich Lederer

Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane has pulled off another big trade by acquiring slugger Matt Holliday from the Colorado Rockies for Huston Street, Greg Smith, and Carlos Gonzalez. The transaction is expected to be officially announced today.

The trade is interesting from several aspects. Holliday will earn $13.5 million next season as part of a two-year contract he signed last January to avoid arbitration. With six years under his belt, Holliday will become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2009 campaign. It is highly unlikely that Oakland will sign him to a long-term deal. Instead, he is almost all but guaranteed to be a one-year rental who will bring two compensatory draft picks when he leaves for greener pastures a year from now.

Last winter, Holliday, who is represented by Scott Boras, reportedly turned down a four-year, $72 million offer from Colorado that included a club option for a fifth year. Boras will most likely seek a nine-figure deal when his client tests the free agent market prior to the 2010 season.

Beane has generally traded – rather than acquired – Holliday types prior to becoming free agents. However, Holliday is an outfielder and not a pitcher as was the case with Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Dan Haren, Rich Harden, and Joe Blanton. The latter three were under Oakland's control for more than a year when they were sent packing.

Is Holliday worth giving up three players for one year and two draft picks? Sure. First of all, he gives Oakland a chance to compete next season. Secondly, if the A's are not in the hunt at the trading deadline, look for Beane to entertain offers from contending teams. At worse, Holliday plays out the year and Oakland receives a couple of high draft choices that may be as good as or better than Street, Smith, and Gonzalez, all of whom have their shortcomings.

Street, 25, saved 18 games last season but lost his job as the closer to rookie Brad Ziegler (who was 3-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 11 saves in 13 opportunities) in August. A supplemental first-round pick (40th overall) out of the University of Texas in 2004, Street was named the AL Rookie of the Year in 2005 and saved 98 games in his four seasons, including a career-high 37 in 2006. However, the smallish righthander has had a history of elbow problems and his 90-mph fastball puts him in a vulnerable position should his slider lose its effectiveness. A flyball pitcher, he may not be a good fit in the thin air of Colorado and could be flipped to any number of teams looking for an experienced closer.

Smith and Gonzalez were acquired from Arizona in the Haren trade. Smith, who started 32 games for Oakland last season, possesses one of the best pick-off moves in the game but little else. An extreme flyball pitcher with fringy stuff, Smith, who had minor elbow surgery last month, will find the going much more difficult at Coors Park than McAfee Coliseum. Gonzalez, on the other hand, should find Colorado to his liking. A toolsy outfielder, he has the highest ceiling of the bunch. However, he struggled as a 22-year-old in his rookie season, "hitting" .242/.273/.361 with 81 SO and 13 BB in 316 PA. Like many young players, he needs to improve his pitch recognition – especially vs. LHP (.188/.207/.247) – to reach his potential.

Holliday broke into the big leagues in 2004 and has played five seasons with the Colorado Rockies. As shown below, his home and road splits are too pronounced to dismiss. He hits like Lou Gehrig (.340/.447/.632) at Coors Park and Mike Lowell (.279/.343/.467) on the road. You can either call him Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde or you can call Dan O'Dowd and hide his road stats.

Career Splits

          AVG    OBP    SLG
Home     .357   .423   .645 
Road     .280   .348   .455

In fairness to Holliday, I believe his age 26-28 seasons are more representative of his true performance level.


          AVG    OBP    SLG
Home     .361   .430   .669 
Road     .296   .370   .486

Although the gap in the splits are still eye opening, Holliday's numbers away from Coors Park are noticeably better. I would use them as a baseline in trying to project what he might do for the A's in 2009.

Given the fact that most players produce at about a 4% better clip at home than on the road, it might be fair to adjust his 2006-2008 road stats to .308/.385/.505. However, it is important to recognize that Holliday will be moving to a more difficult hitting environment in terms of the league and home ballpark. In fact, McAfee Coliseum is particularly tough on righthanded batters, playing to a 94 park factor for AVG and a 78 for HR over the past three seasons. As such, those adjusted rate stats, while outstanding, are probably his upside.

Of the 95 home runs that Holliday has slugged the past three seasons, 62 have come at home and only 33 have been on the road. It says here that Holliday will hit closer to 20 HR than his three-year average of 32. In other words, I'll take the unders if the over/under line is 25.

Nonetheless, Holliday is a big-time talent and immediately makes Oakland a better team. The 6-4, 235-pound high school All-America quarterback not only hits for average and power but runs well and possesses a better-than-average arm for a left fielder. He stole 28 bases in 30 attempts and ranked as the third-best baserunner in the majors according to The Bill James Handbook. Holliday advanced from first to third on 15 of 26 singles, from second to home on 17 of 24 opportunities, and from first to home on 5 of 6 doubles while being thrown out only twice on the base paths. Among left fielders, he was third in John Dewan's plus/minus ratings and finished third in The Fielding Bible Awards.

If Holliday has any upside left in him, it may rest in his improving plate discipline. The five-year veteran's walk rate last season increased to a career-best 12.1% and his 0.71 BB/SO ratio was more than 40% above his previous high. I'm quite sure that Beane is fully aware of these facts.

I don't think the Billy-Holliday combo will be singing the blues over this deal.


This strikes me as a very odd deal. The A's have always shed salary rather than taking any on. A few things make sense to me:
1. Beane is counting on those 2 draft picks being better than the three people traded. (unlikely)
2. Holliday is going to be part of another trade.
3. The A's ownership have loosened the purse strings and want to compete again immediatly.

Has a philosophical change occured in Oakland?

Does this really give them a chance to compete? Yes they won 76 games in 2008. But a lot of that was done before they made trades in the middle of the year. In August and September they were 22-31 and were outscored 191-273! They will need to do a lot more than this even with an expected regression from the Angels.

If the A's want to compete in '09, you gotta believe there'll be more action soon. Holliday is a good pick-up, even at McAfee, but I agree with with Blaze that his addition all by itself probably doesn't bump the expected wins that much higher.

The A's win this trade. I think the Rockies settled for too little. This looks like one of those cases where the team that acquires the best player wins the trade.

Tyler: I don't think the two compensatory draft picks have to be better than all three players combined to make this trade work. Remember, the A's get Holliday for a year. That is worth something. As such, if the two picks equal Gonzalez and Street, then the cost of Holliday ends up being Smith and the extra salary dollars spent on him vis-a-vis the others. Re #2, while Holliday *could* be part of another trade, I don't think Oakland acquired him for that purpose. Re #3 and your question, yes, there are indications that owner Lew Wolff wants to win now and is willing to boost the payroll up to $80M to put together a competitive team.

Blaze and Mike: Holliday makes the A's more competitive than before. Is he enough of a difference to make up the gap all by himself? No. But I will be shocked if this is a one and done deal. Instead, look for Wolff and Beane to go aggressively after another free agent or two (Furcal has been a rumored possibility). Using Pythagorean win totals, the difference between the Angels and A's was "only" 14 games (rather than 25). If the Angels fail to sign Teixeira and the A's land another star player like Furcal, it seems to me that these three players could easily account for a swing of 15 games.

Greenfrog: I agree. More often than not, the team that acquires the best player in a trade wins out. Holliday is clearly the best player in this trade. The downside is that the A's fail short this year and get two high draft picks for Gonzalez, Smith, and Street. Smith is more suspect than prospect, Street's value has peaked, and the jury is still out on Gonzalez.

If this is a case of the A's adding someone like Holliday, I'm suprised. I can't remember the last time the A's took on a high salary like this. When was the last time Oakland took on $9+ Million of salary? Kotsay would be closest with the extension they gave him in '05 as an extension.

Well I am not sure that we will be singing the "Billie Blues" next year. I think he has earned the benefit of the doubt even if he "Don't Explain" himself. While Colorado fans may be sayin' "Lover Man (Oh, where can you be?)" Oakland will be "Fine and Mellow" and praising "God Bless the Child". Now I don't think this is "Now or Never" for Oakland, as this trade may produce some "Strange Fruit" down the line. When it comes down to it "Everything Happens For The Best".

Holliday gets dished a lot about his home/road splits but everyone forgets that he played around 30 games a year in PETCO, Dodger stadium and AT&T park which are 3 pretty good pitchers parks.

Yet you don't hear Jake Peavey getting much harassment about his home field being one of the best pitching parks ever built.

It's a typical double standard that gets attached to ALL Colorado Rockie players.