Some Like It Hot
There were two trades during the past ten months that involved three of the hottest hitters in professional baseball.
November 10, 2008: Oakland Athletics traded Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street, and Greg Smith to the Colorado Rockies for Matt Holliday.
July 24, 2009: Oakland Athletics traded Matt Holliday and cash considerations to the St. Louis Cardinals for Brett Wallace, Clay Mortensen, and Shane Peterson.
Netting Holliday out of the equation, the A's exchanged Gonzalez, Street, and Smith for Wallace, Mortensen, and Peterson. While Street has been a superb reliever for most of the five years he has spent in the big leagues, Gonzalez and Wallace were the keys to these two trades.
As it turns out, Holliday, Gonzalez, and Wallace have been tearing up their respective leagues. Since the All-Star break, Gonzalez and Holliday rank first and third in the majors in OPS.
Meanwhile, Wallace was ranked No. 1 on Baseball America's Prospect Hot List for the week ending August 20.
Holliday's story is well known by most baseball fans. A three-time All-Star and Silver Slugger, he has a career line of .318/.388/.546. The 29-year-old left fielder will be a free agent at the end of this season and will be seeking at least a four-year contract for well over $50 million in total.
Gonzalez and Wallace, on the other hand, are not household names. At least not yet.
Signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks as an amateur free agent in August 2002 and traded to Oakland (along with Brett Anderson, Chris Carter, Aaron Cunningham, Dana Eveland, and Greg Smith) for Dan Haren in December 2007, Gonzalez had a disappointing rookie year with the A's in 2008. He hit .242/.273/.361 and struck out 81 times in 316 plate appearances. The lefthanded-hitting outfielder struggled against southpaws (.188/.207/.247) more than anything else. The 2005 Midwest League MVP showed glimpses of power with 22 doubles in only half a season's work.
The Rockies acquired Gonzalez during the off-season in the hope that a change in home ballparks from pitcher-friendly McAfee Coliseum in Oakland to hitter-friendly Coors Field in Colorado would allow him to fulfill his vast potential. He began the year at Triple-A Colorado Springs and earned a promotion to the parent club after putting up a .339/.418/.630 line in April and May. However, Gonzalez failed to hit after being recalled in early June but his torrid second half has helped him elevate his overall rate stats to .287/.356/.539 in 191 plate appearances.
Selected by the Cardinals out of Arizona State University in the first round (13th overall) of the June 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Wallace hit a combined .337/.427/.530 at two levels in the minors last year. He had a higher AVG, OBP, and SLG in Double-A than Low-A, albeit in a much smaller sample size (57 plate appearances vs. 177). He opened 2009 at Double-A Springfield (.281/.403/.438) and was promoted to Triple-A Memphis (.293/.346/.423) in May. Following the trade between St. Louis and Oakland, the lefthanded-hitting Wallace was assigned to Triple-A Sacramento where he has hit .292/.348/.517 over the past month.
Wallace is more valuable to an American League team like the A's where he can play first base or DH than the Cardinals where he was blocked by Albert Pujols at 1B and forced to succeed at the hot corner, a position that isn't ideally suited for a 6-1, 245-pound body. Although Baseball America and MiLB.com list him at 6-2, 205, Baseball-Reference.com has him at 6-1, 245, the same as his college profile at Arizona State. I'm not sure about the loss of that inch, but there is no question about the added weight. In fact, Wallace admitted to weighing 245 in an interview last January. He is very thick through the middle, including massive thighs as evidenced by these videos.
Nonetheless, the youngster (he turns 23 on Wednesday) can flat out hit. He was a two-time Pac-10 Triple Crown winner and Player of the Year in 2007 and 2008. A former UCLA player told me that Wallace was the toughest hitter the Bruins faced in his four-year career, a span that included Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jed Lowrie (boy, the Red Sox sure love those Pac-10 guys), as well as Yonder Alonso in a non-conference series that I actually witnessed at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Westwood a few years ago.
Interestingly, Wallace, who prepped at Justin-Siena HS in Napa, California, listed the Oakland A's as his favorite team and Eric Chavez as his favorite player when he was at ASU. If Wallace doesn't get the call in September when the MLB rosters are expanded, he will surely get the opportunity to play for his favorite team and perhaps replace his favorite player at third base next spring. Depending on how quickly Chris Carter (.335/.434/.570 at Double-A Midland) develops, Wallace could also earn the starting job at first base or as the designated hitter. One way or the other, look for him to make an impact in Oakland next season.
For the record, Holliday, Gonzalez, and Wallace have run into some difficulties the past week. Holliday is just 6-for-33 in his last nine games, including 3-for-19 since fouling a pitch off his leg a week ago today. Gonzalez missed Sunday's game after suffering a puncture wound to his left hand. He is hopeful of returning to the lineup during Colorado's three-game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday through Thursday. Wallace cooled off considerably this past weekend, going 2-for-12 with no extra-base hits and a strikeout in each of the three games.
Some like it hot. Or not.