The Oakland A's made official what had been known since Monday, that they had acquired right-handed slugger Matt Holliday for Huston Street, Carlos Gonzalez and Greg Smith. The A's will introduce Holliday to the Bay Area media via a conference call at 11 a.m. PST.
The A's shocked the baseball world with the acquisition of Holliday, who is considered one of the top right-handed hitters in baseball. Oakland has been in a sell mode the past two seasons, dealing veterans Jason Kendall, Mark Kotsay, Dan Haren, Rich Harden, Joe Blanton and Chad Gaudin over the past year-and-a-half for a bevvy of prospects. Acquiring Holliday, who makes $13.5 million a year and is a free agent after the season, is a departure from that sell strategy.
The trade will come with some risk, as the A's are dealing three young players for what will likely be one year of Holliday's services. Holliday is expected to command a contract worth at least $20 million a year when he reaches the open market next winter. The A's are giving up three players who were relatively cost-controlled in Gonzalez, Smith and Street.
Ironically, it was the sell-mode deals that the A's made over the past 18 months that allowed them to make the trade for Holliday. In trading Kotsay, Kendall, Haren, Blanton, Harden and Gaudin, the A's have built up a surplus of young starting pitching and bullpen arms, as well as a stable of young outfield talent. The players acquired in those trades, along with the emergence of a few of the A's homegrown draft picks in 2008, have given the A's one of the deepest minor league systems in baseball.
There is certainly no question that the A's needed offensive help. In 2008, the team was among the AL leaders in pitching all season, but Oakland finished under .500 for a second straight season, primarily because the team's offense was dead-last in baseball. It is a difficult thing to try to develop young pitchers when they get on the mound every night knowing that their margin for error is very small. While Holliday alone won't magically turn the A's into the offensive juggernaut that they were in 2001, he will give the team the middle-of-the-order threat that it had missed since Frank Thomas left after the 2006 season.
In losing Street, the A's are likely to enter the 2009 season without an "established" closer. Relievers Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler both demonstrated the ability to pitch in pressure situations last season, but neither has pitched a full season in the big leagues yet. However, Street was far from a shut-down closer in 2008 and his injury problems over the past three seasons had, at times, stretched the bullpen thin. With the emergence of Devine, Ziegler and left-hander Jerry Blevins in 2008, and with bullpen prospects Andrew Carignan, Jared Lansford, Andrew Bailey, Brad Kilby, Jeff Gray, Sam Demel and even possibly Josh Outman and Henry Rodriguez on the way, the A's have a talented group of arms to choose from in the bullpen, even without Street.
Losing Smith will take the A's top innings thrower from the rotation. Smith faltered some down-the-stretch, but for the first three-plus months of the 2008 season, he was arguably the A's second-most consistent starter behind Justin Duchscherer. However, Smith, who was acquired in the Dan Haren trade, was one of growing group of talented left-handers in the A's system, a group that includes Dana Eveland, Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Outman (who has been both a starter and a reliever) and Carlos Hernandez.
The loss of Carlos Gonzalez might the one that is felt most acutely by A's fans, who saw the toolsy outfielder flash his power, speed and his tremendous throwing arm at various points during the 2008 season. However, Gonzalez was far from dominant at the major league level last season, and there was some thought that he needed a few more months at the Triple-A level this season. The A's were already going to be faced with something of a roster crunch in the outfield in 2009, as Travis Buck, Ryan Sweeney, Aaron Cunningham, Rajai Davis, Jack Cust and Chris Denorfia all would be competing with Gonzalez for time in the A's outfield and as the team's DH next season.
In addition, Oakland has a number of talented outfield prospects making their way through the system, including Corey Brown, Javier Herrera, Sean Doolittle (who can play in right and at first base), Matt Sulentic, Matt Spencer, Rashun Dixon, Grant Desme and Jermaine Mitchell. So even if Holliday's stay in the A's outfield is just for one season, the A's shouldn't be hurting for young outfield talent over the next few seasons.
The Chicago White Sox and Tampa Bay Rays both demonstrated in 2008 that teams can move up the ladder in their divisions relatively quickly with a few good off-season moves and some luck. The addition of Holliday doesn't make the A's a slam-dunk contender next season. However, it improves their chances of a winning season considerably and if the A's make a few more moves, they could put themselves in the pre-season conversations for a playoff berth. For a team that has always placed winning as one of the most important aspects of developing young talent, those few extra wins in 2009 could be worth the risk, even if Oakland doesn't make the playoffs.