A's Deal Wallace For Taylor

After flying under the radar during the recently concluded winter meetings, the Oakland A's made headlines on Tuesday when they inserted themselves into the Roy Halladay-Cliff Lee deal. The A's have traded top prospect Brett Wallace for outfield prospect Michael Taylor, who went from Philadelphia to Toronto to Oakland in the four-team deal. This deal is now official.

Updated on 12/16/09

"Challenge trades," or trades that involve two teams trading each other top prospects, are rare in baseball. Generally speaking, when a prospect is traded, it is usually in return for an established major league veteran. However, on occasion, a team will deal a top prospect in exchange for another top prospect with the challenge being which prospect will have a better future long-term.

The last true challenge trade the A's were involved with came in 2002 when Oakland dealt then top-prospects Gerald Laird and Ryan Ludwick (among others) to the Texas Rangers for Carlos Pena. Ironically, neither team reaped the ultimate benefits of that trade, although Pena and Ludwick, in particular, have turned into All-Star caliber major league players for different teams in recent years and Laird has had a long major league career.

Only time will tell whether Brett Wallace or Michael Taylor have the better career. For now, this trade - which was first reported by ESPN.com's Buster Olney and has been officially announced - can be summarized as a deal of two of the top 20 position player prospects in baseball.

The deal involving Taylor and Wallace is part of a much larger set of deals involving four different teams: the A's, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Seattle Mariners and the Philadelphia Phillies. In this four-team trade, former Cy Young award winners Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are moving teams. Other top prospects in addition to Wallace and Taylor are also on the move, including Kyle Drabek and Phillipe Aumont.

From the A's perspective, the deal is rather simple. Oakland is sending a premier corner infield prospect to Toronto for a premier corner outfield prospect.

Wallace departs the A's organization after only five months with the team. He was acquired by the A's as part of another blockbuster deal - the Matt Holliday trade with St. Louis in July 2009. A first-round selection in 2008 by the Cardinals (13th overall) out of Arizona State, Wallace hit .293 with 20 homers, 63 RBIs and an 822 OPS in 138 games between Double-A Springfield, Triple-A Memphis and Triple-A Sacramento in 2009. It was his first full professional season. Wallace hit .337 with a 957 OPS in 54 games at the Low-A and Double-A levels in 2008. He was a participant in the MLB Futures Game in St. Louis this past summer and was recently named the A's number one prospect by Scout.com. Wallace is a native of the Bay Area and grew up an Oakland A's fan.

Taylor also has a Bay Area connection, having played his college baseball at Stanford. As part of the reported four-team deal, Taylor will come to the A's via Toronto, who will acquire the outfielder from Philadelphia in the Roy Halladay trade.

Taylor was a fifth-round selection of the Phillies in 2007. After a lackluster 2007 debut in professional baseball, Taylor had a breakthrough 2008 campaign, batting .346 with a 968 OPS in 132 games at the Low-A and High-A levels. He followed that up with another outstanding season in 2009 when he batted .320 with 20 homers, 84 RBIs and a 944 OPS in 116 games for Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Taylor was named the Phillies' top minor league hitter for 2009 by the organization and was widely considered to be one of Philadelphia's top two or three prospects.

Wallace is almost a year younger than Taylor, but both players are on the verge of being major league ready. The two prospects came into professional baseball with solid backgrounds having competed collegiately for elite baseball programs in the Pac-10. Wallace was considered a more polished player coming out of college, but Taylor has quickly worked away many of the rough edges to his game that caused him to have inconsistent production at Stanford. Both players have reputations for being intelligent and hard working, as well as coachable, and both were able to maintain outstanding performances during the 2009 trade deadline despite regularly being the subject of trade rumors.

From the A's perspective, they are giving up a possible heir to Eric Chavez at third base for a possible answer to their gaping hole in the number three position in their line-up. Oakland has had difficulty finding a consistent right-handed power source since Miguel Tejada left the team via free agency after the 2003 season. Frank Thomas provided that power in 2006 and Holliday did to some extent at the start of the 2009 season, but the team otherwise has struggled in that area. With Taylor on-board and top prospect Chris Carter (a right-handed hitting first-baseman/outfielder) on the cusp of the big leagues, the A's could soon be boasting their most powerful right-handed middle of the order since the days of the Bash Brothers.

In addition to power, Taylor brings with him a strong throwing arm, speed on the basepaths (21 stolen bases in 26 chances in 2009) and the ability to hit for average. Coming out of college, scouts were concerned that Taylor would be extremely vulnerable to the strike-out because of his massive frame (he is 6'6'' with long arms). However, since 2008, Taylor has struck-out in 15% of his total at-bats, not a particularly high number for a power-hitter. He is considered a strong defensive corner outfielder.

This trade, if completed, does leave the A's depth chart unsettled. While there were significant questions as to whether Wallace would be able to stay at third base defensively, the fact remained that at the present moment, Wallace was far-and-away the team's top third base prospect and the only prospect in the organization's higher levels who could possibly replace Chavez this season. Chavez is coming off of three straight injury-plagued seasons and it isn't clear that the A's can count on much, if any, production from him in 2010. He is a free agent after the 2010 season. Oakland does have two prospects at the Triple-A level that they can move to third base: Adrian Cardenas and Josh Donaldson. Cardenas has played more second base in his career, while Donaldson has primarily been a catcher, although both have recent experience playing at third. However, while both are good hitters, neither is the hitter that Wallace is at the moment.

The addition of Taylor also muddies the A's outfield depth chart. Oakland tendered contracts to two outfielders this past weekend, Scott Hairston and Rajai Davis, meaning both will return to the team in 2010 unless they are traded. Both are right-handed hitters. Davis is a centerfielder, but Hairston is a corner outfielder who was acquired by the A's to play much the same role that the team hopes Taylor will play as a middle-of-the-order bat. Ryan Sweeney returns to the A's in 2010 coming off of two solid seasons during which he was one of the A's most valuable players from both an offensive and defensive perspective. The A's also have Travis Buck, Aaron Cunningham and Eric Patterson on their 40-man roster, outfielders who have all proven themselves at the Triple-A level and are vying for regular at-bats in the major leagues.

Behind the major league depth chart, Oakland has a number of minor league outfield prospects coming up the pipeline, as well. Grant Desme was recently named the Arizona Fall League's MVP and he was a 30 homer-40 stolen base player during the regular season. While he hasn't yet played above A-ball, Desme is a strong candidate to reach Triple-A by the end of the year. Corey Brown is another outfield prospect who brings power and speed to the table. He struggled through injuries in 2009, but played well when healthy for Double-A Midland and was a strong performer at the AFL. In addition, top prospects Sean Doolittle and Chris Carter have seen time in the outfield, although both are primarily first baseman.

From a talent perspective, it is hard to argue with the decision of either the Blue Jays or the A's to make this deal, as both Wallace and Taylor look poised for outstanding major league careers. However, for the trade to make sense for the A's more immediate future, one would have to assume that the team will be looking to move one or more of its outfielders, perhaps in a deal to acquire a long-term solution at third base, which is clearly the most pressing organizational need at the moment.

Stay tuned for more off-season hot stove in the coming days...

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