When the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Oakland Athletics completed their eight-player Dan Haren deal, popular sentiment was that the deal benefited both sides. The A's were too far away from competing with the powerhouse Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the AL West, and the Diamondbacks had young major league players blocking many of the prospects dealt from their then-deep minor league system.
Now, the A's continued harvesting their players signed long-term to bargain basement deals. That only makes sense. The White Sox, however, traded arguably their top three prospects for Nick Swisher. Critics of the move don't believe that the White Sox have enough talent to compete with the Detroit Tigers or Cleveland Indians this year.
Well, duh. The Indians have a team full of Dan Harens and Nick Swishers - star players in their 20's signed well below market value. The Tigers went from good to great overnight in mortgaging their farm system for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. But what critics somehow lost sight of in this deal is that the White Sox now control Swisher for the next five years.
The White Sox do not need to win it all in 2008 to justify this trade. They can set their sights on the 2009-2010 seasons. The Sox can retain Mark Buehrle, Javier Vazquez, Bobby Jenks, and Paul Konerko through 2010, plus Jim Thome through 2009. To that nucleus, the Sox will add a good amount of young talent that should just be hitting their primes, including Josh Fields, Carlos Quentin, and Danny Richar on offense, plus pitchers John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Lance Broadway, Charlie Haeger, Jack Egbert, and Kyle McCulloch.
That could be a devastating lineup in 2009, particularly if the aging Jermaine Dye still has some life in his bat at that time. The prospect of losing Thome in 2010 hurts, but then the Tigers won't necessarily maintain Miguel Cabrera through that season, either.
The Sox simply didn't have much in the lower levels of their system. It wouldn't have made much sense for them to retain one or two prospects just so they could have a realistic shot at reaching 80 wins for the next decade. Better for them to take their shot for 2009-2010 and dwell in the cellar for a few years afterwards than to idle in mediocrity indefinitely. The Diamondbacks took their shot for 2008-2010 and were praised for it, while the Sox took their shot at 2009-2010 and have been lambasted for it. This is a double standard.
Simply analyzing the talent swapped, the White Sox did far better than the Diamondbacks did. Certainly, Arizona had a lot more young talent to spare, but they basically gave up more to get less. Nick Swisher is signed for five years at roughly $7 million per year (including his 2012 option), while Haren is signed for just three at about $5.5 million each. Swisher is likely to improve moving from a pitcher's park to a home run haven, while Haren is likely to regress some.
The only argument for these trades even being close to equal would have to come from those who believe that pitching is about five times more valuable than hitting. Go ahead, admit it; I know you're out there. But even when we examine just the pitching pitching prospects involved, we see that the A's took in quite a haul from the desert.
Ex-White Sox Fautino De Los Santos dominated Low-A ball last year, then put on a good showing at Hi-A. Ex-Diamondback Brett Anderson did the same, but he is two years younger, and pitched his Hi-A ball in the California League, the greatest hitter's league in the minors. Anderson ranks as a more valuable prospect by a good bit.
Examining the major league-ready prospects involved, there's no question that Gio Gonzalez has more of an upside than does Greg Smith. But their minor league statistics show that Smith is 31-14 with a 3.27 ERA while Gonzalez has gone just 31-28 with a 3.49 ERA. Gio might not be quite as superior as he appears, particularly when you account for the greater pitching difficulty in the leagues that Smith has played in.
Add in the fact that the A's got a Gavin Floyd-esque prospect in Dana Eveland from the Diamondbacks, and the pitching prospects involved look fairly even. The remainder of the hitters break down to Chris Carter, Aaron Cunningham, and Carlos Gonzalez from the Diamondbacks' side, and just Ryan Sweeney from the White Sox' side.
I like Sweeney a lot. I still ranked him as the Sox' #2 prospect before the trade in Scout.com's 2008 Baseball Prospects Guide. He has the potential to be a Mark Kotsay-type of player in either right or centerfield. But he is probably a worse prospect than each of those three ex-Diamondbacks alone. All three combined make for a huge edge over Sweeney.
The White Sox desperately needed someone besides Jim Thome in their lineup who could draw a walk. They get that in Nick Swisher, as well as a awitch-hitter who should display 30-35 home run power consistently at The Cell. While not a great defensive centerfielder, Swisher can play left field, right field, first base, or designated hitter on any days that Quentin, Dye, Konerko, or Thome need a day off, giving way to either Brian Anderson or Jerry Owens in center, whichever of the excellent defenders is doing less to hurt the club offensively.
Dan Haren is a useful innings-eater for the Diamondbacks, but one wonders whether Greg Smith could have essentially been the same thing for them. Also, if 20-year old Justin Upton can't handle big league pitching this year - and he gave little indication that he was able to do so last year - the Diamondbacks could find themselves missing Carlos Gonzalez, who is slated to be Oakland's opening day right fielder. Upton may indeed possess more upside overall, but if the Diamondbacks are playing for now, they've cut their outfield safety net.
The White Sox will also be able to trade Swisher after 2010, getting back serious prospects for rebuilding in return, if the Sox do not appear able to contend in 2011. Once Dan Haren reaches free agency that year, the Diamondbacks either won't beable to afford him, or he'll have been such a disappointment that they won't want to retain his services.
The fact that White Sox general manager Kenny Williams has received loads of criticism for his deal while Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes has been lauded for his might be the biggest mis-evaluation of two similar trades in recent memory.
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