SSTN Weekly Mailbag: A Trade For Olson and Puk!
By Andy Singer
Friends, I’m not sure how it happened, but the end of the year is upon us. 2021 has been a challenge for so many reasons, but despite that fact, I’m in a relatively positive mood as I enter the New Year. Despite all of the negatives 2021 brought, I also was reminded of everything and everyone I have to be thankful for. Start Spreading the News is up there on that list, as are all of you who read and comment. I know I’m a broken record, but thank you to everyone who reads, comments, and has chosen to spend your free time becoming part of the SSTN community. I look forward to getting to know all of you every day on this site, and I look forward to continuing that daily conversation through the next year. Happy New Year to all of you!
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll create a trade for Matt Olson and AJ Puk of the Oakland A’s! Let’s get at it:
Lionel asks: immediately after signing Correa Yankee GM Andy Singer moves to acquire Olson and Puk from Oakland.
he’s a tough bargainer, but he’s gonna have to send a few young and inexpensive players to the other coast.
what’s his opening offer and how far will he go?
Fresh off of my promotion, I didn’t waste any time. As those of you who read my work on the internet were aware prior to taking my new position, I preferred Trevor Story in the context of years, dollars, durability, and likely performance over the next 4-5 years, but after meeting with Correa’s team, I convinced them to come to New York for 8 years instead of 10, and Hal provided assurances that payroll would be ample for the next few seasons, so increasing the AAV to $36 million got the deal done.
Oakland has been front and center all offseason regarding trade speculation. Oakland is in the twilight of contention with the current core of players without spending significant funds to both keep the band together and supplement the group, the farm system is surprisingly barren, and ownership is busy crying poverty and doing everything they can to prove that they can’t spend money without a new publicly funded stadium in Oakland or Las Vegas. Billy Beane has multiple valuable players who (assuming the new CBA doesn’t blow up the current structure for years of team control) still will be relatively inexpensive for a couple of seasons. Other GMs and team VPs might squint through rose colored glasses in an effort to make one last run, but Billy Beane is not that kind of guy. He has shown time and again that he is both capable and willing of rebuilding on the fly. Beane also knows that with every day that he doesn’t trade Olson, Chapman, etc., their trade value decreases as the clock ticks on their time with team control. At a minimum, I expect at least one of Chapman or Olson to be traded in addition to one or two members of the pitching staff this offseason.
Now that we’ve established Oakland’s motivation, I also want you to understand that the Yankees are dealing here from a position of strength. I don’t believe the team is that far off from World Series contention, and given Oakland’s situation, their bargaining position is weaker than they’d like. Billy Beane recognizes that despite his ability to rebuild quickly, it’s still likely going to be 2-3 seasons before he can really compete. That strongly informs what I’d be willing to give up in a trade, but it also gives me insight into what the A’s want out of this as well. The A’s want the following, likely in this order:
1.) A mix of good prospects, both close to the Majors and a couple of years out to balance out the farm system and get the team ready for contention in a couple of seasons.
2.) One or two cheap players with some value who can play at the Major League level now, and possibly stick around as elder statesmen when the team rounds into form in a couple of years.
3.) Cut salary.
1.) Matt Olson. I don’t need to say much more. He’s a pull-heavy, left-handed first baseman with pop, great plate discipline numbers (even if they regress a bit), 2 years of team control, and solid defense (even if the metrics are mixed). Even after acquiring Correa, his projected $12 million salary is affordable.
2.) Controllable, cheap pitching. I want to see if Beane would be willing to sell low on AJ Puk. Puk is immensely talented, but the injury bug has severely limited Puk’s upside, and his value diminishes with each passing year. I’m worried about the medicals, fluctuating velocity, diminished spin rates on all pitches, and diminished secondary stuff, but Puk could be a cheap lefty to make an impact in the bullpen. It is important to note that he has very little trade value right now on the open market.
All trade values used will come from Baseball Trade Values’ Trade Simulator at baseballtradevalues.com, but I wanted to take a minute to discuss how this tool is used. Baseball Trade Values compiles player trade values based on current performance or prospect status and historical comparisons for trades that occurred involving similar players. The people who manage the site and update the trade values come from analytical backgrounds and utilize those skills to create numerical comparisons, and they’re baseball fans who have written for sites like this one. However, like any tool, it does have its flaws.
A couple of those flaws have very real bearing on our current discussion. For one, prospect trade values are very difficult to pin down. Prospects are valued at wildly different levels by different teams. While you or I might see a generational centerfield star in Jasson Dominguez as someone who held his own in low-A at the tender age of 18, someone else might see his expanding upper body and high strikeout rate and see a talented, but flawed corner outfielder. In real life, this happens all the time, and Billy Beane in particular has been known to have very different standards for evaluating prospects and talent than other team officials elsewhere. Secondly, because trade values at Baseball Trade Values are based on historical assessments, those values can sometimes lag behind the times to some extent. The biggest impact this can have is on the issue of positional scarcity. How does this manifest itself in the real world? Matt Olson is a fantastic first baseman, easily top-5 in total value among first baseman in all of baseball. That said, how difficult is it to find a productive bat at first base? Not very. Frankly, Luke Voit was exactly that for the Yankees a couple of seasons ago, and Cashman plucked him off of the Cardinals’ AAA-MLB shuttle bus. Positional scarcity can take time to develop, so trade values for these players are often wonky. As such, Matt Olson has a 45.3 median trade value (MTV) while Matt Chapman has a 24.1 median trade value (MTV). Chapman has struggled since 2020 to varying degrees at the plate despite other-worldly defense at 3B while Olson has been one of the best hitters in the AL since 2020, but based on positional scarcity and projecting both players’ total value moving forward, I think these guys are closer together in trade value than MLB Trade Values would lead you to believe.
With that out of the way, where do I begin? I’m not one to waste someone else’s time, so my first offer would be strong, and in my opinion, fair value. The centerpiece of this deal is a potentially generational prospect who is still at least 2 seasons away from full-time MLB appearances, but again, this fits with Oakland’s aggressive rebuilding timeline. Here’s my first offer for Olson and Puk:
CF Jasson Dominguez 25 MTV
RHP Clarke Schmidt 6.8 MTV
LHP Ken Waldichuk 5.2 MTV
1B/DH Luke Voit 3.1 MTV
New York gets:
1B Matt Olson 45.3 MTV
LHP AJ Puk 1.6 MTV
MLB Trade Values tells me that this is a minor overpay for Oakland, but I think it gets the conversation started while filling real areas of need. Oakland desperately needs a blue chip, Top-100 prospect like Dominguez (even if Dominguez’s star has fallen somewhat this season, he’s still a definitive top prospect), so he’s the centerpiece; Schmidt is healthy, and while I’m skeptical of his ability to stay healthy as a traditional starter, Oakland has proven that they can be creative to get the most out of a talented pitcher like that; Waldichuk is a lefty that will stick as a starter and shot through the minors this year – he’s a much better prospect than many realize, and I’m sure Oakland’s player development crew would love to have him; and Voit is cheap, and can help man the fort while Oakland rebuilds, but also possibly hang around at the end of the rebuild as a Johnny Gomes type of player as the team regains competitiveness. This trade fills a lot of holes for Oakland as the pursue a rebuild.
If Billy Beane turns this down and tells me I’m down to my last offer, here it is:
SS Anthony Volpe 46.4 MTV
1B Luke Voit 3.1 MTV
I think Peraza and Dominguez are similarly valued prospects, and MLB Trade Values agrees. There’s a huge jump up to Volpe, and even despite the Correa signing, I’m not inclined to deal Volpe because if he’s the real deal, I’ll find a way to play him at 3B or 2B. To get Volpe, Beane loses out on all of the ancillary pieces that they really need right now.
Frankly, if I’m Billy Beane, I take the first deal. I think it gets them much closer to contention sooner.