Look around baseball and you will see entrepreneurs and smart business people who have purchased baseball teams. Oh, there are some who might have inherited their money but for the most part team owners have gotten into a position of owning a team because they were very good at business. Once they become baseball owners, the expectation is that they are supposed to forget all of that and bring a city a winner at all costs. Take the Josh Donaldson trade as an example.
The two owners of the Oakland Athletics, Lewis Wolff and John Fisher were roasted last night and this morning because Billy Beane traded away Josh Donaldson for a cheaper Brett Lawrie and three prospects. If you don't believe me, check out this article by Jason Leskiw for a major media outlet. How dare Wolff and Fisher save money and run a good business!
But is the assumption this is a money dump realistic? When I looked at the deal last night, I saw a 24-year-old player with upside in Brett Lawrie, two really good prospects and a so-so prospect traded for arguably the best third baseman in the American League if not in baseball. While both players, Donaldson and Lawrie, are heading to arbitration for the first time this season, Lawrie will turn 25 in January and Donaldson, 29 a month from now.
Lawrie has been hurt a lot. Donaldson has been healthy. At least that is the line some angry Twitter people have given me when I said I liked the trade for both teams. The implication is that Donaldson is a "gamer" and Lawrie a "poser." I don't know how you justify or quantify that, but okay. Donaldson does stand to make more in arbitration. But then you have two really good prospects in Kendall Graveman and Franklin Barreto and the throw in of Sean Nolin. Not a bad haul for Donaldson if one or two of those prospects can be helpful.
@FlagrantFan @AskROTObaseball Yeah, great trading one of the top hitters in the league for a centerpiece, Lawrie, who plays 100 games a year
— Dan Cas (@DantasyBaseball) November 29, 2014
Lawrie has shown much upside defensively and while he may not be in Donaldson's class, he isn't in the dunce category either. Donaldson has compiled 16.6 rWAR by the age of 28. Lawrie, 11.7 by the age of 24. Doesn't that make this trade look a little better?
People forget that Donaldson was acquired from the Cubs back in 2008 in a deal very similar to this one. Donaldson was a prospect too for the Cubs and I bet there was a lot of consternation when Billy Beane traded away Rich Harden to get Donaldson and three other prospects. Of the four, only Donaldson panned out (though Matt Murton has had a great Japanese career). Harden was never the same and has been out of baseball for years.
First of all, you cannot judge trades until years after the fact. But with the instantaneous cyber world we live in, people are dying for page views and social media followers by making judgement pronouncements immediately. And one of those is to blast the owners for "forcing" Billy Beane to manage his assets efficiently.
It's okay for the players to be business people. It's okay that their agents are charged with maximizing the players earnings. But it's not okay for baseball owners to do the same thing. Why do the owners in Tampa get a pass and the ones in Oakland scorn? Both have lousy stadium issues and low attendance. They both do the best they can while trying to keep a profit margin. Anyone who thinks owners should not care about making money is misguided.
The sons of George Steinbrenner are facing similar scrutiny. Why aren't they countering the moves made recently by the Red Sox!? Why aren't they spending money like crazy to get back on top!? Old George would never allow the Yankees to go two years in a row without making the playoffs! Um...remember the 1980s? And the team payroll for the Yankees is just as high or higher under the sons as it ever was with The Boss.
The big complaint in Oakland is that the A's haven't made the World Series. The theory is that if Wolff and Fisher would spend a little more, that World Series would have been in reach. It doesn't matter that the team has won 277 games in the last three seasons, by golly, the goal is to win it all.
Money does not make that happen. A lot has to fall in place for a team to get hot at the right time and win short series to get to the biggest of all short series and win it all. Peter McGowan, the owner of the Giants doesn't like to throw money around either and he has won three titles. All three had people scratching their heads. Getting to the playoffs is hard enough. Winning there is a crap shoot.
I understand that Josh Donaldson was a beloved player in Oakland. I understand that he has been an MVP candidate two years in a row. I also understand that his defensive skills play a large part of his value and I do not trust the current way those defensive skills are valued. I do agree that Donaldson is a great fielder. But give me a better way to quantify it.
Jason Leskiw says himself in his diatribe that Josh Donaldson played hurt most of 2014 and had to wrap his shoulder like a pitcher. Think about that for a second. Yeah, he played almost every game, but at what cost and how will that influence his game moving forward? Who knows.
I don't believe Wolff and Fisher had any part of this deal. Billy Beane made the deal. Billy Beane has made a lot of deals. A lot of them turn out pretty well. Why don't we let this one play out for a couple of years before we start painting a picture of Beane as browbeaten by greedy, Scrooge-like owners.