It has been over a week since the Angels made their much talked about trade of Peter Bourjos for David Freese. That has given us time to tally all the votes and the consensus is in. The Angels lost, the Cardinals won. They got the younger players with more upside, more years of control and less money owed.
So, that's it then, right? The Angels might as well close up shop and write the season off since they've already suffered this early loss. I mean, logic dictates that if the GM makes a bad trade then the team must surely crumble as a result, does it not?
Well, here's the thing. Who wins a trade and who loses a trade doesn't really matter, not on the field anyway. This isn't a trade that Jerry Dipoto is going to want to put at the top of his resume right now, but he might if it translates to a better ballclub. While Jerry seemingly overpaid in the swap, it appears that he still managed to improve the roster, which is really the whole point isn't it?
What the Angels lost in the trade is an injury-prone position player who should normally be worth about two wins but has a ceiling of four wins. What they got was an older injury-prone position player who should normally be worth about two wins but has a ceiling of four wins. To make that relatively easy swap, they had to give up a solid prospect but did get a middling reliever thrown in to their haul. That's not a great trade from the long-term perspective, but it should make the Angels better in the short-term.
That phrase, "short-term," is something you should get used to hearing with the Halos. This might be the most short-term focused team in baseball. They are holding themselves hostage due to their financial commitments over the next four years and have such a miserable farm system that they really have no choice but to focus on this year and this year alone. The only way these self-inflicted wounds are worthwhile is if they achieve major success in 2014. That's why this Freese-Bourjos swap makes a weird kind of sense.
Yes, Bourjos has an intriguing upside and a lower downside due to his otherworldly defense. As an asset, he is valuable but as a player on this current roster, his relative value is greatly reduced. With Trout, Hamilton and Calhoun on the roster as well, Bourjos' value was superfluous. There was no way for the Angels to keep their roster intact and get maximum value out of everyone. Either Bourjos or Calhoun wasn't going to play everyday. Mike Trout likely would've been moved to left field where his value is lessened. Josh Hamilton would've been in right where he was not comfortable defensively. The mere presence of Bourjos essentially forced all of the other outfielders to be used in a suboptimal manner.
Keeping Bourjos also created an opportunity deficit at third base. The Angels had no quality in-house option at the hot corner. Their best hope was for Luis Jimenez to provide quality defense and hit just enough for him to be slightly above replacement level. The free agent market wasn't going to provide much help either, so by keeping all of the incumbent outfielders on the roster was damning the Angels to a 2014 where third base would be a gigantic value-sucking black hole.
Now, replace Bourjos with Freese and suddenly the value is balanced out. Trout can play center, Hamilton can play left and Calhoun can be a full-time starter. If Calhoun plays like he did in his abbreviated 2013 campaign, the net value provided by the outfielders would be the same without Bourjos as it would be with Bourjos. It isn't hard to imagine that it actually could be worth more wins given that Bourjos may not be able to hit and could have been out there canceling out a lot of his defensive value by flailing at the plate. But the lineup without Bourjos is now more valuable because they have an actual quality third baseman instead of collection of scrubs.
For 2014, that is a better lineup. It isn't going to look as great in 2016 when Freese is in decline and a free agent, but, again, that isn't the point of this deal.
The same goes for the Grichuk-Salas side of the deal. Grichuk is a solid prospect, one that is at least a year away from contributing to the major league club. That means Grichuk was going to be worth nothing to the 2014 Angels if they held onto him. What he might turn into if/when he reaches the majors has zero impact on this year's club. Heck, it may have no effect on the 2016 Angels either since the outfield is so very clearly locked in for the next four years.
Salas, however, could be worth something in 2014. He doesn't have the look of an impact reliever, but the Angels struggled to field a bullpen of even replacement level arms in 2013. Salas may not be flashy but he does have some record of success in the pros and realistically could be worth half of a win in 2014. That isn't much, but it is worth more than zero. That's pretty simple math, no? As underwhelming as Salas appears, he makes the 2014 Angels better, even if it is only marginally so.
None of this is meant to convince you that this was a good trade. This was a short-sighted deal that the Angels could well regret in three years. Short-sighted was the point though. It is clearly World Series or bust for the Halos in 2014, which is precisely what you get with a lame duck GM so expect a lot more of these type of moves from Dipoto as the offseason progresses.