Ask BA: How Could The Angels Trade Four Top 10 Prospects For Huston Street?

As the news of the Angels’ trade for Huston Street broke, I mentioned on Twitter that the Angels had sent four of their top 10 prospects to the Padres to acquire Street and Trevor Gott. That quickly led to a lot of questions about how a team would trade four top 10 prospects for a reliever. For example:

Q:I cannot believe they had to give that much up for an average pitcher. Top 5 prospects in any organization are  a lot to give up for Huston Street.

Rick Feldman
@therick4444

BA:So a little clarification is in order explaining how Top 10 Prospects list aren’t all equal.

We’re still four days from the trade deadline, but among the early movers, few teams have been as busy as the Angels. Seeing a need to fix a bullpen that had caused all kind of problems during an otherwise strong first half of the season, the Angels have made three trades to improve the bullpen in the past month.

First, on June 27, L.A. sent troubled closer Ernesto Frieri to the Pirates for their troubled closer Jason Grilli. Just a week later, the club sent outfield prospect Zach Borenstein and righthander Joe Krehbiel to the Diamondbacks for outfielder Tony Campana and lefthander Joe Thatcher. And late Friday night, the Angels sent four of the club’s top prospects to the Padres for Street and Gott.

Feldman is correct that the cost for Street is hefty from a thin farm system that already ranked No. 30 in our preseason organization talent rankings.

Taylor Lindsey (Photo by Bill Mitchell).

Taylor Lindsey (Photo by Bill Mitchell).

The Angels shipped away second baseman Taylor Lindsey (No. 1 on the Angels in our midseason Top 10), shortstop Jose Rondon (No. 2), righthander R.J. Alvarez (No. 4) and righthander Elliot Morris (No. 8). Before he was traded, Borenstein was slated to rank No. 9 on the Angels’ midseason list and Krehbiel ranked 23rd before the season. In just one month, the Angels have traded away one-sixth of their projected Top 30 Prospects list. The team also traded away outfielder Randal Grichuk (their No. 2 prospect at the time) last offseason in the deal that sent Peter Bourjos to St. Louis and brought David Freese and Fernando Salas in return.

Teams can use farm systems different ways. They can use it to build for the future or they can see it as a way to fund current acquisitions. In the Angels’ case, everything is geared toward winning now. But with a farm system that is the thinnest in baseball, especially at the upper levels, acquiring talent requires some creativity.

The Angels have traded away four of the club’s top six position prospects in the past nine months. A fifth, C.J. Cron, has graduated to the big leagues.

While it was a lot to pay, the Angels’ trade creativity has paid off for the big league club. Los Angeles has already used 29 pitchers this season, equalling the team record for most used in a season. The trades have helped stabilize the ‘pen. The addition of Street gives the Angels a veteran closer and moves righthander Joe Smith (3-0, 2.17, 49 Ks, 9 BB in 46 IP) into the setup role. Grilli has a 1.74 ERA in 12 appearances since swapping leagues. Pairing those three with rookie righthander Michael Morin’s baffling changeup (2-3, 2.63 in 37 appearances), Kevin Jepsen (0-0, 1.98, 47 appearances) and Fernando Salas (4-0, 2.93 in 31 appearances) gives the Angels a suddenly deep bullpen.

But more importantly, the Angels have eliminated the problems at the back of the ‘pen. The Angels have nine relievers who have posted ERAs above 6.00 this season. Only one of them (Thatcher) is currently on the roster.

Alex Yarbrough (Photo by Mike Janes).

Alex Yarbrough (Photo by Mike Janes).

Are the Angels’ mortgaging the future to try to win now? Sure. But they may not have a whole lot of choice. Six of the nine regular position players are 30 or older. The massive contracts that Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton signed are deals that will only get worse as they age (especially when Hamilton’s deal jumps to $32 million a year for 2016 and 2017). And the Angels have two more years before Mike Trout’s contract extension gives him a massive raise. In 2016, the Angels have committed $112.25 million in salaries for just five players—Trout, Hamilton, Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver.

It’s questionable whether the Angels have one remaining position player in full-season ball who projects as an average to above-average big league regular. By process of elimination, second baseman Alex Yarbrough is the club’s highest-rated position prospect, but he’s a second baseman who has always faced questions about how well he can handle the position. If he can’t stick at second, he doesn’t really profile elsewhere—and he’s the best bet to be a big league regular.

Not coincidentally, Yarbrough is the only position player the Angels have drafted in the top five rounds since 2012.

It’s hard to see how the Angels are going to succeed in 2017-2018 without spending a whole lot of money on free agents, but that narrowing window is only more incentive to try to win now.