|The defending National League-champion Rockies had been rumored to be shopping slugging left fielder Matt Holliday ever since their 2008 season officially went in the tank, which, roughly speaking, was April 21, when they dropped to 9-10 and never got back to .500. So when Colorado finally did trade Holliday, the only surprising aspect was his destination: the rebuilding Athletics.|
|The Big Leaguers|
|Holliday, who will be 29 next season, batted .321/.409/.538 with 25 home runs, 38 doubles and 88 RBIs for the Rockies this season, as he followed up on his runner-up finish in the 2007 NL MVP vote. He’s taken an unusual path to stardom, rising from talented, but raw, seventh-round pick in 1998 to perhaps the top run-producing left fielder in the game. Holliday spent five and a half season in the minors—hitting just 22 home runs in two full seasons (985 at-bats) in Double-A—before bursting onto the scene with a 14-home run rookie season in 2004. He’s made steady improvements in the years since, culminating in his monster 2007 campaign, in which he hit .340/.405/.607 and led the league in average, hits, extra-base hits, doubles and RBIs.
Holliday offers just about everything you look for in an impact bat, hitting for high average and for plus-plus power from the right side. He even went 28-for-30 in stolen bases in 2008. He’s a steady defender in left field with a quality arm. Holliday will earn $13.5 million in 2009, his final year before becoming eligible for free agency.
Street, 25, saved 18 games for the 2008 A’s, but he did so while posting the highest ERA (3.73), WHIP (1.21) and walk rate (3.47 per nine innings) of his four-year career. In fact, because of ineffectiveness, he lost his closer’s job to rookie Brad Ziegler in August. A supplemental first-round pick (40th overall) in 2004 after a standout college career at Texas, Street spent just a half-season in the minors before cracking Oakland’s 2005 bullpen. He went on to win American League Rookie of the Year honors that season, going 5-1, 1.72 with 23 saves. Street throws a 90 mph fastball and a changeup, but it’s his mid-80s slider that has been his bread-and-butter pitch. His 2007 season was truncated by elbow soreness.
Though he is brimming with tools, Gonzalez scuffled to a .242/.273/.361 season as a 22-year-old rookie in 2008. He connected for 22 doubles in 302 at-bats, but showed a distinct lack of patience, racking up 81 strikeouts to go with his 13 walks. A significant part of his problem was his performance against lefthanders, against whom he batted .188/.207/.247 as he struggled to pick up breaking balls. With a smooth lefthanded stroke and tremendous bat speed, Gonzalez has plus potential both in terms of power and hitting for average, but he has to refine his approach. Though he spent a lot of time in center field for Oakland, Gonzalez profiles as a strong defender on an outfield corner, with a cannon for an arm.
Smith led the A’s in starts (32) and innings (190 1/3)—but also with 16 losses—as a 24-year-old rookie. He had surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow after the season. Smith throws four pitches at batters, emphasizing his changeup and slider to go with an 86-90 mph fastball, but he doesn’t overpower with any one of them. Instead he relies on changing speeds and pitching to spots. Smith’s most advanced weapon probably is his pickoff move, which he used to nab an AL-leading 15 baserunners in 2008. He went 7-16, 4.16 with 111 strikeouts, 87 walks and 21 home runs allowed.
|A career .280/.348/.455 hitter in 332 road games, Holliday will have to answer questions about his ability to hit away from Coors Field. But even so, he represents a significant offensive upgrade for the Athletics, the team that finished last in the American League in runs scored in 2008 and a team that lacked a consistent home-run threat in its lineup.
Both Gonzalez and Smith were included in the Diamondbacks’ trade for Dan Haren last offseason. And now they’re on the move again, back to the NL West. Colorado may be an imperfect fit for Smith, seeing as he’s a flyball pitcher who can be generous with walks. Gonzalez and Street could benefit from a move to the NL, with Gonzalez perhaps receiving a Coors boost.