One day after Thanksgiving the Athletics seemed to still be in a giving mood. In a surprise move, the A’s shipped All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson to Toronto for Brett Lawrie, Minor League pitchers Sean Nolin, Kendall Graveman and infielder Franklin Barreto. This trade probably tells us that Billy Beane is far from done and more moves could be on the horizon. A full rebuild perhaps? For Toronto, this trade meant moving two of their best Minor League pitching prospects who are almost big league ready. The transition to Oakland certainly enhances their respective outlooks. For Donaldson, this has to boost his fantasy value, as he moves from Oakland’s 21st ranked park in terms of homer effect to Toronto’s 3rd ranked stadium. After improving from 24 dingers in 2013 to 29 a year ago, 30+ certainly seems like a good bet for the slugger in 2015.
The hardest thing to figure out is why is Oakland was willing to take on the Brett Lawrie experience. Not only has Lawrie been a fantasy tease the last couple of seasons, but he has a hard time staying healthy. Although, I can understand taking a chance on a guy when his value is at it’s lowest. Remember, Oakland has helped turn around the careers of players like Donaldson and Brandon Moss. With the acquisition of two almost-ready Minor League pitchers whose profiles fit the strengths of Oakland’s park, there have to be more deals coming. This seems like a calculated risk for Oakland, who, after going for it all in 2014 is retooling for another run in the future. This is punctuated by this tweet:
Toronto has now signed Russell Martin to a lucrative deal and shipped some of their more desirable young arms for Donaldson, signaling to the rest of the AL East that they plan to play for a division title.
Josh Donaldson to Toronto:
After dealing with the on-again-off-again shenanigans at third base the last two years, the Blue Jays have found consistency, and his name is Josh Donaldson. Brett Lawrie has played 302 games over the last three seasons but in Donaldson’s first two full seasons in the majors he has played 158 each year or 14 more games than Lawrie in one less season. Not only that, Donaldson has hit 53 home runs over the last two years and driven in an average of 96 runs. Here are his stats averaged out for the last two seasons:
Josh Donaldson last 2 year avg: 158 G, 91 R, 27 HR, 96 RBI, 6 SB .277/.362/.470
Donaldson’s batting average dropped from .301 in 2012 to .255 in 2013, but his underlying stats suggest this can be due to a bit of bad luck. Although his line drive rate fell from 20.6% in 2013 to 13.5% in 2014, he lowered his O-swing and O-contact, which are good signs. I don’t think Donaldson is a .300 hitter, but if we average out his slash lines from the last two seasons I think we can come up with a good idea of who he is. What fake gamers really want to know though is whether the move will help Donaldson evolve into one of the game’s elite power hitters. Last season, Donaldson’s average home run distance was 398.1 feet, with balls leaving the bat at 104.6 MPH.
For a sneak peak, here are his 2014 homers with an overlay of the Rogers Centre:
Also, even with the drop in batting average in 2014, his home run and RBI totals increased, and his zone profile courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net shows the devastating power he has on inside pitches:
With third base being a position in flux, Josh Donaldson’s move will only enhance his value, but will the price be too high? This past season, Donaldson was the seventh third baseman off the board at pick 65.4 according to FantasyPros.com. I have to estimate that Donaldson’s power numbers will climb into the 32-35 range on the move to Toronto. Not only that, his defense will be a welcome change for young starters like Marcus Stroman along with the addition of Russell Martin.
Lawrie and three minor leaguers to the Athletics:
One of the funnier tweets I read referenced that Billy Beane has obviously not owned Brett Lawrie on a fantasy team. It’s true. After his breakthrough performance in 2012 he has been riddled with injuries and inconsistencies throughout his young career. But it bears repeating that Lawrie is only 24 years old. He has been beyond frustrating to own in fantasy, but when he is healthy and hot, he puts up stats. However, as his average season over the last three years suggests, those times are few and far between:
Brett Lawrie last 3 year avg: 100 G, 47 R, 11 HR, 44 RBI, 7 SB .260/.316/.405
I find it hard to say that now is the time to divorce Lawrie in fantasy, but it will be hard to invest in him for more than a cheap middle infielder. Until he can prove he can stay healthy I don’t think he is a mixed league player, especially with the move to Oakland. Over the last three years Lawrie has seen his line drive percentage, batting average and on base percentages drop and his swinging strike rate rise. Not the recipe for success. The only silver lining was his HR/FB%, which increased in 2014 but that is mitigated by his new ballpark. Some may find success in buying low on Lawrie and I will applaud them if they do. For myself though, I will have him on my no draft list.
Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman prospects rise:
On the opposite end of the spectrum, young pitchers Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman see their fantasy values rise with the trade to Oakland. With the Athletics ballpark being a renowned pitcher’s ballpark with plenty of foul territory, what is not to like?
Sean Nolin is a 6’5” lefty who is only 24 and though his 2014 was disappointing, he got extra work in during the Arizona Fall League and fared well. He features a 92 MPH fastball, an 83 MPH slider, an 81 MPH curveball, and his best pitch, the 75 MPH change piece. It’s deceptive with his motion and has good sink. His arsenal will be a key to his success as his fastball is enhanced by the changeup. Here are his Minor League stats in 2014 across three levels. However, he did have a groin injury during the season:
Sean Nolin Minor League 2014: 4 W, 20 GS, 97 IP, 88/39 K/BB, 3.43 ERA, 1.22 WHIP
What may have caught Oakland’s scouting eye was his performance in Arizona during the Fall League. He was able to win two games and had 24 strikeouts against six walks in 22.1 innings with an ERA of 4.03. Not off the chart, but in a strong hitting environment Nolin did well finishing his season strong. If he had stayed in Toronto, his path to starting may have been blocked this year but there may be opportunity sooner rather than later if Oakland moves a starting pitcher or two as the offseason progresses. Nolin projects to be a solid #3 starter for real life purposes.
As for Kendall Graveman, he discovered a new pitch during the season which propelled him across four levels of the Minor Leagues in the span of five months. In a game at Dunedin early in the year he threw his fastball a bit differently than normal and it handcuffed a left-handed batter. Graveman described it as something different and the ball moved in to lefties and his catcher noticed. What Graveman discovered was a cutter. It was this pitch that took him from an 8th round draft pick out of Mississippi State to Toronto in less than two years. While Graveman is not an overpowering pitcher, his fastball has gained a couple of miles an hour and if he can maintain the control of his cutter, he may be able to cut it (no pun intended) as a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues. Here is his 2014 minor league season:
Kendall Graveman Minor League 2014: 14 W, 27 GS, 167.1 IP, 115/31 K/BB, 1.83 ERA, 1.03 WHIP
Graveman will need to maintain his ground ball rates and have the support of a strong defense since he only averaged about 6.2 K/9 in the minors, but the cutter is the key. According to his former manager and Major League catcher Gary Allenson, Graveman is a “soft-tosser” but offered up this statement:
“A big-league starter? I don’t know.” Allenson said. “He doesn’t light up the radar gun. But he’s got good movement on his fastball, and it’s late movement. You do a game report after he pitches and he’s thrown up 12 or 13 ground balls.”
Whether it was the discovery of the new pitch or his propensity to the ground ball, Oakland sees something to gamble on in Graveman. Savvy AL-only owners may do well to stash him this upcoming season.
Franklin Barreto is a young middle infielder who is described as a “baseball player.” Barreto will be only 19 in February of 2015 so there is time for him to further develop. Oakland is in need of young middle infielders and Barreto is a good prospect for them to get. He has good speed (60-70) on the scouting scales and developing power. In short-A last year his stats were impressive:
Franklin Barreto (A): 73 G, 65 R, 6 HR, 61 RBI, 29 SB .311/.384/.481
There are some who feel he may grow out of shortstop but here is a video of him hitting:
As perplexing of a move for Oakland this is, I guess I can understand it. Josh Donaldson is the big winner here as he not only gets a shiny new ballpark to hit in, but his defense and overall game will be a hit in Toronto and may propel him into the MVP discussion for 2015. Brett Lawrie gets a new chance in Oakland and may be joined soon by Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman according to Jane Lee:
It is far too early to claim which team won the trade, but it appears the Athletics are going to rebuild going forward. Jeff Samardzija or Scott Kazmir could be on the move next with their replacements arriving from Toronto.
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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!