One of the highest-profile trades of the previous decade saw the Athletics send third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for a four-player package consisting of infielders Brett Lawrie and Franklin Barreto, right-hander Kendall Graveman and lefty Sean Nolin in November 2014. The return at the time seemed underwhelming for an Oakland team that was then coming off its third consecutive playoff berth. Donaldson was highly instrumental in the team’s success in two of those last three seasons – he combined for 13.0 fWAR from 2013-14 – and he wasn’t due to reach free agency until after 2017. Even a low-budget club like the A’s should have been able to keep Donaldson in the fold for at least a little while longer, but they decided against it, to their detriment.
Donaldson, whom many now know as the “Bringer of Rain,” saw his star continue to rise in Toronto. He played for the Jays from 2015-18, during which he slashed .281/.383/.548 (150 wRC+) with 118 home runs and 22.2 fWAR. There were few better major leaguers during that stretch than Donaldson, who took home the AL MVP in 2015 – the first of two straight seasons in which Toronto went to the ALCS. Meanwhile, the A’s won fewer than 70 games in those two years and endured another sub-.500 campaign in 2017 before finally returning to relevance the next season. Oakland has since found its answer at third in the great Matt Chapman.
Despite Chapman’s emergence, has the Donaldson trade been worth it from the A’s standpoint? It doesn’t look like it.
The players Oakland got for Donaldson have combined for 3.8 fWAR in their uniform. Lawrie, once a seemingly can’t-miss prospect, spent one underwhelming season as an Athletic before they traded him to the White Sox in December 2015. Barreto was also considered a superb prospect in his younger days, but the now-24-year-old has done nothing in the majors so far. Graveman was useful with the A’s from 2015-18, during which he turned in 441 1/3 innings of 4.38 ERA ball, but was never more than a back-end starter with the team. He’s now a member of the division-rival Mariners. And Nolin, who only pitched for Oakland during a 2015 season in which he registered a 5.29 ERA over 29 innings, is now with the Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball.
As of now, it seems fair to call the Donaldson return an enormous disappointment for the Billy Beane-led A’s, who typically know what they’re doing. If there’s one potential silver lining, though, it’s J.B. Wendelken. The righty reliever joined the A’s in a trade with the White Sox for Lawrie in December 2015, and has since turned into a solid reliever. Going back to 2018, Wendelken has logged a 2.55 ERA/3.01 FIP with 8.76 K/9 and 2.55 BB/9 in 49 1/3 innings. Among 523 pitchers whom hitters amassed at least 100 plate appearances against last year, he ranked sixth in expected weighted on-base average (.234), placing him a couple points behind the excellent Josh Hader.
Wendelken hasn’t racked up a large amount of major league experience yet, but if the A’s are going to get anything from deciding to deal Donaldson, he may be their best hope. For the most part, barring a eureka moment for Barreto, the return that Oakland originally received is a lost cause. Donaldson’s still humming along, though. He was good enough as a Blue Jay and then an Indian for the Braves to sign him to a $23MM guarantee going into 2019, and he was so effective in Atlanta last season that Minnesota gave him a four-year, $92MM guarantee over the winter.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Who missed more? Oakland trading Donaldson or Miami trading Yelich?
Both won MVP’s the year the first year they were with their new team.
Yelich if you’re talking about total value. His contract was extremely team friendly but Miami was going nowhere fast. Oakland missed Donaldson more because they could’ve potentially been a playoff contender with him.
I agree. As great as Donaldson was, the Blue Jays didn’t take off until they acquired Tulo and Price at the deadline. Donaldson was a big part of an elite offense, but the Brewers aren’t a World Series contender that year without Yelich.
One of the redeeming features of the Danaldson trade was that Oakland was not a cont contender. They won 68, 69, and 75 in the first three seasons after Donaldson’s departure.
Plus Chapman was already established by 2017. Ultimately, the value wasn’t there on the return, but trade idea itself was logical.
That requires some after the trade hindsight to get to that record.
They traded Donaldson, Samardizjia,Brandon Moss (off his only All star season) But he also traded for Ben Zobrist and Tyler Clippard. So Beane was Really all over the map.
Yelich was different.
This trade is similar to Cole.
Earlier you trade a player the more value you can get in return.
You give a team 2-3 years of a player for his arb years instead of 1/2 a year.
I actually think it is brilliant. Especially if you can blend it all together.
But ultimately you are trading proven players for unproven.
Until the A’s get their financial situation taken care of they will have to make moves like this.
Good chance you could see Olson and Chapman being moved soon.
Cole wasn’t an ace when he was traded.
Cole in 2015 was an ace.
The Cole trade was similar.
Astros were given two years of Cole instead of 1/2 a year.
Because of this the Astros were willing to pay more.
Trade value of a player is at the highest 3 years before his walk date.
You can get the most for that player. As you get closer to his walk date the player loses trade value
even given the meager return i still think tbe Yeli and Donaldson trades were on a whole other level of steals
Yelich. Easy. Oakland was going to have to trade JD eventually but they just did it a bit too early.
They didn’t have to trade Donaldson or anyone else for that matter. They’re the ultimate cheap organization who could have multiple recent titles if they spend even just a little bit of money.
They’re a very well run organization but yes, as you point out, if they weren’t so damn cheap they could be a lot better.
Thanks Billy, with the playoff drought in Toronto, somebody had to bring the rain. At least you got your closer (Liam Hendricks) for Jesse Chavez in a separate deal from Toronto.
How can you judge the Marlins return in the trade when most of the players in the trade are just reaching the majors. If they pan out the Marlins got a starting 2b, at least one OF and a back of the rotation starter. I wouldn’t call that a fleecing at all.
Well this deal had a lot to do w the personal relationship between Beane and Donaldson. Horrible for a GM to make a deal for those reasons but it’s worth noting to anyone who wasn’t aware.
Beane himself expressed regret, so even he himself knew that was a move made for the wrong reasons.
Now watch Barreto get traded and break out with a new club, making it sting even worse.
At this point I don’t think Moneyball is ever gonna work. Poor Billy Beane can’t get himself a world series.
The Jon Lester to me was the mistake of the A’s in this era but it was the A’s trying to win a WS.
They gave away Cespedes who had 1 1/2 years left for Lester who had 1/2
Lester didn’t make enough of a difference.
Would have Cespedes?
Regarding Billy Beane.
His job his to put enough of the field that people want to show up to baseball games.
When the A’s are in contention in September people show up.
Turns from 10-15K diehard A’s fans to 30K+.
So ultimately the A’s are just trying to play postseason baseball more years than not.
Since the Astros been in the division they are doing that 4 out 7 years.
yeah trading Caspedes was absolute puzzling. what is even more amazing is that both Boston and Detroit traded him in short order thereafter. no one seemed to want the guy.
Cespedes had a 767 OPS at the time of the trade, not exactly knocking the cover off the ball. He hit even worse with Boston after the trade. Also, he had a OPS+ of 103 the previous year. His worst years were with Oakland and Boston, so I’m not really sure why you think moving him for Lester was such a big deal. He wasn’t hitting well at the time and wasn’t really the “big” bat that Oakland needed.
The reason it was such a big deal was not because of the numbers Cespedes was putting up. It was because of the impact he had on the lineup around him. During his tenure with the A’s, they were 228-131(.635) when he played and 28-44(.388) when he didn’t.
Not a clever name
His stats may not show it but both him and Reddick were clutch, they would be down 5 runs in the third and you would stick it out and stay all nine cause you knew one of those two were going to start a come back rally that would result in a walk off run almost ever time. They not only sparked a lot of comeback wins but probably lead double the beer sales between the 3rd and 7th innings. I agree Lester was a huge mistake, most of us were shaking our heads when that trade was made, and picking up the shark didn’t make sense either, they had enough arms to eat innings but needed a elite starter to take them the distance if that wasn’t Lester than why trade for him in the first place and if it was why waste anything on shark and Hendricks?
They are going to do the exact same thing with Chapman soon. Its A’s baseball
If it ends up with Chapman being a Blue Jay I’ll harass the Blue Jays with emails demanding that Billy’s name is added to the Level of Excellence at the Rogers Centre.
Once roster freeze is the over Bean trades Chapman to the jays for Gritch a minor prospect that will be DFA’d in 2 years, 3 scratch tickets and 2 lotto 649s
If that would happen I’d also throw in some of the finest product from the OCS for Billy, too lol.
Olson as well.
I actually like the idea.
Why wait until his walk year. Player doesn’t have value.
Give mid market teams that have a farm system a chance to have these players for 1-3 years instead of 1/2 of a year.
The A’s have had to let go due to budget constraints so many good starting pitchers over the years. Zito, Gio Gonzales, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson, Rich Harden to name a few. Poor stadium, poor revenues. Too bad for the die hard A’s fans.
126 wrc not great by any measure
I think most GMs would take that in a heartbeat, especially on a relatively affordable contract.
126 wrc is not great? Most people would agree that 35 homers is significantly better than 28 homers (showing the 26% difference). Only 23 players in MLB hit 35 homers in 2019, the year in which homers jumped out of parks at a ridiculous rate and blew past previous homerun records by teams and the entire league. Nearly all of those 23 players were all stars. 66 players hit 28 homers in 2019. That’s a pretty big difference. You could argue that about 120-125 wrc is the bottom threshold for all star caliber players.
Saying 126 wrc is not great is really dumb.
26% above average+amazing defense=great
One of the most frustrating parts of sports are fans and media who will justify any move that a great GM or executive makes. Even a trade like the Donaldson one won’t be met with unanimous scorn just because Beane is well liked and a great GM otherwise.
This isn’t even the worse move made by Billy Beane.
That would be Tim Hudson.
I think if you look at his career closer you could find some other bad moves.
Matt Holiday is another. Traded him after a month into the season after giving Colorado Carlos Gonzalez.
I don’t know what happens this year because the season will be unusual but I felt like we were going to see classic Billy Beane.
Might after the 2020 season.
Just the realization of what the A’s have to deal with.
Beane could leverage Donaldson for a bunch of pieces.
Ultimately the pieces weren’t outstanding but the idea of the move…
I fully agree with it.
I don’t think the article written is mentioning his reasoning.
Donaldson had a lot of value. A’s weren’t going to resign him.
Especially since they went all in on 2014 and failed.
When they traded for Lester you knew the A’s were going to rebuild.
Have to understand the situation.
Not every team is in the same place.
A big market team wouldn’t have traded Donaldson. But the A’s had to.
Difference between KC and Oakland.
KC did win one WS and went to two but they aren’t sniffing the playoffs anytime soon.
The A’s are.
The Royals should have unloaded Cain, Hosmer and the rest…
Now they don’t have much because of that.
wild bill tetley
People forget the Oakland A’s needed another bat and decided to trade a big bat for Lester.
Oakland is not in the superstar business or the winning business. They are in the PR business and it has worked beautifully. They are looked at as a model of success and even had a movie made, focusing on a cheap ex-catcher, a submarine pitcher and a GM who didn’t build that team. Still, great PR.
Right, because winning doesn’t draw attendance and more revenue, far more is to be made by sucking?
Questioning their strategy is one thing, but their payroll constraints gave Beane no choice but to be creative. He’s made his mistakes, but few have done as much with so little. It even got him promoted.
wild bill tetley
What winning? One ALCS appearance since 1990? Throw a parade.
Didn’t take long for the excuses to roll out. Few HAVE done more with just as little. Oakland Athletics; a PR company, not a baseball team with a winning desire.
Beane has to make trades like this to keep the A’s viable. It’s a constant cycle. Horrible for 2-3 years while collecting young talent, then contend for 2-3 years, trade them all away before they reach free agency, and start the cycle again. Prospects don’t always pan out, like for this one, but that doesn’t make it a bad trade. Oakland has managed to get to the postseason 9-10 times in last 21 years. More than most teams. Playoffs are a crapshoot. Unfortunately, the A’s haven’t done so well, and I believe they’ve lost their last 7-8 winner-take-all games. Doesn’t make it a bad strategy.
I’d take the return Oakland got for Donaldson over the return the Jays got for him though
would you also take the contribution Donaldson gave Cleveland over what he gave to Toronto?
He wasn’t bad in Cleveland at all. Just short time. For what Cleveland gave they should be thrille
So Donaldson publicly expressed his displeasure when the A’s traded Céspedes to Boston stating Oakland just didn’t want to spend the buckies then like immediately Billy Beane worked and traded JD to Toronto. I don’t think it was necessarily a bad trade. It was what it was.
no, no. It was what it wasn’t, which was a trade that wasn’t a bright spot for Beane. It wasn’t a good one.
It was Beane’s worst trade but the good news is Beane learned a lesson. Before he trades Chapman he will want a return of proven players not potentials. Lowrie was the player Beane thought could duplicate Donaldson’s numbers and he did not know he was a head case. The other 3 players were all potential future all stars and none has delivered with Barretto being the last possible hope for a little return. Beane will not make that mistake again.
wild bill tetley
Matt Holliday trade was worse.
The Céspedes trade had nothing to do with money. Beane had just lost Game 5 to Verlander 2 straight seasons. He was tired of losing winner-take-all games to ace pitchers, so he went out to get Lester who had been great in the postseason w/Boston, so he’d have e veteran ace to match. Unfortunately, Lester gave up (possibly left in too long) the lead to KC, and Oakland continues to lose winner-take-all postseason games to this day. Fortunately, Lester regained his postseason magic with the Cubs in 2016!!
Brett Lawrie – the Sportsnet Jays Brigade thought that guy was the next Joe Morgan. Adorable. Lawrie is the equivalent of Nuke LaLoosh if Nuke didn’t encounter Crash Davis.
wild bill tetley
Colby Rasmus just entered the chat.
Donaldson didn’t come into his own until his age 27 season. While Barreto has been a disappointment, he was acquired very young by OAK, and is set to make the opening day roster in 2020 (prior to the delay) and get a lot of starts around the infield and outfield. Might be a little premature to limit his assessment here to a one-line assessment that he hasn’t panned out.
While it is still possible that Barreto will be ‘quad A’ and never get his strikeouts under control, he is only 24, and the A’s have him for his age 24, 25, 26, 27, and 28 seasons before he hits free agency in 2025. Lots of time to make back some of that value while under team control.
It is extremely unlikely he will produce ~20 oWAR over three years like Donaldson’s franchise player stretch in Toronto, but Barreto could be a solid citizen if he doesn’t lose out to Mateo, another 24 year old shortstop on Oakland.
(In a normal year) Semien’s 2020 is a walk-year, and we would say that he could be gone by late June or early July to a contender, and Tony Kemp is no great shakes on the other side of the current 2B platoon.
Will be a good retrospective of this article in a year or two, to see if Barreto has permanently flamed out, or cemented himself on the Oakland infield for years to come.
Barreto is out of options, though. Oakland can’t afford to carry him around much longer if he doesn’t start producing quickly. He’s a DFA candidate.
I agree. They were talking about platooning him at 2B with Tony Kemp but I hope they don’t. Kemp hasn’t been good in the majors but he put up stellar #’s in Triple-A while Barreto hasn’t and has been extremely underwhelming in his stints in the majors. Kemp is primarily a second baseman so with the Astros & a partial season with the Cubs he obviously didn’t play much. I’d like to see if he could pull off some of his Triple-A type numbers if he were playing there everyday.
I agree with that assessment. Kemp feels like a low ceiling fly-swatter. A lot more to see out of Barreto if he adjusts. I bought low on Laureano a few years ago, and held through a lost 2017, and was happy to see that pay dividends. Different profile, but I Barreto for a longer look before he’s simply disposed of.
Totally agree. Being out of options also helps to ensure he’s carried and given a longer look—or you might think! Mateo also out of options. I know it’s sunk cost decision making, but both deals went a bit bad for Oakland, and they might have to flip a coin as to who they give up for next to nothing. DET or KC would be a good fit.
Barreto was badly victimized by SSS at the majors, and never given one position and some certainty to be able to focus on hitting. He’s shown ability to progress at AAA, pushing up his OBP and OPS last year. I still have shares from a trade, so I’m optimistic… 😉
after seeing what Toronto gave up to get Dickey, I suspect Beane was eager to find a way to raid the Jays farm as best he could.
Saying Lawrie was a big part of the trade is disingenuous as it was well known by that time he was a throw in that the Jays didn’t need and would like to walk away from any further financial commitment to him. Beane could hope he’d wake up and turn his career around but it was already apparent Lawrie was not a good pro.
Beane said himself that he thought Lawrie could put up numbers close to Donaldson he was not a throw in.
I can tell you at that time, the Jays would have given him away for almost nothing. He had already destroyed his trade value through injury after injury and displays of bad attitude after poor work ethic after run ins with coaches. He was already epically collapsing and I don’t think Beane failed to see that happening. He will say publicly any message of support hoping to get something out of the player but his focus was the major league ready pitching and the wild card short stop.
Still, he thought Donaldson was worth that package so who knows what he was really thinking. Maybe he convinced himself Lawrie had a lot of game left in him, but any team could have acquired Lawrie for next to nothing at that time.
just about everything that could go wrong with that return did.
Oakland always had a love affair with oft injured middle infielders. Bobby Crosby, Mark Ellis, Cliff Pennington, Jemile Weeks, Jed Lowrie, and Brett Lawrie. It was like a smorgasbord of training room specialists.
Easy to hate this deal with hindsight, but consider what fangraphs said at the time of the deal:
The A’s are unquestionably taking on more risk in this deal, but they’re probably getting more upside as well. If Lawrie can beat the injury problem, it’s not too difficult to see him as a +4 to +5 win third baseman over the next three years; Donaldson is already at that level, but probably can’t stay there for too much longer, especially given how much of his value is tied to his glove, which generally peaks earlier. If we stipulate that both Lawrie and Donaldson stay reasonably healthy going forward, I might even prefer Lawrie for 2016 and 2017, even though he’s an inferior player right now. We can’t stipulate that Lawrie will stay healthy, but in looking at the trade, we should at least see the chance that the A’s actually didn’t get that much worse by swapping these two.
Obviously, things worked out differently. But judging trades with hindsight is a bit like judging a lottery ticket purchase on the day after the draw.
While I agree that the return for Donaldson wasn’t great I don’t think it was any kind of bad judgment by Beane. He absolutely DID either overestimate or try to oversell Barreto to the fan base as the biggest asset in the return, that much is very true. Graveman had his moments but was injured fairly often, Lawrie was the extra guy in the deal – even if the only big leaguer at the time & JB Wendelken has been a very pleasant surprise coming out of the pen.
I believe the trade came down to 2 things. Their first pick in the 2014 Draft & money (as usu.).
The first pick? Chapman out of CSU Fullerton. They already had high expectations for Olson who they’d drafted 2 years earlier out of high school & expected them to hit the majors about the same time – which they did. Chapman was called up by 2017 and 3 seasons isn’t too long to wait to return to the postseason which they did in ’18.
The team had completely collapsed in 2014 (& not bc of the Cespedes trade, though most people would argue me on that, if you want to please do! Just not in this thread right now ok? Thanks!) & wouldn’t have had a great 2015 anyway.
Donaldson was going into his 1st year of arbitration coming off of his first All-Star appearance plus 2 top 10 MVP finishes & was talking numbers upwards of $5M after making $5K in ’14. Even though he lost his arbitration case to the Jays, he still made over $4M in ’15 which is what most players are still making on the team today.
That kind of raise was unnecessary to spend having just drafted Chapman & knowing how soon he & Oly would be ready for the majors. And if they’d paid him that they’d still have been looking at another year of arbitration or trading him. He would not have won MVP w/Oakland in ’15 but he’d undoubtedly double his salary(he got over $11M in ’16 which would have been a franchise record high at the time. Until they extended Davis, Coco Crisp made the most in franchise history at $11M in ’16) which really wouldn’t be worth it with Chapman on the way.
The return was meager, yes, but I don’t believe it was bc Beane made some huge mistake. Barreto has been underwhelming so that was a mistake but he was only like 17 or 18 so it could’ve gone either way.
Saving about $4M and making a space for Chapman to me, at least, seem like the two major reasons that trade occurred. It wasn’t as much about the return – as meager as it was. Idk. Just my thoughts. At the time I had hopes for Barreto but was not upset by the trade the way a lot of people were.
It’s a bit of a stretch – for me as a dyed in the wool A’s fan – to think that getting Matt Chapman as our first pick in 2014 is a direct correlation to trading Josh Donaldson months later, especially given Chapman wasn’t on most teams radar in the first two rounds, – well – it’s a long bridge to his debut two and a half years later anyway.
I have to always take the 2014 series of trades as a culmination of the 2012-2014 seasons – the A’s were brilliant from mid 2012 to mid 2014 – 2012 division title was a little bit of a surprise, 2013 wasn’t, but by 2014 the window wasn’t just closing but was slamming shut. The Donaldson trade was absolutely the end of that era – and you mentioned Coco Crisp – I was always surprised we didn’t try to trade him in the 2014-5 off season too…
I thought the A’s won both ends of the trades around Jeff Samardzija, certainly lost the Cespedes enough already trade, and after going “all-in” late 2014 with the slamming window, the A’s settled for a rebuild which started with the Donaldson trade and continued in 2015 with the Doolittle/Madson trade.
All of which would leave me with a warm fireside revisionist theory (the A’s got Donaldson for peanuts anyway) until we encounter the satanic volcanic Krakatoa of front office tomfoolery that was Billy Butler at $30 million over what was supposed to be three years. At which point all logic and reason evaporate.
Still hoping Frankie Barreto will be everyday 2B, Wendelken continues be a much under-rated BP animal (as a son of the JD trade). My head can handle all of the 2014 trades including the post season trade of Donaldson until we reach the Butler free agency offer.
A’s get beat up for trading Donaldson for peanuts, but the Cubs gave him to the A’s for next to nothing. If memory serves me, didn’t the A’s once DFA Donaldson before he broke out?
I liked the trade for both teams at the time. I still believe that Lawrie has a world of talent, that just hasn’t been realized. Lawrie had a WAR of 5.8/650 PAs with Toronto.
Plus Lawrie is from Canada.
Lawrie had the ability to generate a lot of buzz in their country.
At that time the Blue Jays wanted to make themselves Canada’s team.
wild bill tetley
They didn’t need a Canadian to accomplish that.
Lawrie was being promoted in that way.
Teams near the border like Seattle, Minnesota, Detriot and Boston cut into their fanbase.
You have teams like the NY Yankees and Chicago Cubs as well.
Lawrie gave them a Canadian star. When he came up in 2011 or 2012? that was what he was being sold as.
Trade Chapman to the Yankees and get a haul of prospects. (Chapman, Cal State Fullerton Titans)
BlueJays were almost as stupid for letting him go. Yes Vlad can play 3rd but not very well and is going to be a 1B in about 1-2 yrs max.