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Trades in Retrospect: The Rich Hill Trade

Sep 30, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Rich Hill (44) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball is a fickle sport. From trying to predict future prospect value and performance to judging current Major Leaguers talent, it can be very tricky when it comes to deciding on trades and free agents. Over the last few years, the Dodgers have made many moves. Some have been rousing successes. Others have been less so. In this series we will look at some of the major trades the Dodgers have made in the last few years. We will discuss the value of the trades thus far, and make predictions on what the future may hold for the players involved. And ultimately, we will state whether the Dodgers have won, lost, or had a net neutral result from said trades. Today we will kick off this series with the Rich Hill trade in the summer of 2016.

Trade Summary and Initial Reactions

During the 2016 season, the Dodgers had trouble with having healthy starters. Kershaw was on the DL for a lengthy period and the only pitcher going regularly was rookie Kenta Maeda. On August 1st, the Dodgers were trailing the Giants by two games in the NL West. It was clear the Dodgers needed an upgrade in the rotation. So Rich Hill was acquired. By sending Jharel Cotton, Frankie Montas, and Grant Holmes to the Oakland A’s, the Dodgers received Rich Hill and Josh Reddick in return. At the time the trade reactions to the trade were mixed, though most thought at worst the Dodgers overpaid.

The Dodgers Net Value So Far

To start off the Dodgers net value, let’s look at Josh Reddick. Filling in throughout the outfield, Reddick did not offer much value. Before the trade Reddick was sporting a .296/.368/.449 line with a 121 wRC+. After coming to the Dodgers his line became a meager .258/.307/.335 and a 77 wRC+. He brought exactly zero value to the club. Sporting a 0.0 fWAR, and playing exactly at replacement level,  re-signing Reddick was not an option. And after Reddick’s negative comments towards Dodgers’ fans, most of Dodgers’ Nation said, “Good riddance”.

Despite not making his first start until August 24th that summer, Rich Hill twirled six fantastic starts down the stretch, including flirting with perfection in Miami. He was key to helping the Dodgers to clinch the NL West by four games over the Giants. Then in the playoffs, he started another three solid games. All told Rich Hill ended up contributing 1.3 fWAR for the Dodgers in 2016. For comparison’s sake, Yu Darvish brought 1.1 fWAR for the Dodgers in 2017. But he had three more starts, and 15 more innings than Hill did in 2016.

Initially many viewed this trade as a pure rental top to bottom. Which is why many initially thought the Dodgers overpaid for Hill. But in December of the 2016-2017 off-season, the Dodgers re-signed Hill to a 3-year, $48 million contract. Once again, many people were skeptical of giving such a large, and long, contract to a then 36-year-old starter. Given the lack of success seen in giving pitchers like Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir similar contracts, many rightly had valid concerns.

But Rich Hill has since put those concerns to bed. Even though 2017 began with more blister issues, Hill was able to navigate a very successful season. Many thought that if Hill could put up around 130-150 quality innings, the contract would be worth it. In 135.2 innings Hill had a 3.32 ERA, 2.6 fWAR, and struck out 11.01 batters per 9 innings. And in the playoffs Hill threw four starts of 2.55 ERA ball. Given the current value of each fWAR, FanGraphs said Rich Hill was worth $20.8 million last year.

The Athletics Net Value So Far

On the Athletics side of the trade is Jharel Cotton, Frankie Montas, and Grant Holmes. All three are still with the Oakland organization today. At the time of the trade, all three were rated in the Dodgers Top 10 prospects by multiple outlets. Despite how deep the Dodgers system was, many thought trading three Top 10 right-handed pitchers was a bit much.

The A’s gave Cotton a shot to pitch at the end of 2016 and looked very promising. In 5 starts (29.1 innings) Cotton put up a 0.7 fWAR and 2.15 ERA. Though his FIP (3.76) and xFIP (4.32) were quite a bit higher, he showed quite a bit of promise. In 2017 he started in 24 games (129 innings) and had much less success. Posting a terrible 5.58 ERA/5.68 FIP/5.38 xFIP and a 0.0 fWAR Cotton had trouble in multiple areas. His usual solid control diminished and he had trouble by giving up too many homers.

Frankie Montas threw a total of 32 innings (all in relief) for the A’s. His ERA/FIP/xFIP were even worse: 7.03/7.13/5.18. His troublesome control was magnified (5.63 walks per 9 innings) and his straight fastball was crushed (2.81 home runs per 9 innings). This led to an unsightly -0.7 fWAR – below replacement level.

Grant Holmes is still making his way through the A’s farm system, reaching AA last year. He actually had a fairly solid full season at AA and is still only going to be 22 years old this year.

Overall the A’s have not seen much value out of these three, but there is still plenty of time for that to change.

The Current Verdict, And The Future

As of right now, this trade is fairly net-neutral. Despite initial concerns about overpaying, despite concerns over the rental, and despite skepticism to re-signing Rich Hill, this trade has ultimately gone in the Dodgers’ favor in terms of value – so far. But the future can easily change depending on what the A’s can get out of this trio of prospects. Especially Cotton and Holmes. And considering this was a prospect grab for the A’s in 2016, they got some decent value in return.

At this point, Montas is likely to be a reliever in his career, and without being able to harness his control, he, at best, will be very similar to Pedro Baez. If Montas lives up to his ZiPS projection of a 0.3 fWAR in 2018 and replicates that until his free agency, that would be about the kind of value Pedro Baez brought in 2017.

Jharel Cotton, unfortunately, received news that he would have to undergo Tommy John Surgery so his 2018, and part of 2019 is lost. His ZiPS projection prior to that news was for a 1.5 fWAR. Not a bad number, but he probably will be a middle, to back-end starter for the A’s going forward. He could easily net around 1.0 to 1.5 fWAR annually.

So then the trade comes down to Grant Holmes. Currently ranked the A’s #10 prospect, his development could determine how this trade plays out down the road. If Rich Hill gives another 5.0 fWAR over the next two years, that will be a trade and money well spent on the part of the Dodgers to acquire a solid starting pitcher that, though not the most durable, certainly gives excellent quality innings. As for the A’s, it was a low-risk move to begin with. So any value they gain from Holmes, Montas, and/or Cotton is gravy. Overall, I’d say the Dodgers “won” the trade simply because they’ve gotten more of what they desired out of it so far.

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Written by Blake Coble

Born and raised in SoCal and bled Blue my whole life. Absolutely love baseball and absolutely love the Boys in Blue! I have a fascination with analyzing the statistics and trends that drive player performance, and I love following our minor league prospects as well! Active duty Air Force currently stationed in Central California! Follow me on Twitter @yarritsblake

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