More than three years have passed since the Rays traded Dewon Brazelton for Sean Burroughs. It feels like yesterday when the obscure Andrew Friedman traded the Rays former first round pick for another so-called bust. Upon learning of the deal, faint memories of an ESPN the Magazine story from sometime prior were summoned upon. Burroughs was the son of a major leaguer and a former little league star who was supposed to be a slugger, I mean, all third baseman should hit a lot of homeruns, right?
Obviously at this point in my baseball life I have a different appreciation of talent and various observations to point out about deals like the Burroughs and Brazelton swap. I'm glad to say that in the three-plus years that have passed I can finally appreciate how solid this trade really was, even if I didn't acknowledge it at the time.
Brazelton didn't even tease, he was just routinely poor. In 2002 and 2003 Brazelton threw a total of 61 innings, posting FIPs of 7.04 and 6.07 despite BABIPs below-.300. In 2004, Brazelton threw 120 innings and had a 4.77 strikeout-per-nine rate with a 3.95 walks-per-nine rate. His homerun rate was modest, and thus Brazelton had a 4.87 FIP. The false encouragement never had a chance to development as Brazelton would revert to below-replacement level in 2005, posting a 6.71 FIP and going insane in the process.
Brazelton would end his Rays career with a total of -0.1 wins.
So Andrew Friedman got this fellow Burroughs in return for that, and boy, is that pretty impressive in retrospect. While the Padres turned to a ragtag* team of third baseman in 2006, the Rays would plug Burroughs into Durham in hopes of him turning the corner after a poor 2005. As we all know, Burroughs would only play in a handful of games for the big league Rays before moving on elsewhere, meaning the results weren't quite what you would hope, but boy the processes...the processes were excellent.
Burroughs collected modest playing him from 2002 until being shipped to the Rays and put up win values of: 0.2, 3.2, 2.4, and 0.6 prior to the trade. Two things should catch your eye about that. 1. Any of those years taken alone is worth more than Dewon Brazelton had been worth his entire career. 2. They're all positive, and he was only one season removed from being a 2 win player. That's a three year average of ~2 wins. That's a pretty damn good player.
So why in the hell did the Padres take a chance on Brazleton? Homeruns were a problem, but he never gave up a staggering amount of flyballs. His line drive rates were average and he walked quite a few without many strikeouts. For Brazelton to put up a K/BB ratio over 1.00 would be an achievement. Did the Padres simply get lost in the aura of a former top five draft pick? Was Burroughs a jerk behind the scenes, rubbing a veteran heavy team the wrong way? Or, did they simply not know Burroughs true value?
You see, Burroughs' bat was worth (park adjusted) -4.6, 7.1, -1.6, and -8.9 runs. His glove, meanwhile, was worth -1.7, 3.9, 5.6, and 3 runs. The Padres 2006 third basemen were hardily glovesmiths, and yet the rest of their team had good defenders. Generally that doesn't happen with luck, making this move even more peculiar. I suppose the Padres felt they had too many all-glove no-hit types, or they felt Burroughs would soon flame out - they were apparently correct thanks to a myriad of injuries - but couldn't they have gotten more for him?
The Rays would make another trade soon thereafter, sending Danys Baez and Lance Carter to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany. I didn't know it at the time either, but that was a brilliant move; trading two overvalued relievers for two young pitching prospects. Sure, Edwin would never become quite what you would hope and Tiffany would get injured, but the process was there: trading marginally useful parts with higher perceived value for potentially useful parts who were undervalued.
It's a shame I didn't know at the time, but the Rays front office wasn't just improved, it would soon be amongst the best in baseball.
*Former Ray Vinny Castilla, Mark Bellhorn, Geof Blum, Russell Branyan, Todd Walker, and Manny Alexander al took reps at third base for the Padres. Combined value: ~3 wins.