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Looking Back on the Alberto Callaspo/Sean O`Sullivan Trade

Last July 22nd, the Royals traded Alberto Callaspo to the Angels. If you wanted to be snarky, you could say that the package they got back was two minor league starters, though technically Sean O`Sullivan is a Major Leaguer. Will Smith, the other payer received, certainly is. Ten months later, do we have a clearer picture of who won this trade? Did anybody?

The Angels Received:

  • Alberto Callaspo: Specifically, they got 58 game of pre-arbitration Callaspo, along with the rights to sign him for the next three seasons at discounted arbitration rates. Callaspo did not hit well in his final season as a Royal (.275/.308/.410) and he was even worse as an Angel, hitting just .249/.291/.315. Even for less than 500K, there's not much value in that production, although UZR did have his as a decent defender that year. In a somewhat surprising move, the Angels decided to bring Callaspo back, perhaps in part because they've shared with the Royals an organizational blindspot to OBP for years now. Signed for $2 million, Callaspo has hit .295/.361/.386, rewarding their faith in him. If you look at the past few years, it seems clear that Callaspo can post a decent OBP or he can slug a little. He can't do both. (He can also do neither, as he did for the Angels in 2010.) Callaspo, at this point, has a) established his inconsistency (good and bad) and b) burned through just about all of his cheap years. He's not killing the Angels right now, so long as he maintains a usable OBP, but he's only a marginal asset. With this year's comeback and another scheduled raise, he's a roster gamble for 2012 or 2013.

The Royals Received:

  • Sean O`Sullivan: While Callaspo's cheap days were coming to an end at the time of the trade, Sean O`Sullivan's were really just beginning. Assuming he even remains in the Major Leagues, O`Sullivan doesn't stand to hit arbitration until 2013. This isn't meant to be a cheap shot at O`Sullivan, who has easily done better than I in his chosen field, but there is a good chance he'll never see a large payday (by baseball standards) anyway. When the Royals acquired O`Sullivan, he was simply a guy there to fill innings, a former 3rd round draft pick who had a mediocre minor league profile and nothing much more hopeful shown in his 17 career Major League appearances. SOS gave the Royals a 69 ERA+ in his 70.2 innings in 2010, and looks on the same path in 2011, posting a 70 ERA+ in 45 innings thus far. His advanced stats don't look much better, and after living dangerously for parts of 2011, he's been blasted in recent starts. From this day forward, if he makes 25 more starts for the Royals it'll be a sign that things have gone very wrong for Dayton Moore's pitching prospects. He was selected to cheaply eat starts from mid-season 2010 to mid-season 2011, and he's done so. Modestly.
  • Will Smith: 20 years young at the time of the trade, Will Smith is a former 7th round draft pick. Smith pitched well in 2009-09, but struggled in 2010 after being promoted to higher levels. Upon acquisition, the Royals sent Smith back down to High A ball, along with the much friendlier confines of Wilmington. The Georgian... but of course ... got his feet back on the ground as a Blue Rock. However, Smith has been unimpressive at NWA this season. Especially troubling is his now completely eroded strikeout rate (4.5 K/9). He's still young and he's still 6'5 and he's still Southern and he's still left-handed. That's about it.

So who won this trade? Callaspo costs four times as much as SOS, but he's also a better player. Fangraphs WAR has SOS as an exactly replacement level pitcher this season, which matches both the eye test, his career history, and the numbers. The Angels evidently believe that Callaspo fills a need at third base, as they've played him nearly every day since last July, though it isn't apparent just what all this activity is accomplishing. The Angels were 80-82 last season, and look to be headed to a similar record this year. The AL West might be bad enough that they can win it, but from 20,000 feet Callaspo looks no different than SOS, he just plays a different position. Smith, we must say, is merely just another arm at this point, the kind of human lottery ticket that gets tacked on to trade after trade. He might be said to tip the trade in the Royals' favor, at this point, but with each passing day that perceived advantage dwindles.

Of course, a year ago that was also SOS to an extent. He still had some potential to blossom, however unlikely. Would we feel so hopeful now? Looking back at the thread from the trade announcement, the responses seems oddly positive (although the Will Smith jokes are just as unfunny) now, the references to upside, a little too ambitious.

By simply being young, Smith is the last player standing with anything like an exciting future. If you are being generous, you could argue that for that reason alone, the Royals have still won this trade. On balance, I have to conclude, however, that this trade is like so much of our own lives, there are no glorious winners or terrible losers, only participants.