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A Week on the Street: Turk's Take

The "proven closer" – what's the value on the Street? A week after the acquisition of the former Padres stopper, the question of what we bought with Huston Street still vexes, perplexes and divides the Angels faithful.

 "I talk to only strangers / I walk with Angels that have no place / Cross Streets of fire" Photo of Huston Street by
"I talk to only strangers / I walk with Angels that have no place / Cross Streets of fire" Photo of Huston Street by
Lisa Blumenfeld

Perusing this morning's copious Weekend HaloLinks – always a treat and one of the features that distinguishes this site from others in the SBN universe – I noted that Stirrups began the Angels Baseball section with this FanGraphs analysis of the Huston Street trade.

The analysis provides grist for those on many sides of the Street acquisition debate, but Stirrups opted to focus on the "win now" angle, and where Angel fans might currently be psychologically that might explain the receptiveness to generally departing from the farm-rebuilding scheme to which Jerry Dipoto had finally committed.

I still find this conversation compelling, because of late, many of us on the editorial staff have tended to agree about the direction of the team, and often converge in our criticisms. But this acquisition has us more split, even to the point where Rev and I have exchanged quips in email and tweets, occupying opposite sides of the "Street" as it were.

A lot of this debate reduces to statements like "we had no farm to begin with" and "we needed a true closer" – the kind of recycled and sweeping generalizations that ignore the relative or conditional value of the players departing or arriving in any trade. It's a fan's vocabulary, and understandably few are keen to mute the rush of the big transaction that will grease the rails of the October Hope Express. The rally cry of "win now" overtakes any wonkish muttering of hows and whats and whens that might peek into the likelihood of that outcome given the transaction itself.

It's easy enough to split into different camps of "buy now, win now, pay later" and "win now and win later through homecooking." That's a longer, open, ongoing debate. But there's a more important point to debate right now.

If you fall into the former win-now camp, and your organizational trade resources are limited, what moves will actually get you closer to your goal?

I think anyone who actually knows the pieces involved in this recent trade, and who is making an honest argument, will concede that the Angels overpaid to get Huston Street. The FanGraphs piece conceded that. The commentariat, from Keith Law to Ken Rosenthal, have said as much. But "overpaying" may be fine, if your objective function is optimized toward a world series championship, or a late postseason run, and you seriously believe that Huston Street is the component that maximizes your chances of achieving that.

But is that really true?

The Angels are 2-4 in the six games since the Street acquisition. Street has pitched only two innings since that time, one in a loss and one in a win. That's not to attribute the recent losing streak to Street, but to point out that one-inning relievers really don't contribute all that much to winning or losing one way or another. This is only corroborated by the fact that Street has been, on average, worth roughly half a win (per fWAR) each season over the past four years.

The length of the Angels' recent winning streak was impacted to a greater degree by the surprising surplus of bats (and one astonishing arm) from the upper levels of the farm (Shoemaker, Calhoun, Cron, Navarro, Cowgill, Green) – the sort of assets that were the Rondons and Lindseys and Morrises of a year ago. Players we know are important now, but were easy to overlook or write off in seasons of lesser moment.

Now, I'm more than happy to embrace the 'win now' mantra after four years of losing. But my position on the Street trade is the same: we overpaid for the wrong weapon.

If you're going to overpay, do it for the right weapon. In this case, it should have been a frontline starter, like a Hamels. I'm fairly bullish on the idea that a canny GM, facing a wrecked and aging Phillies club with a broken offense, could parlay some combination of the package of prospects we supplied to acquire Street – combined with a Cron and Santiago/Shoemaker – to bring back several seasons of Cole Hamels. Now that's costly, in players and money, but if you've committed to overpaying to win-now, you can't really complain about cost, right? It's all about which big move you make.

We've seen in the past week that we can lose two straight games with our young ace on the mound. Our offense is streaky and can be quieted by superior pitching. Now, after losing the first game in this four game series against Detroit with our best warrior pitching, we're now going to battle (in a pennant race!) with Skaggs, Santiago and Shoemaker as our guys.

Will Huston Street even get a chance to pitch that one inning? If he does, will the Angels have a lead?

Jerry Dipoto had limited resources, and had enough chips to make one big bet. If you're going to look at this objectively, then you have to look at the bet he made. He didn't bet on a "proven closer" – that is just the magical mantra the Angels faithful recite to themselves to give the acquisition more gravitas and inevitability. Rather, Dipoto bet that the recently-refurbished bullpen backend of Smith-Jepsen-Morin-Thatcher-Grilli was more likely to fall apart down the stretch than the ragtag rotation backend of Wilson-Skaggs-Shoemaker-Santiago.

That's an interesting bet – and one that I would have played a bit differently.