Before I began living the luxurious life of a Banished to the Pen writer, I used to test video games.  I worked on and off on contracts for Sony and Electronic Arts.  During my stints at both of those companies, I had to play a game called Dante’s Inferno.  This was a reimagining of the famous work by Dante, with a number of artistic liberties taken to make it a video game.  The game followed Dante as he progressed through the levels of Hell, attempting to rescue his beloved Beatrice from Satan, who had apparently won her over as a result of Dante’s own marital infidelity.  What struck me in particular while testing was their imagining of the Cerberus.  The Cerberus was, at least to my expectation, a ferocious three headed dog.  This is what Dante’s Inferno presented me:

 

This is not Cerberus the three headed dog; it is Cerberus the three headed mouth worm thing.  It’s not pretty, but it’s certainly intimidating.  I know that it means something, but I really don’t know what it means.  I’m confused, and maybe even a bit scared.  I view today’s Escobar/Clippard trade from the A’s point of view like I view this Cerberus.  The three heads I’m presented with are daunting, and not what I expected.  I hope that explaining them will shine more light on this deal than this boss did on the video game I had to test did.

Head #1: Billy Beane is Stupid.

This move really doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Yunel Escobar was supposed to be the A’s starting shortstop.  I said myself just five days ago that adding Escobar makes so much sense, as he could bounce back defensively and play full time.  Without him, the A’s have to go with Marcus Semien at shortstop now, and I haven’t heard a single report that says he’ll be a plus defender.  At best we’re hoping for a right handed bat with passable defense, and that’s not a recipe for success on a playoff team typically.  Meanwhile, the A’s are already stacked in the pen.  Fangraphs already had them projected to have five relievers with a FIP under 3.55, so it’s not like they’re hurting there.  The A’s are trading from a weakness for a strength; that’s not economical.  That’s dumb.  This means that Eric Sogard probably makes the lineup again as a utility man, and that’s not good.  Eric Sogard had a .567 OPS last year, which was 4th to last in the entire MLB last year among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances.  Furthermore, Escobar is under three years of team control, while Clippard has just one.  So the A’s are trading three years of a decent shortstop (or at worst a second baseman) for one year of a right handed reliever.  Get used to a lot of 1-0 losses, because this lineup stinks.

Head #2: Billy Beane is a Genius!

Man, do I love this move.  Yunel Escobar was the worst defensive shortstop in 2014, bar none.  Every defensive metric you look at shows that he took a nosedive in defensive ability last year, and I don’t see a reason why he’d recover.  This isn’t like there’s just one stat that thinks he stinks while the rest are holding his career line; they all agree that he was awful.  Escobar is making 5 million this year, he’s 33 years old, and he’s had one good offensive year since 2008.  Escobar should not be counted on as a starting shortstop; if anything he should be a low cost flier/comeback candidate.  Tyler Clippard on the other hand?  Excellent reliever.  In the period of time that Escobar has been slowing down and getting old, Tyler Clippard has enjoyed his prime.  He’s had five out of the last six seasons with at least 60 innings and an ERA under 3.1.  He’s one of the few pitchers with a demonstrable skill for generating infield pop flies, and with Oakland’s spacious park, that skill will only be exemplified.  The A’s made a similar move last year to get Luke Gregerson, and it worked out great.  At the very least, our nerd quota has been doubled, as Clippard and Sogard have got to be the two geekiest looking dudes in the league.  You can’t help but like this move.

Head #3: Billy Beane is Just Playing the Market

Check out this tweet by Susan Slusser:

This tweet from Slusser seems to suggest that the A’s took on Escobar as a necessary piece for acquiring Ben Zobrist, who was the clear jewel of the trade over the weekend.  The Rays wanted to dump his salary in a deal that got rid of Zobrist, and the A’s happily took him on.  Escobar has his warts; last year his agent said Oakland would not be a good fit for him and he’s been suspended in the past for writing a homophobic slur on his eye black.  It could be that the Rays, who waived Escobar, were convinced Escobar was done, and peddled him off in a Ben Zobrist trade in order to get his money off the books.  Perhaps it was Beane’s plan all along to trade him, or maybe the Nationals just called him up and blew him away.  Regardless, it’s quite possible that the A’s just flipped a guy who was dead weight for a plus-plus reliever.  If that’s the case, this move is incredible.  Even if Clippard only has one year left on his deal and the A’s bullpen is already good, we’re talking free upgrade here.  In an age when playoff teams are still fielding horrible bullpens, this is a chance to get a shutdown set up guy for literally nothing.  That’s insane.

These three heads are hard to reconcile.  Is Beane stupid for dealing a necessary piece for a superfluous arm, or a genius for trading a bad player for a good one, or a maverick for flipping roster deadweight for something of value?  It’s hard to say.  This trade is a great lens to show that how you view this trade reflects how you view Billy Beane.  If you want to see a good trade, or a bad trade, or a Moneyball coup de grâce, then you will.  To be honest, I’m stuck looking at all three.  While I love Tyler Clippard, and I don’t have a lot of hope for Yunel being a solid producer, I really am not looking forward to Marcus Semien as Plan A.  I can see being scared, excited, or just awestruck.  As always, I know that there’s no reason to think that this is the last move Beane makes, but evaluated in isolation, I’m on the fence.

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