The Oakland Athletics made a savvy move Wednesday, trading three prospects as part of a three-team deal and receiving Seattle Mariners catcher John Jaso. With a .359 career OBP, Jaso is an offensive force for a catcher. He has solid defensive skills. He even recommends his own days off, as he has a measly .164/.302/.230 batting line in 151 career plate appearances against left-handed pitchers.
What makes the A’s’ maneuver most brilliant, though, is that it creates a logjam for them at a position of scarcity and need for many teams, with the winter player-movement season drawing near its end. Jaso will be their primary catcher in 2013. Derek Norris will be the backup, or maybe Jaso’s platoon partner.
Left out of the mix is George Kottaras, whom Oakland designated for assignment in order to complete the move. Kottaras, 29, is a blue-collar man’s Jaso. He is a Jaso for the working class, not the truly impoverished. Jaso is perhaps a shade above average at the plate, and a shade above behind it. Kottaras is a bit below average in both places. That’s still a valuable player, especially as a left-handed hitter and a catcher. Oakland has 10 days during which to try to trade Kottaras now (along with the one-year, $1-million contract to which he is signed), and some team–probably many teams–should have interest.
Trading Kottaras alone, though, would net Oakland only a low-level prospect, or some similarly low-value complementary piece. He just isn’t a player with great trade value. No, the A’s shouldn’t just cut bait with Kottaras and take what they can get. There are two birds perched in their logjam tree, and they have a chance to kill both.
The A’s have an overabundance of outfielders, too. In addition to what constituted their regular outfield at season’s end (Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick), Oakland has Seth Smith and Chris Young (both acquired because they came cheaply), plus fringy candidate Michael Taylor, and two solid (if non-elite) prospects near readiness, in Grant Green and Michael Choice. One of those beyond the main three can DH regularly. Another one (or two) can be backups. The rest, though, are purely superfluous. The A’s should be able to trade one outfielder and Kottaras for something that would really help them win in 2013. Here are three ideas that spring to mind:
Kottaras and Smith to Chicago Cubs for Matt Garza and Junior Lake
The A’s are always known for preventing runs, but their home park does a lot of the heavy lifting there, and last season, their defense did much of it, too. The pitching staff finished seventh in MLB in ERA last year, but 12th in FIP and 24th in xFIP.
Matt Garza can remedy that. Despite a frustrating season cut short by a stress reaction in his elbow, Garza remains a pitcher with the tools to dominate. Since the Tampa Bay Rays dealt Garza to Chicago prior to 2011, he had scaled up usage of his slider in order to miss more bats. In Oakland, though, he could go back to throwing his heat 65-70 percent of the time, saving his arm and allowing his defense to help him again. A healthy Brett Anderson and Jarrod Parker make a nice pairing at the front of the prospective rotation, but Garza would solidify that group very well. He’s had, ostensibly, a normal winter in the wake of the injury, but obviously, this deal would hinge on his physicals.
Lake played shortstop about halfway up the Cubs’ organizational ladder, but began a transition to third base in 2012, and will even try some center field this season. He’s delightfully toolsy, but lacks refinement and needs a better plate approach in order to really develop as a hitter.
In addition to Kottaras, Oakland would send Smith to Chicago. Smith is a solid slugger right-handed pitching, and an average fielder in either outfield corner, but has only managed three opposite-field home runs in 214 career opposite-field fly balls. It’s possible he just isn’t strong enough to hit it out at all the other way, but if he can, Wrigley Field would draw forth that skill. For the Cubs, this deal would be worthwhile because it would give them two solid three-year assets in return for a prospect to whom they are not much attached, and a pitcher whom they would need to extend in order to have him around when next they will be good. The A’s would get another position player to throw into the hopper that burped up Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Chris Carter in 2012, and a rent-an-ace for a rotation more in need than it seems.
Kottaras and Reddick to Chicago White Sox for Gavin Floyd, Gordon Beckham and Erik Johnson
Floyd would obviously address the same problem Garza would, albeit slightly less prettily. Beckham would be a neat addition, both insurance against the continued failure or Jemile Weeks and a huge upside play, possibly even as a third baseman if Weeks resurrects his tremendous potential.
Johnson was the Sox’s second-round pick in 2011, a big, powerful right-hander with a good slider. He posted a sub-3.00 ERA pitching as high as the Carolina League last season, and should move fairly quickly. He’s not a huge upside guy, but he would add nicely to Oakland’s organizational pitching depth.
Reddick is a better defender and more balanced hitter, very probably, than Smith, which is why the Sox (aiming higher than the Cubs in the near term) would prefer him. He has his flaws, but his power would play nicely in U.S. Cellular Field. Kottaras would allow Chicago to platoon Tyler Flowers, which would be great for them.
Kottaras and Young to New York Yankees for Corban Joseph, Dellin Betances and Tyler Austin
Young has big platoon splits and is just an okay defensive center fielder, but an outfield of Brett Gardner, Young and Curtis Granderson (from left to right) would catch everything. Again, Young has some trouble with righties, but they don’t cripple him, and the Yankees need a lefty-masher in their lineup. Young also has a club option on his contract for 2014, at a fair rate, which would give New York a bridge to their solid outfield prospects.
Few teams are in more dire straits behind the plate than New York. Kottaras is a full two-win upgrade over one of Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, even if he’s only a win or a win and a half better than a theoretical replacement.
In return for those key additions, New York would send three prospects to Oakland in this deal. Joseph is my personal favorite, a second baseman (and not an overwhelmingly physical guy) who bats left-handed, but can really hit. He split 2012 between Double- and Triple-A, batting .276/.375/.465 with 15 home runs, 68 walks and 70 strikeouts in 488 plate appearances. He could easily be better over the next several years than Beckham, or maybe even Jemile Weeks. He’ll certainly be cheaper.
Betances was once a top-tier pitching prospect. Then he was a wreck. Now he seems to be somewhere in between. He might only ever be a reliever, but he had an encouraging showing in the Arizona Fall League in 2012. He has upside, but the Yankees aren’t in an especially good position to bet on it, so Oakland should move to capture it.
Austin is a more legitimate prospect than Betances or Joseph, at least right now. He’s an athletic and solid outfielder, a year or more from readiness but potentially a first-division starter. New York probably wouldn’t want to give him up, but they’d certainly do so before letting go of Mason Williams or Slade Heathcott.
Logjams are good things when you’re a good team, and Oakland is a good team. Lost in the sound and fury over the Angels’ big splashes and the Rangers’ frustrations this winter has been the fact that neither is defending the AL West title. The A’s are, and they have a chance to leverage some excess talent into things they need. They should pounce.Next post: No One Wants Michael Bourn: Why the steal of the winter will go against type
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