Continuing the revolving door of the A’s offseason, the A’s have made a big move to prove that the rebuilding plan is happening right now, and isn’t a long term move. To that point, they have traded John Jaso, Daniel Robertson, and Boog Powell (Herschel “Boog”, not John “Boog” of yesteryear) for Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar. First, let’s talk about the players coming in.
Before the trade, the A’s projected to have Eric Sogard and Marcus Semien up the middle on the big league roster. As Carson Cistulli points out in a similarly hot take, this is an upgrade despite the fact that Semien’s projection is a fairly decent 2.3 WAR. The A’s have already expressed that this does not mean that Semien goes to AAA to start the season; they plan on having him play a utility role, almost like a young Zobrist. This is probably a better fit at the moment for the young Semien, whose defense at shortstop seems to have more detractors than supporters. Sogard, on the other hand, looks to have no place anymore, and his sub .300 OBP won’t exactly be missed despite being adorable and somewhat of a fan favorite. Zobrist in 2013 put up a typical year; ~.350 OBP and playing in over 140 games all over the diamond. Zobrist is likely to play second, though his arrival means that the A’s could shift Brett Lawrie to second base, as both of them are rather capable in both positions. His ability to switch hit and play all over the field fits the A’s very well, who tend to love guys that can play anywhere they want. If we assume the A’s are planning on platooning Josh Reddick and Craig Gentry in right field, then Zobrist’s ability to play both second base and left field can allow the A’s to create a virtual platoon of Sam Fuld and Semien, with Zobrist playing left field against lefties and second base against righties. Zobrist’s production has been rather consistent over his career, though his power numbers have been dipping and moving to Oakland won’t help that, especially since he’s always hit more home runs against righties in his career.
Escobar hasn’t produced all that well in Tampa Bay or Toronto, as he has only topped a .700 OPS once since 2009. He had an excellent first year in Toronto, but his numbers have been lacking otherwise since moving to the American League. Of even more worry, though, were his defensive metrics in 2014, which were panned by nearly every measurement system. There’s a decent chance that Escobar will rebound, though, as his defense has always been an asset up until 2014. Much was made of the A’s acquiring Billy Butler for his groundball hitting prowess, which would provide a foil to the A’s mostly flyball hitting philosophy the last two years. It’s worth noting that both Zobrist and Escobar both also fit this mold, as they both hit groundballs just below 50% last year, as Butler did. Escobar also had a line drive rate of 20% last year, which is his highest rate since his rookie year, and his BABIP was at .282, which is typical since his move to the AL. If Escobar continues to put the ball in play and gets a bit of a BABIP spike, it’s still conceivable he could return to the form he displayed in his Braves days. Here’s how the lineups probably look next year, which as we know with Billy Beane, is never guaranteed:
Versus Right-Handed Pitching:
#1: LHB CF Coco Crisp
#2: LHB LF Sam Fuld
#3: LHB C Stephen Vogt
#4: LHB RF Josh Reddick
#5: RHB 3B Brett Lawrie
#6: LHB 2B Ben Zobrist
#7: LHB 1B Ike Davis
#8: RHB DH Billy Butler
#9: RHB SS Yunel Escobar
Versus Left-Handed Pitching:
#1: RHB CF Coco Crisp
#2: RHB RF Craig Gentry
#3: RHB LF Ben Zobrist
#4: RHB 1B Billy Butler
#5: RHB 3B Brett Lawrie
#6: RHB SS Yunel Escobar
#7: RHB 2B Marcus Semien
#8: RHB C Josh Phegley
#9: LHB DH Josh Reddick (or pick whichever bench guy you want playing that day and rearrange the lineup as such)
Those lineups are pretty excellent when you consider the platoon advantages. The A’s had to replace a lot of production against lefties with the departures of Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Derek Norris via trade, and this is a pretty good start. The A’s only got a collective OPS of .579 from second base last year, and just .666 from shortstop, which Zobrist and Escobar should easily exceed.
Now let’s talk about what it took to get these guys. First of all, I love John Jaso. If Jaso would have qualified for the batting title, he would have been 4th in the league in catcher OBP, despite having his worst year at the plate. His career OBP is .359, and there were only two guys in the league who did that last year, and both of them are right-handed. Jaso’s skillset is really hard to duplicate, and that makes him a great asset. That said, with the resurgence (at least for a couple months) of Vogt last year, Jaso became expendable. He’s never been all that great by defensive metrics, including a whopping -9.7 RAA in catcher framing last year despite only being behind the plate for 47 games. Beane has never been one to prioritize framing, but that’s simply horrid. He’s also battled concussions in both of his seasons in Oakland, and there are legitimate concerns that he just can’t handle catching duties anymore. If he’s a DH, he’s much more limited, and he’ll be a free agent in 2016.
Daniel Robertson is an excellent prospect; by all reports he’ll be in the top 100 on nearly every list this offseason, and probably be the only 2013 Athletic to hold that placing. He was excellent in 2014, mashing his way to an .873 OPS as a shortstop in High A Stockton, at 20 years old. Reports on his glove have been solid, so if he can make the jump well to AA next year he’ll begin to get whispers as a legitimate everyday shortstop in the big leagues, which is always an incredibly rare commodity these days (hence this trade). Boog Powell (born Herschel Mack Powell, which is also a great name) hit even better for the Ports alongside Robertson with an OPS over .900, though he’d need to do so as a corner outfielder. He’s also facing a 50 game suspension to start the year for amphetamine use, but you can take that as you will. Powell also needs to prove it in AA next year, and he’ll be 22 at season’s opening, so his season probably isn’t deserving of a top 100 ranking. He hits from the left side as well, and we all know those guys are basically a dime a dozen if you believe some of the articles written this offseason.
So, as an A’s fan, while I love John Jaso and I was excited to follow Robertson, this trade is exactly what the A’s needed. They acquired two major league middle infielders without sacrificing pitching, and they even dealt a superfluous piece about to hit free agency in Jaso. Second base last year was a gaping hole in an otherwise extremely well rounded A’s team, and this plugs it right up. If Escobar’s defense returns to form, then the A’s lineup against Righties may very well be the best defensive lineup in the entire league, as even Ike Davis has the potential to be a plus first baseman (10.4 UZR in 2010). I feel like this is the trade which makes the other moves make sense. You don’t acquire middle infielders over the age of 30 unless you’re trying to win this year (unless Beane is flipping them, which certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility). The A’s lost the division last year to the Angels, and with all the hullabaloo made over the Angels having an entire lineup of hitters with an OPS+ over 100, the A’s lineup depth may be following that model. This trade makes the A’s complete in my mind, and I can’t help but be excited by the potential of next year.
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