To root for the A’s is to root for the unknown. The recent trade of Josh Donaldson has sent people into plenty of analytical frenzies, both logical and philosophical. Some wonder if the A’s will be able to replace his production, while others wonder if Beane is the pique of human evolution up to this point. The Donaldson trade has as many takes as you can possibly imagine.
A Brandon Moss trade, on the other hand, is easier to understand. Brandon Moss is now on the wrong side of 30, and he’s a left-handed DH. If the team is trying to become more well balanced and fit for a long term run, then moving Moss seems fairly self-evident. Moss was moved to Cleveland in exchange for 24-year-old 2nd base prospect named Joseph Wendle. Is that fair market value for Moss? Let’s take a look at Moss’ performance first in order to evaluate his value.
Until 2012, Moss was a flameout prospect who was once very promising in the Red Sox system. That year, Moss reportedly had contemplated careers outside of baseball, and took a job in the PCL to potentially inflate his numbers so as to entice a Japanese League team. When called up in early June to replace a struggling Kila Ka’aihue, he took off. Moss batted .291 with 21 home runs that year, helping the A’s on their miracle run to the playoffs. While his bash brother against righties Josh Reddick struggled in 2013, Moss kept it up, hitting the 30 home run mark for the first time ever. His power stayed alive in 2014, as he hit 25 home runs while still playing full time.
Now let’s look at his downside. Moss is abysmal in the field. While he has played first base and corner outfield with the A’s, and he put up a moderately passable season in the outfield in 2014, he’s a DH at this point in his career. His power numbers drop considerably against LHP despite keeping up his average and OBP, and a .723 OPS against lefties is not what you want out of a middle of the order DH. If you look past what seem like even splits in 2014, you’ll see that his numbers against southpaws last season were inflated by a .373 BABIP, more than 40 points above his league average.
Moss’ numbers took a huge dive after July as he battled a hip injury for which he’s had surgery this offseason. Moss’ numbers also take a noticeable dive when teams are able to shift against him, as his BABIP goes up by 80 points and his OPS jumps up a full century when there are men on base. With the league clearly trending towards more common shifts, Moss’ production may likely trend downwards with it. All these things considered, Moss is clearly not a great candidate to get better, though he has potential to stay productive. Steamer likes him to keep consistent production, despite the hip injury and age considerations.
So what exactly is the market for Moss? The offseason buzz phrase has always been “Right Handed Power”, but Moss is a lefty. On a team with John Jaso, Stephen Vogt, Josh Reddick and now Ike Davis, Moss was a prime candidate for trade. How many teams, though, have the willingness to trade with Billy Beane while needing a lefty DH? The Indians do apparently, and the two teams settled on Joseph Wendle. Wendle didn’t even have an entry in last year’s Baseball Prospectus annual, so the most prevalent information has come out since the trade. Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs put a 55 on his hit tool, but also said that’s his best tool. He seems to be a decent candidate to give solid but unspectacular production at the big league level, but he struggled against AA pitching this year before breaking a bone in his hand.
The A’s have very few options in the Middle Infield, and have shown a strong trend to try and fix that depth. It’s become clear that the Eric Sogard + Platoon Partner experiment isn’t a recipe for success, but MLB options aren’t easily had at this point. Beane had to trade Donaldson just to get Brett Lawrie, who is still a gamble for injury-free production. The optimist in me sees shades of Joe Panik with more power in Wendle, but trying to peg a guy to be a random breakout candidate may be a bit too cheery. Panik does have a similar profile though; unspectacular tools highlighted by a potentially plus hit tool and a second base profile, and Panik also struggled against AA pitching his first year. Panik gave the Giants 1.6 WAR last season despite playing just 74 games and hitting for just a .317 wOBA, which is really close to what Moss is projected to give the Indians next year if you believe Steamer.
So the A’s are hoping that in 2016, or possibly very late in 2015, that Wendle can give enough production to replace Moss’ wins. Beane said last year after the Lester trade that wins are universal; a win from pitching is the same as a win from hitting. Two wins from a light hitting second baseman may be the same as two wins from a 25 home run DH, though they aren’t nearly as sexy. The market right now is really rough for middle infield depth, and a guy like Wendle may be surprisingly in demand. By the time this is published, it’s likely the A’s have already traded Jeff Samardzija for either or both of Tim Anderson or Marcus Semien of the White Sox, which only supports that this is Beane’s motivation here.
Lastly, as a fan, I’m ready to trust that this really is fair market value or above for Moss. Many A’s fans I’ve talked to have the supernatural belief that Beane will always fleece other GM’s in trades. While that isn’t always the case, his track record has proven to me at the very least that he knows how to get value. Even if every other GM has correctly evaluated Moss’ value, then I’m confident that Beane doesn’t get fleeced himself. At the very least he knows how to find fair value. Moss has clear flaws, and while Wendle isn’t a prospect that sets the world on fire, maybe this really is all he’s worth in the market right now. The A’s could hold on to Moss as a result, but then they’d still have no place for Jaso (if we assume his days behind the plate are done after consecutive years battling concussions) and Moss’ contract would still be on the books. With Moss gone and Samardzija’s trade looming, that’s easily $15 million off the books in arbitration that the A’s could use to go after someone like Chase Headley, who the fans have clamoured for as the piece which would make the Donaldson trade make so much more sense.
So, as always, I’ll hold full judgment on this trade until Opening Day. Billy Beane never makes trades in isolation, and the next few weeks should be very exciting. Losing Moss for a 24-year-old who isn’t Major League ready is 25-30 home runs that we have no replacement for isn’t fun, but if the A’s want to maximize value on Moss this may very well be it. If we don’t want to get used to Sogard/Parrino as a middle infield duo for the next few years, then we have to accept that this may be the best option for remedying the issue. I’ll miss Brandon Moss, but I’m hopeful as always that the final result will be a better A’s team.Next post: Pouring Foundations: Cubs Bring Back Jason Hammel in the Morning, Begin Next Step at Night
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