Oakland Athletics: Was Trading Kurt Suzuki Addition by Subtraction?

Matt HinesCorrespondent IAugust 3, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 30:  Kurt Suzuki #8 of the Oakland Athletics watches the flight of his ball as he hits an RBI double driving in Chris Carter #22 (not pictured) in the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at O.co Coliseum on July 30, 2012 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

While we’ve learned not to question Billy Beane and his seemingly heinous transactions over the years, it’s awfully difficult to wrap your head around the post deadline Kurt Suzuki trade. The A’s sent their long-time fan-favorite catcher and cash considerations to the Washington Nationals in exchange for catching prospect David Freitas.

Oakland sits just 4.5 games out at the time of the deal. While Suzuki’s season-long slump has diminished his value to the A’s lineup and kept him on the bench for a good portion of the season, it can be a bit difficult to grasp why the A’s would appear to be sellers at this point, dealing for a prospect as the team prepares to make a playoff run.

Suzuki’s struggles behind the plate were well publicized, but he did appear to be heating up though in his final days at the Coliseum. His five game hitting streak had recently re-endeared himself to A’s fans, most notably hitting his first home run in over a year during a July 22 bout with the New York Yankees. Suzuki had raised his average eight points to .218 over the week and appeared to be finally regaining his stroke in Oakland.

Suzuki was recently made expendable by Athletics, who will now turn to trade acquisition George Kottaras and recall rookie Derek Norris from Triple-A Sacramento to handle their catching duties. Kottaras looked a bit uncomfortable calling his first American league game in his first start with the A’s, an 8-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, with Oakland’s ace, Tommy Milone, allowing five runs through six innings. However, he appeared to settle down nicely by helping guide Bartolo Colon to seven shutout innings in a 4-1 win over Toronto on August 2.

Kottaras was hitting just .207 with the Milwaukee Brewers, but subsidized his low batting average with a .402 OBP. He’s the type of moneyball player Beane loves to have on his roster, and could potentially be a sizable upgrade over Suzuki should he master his duties behind the plate.

Norris, on the other hand, had just been sent down to the minors on July 30 after a month and a half long stint at the big league level. He got off to steadfast start, including a seven game hitting streak, but as the month of July wore on, Norris’ batting numbers plummeted to the cellar. He finished July hitting just .130 with a .217 OBP. However, the 23-year-old has a considerably higher ceiling than Suzuki, and if he can regain some of the pop he had when he first got to the show, manager Bob Melvin will have two solid backstop assistants at his disposal.

So while it might hurt the hearts of A’s fans that their long-time catcher is on his way to DC, and brings considerable risk to their backstop situation, the move might actually pay off for Oakland. Suzuki was a liability, eating away critical at-bats for a lineup which already ranks in the bottom half of the league (24th).

Freitas won’t be able to contribute to the team this year, but by shaving the dead weight of Suzuki off the roster and inserting Kottaras/Norris, the A’s might have discreetly improved their lineup while giving up almost nothing in return.

It’s infuriating at times (most of the time) watching Beane do his dirty work, but die-hard A’s fans are accustomed to these type of moves by their legendary GM by now. Making something out of nothing is a hard task, but Beane consistently finds a way to do so year, after year, after year. For now, Beane and fans alike will just have to keep their fingers crossed that this latest gamble will pay off for the Athletics.