On Saturday, Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane began the offseason in earnest by flipping middle infielder Cliff Pennington and a prospect to the Arizona Diamondbacks for outfielder Chris Young. In a vacuum, flipping Pennington for the more-talented Young makes the trade a win for Oakland.
However, trades cannot be considered in isolation. The fact is that the A's already have a full compliment of outfielders and designated hitters with Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith under contract for next season.
Shortstop remains a question mark, however. Stephen Drew has a $10 million mutual option for next season that he would be wise to walk away from given the weakness of the free agent crop at shortstop.
If Drew walks away from his option and goes elsewhere in free agency, the A's will be stuck with Adam Rosales at shortstop, who is an inferior option to Pennington in my view.
Pennington had an awful year last season, but the .257/.319/.369 batting line that he put up in 2010 and 2011 is closer to his true talent level and more than adequate for a good defensive shortstop.
Even if the A's can keep Drew on the one-year option, they'll be paying $18 million combined for him and Young next season compared to what would likely be around $2 million for Pennington, who is entering his first year of arbitration.
For a team on a shoestring budget like the A's, the finances of these trades are very important. Upgrading from Pennington to Drew and Young makes sense on the field, but does it make sense when you factor in the cost?
There are also some reasons to be skeptical about Young. He fits the mold of player that the A's are valuing these days because he has patience (10 percent career walk rate), speed (16 career runs added on the bases), power (.437 career slugging percentage) and a good glove (plus-18.5 career Ultimate Zone Rating).
However, Young strikes out a lot, struggles with right-handed pitching (.718 career OPS vs. righties compared to .860 vs. lefties) and has struggled away from hitter-friendly Chase Field in Arizona (.719 career road OPS vs. .791 at home).
Young's defense and speed will translate to O.co Coliseum, but his power will likely suffer in the transition from a hitter-friendly park to a pitcher-friendly one.
There's also the question of where exactly he's going to play. He's a better center fielder than Crisp, so the logical move would be to play him in center, Crisp in left, Reddick in right and Cespedes at DH. Against some righties, the A's can play the left-handed Smith at DH, Cespedes in left and the switch-hitting Crisp in center.
This trade likely spells the end of Jonny Gomes' tenure with the A's. Gomes hit .262/.377/.491 while forming the right-handed portion of the DH platoon with Smith last season.
Perhaps Beane has something else up his sleeve.
He could deal Crisp, though he has already publicly stated to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle that he doesn't plan to do so. He could deal Cespedes or Reddick for a boatload of talent, but that seems unlikely as well. He could also decide that once the dust settles on free agency, Young's price tag will go up, and he can then flip him for more talent than he gave up.
Usually, whenever Beane makes a deal, I give him the benefit of the doubt because of his excellent track record. However, unless he has another move in mind with his surplus of outfielders, on this rare occasion, I don't like the move.
Given the cost and the fact that the A's already have good players under contact in the outfield and at DH but less depth under contract at shortstop, the move doesn't improve them substantially in my view.
Young is a good player, but he struggles with right-handed pitching and his power should suffer at O.co.