Grading the Oakland Athletics' Moves so Far This Offseason
The old adage of "you win some, you lose some" sure rings true when it comes to the moves the Oakland Athletics have made so far this offseason. Assembling a bullpen of this caliber could be an A+ by itself. But the A's failed to fill crucial holes with big trade chips.
The starting rotation is young and talented.
Bartolo Colon was the lone veteran of the staff, but he became a free agent. Rather than look internally, the A's filled Colon's spot in the rotation with another free agent.
The bullpen was outstanding in 2013. At times there were moments when fans were forced to hold their breath, but in general, they were a force to be reckoned with. And Grant Balfour's consecutive saves streak was the icing on the cake. Unfortunately, he too is a free agent, so the A's went ahead and filled his spot through a trade.
On paper, the lineup is filled with quality hitters from Yoenis Cespedes to Brandon Moss. But with so many question marks—can Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie repeat career years?—it would have been wise to solidify this lineup.
Instead, Oakland made one strength stronger and one weakness weaker. All the while they tinkered with the farm.
As we head into the holiday break, see how well the A's did on their end-of-year finals.
Signed Philip Humber
Starting pitcher Philip Humber owns a career record of 16-23 with an ERA of 5.31.
In 2011 and 2012, Humber managed to end both seasons with an even record. And though his ERA ballooned from 3.75 to 6.44 in that span, he did pitch a perfect game in the early goings of the 2012 season.
Unfortunately, he went winless in 2013. Finishing 0-8, Humber's ERA rose to 7.90.
The good news is that Oakland signed him to a minor league deal. That means the signing shouldn't cost them more than $1 million. You could say it's a low-risk, high-reward move. But it's more like a low-risk, average-reward move.
If it works, awesome. If it doesn't, oh well. But the chances of it working are low.
Signed Nick Punto
Looking at the roster, it seemed clear that second base was one of Oakland's "weaknesses." So it was underwhelming when the team signed utility infielder Nick Punto.
The 36-year-old likely will see the majority of his time at second base.
Punto has had many up and down seasons. He's hit as high as .284 (not including hitting .400 in only four games in 2001) and as low as .210 (not including the nine games only he played in 2002). You never really know what you're going to get from Punto.
He's not an upgrade over Eric Sogard or Alberto Callaspo, though. The A's could have used one.
The move itself is pretty plain. It's a move that added infield depth. But due to the expectations that the next second baseman acquired or signed would be an upgrade, and Punto isn't, it drops the grade.
Signed Fernando Nieve
The good news is that Fernando Nieve won't cost the A's much. The bad news is that the 31-year-old journeyman hasn't pitched in the majors since 2010. For the last three years, he's been stuck in Triple-A.
He's been pretty up and down throughout his career, but in the last several years, it's been more down. Between 2007 and 2012, his ERA was below 5.00 once.
Perhaps in 2013, he finally figured it out.
Nieve finished the season 6-3 with a 1.89 ERA. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was an impressive 4.57. Oakland's bullpen is stacked as it is, so the chances Nieve makes the big league roster are slim, even if he maintains his current production.
For now, it's a move for the Triple-A squad.
Traded John Wooten for Fernando Abad
The A's sent minor leaguer John Wooten to the Washington Nationals.
Wooten is a soon-to-be 23-year-old outfielder who has yet to rise above Single-A. Last season, he hit .257 with 20 home runs and 69 RBI.
In return, Oakland receives reliever Fernando Abad.
What the team will get out of Abad is yet to be seen. In two out of three of the years he spent with the Houston Astros, he faltered. In those two bad seasons, he went 1-10 with a 5.76 ERA. But in 2013, he finished with a 3.35 ERA and had career bests in strikeouts-to-walks ratio, strikeouts per nine and home runs allowed per nine.
Wooten wasn't a major prospect and is years away from the majors. Abad can add bullpen pitching depth immediately.
Traded Jemile Weeks and David Freitas for Jim Johnson
Closer Grant Balfour had an All-Star year for Oakland in 2013, his first in a 10-year career. A closer for two seasons now, the almost 36-year-old has earned himself a decently large contract—one big enough that the A's chose not to re-sign him.
Instead, they traded for Jim Johnson.
In the last two seasons, Johnson saved 41 more games. Of course, he blew more saves as well. A deeper comparison of the two dating back to 2011 (covering all three years Balfour spent in Oakland) shows Johnson should be more than capable of filling Balfour's shoes.
Johnson's ERA is 2.70 compared to Balfour's 2.53. Johnson has given up slightly less home runs and walks but has more runs allowed. Balfour struck out over 50 more batters, though.
Either way, the A's replaced an All-Star closer with a younger All-Star closer.
And to get Johnson, the Athletics gave up Jemile Weeks, who found himself in a logjam at second base, and catcher David Freitas who just cracked Triple-A in 2013 as a 24-year-old.
The only way this earns an even better grade is if Balfour signs somewhere for more money than the A's will pay Johnson.
Traded Michael Choice and Chris Bostick for Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom
The Oakland A's traded one of their top prospects for what will likely be a fourth outfielder. The question is: What's the point?
Michael Choice could have been the fourth outfielder.
The argument in favor of Craig Gentry is his speed and defense. But with Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick in the three starting spots, speed and defense clearly aren't a problem.
Choice has been consistent throughout his career in the minors and in a short stint with the A's. He hit .285 in Single-A, .287 in Double-A and .302 in Triple-A. In nine MLB games, he hit .278. He's young, consistent and had promise.
And the A's sent him to their rival.
In Gentry, Oakland gets an older, similar talent. He does have more experience, though.
Additionally, the Athletics added yet another bullpen arm. Josh Lindblom has played for three different teams in three years. Oakland makes it four in four. And as he's traveled, his ERA has too—traveled upward. With a bevy of relief arms already, it's difficult seeing a need for Lindblom.
Lastly, the A's sent Chris Bostick to the Texas Rangers with Choice. The 20-year-old showed promise in 2013, hitting .282 with 14 home run, 89 RBI and 25 stolen bases. He's years away from the major league level but could have been an option at second base in a few years.
Traded Seth Smith for Luke Gregerson
Player for player, it's debatable who is better or more important to a team between Seth Smith and Luke Gregerson. It's difficult to compare the two because one is a designated hitter and the other is a reliever.
With Smith, the A's got flashes of production. But overall, 2013 was a bit disappointing and an upgrade at DH would not have made many upset.
Instead, general manager Billy Beane nabbed another reliever.
Gregerson has been really good throughout his career. He owns a career 2.88 ERA in five seasons. He strikes out about nine per nine innings and strikes out 3.56 to every walk. He averages two hit batters per year and two wild pitches per year, which indicates great control. Overall, the trade gave the A's one of the most dominant bullpens on paper heading into 2014.
The trouble is that the bullpen was fairly strong already, and the lineup needed help.
Essentially, the move makes the bullpen even better and the lineup even weaker.
Signed Scott Kazmir
At 40 years old, Bartolo Colon won 18 games with a 2.65 ERA.
Age aside, that production could earn a pitcher a massive contract, but that's just the problem. You can't ignore the age. In 2014, Colon will be 41. No matter the recent numbers, offering anything more than a one-year deal would be risky.
So the A's looked elsewhere.
Instead, they signed Scott Kazmir, who won 10 games with a 4.04 ERA. The hope is that, after three bad years and one year out of Major League Baseball, his 2013 production is the start of a rebound.
For a two-year, $22 million deal, the A's are taking quite the gamble.
But it hasn't been all bad for Kazmir. The man is a two-time All-Star and placed ninth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2005. He also strung together five seasons in a row with a winning record.
But that was in his early 20s. He turns 30 in January.
Between the two, Colon has stood the test of time, pitching more effectively and for a longer period than Kazmir. If the A's were going to hand out a $22 million contract, the better bet would have been Colon.
Brett Anderson Traded for Drew Pomeranz and Chris Jensen
Trading Brett Anderson seemed inevitable. Getting quality in return seemed doubtful.
Anderson is characterized as a talented young pitcher with a history of injuries. The concern is that the injuries occur too frequently, and in the past year or two, the talent hasn't quite been as high.
So it was a given the A's wouldn't be getting a superstar in return.
The swap seems about even, but it fails overall. Oakland needs help in the lineup. And to this point in this article, they signed a utility infielder, traded one of their best prospects and traded their starting DH. Then, they signed or acquired nine pitchers (including the two here).
The need was a hitter. That didn't get filled.
In return, the A's get two guys who might not ever make the big league roster. Chris Jensen is a long shot, and it's unknown whether Drew Pomeranz will be on the 25-man roster or start in Triple-A. Heck, it's unknown whether he'll be a starter or a reliever. He's a wild card, much like Anderson.
A wild card for a wild card.
Anderson should have been used in a package for a bat. The one pro, at least, is that his contract is no longer Oakland's responsibility.
Traded Jerry Blevins for Billy Burns
This trade almost doesn't make sense.
The A's have a stacked bullpen, and that is partially due to Jerry Blevins. Having him in the pen in 2014 would have given the A's Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle and Blevins. Sounds impressive, right?
Instead, the A's chose to ship Blevins to the Nationals for a minor leaguer. Early in the month, they sent a minor league outfielder to the Nationals for a reliever. So in the long run, the A's come up with the better minor league outfielder and the worse reliever.
But if they're in it to win it now, the guy who would have contributed the most in Oakland (of the four involved here) would have been Blevins. So the team made itself worse in that regard.
The move must have been made to shed Blevins' contract.
He made $1.1 million in 2013 and is set to become arbitration eligible in 2014. You can bet he'll make much more. So the A's do get a high-quality prospect now while they can. Blevins is cheap, and his trade value is high. But he'll soon be more expensive, and his trade value could always decrease.
So that could be seen as a win.
For the short term, this isn't a great move. For the long term, this move makes complete sense. The two even each other out.