The one residual effect from Moneyball that I admire the most about Billy Beane is how significant he remains in baseball pop culture. Anytime he makes a signing, trade, or draft selection, everyone – even his grandmother – takes two looks at the transaction. That notion is in overdrive with his latest move.
As recently as 24 hours ago, the Athletics’ third base depth chart featured: the always-injured Eric Chavez; the more-than-svelte Tommy Everidge (now Mariners’ property); and not-really-a-third-baseman-at-all Jake Fox. Tonight the order looks a bit different as the A’s acquired Kevin Kouzmanoff and Eric Sogard from the Padres for Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Kouzmanoff is everything that the Moneyball caricature of Beane disliked. He rarely walks (4.9% career) and expands his strike zone often. A raw offensive line of .261/.308/.435 causes him to appear as a below average batter, although our park adjustments have him in the black over the last three seasons combined. Kouzmanoff’s offensive game is more pop-based than a 13-year-old’s diet. The park he’s moving from isn’t much friendlier than the one he’s frantically fleeing and he’s moving to the American League. Don’t expect too much of an upswing. Kouzmanoff’s value comes from his position and ability to defend the position better than the average. Give him credit for consistent WAR values, if nothing else, as he’s been worth 2.7 or 2.8 WAR for each of the past three seasons. He’ll probably be worth 2.5-3 wins next year as well and has three seasons of team control remaining.
Sogard, on the other hand, walks like crazy. He turns 24 in May and plays second base while batting lefty. In 2008 he walked in nearly 13% of the time in High-A and 11% in 2009 at Double-A. He’s not a power hitter and Marc Hulet pegged him as the left-handed part of a platoon or future utility player.
In exchange, the Athletics give up two seasons of Hairston and six of Cunningham. Both are right-handed outfielders with Hairston holding the ability to play a Major League quality center right away. Hairston was acquired from the Padres just last July and his run with Oakland can’t be described much kinder than “awful”. Hairston held a .279 wOBA in 248 plate appearances with the A’s, which was probably in the 1% percentile of unlikely results given his .390 wOBA in 216 plate trips with San Diego.
The A’s have a loaded outfield already: Coco Crisp, Ryan Sweeney, Rajai Davis, and Travis Buck. Clearly they have the means to go with a three-centerfielder outfield already, and Hairston was not going to DH with Jack Cust returning. This leads to Cunningham. His status as the most desirable outfield prospect within the system was in danger with Michael Taylor sitting near. Cunningham turns 24 years old in just three months and he has nothing to prove at the Triple-A level anymore (an .899 OPS through nearly 460 plate appearances).
Acquired in the Dan Haren trade, Cunningham was blocked by Matt Holiday last year and seemingly lacked opportunity to break into the Athletics’ lineup this season as well. It’s silly to say that Beane sold high on Cunningham. Instead, it seems he sold before Cunningham lost too much of his previous luster. Whether the A’s simply held low evaluations of Cunningham nowadays or he was lost in a numbers game is a mystery.
This move improves the Athletics in 2010, but not enough to make a serious push for the division. Kouzmanoff for Hairston is fine, it’s the other two pieces that I’m unsure of. Unless I’m missing something or too optimistic on Cunningham, I think the edge has to go to San Diego here.