A’s, Angels Engage in Intra-Division Challenge Trade

After a rumor filled day with no real action, it looks like the last night before the trade deadline is going to bring some actual deals, and the A’s have gotten the ball rolling by picking up infielder Alberto Callaspo from the Angels in exchange for minor league infielder Grant Green.

This is an interesting trade for a number of reasons.

1. It’s an intra-division deal, with both the A’s and Angels sending players under team control beyond 2013 to a direct competitor. Intra-division trades do happen, but they often involve rentals, as a team is willing to give up a piece that might not come back to hurt them in the future in exchange for weakening a competitor’s farm system. In this case, Callaspo is under contract for 2014, and Green only has a few days of service time, so the Angels will control his rights for at least the next six years.

2. Callaspo has been exclusively a third baseman for the last three years, but the A’s don’t need a third baseman with Josh Donaldson holding down the fort at the hot corner. It is likely that Callaspo will instead move back to second base, which has been a weak spot for the A’s this year. However, Callaspo hasn’t played second base since 2010, and that was only 100 innings. His last full season at second base in 2009, he posted a -11.3 UZR/-16 DRS. The A’s are essentially going to be experimenting with Callaspo playing a spot he hasn’t regularly played in four years during a pennant race.

3. It isn’t a classic challenge trade, since Callaspo is a 30-year-old veteran and Grant Green is a 25-year-old rookie, but it isn’t that often that you see a one-for-one swap of two guys who basically play the same spot. Green is theoretically a second baseman, but no one likes his defense there and a move to third is considered likely, which is basically the same transition Callaspo made when he was 27. The A’s basically looked at Green as a second base option, decided he wasn’t good enough, and are going to replace him at the same spot with Callaspo. It’s one fringey second baseman for another, straight up.

And, looking at both sides, it’s not that hard to see why each team made this trade. For the A’s, they’re buying low on an underrated player who looks awfully similar to last year’s trade deadline hero Marco Scutaro. For reference, here are their stats over the last three calendar years, side by side.

Marco Scutaro 1746 7% 7% 0.105 0.314 0.300 0.351 0.405 0.333 105 -7.6 1.3 7.5
Alberto Callaspo 1594 10% 9% 0.093 0.277 0.264 0.336 0.357 0.308 96 19.1 -1.9 7.1

Scutaro leads the majors in contact rate this year, while Callaspo is #5. Both have basically the same offensive skillset, but Callaspo’s numbers are lower because he’s run below average BABIPs for the last few years. If he gets a BABIP bounce down the stretch while maintaining his control of the strike zone, his numbers could improve quite a bit, and he could be a solid on base guy at the top of the A’s line-up. A switch-hitter, he also gives them flexibility and some depth behind Donaldson in case of an injury, which they didn’t have previously.

And Callaspo’s contract is Oakland friendly as well. He’s making $4.1 million this year, so the A’s will end up adding around $1.3 million in payroll for the last two months, and then he’s under contract for $4.9 million next year. He’s not any kind of star, but he projects as a solid average player for a below market price, especially if he can handle second base. His track there isn’t great, but then again, guys like Matt Carpenter, Anthony Rendon, and Jedd Gyorko had no real track record there and have done just fine making the switch. The year of moving third baseman to second base continues on.

To get Callaspo, the A’s had to give up Grant Green, who probably has more offensive upside but simply wasn’t ready to help them down the stretch. The A’s gave him a very brief look a few weeks back, and he was about as bad as anyone could possibly be, going 0 for 15 and making three errors in five games at second base. Green was worth -0.7 WAR in less than a week’s worth of playing time. Five games is just five games, but those were five truly terrible games, and Green’s minor league track record doesn’t suggest that he’d be a viable option for a contender this year.

The Angels may very well move Green to third base to replace Callaspo and the bat has some potential, so in a couple of years, the Angels may have a decent role player while the A’s have nothing. The Angels certainly aren’t contenders this year and could probably afford to upgrade on Callaspo at third base next year anyway, so they free up $5 million in budget space and get a kid that they can give a couple hundred at-bats to and see if he’s capable of handling third base for the future.

It’s not the most impactful trade of the night — don’t worry, there will be a write-up on this Jake Peavy/Red Sox trade coming once we know who is going where — but it’s still a pretty nice little transaction for both teams. Callaspo is a nice upgrade for the A’s, while Green gives the Angels some potential future value and a little bit of extra spending money this winter.

See GMs, intra-division trades can be fun. Do them more often.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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