When the A’s acquired Craig Gentry from the Rangers earlier today, it seemed somewhat clear that another outfielder would have to be moved. With Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, and Seth Smith already taking roster spots, there was maybe not a lot of room for Gentry, even with a DH spot to utilize. Something had to give. For the time being, that something is Seth Smith. In a straight-up deal, the A’s sent Smith down the coast to San Diego in exchange for — you guessed it — a reliever.
In trading away Luke Gregerson, the Padres cast off one of their top two relievers — or top three if you count Dale Thayer‘s mustache. Gregerson had a good strikeout rate in 2013, kept his walks down, and had a groundball rate just a little under 50%. He wasn’t a lights-out reliever, but he was serviceable — more than serviceable, in fact. But Gregerson doesn’t need to be a super-valuable pick up, because he’s simply a piece in a bullpen that just keeps getting better.
The A’s are going to lose Grant Balfour, who is a good reliever. But they’ve since picked up Jim Johnson, who is also a good reliever. Now, by adding Gregerson, they’ve bolstered an already-stacked bullpen. These are the A’s top six relievers as it stands right now.
That combo combined for 6.2 wins above replacement in 2013. That number would have been third best for a bullpen, and 1.1 wins better than the 2013 relief corps Oakland used. Of course filling out the back end of the bullpen, along with possible injuries and some regression here and there will cause that number to vacillate a little in 2014, but overall it’s going to be a formidable staff.
There’s an ever-circulating idea in baseball — and many major sports — of “going for it.” At certain points, owners and GMs decide that if their team is going to make a run at a championship, than that particular time is the right time to do so. It’s the YOLO principle grafted onto a baseball team. This realization is usually accompanied by some sort of eyebrow-raising transaction. A big trade may be made to bring on top-level talent. Perhaps a big-name free agent can be signed to a large deal, with the idea that the value he can bring at the present will give the team the boost it needs, and they can worry about all those declining years at a later time. I’d give examples, but you probably already thought of a bunch while you read this paragraph.
The A’s have strung together two very good seasons, and are primed to make a push for the World Series. Unfortunately for them, they don’t have the luxury of going for it in the traditional way. They don’t have the luxury of doing a lot of things the traditional way. They usually trade their stars for prospects, not the other way around. The Matt Holliday deal of 2009 is an exception, but he was still making less that $10 million at the time. For the most part, Oakland has had to do what it could to try and stay competitive with a payroll that can’t even cover the Yankees infield. This we already knew.
So when the A’s do go for it, they have to do so in a manner that fits their limited budget and their long-term goals. So, actually, the exact opposite of how its usually done. One way they can do it is with relievers. Relievers are fairly cheap, readily available, and easily flip-able. And, lets be honest, a strong bullpen is almost a must-have these days if a team is looking to make a playoff run. The A’s bullpen made up a little under a third of the pitching staff’s RA9-WAR in 2013. They are building where they can, and they are building well. The A’s are living within their means, but still trying to live life to the fullest.
Which leaves us with the Padres. As we so often like to pick a winner and a loser of a trade, it might be easy to pick the Padres as the losers. In adding Smith, they bring on another outfielder to try and find at-bats for. Since San Diego doesn’t have the luxury of a DH — and Yonder Alonso can really only play first base — they have five outfielders in Smith, Carlos Quentin, Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, and Cameron Maybin. This is what we in the analyst circles call a logjam. Smith is really only useful against right-handed pitching, and should be relegated to platoon duties, but keeping five somewhat-valuable outfielders seems odd. It appears reasonable to expect some sort of trade. Denorfia seems the most likely candidate — due to his low cost and career year in 2013 — but perhaps a team is willing to take on the $20 million owed to Cameron Maybin (or try and get the Padres to cover some of it) and give him a change of scenery and a second chance. It just seems like something has to be done. Gregerson and Smith make pretty much the same amount of money, so this wasn’t some sort of salary dump, and it’s hard to believe the Padres are trying to buy low on an average-fielding 31-year-old with a fairly extreme platoon split who becomes a free agent in 2015. This seems like the part of a larger plan. Until the rest of it materializes, this side of the deal is hard to judge.
So, the A’s get better and the Padres get Seth Smith. That’s where we stand. Oakland is setting up for another playoff run and San Diego is perhaps setting up for a trade that will help their team in the future. Or they just hate their announcers and want to make them say Seth Smith a thousand times. Either way, a good time for the fans, no doubt.
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