A’s Trade Interesting Bat for Fantastic Glove

This off-season is nuts. Every day, there are interesting moves, including some pretty fun trades that just go beyond the normal prospects-for-rent-a-veteran template that we’re all accustomed to. Today, there have been a bunch of moves, but perhaps none is more interesting from a pure baseball perspective than a swap of non-household names between the Rangers and A’s.

The move shapes up like this: the A’s trade outfield prospect Michael Choice and infield prospect Chris Bostick to the Rangers for outfielder Craig Gentry and reliever Josh Lindblom. Bostick and Lindblom are secondary pieces of some potential value, but this deal is mostly about Choice and Gentry. And the differing skillsets from those two players makes this a pretty fun challenge trade.

Choice is a 24-year-old corner outfielder whose value is going to be primarily tied to his bat. A former first round pick, Choice has hit fairly well in his minor league career, but hasn’t yet displayed the kind of power that one might expect from a corner outfielder built a linebacker. Despite playing in the PCL, Choice posted just a .143 ISO in 600 plate appearances last year, which followed a .136 ISO in 400 plate appearances in Double-A in 2012. Power certainly can develop later, and Choice looks like he should hit for power, but his recent minor league performances cast some doubt on how soon that power might translate into the big leagues.

That said, Steamer is relatively optimistic about Choice, projecting him as a slightly above average (106 wRC+) hitter in 2014. While he’s not a defensive wiz, he’s athletic enough to hold his own in a corner spot, and there’s value in a guy who can provide league average offense and not embarrass himself with the glove in right or left field. And this is just his 2014 projection; with some improvement and more development, Choice might turn into a pretty effective everyday player down the line.

So, the A’s are trading some away a cheap source of potential offense, which is not exactly what you expect from a team that has historically hoarded young cost controlled talent. In several years, Choice may be a regular on their division rival, and trading a young player with some potential to a team in your division is usually not something most GMs are eager to do. However, the A’s are surrendering Choice’s future for the chance to make their 2014 team even better, and Craig Gentry has a chance to push their team forward in the short term.

This might be a weird thing to say about a 30 year old who has spent his career as a reserve, but even as a non-everyday player, Gentry can make a real impact, because of the crazy value he creates with his legs. During his time in Texas, Gentry was frequently used as a pinch runner and defensive replacement, so while he doesn’t always start games, he often finishes them. And because of those partial games, he’s managed to create some serious value even as a non-starter.

In his career, Gentry has had 317 opportunities to steal a base, according to Baseball-Reference’s data. He’s attempted a steal on 66 of those 317 chances, or 21% of the time he’s had the chance to run, and has been successful on 56 of those 66 attempts, an 85% success rate. For reference, those rates are virtually equal to what Jacoby Ellsbury has posted in his career. As a baserunner, Gentry has roughly been Ellsbury’s equal, even despite losing any element of surprise after being inserted as a pinch runner.

Over a full season’s worth of playing time, this kind of baserunning can be worth nearly a full win, as Ellsbury has averaged +8 runs from baserunning per 600 plate appearances in his career. Of course, Gentry won’t get 600 plate appearances unless something goes terribly wrong in Oakland, but even as a 300 plate appearance guy with regular pinch running and defensive replacement innings, he shouldn’t have much of a problem creating half a win just with his value on the bases.

And then there’s the defense. Over the last three years, here is the UZR/150 leaderboard for players with at least 1,000 innings in center field.

1. Craig Gentry, +30.4
2. A.J. Pollock, +24.2
3. Lorenzo Cain, +23.2
4. Carlos Gomez, +21.0
5. Peter Bourjos, +14.0

Defensive statistics are not perfect, and require significant regression when building a future projection, but Gentry hasn’t just been a good defender, he’s been exceptional. Regress a +30 UZR/150 even by 2/3rds and you’re still left with an elite defensive player. Yeah, we only have 1,500 innings worth of data for Gentry in center field, but those 1,500 innings suggest that he’s one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. Which is what we’d expect from an absurdly fast player who has already established his running skills on the base paths.

Even if we just call Gentry a +10 defender in center field over a full season going forward, we’re now basically saying he’s a +1.5 to +2.0 WAR player (per 600 plate appearances) before he ever steps to the plate. And unlike some other speed-and-defense specialists, he’s not a nothing as a hitter.

He has no power, but his career line is still .280/.355/.366, good for a 96 wRC+, making him roughly a league average hitter. Yes, as a right-handed hitter who has served as a part of a platoon, he has gotten the advantage of facing his fair share of lefties, so you’d have to lower the expectations a bit if he was pushed into more regular playing time, but the adjustment isn’t as large as you might think. For his career, Gentry’s split of facing RHPs and LHPs is 50/50, while the average right-handed hitter is usually around 58/42 or so. Move 8% of his plate appearances from the vs LHP column to the versus RHP column and you lower his wRC+ from 96 to 94.

In many ways, Gentry is very similar to Peter Bourjos, as a slightly below average hitter who adds a lot of value in the field and on the bases. Gentry’s a little older and might see more age-related decline sooner, and he probably won’t profile as a full time player in Oakland, but even as a super sub, expecting +2 to +3 WAR is entirely reasonable. And he provides a really nice insurance policy in case of injury to any of the A’s regular starters.

For the $1 million or so that he’ll get in arbitration, Gentry’s going to provide a lot of value for the 2014 A’s, and they’ll retain his rights for 2015 and 2016 as well. It is certainly possible that he could move into the starting CF role for those years, depending on what the team does with Coco Crisp after his contract expires. The A’s have acquired three years of a guy who should be able to provide real value in center field, either as an often used reserve or a starter when the need arises.

Giving up Choice’s long term value for Gentry’s shorter term productivity shows how far the A’s have moved into win-now mode. They’re not building for the future; they’re trying desperately to take advantage of their chance to win while they have a team that can compete for the AL West title. Gentry pushes the A’s 2014 hopes forward, while Choice gives the Rangers some longer term value to try and offset the downgrade of losing Gentry.

It’s a fun trade without an obvious winner or loser. It’s a present for future trade, but also an offense for defense trade. Toss in the intra-division aspect of this, and we might not see a more fun trade all winter. The A’s are certainly being aggressive in maximizing their 2014 value, and are no longer operating as a team primarily concerned about retaining young talent to maintain long term competition. Moving a prospect like Choice for a piece like Gentry shows that the A’s are pushing their chips in now. If used liberally, Gentry may very well justify the cost.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

40 Responses to “A’s Trade Interesting Bat for Fantastic Glove”

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  1. Rippers says:

    Brad Pitt does it again.

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  2. Uncle Randy says:

    Which do you like more: Freese for Bourjos or Choice for Gentry?

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  3. Steven says:

    I think Chris Bostick is valued a good amount better than Lindblom. But even so, I agree that it’s a good trade for the A’s.

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  4. TheGrandslamwich says:

    Hopefully this means the A’s can avoid a situation like last year where Brandon Moss was the only opening day 1B to play centerfield.

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    • Billy says:

      Good God, I missed that. What the hell happened? Were Crisp, Reddick, Cespedes, Young and every other outfielder all unavailable? If Moss was in center, then I hate to think of who was playing left and right. I think I’d rather shove Jemile Weeks out there and pray than let Moss play center.

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      • TheGrandslamwich says:

        If I remember correctly it was in May when Crisp and Young were on the DL, and Reddick was out with his nagging wrist issues. Cespedes started in Center, Moss in right. Then during the 5th or 6th inning Cespedes apparently vomited in the clubhouse/dugout and had to be pulled from the game. Moss took over in center for the rest of it but nothing was hit to him.

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      • TheGrandslamwich says:

        Just checked Moss’ page. Moss actually had 7 innings in CF on the year.

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  5. Brian Ichi says:

    When I first saw this I had no idea why the A’s would trade a prototype A’s player: Power/Walks for a 30-year old platoon OF. Thank you for opening my eyes to Gentry and his defensive prowess. Plus keeping him in CF after Coco likely leaves after 2014 makes more sense now that I can understand the full picture.

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  6. crapshoot says:

    Oakland’s outfield defense is just ridiculous.

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    • GilaMonster says:

      They still have Cespedes.

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      • here goes nothing says:

        Cespedes has always had the tools. At full sprint he is a beast, and he has a cannon. Last year he started putting it together. 10 assists and improved his Def value from -14.5 to -0.5.

        Oakland’s outfield defense is indeed going to be ridiculous.

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        • here goes nothing says:

          Impossible to concentrate today, so I made this instead.
          wRC+ values are for last two years against LH or RH. I didn’t want to do the work of looking up Steamer individually, plus I always like to look at Steamer in comparison to other projections which aren’t up yet, so these have to do. A plus sign means a plus defender.
          v LHP
          cf Gentry (126)
          2b Callaspo (124)
          3b Donnie (159)
          lf Cespy (137)
          c Norris (140)
          1b Freiman (125)
          dh Lowrie (105)
          ss Punto (109)
          rf Reddick (98)
          v. RHP
          cf Crisp (127)
          c Jaso (150)
          ss Lowrie (123)
          dh Moss (158)
          3b Donaldson (117)
          lf Cespedes (111)
          rf Reddick (107)
          1b Barton (104)
          2b Sogie (80 but 93 last year)
          c: Jaso, Norris
          1b: Moss, Barton
          2b: Callaspo, Sogard
          3b: Donaldson
          ss: Lowrie, Punto
          lf: Cespedes
          cf: Crisp, Gentry
          rf: Reddick
          That’s thirteen position players. Plus defense in OF, plus plus with Gentry. Vogt, Parrino, Taylor, and Peterson would probably see time as backups.
          That leaves twelve pitcher spots.
          SP1: Parker
          2: Anderson
          3: Gray
          4: Kazmir
          5: Griffin/Straily
          (Griffin/Straily, Milone, Lindblom, Werner)
          RP1: Johnson
          2: Cook
          3: Doo
          4: Otero
          5: Blevins
          6, 7: Lindblom/Scribner/Abad/Chavez
          Almost certainly someone from the staff will be hurt, but there’s depth.
          You could deal a starter, but for what? Seems better to me right now to value the depth there, UNLESS a serious LH bat–probably at 1b or lf/rf, though maybe 2b–presented itself. (Bautista? Tulo? both would take too much, probably.)
          I’m too fond of Anderson–who Steamer sees as the best per-inning starter–to think dealing him, especially at the low point of his value, is a good idea. (I also think he could be very valuable in bullpen if injury woes continue.)
          We’re still months off and I can’t wait. Amazing balance. Tell me this isn’t beautiful. Bummed we lost Bostick, not sure Lindblom is better than him, but it looks like we’re going for it. Amen for that.

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        • That Guy says:

          Cespedes was in interesting case in 2012 – my eye test had him misjudging balls into the gap with regularity, and with the way the ball would tail from the CF and back to the LF, I could imagine that made his numbers sore. Again, the eye test – he made more of those plays last year. I could imagine him being a beast of a defensive LF with his tools and more reps at that spot.

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  7. The Obvious says:

    “defensive whiz”

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  8. ralph says:

    Did Texas just get more for Gentry + Lindblom than Detroit got for Fister?

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    • JuanPierreDoesSteroids says:

      Like I said in the Fister comments, if Detroit thinks that little of Fister, they may as well have sent him to Texas with Fielder for Kinsler.

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      • ralph says:

        Adding to the “how little does Detroit of Fister?” game is the fact that they’re paying Joe Nathan about $20 million over the next two years, which is the same amount being bandied about with respect to what Fister will cost over the next two years.

        Not to mention that the Tigers probably would/could make Fister a qualifying offer after 2015 and nab a much-needed draft pick, a pick I have to think is at least of similar value to Robbie Ray.

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    • DrWhat says:

      The fact that it’s on the same level is hilarious, which says more about Detroit than Texas (although I think they won this one)

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  9. JuanPierreDoesSteroids says:

    Choice/Adducci, Choice/Moreland, or Choice/Engel Beltre platoon for the Rangers?

    Pretty interesting trade all around.

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  10. Jon L. says:

    Taken together with their acquisition of Jim Johnson, could this suggest that the A’s believe their team as a whole is well-positioned to win, and are now focusing their efforts on high-leverage situations? Johnson can help tip the odds in games that are close in the late innings, and Gentry can help by spelling a less gifted defender when they have a late lead.

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    • TexasRanger says:

      This is exactly what I was thinking, now with the Gregerson trade, that pen is going to be straight nasty. Have the A’s been connected at all to David Price? It would be cool to be the same them fill out the edges and then just smack one out of the park towards the end of the offseason.

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    • Forrest Gumption says:

      A late-innings OF of Gentry-Crisp-Reddick = no hits are falling in. The MOST range imaginable.

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  11. Josh says:

    The A’s are cooking up a really interesting team. It’s always fun to imagine how one player would fit on another team, but usually you do that with star players. The A’s are kind of doing that with all these minor parts from other teams.

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  12. Forrest Gumption says:

    Beane just took his 0.5 WAR 4th in Chris Young and upgraded to the 3.4 WAR Gentry. A 3 win improvement for an unproven guy who’s ceiling rests on his power. Liked Bostick though, he was also a Top 10 A’s prospect, he probably won’t ever play for the Rangers though.

    This trade favors the A’s in 2014, but might not in 2015.

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    • Aggie E says:

      Gentry is a nice player, but I imagine he had a career year with the bat, but his defense and base-running should continue to provide considerable value..

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  13. rubesandbabes says:

    Nice Article.

    Not really all with it to call down the Moneyball II A’s as looking to fall out of contention in 2016…

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  14. Dave says:

    Like the deal for both sides. As a Rangers fan, I hate to see Gentry go and worse, end up playing for a rival, but I guess the same can be said for A’s fans when they see Choice play for the Rangers.
    Gentry is a very underrated player who has improved every year over the last 3 years and was worth 3.6 WAR BR/ 3.4WAR Fangraphs last year in a limited role. I definitely think he will provide at least that much value at the A’s park if he is given the same number of defensive innings and plate appearances.
    Regarding Choice, this trade is all about how his potential will end up translating to actual production. Rangers bought low on Nellie Cruz who was an even older player at the time we acquired him and were able to make him into a productive OFer, so maybe they have a plan in place for Choice as well. Josh Hamilton was another OFer they bought low on and were able to turn into a star with regular playing time. Hopefully Choice follows in these players’ footsteps. With that said, I do wonder if Choice’s power will ever materialize into actual production. He did hit 30HRs at the High A level in the minors, but never came close to replicating that total in any of his other years in the minors. Hopefully the Rangers saw something they think they can fix to help Choice live up to his potential. On the plus side, perhaps returning home will help him since he’s from the Dallas area and went to college in Arlington, where the Rangers play. Shifting ballparks could also help his power output improve somewhat.

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  15. Choice may have played in the PCL, but he did so in one of the worst parks in the league for home runs. Outside of Sacramento, his ISO was a more respectable.183.

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  16. I really hate to lose Gentry. He protected the outfield, had fantastic speed and was fun to see him at bat. I hate to see him go to Oakland cause he will hurt the Rangers in future years.

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  17. Llewdor says:

    I watched Choice play a few games when he was in single-A. Dude definitely had potential back then.

    He reminded me of Mike Cameron at the plate.

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  18. Gentryfan says:

    I hate to see gentry go as a rangers fan. He has ridiculous speed, I would put him against anyone in the mlb right now. His stolen base percentage is around 85% and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him gunned down legitimately stealing 2nd. He has slid past a base a few times and had some base running errors on balls past infielders trying to make a play, and that counts against him, but I can’t remember a throw beating him to 2nd. Plus he mostly had those attempts late in games when he was pinch running and everyone in the ballpark knew he was going.

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  19. Dave says:

    Agree regarding Gentry’s speed. Gonna miss that.. Maybe Engel Beltre can fill that role now.. I’d probably say only a few guys are faster than Gentry in the majors OR minors, and those are the elite speedsters like Trout and Billy Hamilton.

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