When I recently wrote about Adam Dunn for this site, the circumstances were a bit different. That was about Adam Dunn pitching. This is about Adam Dunn becoming a member of the Oakland Athletics via trade, because that is exactly what happened on Sunday. As you know, Dunn was traded to the A’s in exchange for minor leaguer Nolan Sanburn. Just like Adam Dunn pitching, Adam Dunn playing for the A’s just seemed like something that eventually had to happen. The A’s were one of the first teams to really value the OBP/power guys. Adam Dunn is the posterchild of the high-OBP, high-power mold.
And so now, here we have it. Adam Dunn is a member of the Oakland Athletics. It’s no secret why they traded for him. It was no surprise when they traded for him. The trade was completed on August 31, the last day a player could be acquired and still be eligible for a team’s playoff roster. The A’s got Dunn for the playoffs. The A’s got Dunn to hit homers in the playoffs. We’re not in the playoffs yet, but here’s what Adam Dunn did in his first at-bat with Oakland:
All good so far.
Despite the obvious Dunn-Athletics connection, the trade seemed, at least to me, a bit peculiar on the surface. Dunn is a first baseman/occasional corner outfielder who bats left-handed. The A’s have Brandon Moss, a first baseman/corner outfielder who bats left-handed and is one of the best power hitters in all of baseball. They’ve got Stephen Vogt, a first baseman who bats left-handed and has hit surprisingly well. And they appear to be set in the corner outfield positions, with Sam Fuld and Josh Reddick, who both bat left-handed. But the Dunn trade is just the latest of a handful of moves that Billy Beane has made to construct a roster that looks quite a bit different from what the A’s rolled out on Opening Day:
- July 5: Acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for Addison Russell, Dan Straily and Billy McKinney
- July 31: Acquired Sam Fuld for Tom Milone
- July 31: Acquired Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes for Yoenis Cespedes
- August 24: Acquired Geovany Soto off waivers
- August 31: Acquired Adam Dunn for Nolan Sanburn
Needless to say, Billy Beane has been a busy man.
I’m not going to dive too deep into the evaluation of what Beane gave up to get Dunn. I don’t know much about Sanburn, but I do know that he used to be a starter who was something of a prospect and is now a reliever who is not as much of a prospect because of shoulder problems. They gave up a reliever with shoulder problems. That’s about as far as we’ll go there.
So let’s begin with the why. Why did the Athletics trade for Adam Dunn? The easiest thing to point to is the A’s offense being, we’ll say, less than good, recently. In August, they had an 85 wRC+. That was 22nd in MLB and last among the 10 teams currently expected to make the playoffs. Dunn, against righties, has a 129 wRC+ this season. People like to say guys are acquired to provide “sparks” for a struggling offense. The A’s could be looking for Dunn to be that spark.
Let’s look forward to the playoffs. The A’s are likely going to be playing in the Wild Card play-in game. Their opponent will probably be either the Seattle Mariners, Kansas City Royals or the Detroit Tigers. Schedules doesn’t always work out perfectly, but teams are pretty good at lining up their pitchers at the end of the regular season to have their best arms throwing the most important games. The best pitchers for those teams are as follows:
- Seattle: Felix Hernandez (right-handed), Hisashi Iwakuma (right-handed)
- Kansas City: James Shields (right-handed), Yordano Ventura (right-handed)
- Tigers: Max Scherzer (right-handed), David Price (left-handed)
The A’s don’t know who they’ll playing in the Wild Card game and they certainly don’t know which pitcher they’ll be facing. But outside of David Price, every pitcher whom the A’s might be worried about throws right-handed, making Dunn a factor.
If the A’s win the play-in game, they could face – in addition to one of the three teams listed above – the Orioles, who have four right-handed starters, or the Angels, whose two best pitchers throw right-handed. Obviously, there are more right-handed pitchers than there are left across the majors, but the American League playoffs will look different from the National League playoffs in that there will be no Clayton Kershaw and there will be no Hyun-Jin Ryu. There will be no Gio Gonzalez or Madison Bumgarner. There might not be a Mike Minor or Alex Wood in the NL playoffs, but there definitely won’t be in the AL. The biggest left-handed threats in the AL playoffs after Price will be Jon Lester and Scott Kazmir, and the A’s don’t have to worry about facing them. Point is, Dunn will get his fair share of at-bats against right-handed pitching if the A’s are to make a deep postseason run.
Let’s pull away from Dunn, specifically, for a moment and focus more on the A’s roster as a whole. There’s no telling which bench players will make the A’s postseason roster, but whatever that bench looks like, it will be a fascinating one.
When a left-handed pitcher starts, the A’s bench will likely look something like this: Stephen Vogt, Eric Sogard, Sam Fuld, Josh Reddick, Adam Dunn
That could be complicated by the return of John Jaso, who, as he told Eno earlier this week, expects to be back, but for the moment we’re dealing with the above lists. You’ll notice a couple things about those two collections of players. One: They are all quality major leaguers. Two: With the exception of Fuld, they are entirely different groups of players. It goes without saying that the A’s like to play the matchups. Athletics batters have held the platoon advantage in 72% of their at-bats this season. Only the Indians best them in that regard. But when you look at those units, it gets even more fascinating.
Both of those units have a player who can catch in Soto and Vogt (and Jaso), without ever replacing starter Derek Norris. Both of those units have a player who can play each infield position in Callaspo and Sogard. Both of those units have elite defensive outfielders — prime for late-inning substitutions — in Fuld, Gentry and Reddick. And then my favorite part of the bench, and the last piece of the puzzle completed by the Dunn trade: both of those units have perfect late-game pinch hitters. When a lefty gets the start against the A’s, Gomes and his 120 wRC+ against left-handed pitching will get the start while Dunn will be sent to the bench. If, late in the game, Gomes is still set to face a lefty – great. If the opposition counters with a right-handed reliever, bring Dunn and his 129 wRC+ against righties in. Vice-versa when a righty starts.
Billy Beane has been as active as any general manager in baseball this year and has now completed the construction of one of the most interesting playoff rosters in baseball. Stephen Vogt’s flexibility gives the A’s three (or four) players who can catch. Callaspo and Sogard give them utility infielders. Fuld and Gentry give them elite defensive outfield replacements. And the Adam Dunn trade ensures the Athletics will always have an elite pinch hitter waiting on the bench.
Plus, you can never count out Dunn as a late-inning relief option.
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