I’m going to tell you something you’re not going to like. You’re going to think this is stupid, and you’re going to want to dismiss this as rubbish, but, I mean, let’s just get right to the point. If nothing else, this is where we’ll start. Early Thursday, the A’s gave up Yoenis Cespedes and more for Jon Lester and more. A little later Thursday, the A’s gave up Tommy Milone for Sam Fuld. Losing Cespedes opened up a spot in the outfield; adding Fuld plugged it. Here is a fun fact:
Cespedes: 2.9 WAR / 600 plate appearances
Fuld: 2.5 WAR / 600 plate appearances
Obviously, Cespedes has a thousand times more natural talent. Obviously, Cespedes has more potential and a higher ceiling. Obviously, Cespedes is younger. Obviously, that’s a little deceptive because Fuld has spent a lot of time as a defensive replacement. Obviously, we can trust the defensive metrics only so much, and obviously, Cespedes is the more marketable player since he has some of the purest right-handed power in the sport. But here is the general message: Sam Fuld is not far and away an inferior overall player, compared to Yoenis Cespedes. At least, they’re somewhat close. And this year, specifically this year, Fuld’s been worth the same WAR in a fraction of the time. So you can see why the A’s are happy to get Fuld back, a few months after designating him for assignment.
That’s the funny bit here. The A’s already had Fuld for free, and they dumped him. To get him back, they’ve had to give up a cost-controlled starting pitcher. So, the Twins got Fuld for free after the A’s dropped him, and they flipped him for a classic Twins-style starter. In that sense, this looks kind of stupid on Oakland’s part, but circumstances are always changing and, before, there wasn’t room for Fuld. Before, it wasn’t clear Fuld would even be a contributor. And we can say this: Fuld isn’t joining an altogether unfamiliar clubhouse. He’s going to be welcomed back.
What we know with a high degree of certainty is that Fuld isn’t much of an impact hitter. He’s been about 13% worse than average since breaking into the bigs, with good discipline but almost zero power. He’s a guy who hits like a middle infielder, sharing more in common with Barry Zito at the plate than Miguel Cabrera, but he isn’t valuable because of his offense — the A’s, it would appear, are big believes in Fuld’s defensive instincts and range. Which is understandable, since:
Fuld’s been a perfectly adequate defensive center fielder, and he’s been an outstanding defensive corner outfielder. He has just enough bat to hang around in a lineup, and he’s versatile and unlikely to complain if he isn’t playing every day. He has a similar profile to Craig Gentry, so that’s evidence the A’s like this player type, but that’s another thing: there was some urgency here, because Cespedes was dealt, and Gentry is currently injured, and Coco Crisp is also fighting something that’s keeping him down. Crisp’s been bothered by a neck problem, and this is from John Shea:
Crisp was hurt May 7 running into the Coliseum outfield wall and making contact with a metal post instead of the padding, leaving him with whiplash. The A’s are considering options to deal with the condition, including medication. Crisp might not fully recover until the offseason.
“I think we’ve all come to the realization it’s something he’s going to battle throughout the season,” [trainer Nick] Paparesta said.
So Fuld is both a potential starter and certain insurance. The A’s aren’t sure how healthy their outfield is, and Josh Reddick is always a candidate to need another trip to the disabled list. Fuld’s healthy and he can play everywhere, providing for the A’s some flexibility they’ve lost due to injury problems.
Fuld obviously isn’t a great player, and while he has another two years of team control coming up, he turns 33 in November. It’s a particularly unsexy kind of win-now move, but the cost wasn’t exorbitant — the cost was a low-ceiling starter who’s preferred a trade since getting buried on the depth chart. By sending Tommy Milone to the Twins, the A’s are losing future value, but they’re losing nothing as far as 2014 is concerned, and Milone isn’t exactly the irreplaceable sort.
The big benefit for Minnesota: they turned an unnecessary piece into three years of a strike-throwing starter with arbitration eligibility. In Triple-A, Milone has generated a laughable 187 strikeouts and 26 walks. He hasn’t duplicated those numbers in the majors, and he presumably never will, but he owns an average career ERA with decent peripherals. Ricky Nolasco owns a worse-than-average career ERA and the Twins gave him $49 million. The greatest surplus value comes from young stars under team control, but young role players can still get paid less than they’d be worth as free agents, so there’s a future purpose here.
Milone’s lost a bit of his underwhelming fastball. This season has been his worst season yet, and in a brief stint in Triple-A he hasn’t thrown many strikes. Maybe that’s just frustration with being there in the first place. Clearly, Milone’s stock is down relative to where it was several months ago, but every team in baseball would grab Milone if he were available for free. He was available to the Twins in exchange for a 32-year-old defensive specialist, which is basically free as far as a rebuilding franchise is concerned. The Twins didn’t have much of a use for Fuld. The found the team that might value him the most. Milone might not help very much in 2016, but Fuld was never going to, so it’s a perfectly worthwhile roll of the dice.
Everything works out, then. Milone wanted a change of scenery, and he landed with the organization that most values his kind of skillset. The Twins got a potential longer-term starter in exchange for an aging outfielder they picked up for nothing. The A’s addressed a need with a versatile player who complements the rest of the roster. And now Fuld gets to play an important stretch-run role on probably the best team in baseball. The year is 2014, and the Red Sox are selling, and the A’s are a juggernaut, and Sam Fuld is an Oakland outfield regular. You might’ve heard that you can’t predict baseball. Billy Beane understands that as much as anyone, but he’s never before had odds so strong in his favor. Next year is Future Beane’s problem. This year’s about winning the World Series, with Jon Lester, and Jeff Samardzija, and Sam Fuld.
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