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Why Oakland Can’t Trade Themselves an Offense

April 23, 2011

The Oakland A’s offensive woes are well-noted now. They have dropped two straight to the Seattle Mariners (though in fairness to two very good pitchers in Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda). They rank 26th in wOBA (.293) and offensive WAR (0.6). For a team that idolizes on-base-percentage their .303 mark good for 25th best in MLB doesn’t cut it. Their bats have absolutely no power with a 27th ranked .108 ISO. The list goes on and on. Individually, four regulars – David DeJesus (-0.1), Kevin Kouzmanoff (-0.2), Cliff Pennington (-0.3) and Josh Willingham (-0.4) have negative WAR. Two players have sub-40 wRC+’s – Kouzmanoff (38) and Pennington (36). It is bad – very bad.

That all being said the A’s are still just 20 games into a 162 game schedule or roughly one-eighth through. It seems hard to believe so many of these guys will continue to hit as poorly as they have so it is natural for people to wonder – why can’t we just trade to get an impact bat? That was the basis of this piece by Zonis on Athletics Nation. I will not get into the details of why their plan for getting both David Wright and Jose Reyes from the Mets is implausible, but instead will talk more broadly about why any trade for players the caliber of Wright or Reyes is unlikely to impossible.

There is a saying of you get what you pay for. In a baseball trade, you can’t get some guy of immense talent for free. The only way you can do that is if the team that possesses him doesn’t realize they have an immense talent on their hands. If the talent is known to all, the cost for said talent is sure to be higher. In other words you need to give something up to get something in return. So what would the A’s need to give up to get an elite or if-not elite, top-level offensive talent?

Any conversation would have to begin with one name, Gio Gonzalez. The extensions that have been signed by Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill mean that it does not make any sense for the A’s to trade them. Dallas Braden is injured and thus of no value, and Brandon McCarthy hasn’t yet dispelled that this isn’t simply a hot streak to garner top-notch talent in any trade. The bullpen arms aren’t worth much of anything right now – and bullpen arms in general aren’t worth much in and of themselves in a trade being far more valuable as an accoutrement to a bigger name player or prospect. As we’ve stated the offense isn’t worth much of anything, and the farm system is largely devoid of high-ceiling talent.

So there you have it. Is giving up Gio Gonzalez and other players worth a top-level player? Some may say it is, but then who does our fifth starter become? Is it Bobby Cramer? Maybe Guillermo Moscoso? Those represent serious downgrades from Gonzalez. A player like Reyes is available only for the duration of this season, so you’re giving a team control of Gonzalez for several years in exchange for one summer of a shortstop. Any player who is signed beyond one year would have a cost that surely begins at Gio Gonzalez and adds good prospects and/or current young regulars in return.

So what do you do then, if you can’t acquire top level players? Basically you need to take a piecemeal approach. Our depth is a serious problem, particularly in the infield where we are struggling the most and where any likely trade target would be placed. You need to first off all downgrade your trade targets to mid-tier players. Perhaps the only position of strength we can deal from is Kurt Suzuki at catcher. But he has struggled himself, and continually year over year as become worse with each year’s passing. Trading low on a player will not yield great quality in return unless you can find a situation where your asset is more valuable to another team than it is to your own (think Boston’s backstop woes with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek). If someone proposed a Suzuki for Marco Scutaro deal, it’d be something I’d be interested in and intrigued by, but then you need to remember – is this just action for the sake of action? Does landing Marco Scutaro equal jump-starting an offense?  In all likelihood the answer is no. So that is why Oakland can’t trade themselves and offense. Staying put might not be the best plan, but realistically it is the only one.

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