Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Offseason Update: Davis Trade, Iwakuma Talks, Beltre, Berkman, Encarnacion

Here’s a brief update regarding all the action in the A’s front office as of recent.

First, a few acquisitions.

The A’s traded the speedy Rajai Davis to Toronto in exchange for two right-handed minor league relievers, Trystan Magnuson and Daniel Farquhar.

Also getting picked up from Toronto via the waiver wire was 3B Edwin Encarnacion. Plenty of uncertainty now surrounds the 2011 A’s 3B position, as the Encarnacion addition has a lot of people wondering what the A’s plan on doing with either Encarnacion and/or Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Adding to the uncertainty of the 3B position is the deal the A’s reportedly offered to 3B Adrian Beltre, worth $64 million over 5 years. While Scott Boras alleged his client should be getting $90 million over that same period of time, it’s without a doubt an uncharacteristically substantial offer on behalf of the A’s.

The A’s also recently broke off negotiations with Japanese hurler Hisashi Iwakuma, for whom the A’s bid an estimated $16 million posting fee. The reason for the cease in talks between both parties was apparently because the proposed figures were too far apart. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Iwakuma was seeking a contract similar to that of Giants’ lefty Barry Zito; a 7 year deal worth $126 million.

The A’s are also showing strong interest in Lance Berkman, who recently claimed the A’s have been the most aggressive team he’s spoken with so far. Berkman also admitted he’d prefer to not be primarily used as a DH, something that may detract from the interest the A’s have in him, with Daric Barton having a stronghold at 1st base.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A's Send Mazzaro to KC for DeJesus, Ink Top Dominican Prospect

Like many had predicted, the A's dealt the most expendable of their young arms on Wednesday as they sent Vin Mazzaro to Kansas City, along with 2009 third-rounder Justin Marks, in exchange for long time Royals OF David DeJesus. While the departure of Mazzaro was certainly foreseeable, David DeJesus seemed to be garnering more interest from the Red Sox than the A's - at least in public.

Oakland GM Billy Beane mentioned that his admiration for DeJesus had existed for some time, and it's easy to see why. The newest member of the A's has put up some very Moneyball-esque numbers in his career. He's posted a .289/.360/.427/.787 line in his career while playing solid defense in the KC outfield.

Those who don't find DeJesus much more than a "decent" acquisition may be unaware of Oakland's OF production in 2010. While Coco Crisp put up a 3.3 WAR in an injury-plagued year, the remaining 12 outfielders totaled 0.1 Wins Above Replacement. The ex-Royal-turned-Athletic was on pace for a 4.5 WAR until a thumb injury ended his year at a 2.9 WAR.

After the DeJesus trade was made public, another deal involving the A's - albeit one that won't come to fruition as quickly ( a good way that is) - was in it's finalizing stages. The A's signed 16 year-old CF Vicmal De La Cruz of the Dominican Republic to a deal that has yet to be disclosed. Little is known about De La Cruz among the general public, but Blake Bentley of MLBTR compiled a list of the top Dominican prospects after exchanging words with numerous MLB executives and scouts, and De La Cruz topped the list. The young prospect is said to have a superior set of tools, and "star power."

The A's are still within their 30-day window to sign Japanese hurler Hisashi Iwakuma, whose bid made the trade on Wednesday perhaps more expected than a trade involving a young Oakland starter already was (if that's even possible). DeJesus is almost assuredly not Beane's last move in preparation of 2011, as he recently vowed to be creative this offseason.

Less than a week in, he's already put the Moneyball where his mouth is.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hisashi Iwakuma’s Agent Tweets A’s Place Winning Bid For Japanese Ace

While there has not been any official announcement, it appears as though the Oakland Athletics placed the winning bid to negotiate a contract with Hisashi Iwakuma, ace of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. The news comes from tweets made by Iwakuma’s agent Don Nomura.

It’s important to note that placing the winning bid does not constitute a contract – it merely gives the A’s exclusive rights to negotiate one with him. Iwakuma is regarded as the second best pitcher in Japan behind Yu Darvish.

What does this mean for the A’s? If Nomura’s tweets mean the A’s really were the top bidders, it appears as though one of their starters may be dealt for a bat. Ken Rosenthal proposed that the A’s may look into a deal with Milwaukee for Casey McGehee, while the A’s would send a package possibly consisting of Vin Mazzaro and/or even Iwakuma himself. However, Iwakuma won’t be eligible for a trade until June, should the A’s work out a deal with him. In that event, a deal would likely involve the A’s trading their rights to negotiate instead. Either way, the hot stove in Oakland is already getting pretty warm.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Second Base

The Starter

Billy Beane recently mentioned that options and buyouts would not be addressed until the conclusion of the World Series. Well, it took the A's just two days after the Giants recorded the final out in Arlington before the A's did what most people expected. What was once a question-mark at 2B (if only in theory) was clarified Wednesday morning when the Athletics exercised the $6 million option on 2B Mark Ellis, in addition to the $5.75 million option on Coco Crisp, while opting to buyout Eric Chavez' contract for $3 million rather than picking up the $12.5 million option. It was recently revealed that Ellis qualified as a Type B free agent, missing the top 20% based on the criteria set by Elias - meaning the A's wouldn't have received the compensatory first round pick forfeited by the signing team. Ellis himself was sure to be one of the proponents of the A's picking up his option, seeing as how the $6 million he's guaranteed is a lot heftier than what he'd expect on the open market. In the wake of Wednesday's news, Ellis is certain to man second the majority of the year, though the A's could also use 2011 as an opportunity to ease future 2B candidates (such as Eric Sogard) into a more prominent role with the team, thus allowing Ellis to transition into a veteran/utility position.

(pictured above: Mark Ellis will return to the A's in 2011)

2010 was an odd year for Ellis. A's fans who followed closely are sure to remember his less-than-stellar beginning to the year, which was initially slowed by injury. Ellis then proceeded to go on an absolute tear the last two months of the season, which ultimately allowed him to finish with a respectable line of .291/.358/.381. His .739 OPS left him tied with Freddy Sanchez for 12th out of the 24 2nd basemen with at least 450 plate appearances. Defensively, Fangraphs ranked Ellis second to only Chase Utley in 2010, which is a big reason as to why his 3.2 Wins Above Replacement have him tied with Ian Kinsler for 8th in WAR among MLB 2nd basemen with at least 450 PA.

2010 Ellis in a Nutshell

Final line: .291/.358/.381
OPS among MLB 2B (min 450 PA): .739 - 12th out of 24
UZR among MLB 2B (min 900 Inn): 9.9 - 2nd out of 24
ISO among MLB 2B (min 450 PA): .089 - 20th out of 24
WAR among MLB 2b (min 450 PA): 3.2 - 8th out of 24

Fangraphs showing MLB 2B ratings by WAR w/ Ellis highlighted, click to enlarge

Though respectable, the numbers are a bit deceiving. While the .739 OPS isn't something the feds might call Victor Conte about, Ellis' .321 BABIP is 28 points higher than his career average, and his highest since the .335 he managed in 2005 - meaning it's not sustainable. His ISO in 2010 was also a career low .089, which may lead to fans wondering about his age possibly catching up to him. Other than that, Ellis should still be considered an above-average MLB 2nd baseman, at the very least. His defense has certainly never been questioned, and the only hesitations A's fans have may about him should be based on Ellis' health history, and the positional alternatives for the upcoming season. Though due for regression, the play of Mark Ellis continues to be overlooked by the baseball world, and the A's won't complain - unless they try shopping him.

The Backup/ The Case For Sogard

Most followers of Baseball America,, Project Prospect, and/or Baseball Prospectus, are familiar with A's farmhand Adrian Cardenas. The downside to that is most followers have been familiar with him for a bit too long. Cardenas showed tremendous upside almost immediately after the Phillies took him in the 1st round in the 06' draft. Baseball America named him in their pre-season Top 100 entering both 2008 and 2009, going as far as naming him the top 2B prospect in all of baseball. Acquired by Oakland in the Joe Blanton deal with Philadelphia in 2008, Cardenas continued to impress until the latter half of the 2009 campaign after being promoted to Triple-A Sacramento. The notion that he wasn't ready for advancement proved true once again in 2010, after starting the year in Sacramento, where he posted a .228/.285/.281 line in 31 games with the River Cats. Cardenas' poor performance to start the 2010 campaign forced the A's to dismiss him back to Double-A Midland, where he curiously managed to put a .345/.436/.469 line on his stat sheet, once again earning a trip back to Triple-A. Despite the inconsistency, the A's were pleased to watch him put up a line of .313/.362/.385 upon his return to the PCL. Unfortunately, Cardenas' recent struggles following his promotions at the higher levels of the minors have left him in a less-favorable position with the projection analysts than he was two seasons ago. Questions about Cardenas are largely based on his disproportionate performance, footwork on defense, and lack of familiarity with the 2nd-base position (he was drafted as a shortstop). Nevertheless, he does remain a popular option as a viable utility/ backup option in the near future, in addition to Ellis' potential successor in the less-near future.

Another candidate to succeed Mark Ellis is Eric Sogard. Though not as popular a prospect as Cardenas, Sogard has shown remarkable consistency at every level he's played. The second-rounder of the Padres in 07' posted a .308/.394/.453 line at High-A in 2008, and a .293/.370/.400 line at Double-A in 2009, before being traded to Oakland alongside Kevin Kouzmanoff in the winter. Most recently, Sogard managed a .300/.391/.407 in a full season at Triple-A Sacramento, before being called up to Oakland when rosters expanded in September. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Sogard's game is his discerning eye - he's walked a Daric Barton-esque 1.13 times per strikeout in his minor league career. Sogard is also highly regarded for his glove work; something Mark Ellis enthusiasts could take solace in.

In addition to his reputation as a defensive specialist, Sogard has posted a strikingly familiar line to that of Ellis in their respective minor league careers. Here's a comparison of Ellis along with the lead candidates to succeed him.

Mark Ellis: (380 MiLB Games) .292/.383/.413 .796
Eric Sogard: (441 MiLB Games) .295/.380/.414 .793
Adrian Cardenas: (516 MiLB Games) .300/.366/.411 .778

While it may seem as though I'm simply trying to skew the numbers in favor of Sogard, I think his numbers are more notable if only his full seasons are counted - meaning the 54 games he played after signing with San Diego in 2007 are taken out of the equation. I say this because the disparity between that season and the following years is huge, while the sample size is no less adequate at 387 games. His 2007 numbers could even be considered an outlier; possibly a result of factors such as traveling between the Northwest League, the Midwest League, and the PCL in such a short period of time; or immediately playing after signing; or simply because it was the only season in which he changed his uniform multiple times. Either way, his performance exclusively in his full seasons has been even more impressive.

Eric Sogard since 2008: (387 MiLB Games) .301/.388/.421 .809

As much time as I took to write about Eric Sogard, those very accolades (and/or those of Adrian Cardenas) could be what send them off in a trade during the offseason. While it's unlikely both of them are dealt, their departure wouldn't be at all threatening to the A's retaining a legitimate backup option at 2nd because Adam Rosales is expected to be healthy by the start of spring. Rosy put up solid numbers for a utility guy, posting a .271/.321/.400 while playing excellent defense all over the infield.

(pictured above: Eric Sogard during 2010 spring training
Source: Chris Lockard., 2010)

The 2B Market

In all honesty, there's hardly a 2B market. Scott Moore and Bill Hall are arguably the most intriguing names on the list, and the A's have at least 4 players that could almost undoubtedly put up better numbers than both of them at 2nd. That's probably way too much detail as it is to waste anymore time writing about the 2011 2B free agents. I suppose Juan Uribe is a legitimate name if you count him as a 2B. Plus his 3.2 WAR was equal to that of Ellis, and even higher than San Francisco's main 2B option, Freddy Sanchez. Still, the 2B market isn't quite star-studded enough for the A's to start considering anyone this year.

That's all for now.

Go A's.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ortiz or Stassi?

I can't believe I've completely overlooked Ryan Ortiz. The former Beaver was 4th in OPS (.873) among fellow A's farmhands that did not see any big-league playing time with at least 200 Plate Appearances. The only ones in front of him are Stephen Parker, AJ Kirby-Jones, and Grant Green. Maybe Ortiz will be Kurt Suzuki's successor whenever that time comes.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Congratulations to the 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants and Their Fans

It's a big night on the peninsula for the championship-starved San Francisco Giants, and really, there's arguably no franchise more deserving (I hate saying it). At least the Cubs and Indians won their last one in the city they still play in. For the first time in 4 attempts, the Giants of San Francisco won it all, here in 2010.

I thought they'd be good, but I'll admit I would not have picked them to be the World Series winner. Either way, the dominance of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain through the NLCS made it clear that they were as close to unstoppable as a team could get. I'm not going to lie - it's hard watching the team the A's share a market go down in history as the best team of 2010 in a year the A's finished 81-81, but it's important to note that the Giants are certainly deserving of all the praise they have received, and will continue receive for their performance this season. I think back to 2002 when the A's had a remarkable season, only to be eliminated by the Twins in the ALDS while the Giants went on to win the National League Pennant. That may have been a little harder because it seemed as if the A's wonderful season was all for naught. This time, the A's didn't have the same success, so in the end, it wasn't quite as hard watching the Giants take it to the elite teams of MLB.

I'm happiest for my friends, who have all followed the Giants closely since I've known them. Through the hardest times they remained loyal to the team, and are the most deserving people I know of a World Series Championship. For the bandwagoners, they are certainly welcome to enjoy the festivities, but it's not as special as it is for the ones who sit through the rough patches. My closest friends are mostly Giants fans, in addition to one avid Red Sox fan, and a couple Mariner fans. Sadly, since I was only 2 years old the last time the A's won it all, only my Seattle-faithful fans join me as the ones who've never seen our team win the World Series. Here's to the hope that neither of our teams are cursed.

It's the hard times that make the good times great. Stick with the team A's fans, and whenever the A's find themselves in the Fall Classic, it will pay to know you were around when it wasn't so great.

By the way, both the Rangers and Giants deserve a ton of props on being able to make it to the World Series after relying on the services of players such as Bengie Molina, Jeff Francoeur, Aaron Rowand, and Edgar Renteria. And oh yeah...does former Athletic Brooks Conrad get a ring too?

Go A's.