Yesterday, the Oakland Athletics traded starting pitcher Trevor Cahill, reliever Craig Breslow and cash to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for prospects Jarrod Parker (Scouting Report), Colin Cowgill and Ryan Cook.
Cahill, a sinker-balling workhorse, is proving himself as one of the game’s most valuable young pitchers. After moving in to the Athletics’ rotation in 2009– at just twenty-one-years-old– Cahill has improved steadily. He earned a spot in 2010 All-Star game, and he ranked fourth in earned run average (2.97 ERA), fourth in wins (18) and second in hits allowed per nine innings pitched (7.09 H/9) among AL pitchers. Last season, he led the league in games started (34), while pushing his innings mark to over 200 (207.2 IP) for the first time in his career. Though his 4.16 ERA was a run higher than the season before, his 4.10 fielder-independent pitching (and 3.90 xFIP) were actually better than the 4.19 FIP and 3.99 xFIP he posted in his All-Star sophomore campaign.
Before embarking on his solid 2011 season, Cahill signed a five-year $30 million contract with the A’s. With three seasons of MLB service time now under his belt, Cahill would’ve been poised for a hefty pay-raise through the arbitration courtroom anyway. His $30 million dollar contract and the Rangers’ and Angels’ vice-grip over the top two spots in the division seemed to have been more than enough motivation for the A’s management to sell off any expensive postseason hopes for 2012. Keeping the three young prospects they added though, the term fire sale doesn’t apply, however.
It’s no coincidence that the A’s completed this trade only one day after their division-rival Angels added the game’s best hitter and one of the top starters to an already-beefy squad. A’s GM Billy Bean, annually saddled with one of the AL’s strictest budgets, metaphorically waved a white flag for 2012 with this latest trade. Already struggling to compete against division-rival Texas Rangers, the Angels’s rise (return) to power provides a hefty roadblock to Oakland’s postseason aspirations.
The A’s have some exciting young talent, but they would’ve needed an additional $25-30 million of payroll room added to their (opening day) $67 million player budget from 2011 to compete with the Angels’ and Rangers’ fattening wallets.
Boasting the AL’s reigning pennant winner (Rangers) from the past two years, as well as the Angels– whom won the ’02 World Series and held the division title from ’07-’09– the AL West is set to be the MLB’s most competitive division outside of the American League East. The addition of C.J. Wilson gives the Angels a rotation a fourth Cy Young-caliber pitcher– along with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. Albert Pujols– the most productive hitter in the game’s recent history– gives them the most potent lineup outside of the Yankees’. Pujols’ top-shelf value in the batter’s box and in the field should vastly increase production from an offense armed with exciting young stars like Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos, Mark Trumbo, Alberto Callaspo and Kendrys Morales.
Particularly with a new stadium (hypothetically) opening in 2015, the A’s have to hedge their bets. One of the league’s poorest franchises, the A’s annually rank in the MLB’s bottom-five in revenue and overall value. After opening 2011 with the second largest payroll in franchise history ($67.094 million), Billy Bean is tasked with stripping his team of any expensive talent and “building” for the future. If it’s highly unlikely that their team will finish any higher than third place in 2012 (maybe 2013 too), then what’s the sense of burning a ton of money on short-sighted player production? The A’s top priority is winning three years from now, not competing for second-place now. Of course Beane will always try to win, but he’s also a savvy business man in a smart front office.
Beyond Cahill and Breslow’s ($1.4 million) paychecks, the A’s have the salaries of Coco Crisp ($5.75 million), David DeJesus ($6 million), Mark Ellis ($6 million), Rich Harden ($1.5 million), Conor Jackson ($3.2 million), Kevin Kouzmanoff ($4.25 million), Hideki Matsui ($4.25), Brandon McCarthy ($1 million), Josh Willingham ($6 million), Mike Wuertz ($2.8 million) and Brad Ziegler ($1.25 million) coming off the books. Including Breslow’s deal and Cahill’s ’11 salary, the A’s are poised to cut $44.5 million of payroll. Taking Cahill’s $3.5 million 2011 salary and Breslow’s (likely) second-year arbitration raise in to account, the A’s are freeing up $50 million of budget room for next season.
Jarrod Parker, the D’Backs’ first-round pick (9th overall) in the ’07 Draft, is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Twice a Minor League All-Star, Parker pitched with professional baseball’s other top young talents in the prestigious All-Star Futures Game back in 2009. Though he did miss all of 2010 rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery, he recovered quite well last season and even put together a dominant second-half performance — posting a 2.84 ERA, 56 strikeouts and 2.39 G/AO through 69 innings after the All-Star break).
As an athletic pitcher, armed with a cutting 91-95 MPH fastball, a knockout slider and a gutsy nerve, Parker has the makings of a legitimate big league ace. In his first season following elbow surgery, he managed to rank among the Southern League’s top ten starters in ERA (3.79), strikeouts (112 K), wins (11 W), innings pitched (130.2 IP), hits allowed per nine (7.7 H/9), WHIP (1.28), batting average against (.236 BAA) and 4th in homeruns allowed. His extraordinary groundball and homerun (allowed) rates exhibit his knack for frustrating batters and inducing weak-contact, and he has impressive command for a young power pitcher. If not for the 9.00 ERA he posted in April– his first month on the mound following the year-long lay-off– Parker’s numbers would be an even better indicator of his phenomenal talent.
Cowgill and Cook don’t possess that talent that Parker has — by any stretch of the imagination — but they both fit Oakland’s winning formula anyway. A 5’9″, stocky centerfielder, Cowgill could surprise with a long big league-career. Similar to a Cody Ross or David DeJesus-type outfielder, Cowgill is a blue-collar grinder who works hard to contribute in all facets of the game. He’s an intelligent left-handed batter with a polished batting eye and a veteran approach. The type of player that frustrates the old scouts, Cowgill loves to work the count and he boasts a star-caliber .383 on-base percentage in his minor league career. He uses a Sheffieldian stance and bat-wrap to wield some heavy lumber; he literally swings a thick/barrel-heavy bat.
Cowgill generates legit batspeed and his selectivity, pitch recognition and solid bat-control help him to fight-off inside heat and spray the field with line-drives. His stock exploded last season in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, when he batted .354/.430/.554 with 30 stolen bases and 70 RBI in 395 at bats.
In the outfield, Cowgill possesses plus-plus arm strength and he puts it to good use by making firm, accurate throws consistently. He won’t win any Gold Gloves in center, but he’s developing in to a defensive asset nonetheless. His solid-average running speed plays up both on the bases and in the outfield due to veteran baseball instincts and his well-coached feel for the game.
The third piece in the trade, Ryan Cook, is looking for a shot at redeeming his young career with the A’s. With the D’Backs, he made an ugly first impression as he allowed three-runs and took a painful extra-innings loss at the hands of the Brewers on July 20th. Sent down a few games later, it took longer than his minor-league line would suggest to return to the D’Backs’ ‘pen.
Converted from starter to closer prior to 2011, Cook possesses a premium sinking fastball and a filthy splitter. Employing awkward, max-effort pitching mechanics similar to those of Latroy Hawkins, Cook posted a dominant 2011 line while closing games in the Southern and Pacific Coast Leagues. He used his 93-97 MPH heater and hard splitter to generate an incredible 3.32 ground-outs for every fly-out and his 2.21 ERA, 9.18 K/9 and 1.03 WHIP weren’t too shabby either. Though his control is a bit spotty, he gives the A’s a worthy replacement for the departed Mike Wuertz.
With Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes already in their ‘pen, adding Cook could also make the A’s more comfortable trading closer Andrew Bailey. Then again, after the A’s sent Breslow packing in another one of Beane’s buy-low/sell-high turnaround-and-sell (see Jason Isringhausen, Billy Koch, Huston Street) deals, it appears likely that Cook will prove to be even more valuable to the A’s right out of the box. Knowing Beane’s willingness– and history of success — with slotting hard-throwing Minor Leaguers into the A’s bullpen, any (or all) of their more expensive veteran arms (Balfour, Fuentes, Bailey) could be on the move this winter. In that case, a battery of Cook, Josh Outman, Fautino de los Santos, Guillermo Moscoso, Andrew Carignan, Graham Godfrey and Jerry Blevins/Jordan Norberto would probably work just fine for them.