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December 12, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Win Now, Win Later

by R.J. Anderson and Kevin Goldstein

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired P-R Jarrod Parker, OF-L Collin Cowgill, and P-R Ryan Cook from the Diamondbacks for P-R Trevor Cahill, P-L Craig Breslow, and cash considerations. [12/9]

For the A's, this deal is all about windows. The A's window, of course, is only a mythical one for now, as they aim to be in San Jose in three years. That's all they have right now—hope that the team can be out from under its untenable location and stadium handicaps when MLB finally gets over its avoidance behavior and resolves the situation.

The point is that Cahill gets expensive when that theoretical window opens, while Parker will hopefully be just as good, if not better, during that same time period. The former first-round pick was among the best right-handed prospects in the game before missing the 2010 season, and there were many promising signs in his return despite the fact that his fastball was off a tick or two from pre-surgery days and his power slider, while good, was not the monster pitch from the past. Still, the first year back from Tommy John surgery is just about pitching and staying healthy, and 2012 will give us a better idea of how far back he's come.

At the same time, there are plenty of encouraging numbers on his side. In his first 13 starts in 2011 for Double-A Mobile he had a 4.87 ERA; in his final 13, he had a 2.84 mark with a much improved walk rate and didn’t allow a single home run. His fastball has plenty of sink and produces lots of ground balls when it yields any contact at all. The health “if” is certainly there, but he should match Cahill's production by the time the mystery window arrives and will certainly boast greater upside if the stuff comes all the way back.

While Colin Cowgill goes from the National League West champs to a team that is—to be kind—in flux, he still should be a very happy man based solely on opportunity. The A's don't have an outfield right now, and they'll likely go into the spring hoping he can earn the everyday center field job. While his numbers in Reno are not a true indication of his ability (which applies to any player there), he does have big-league value as a second-division starter type. While he gets dinged at times for his small stature, he can hit, with outstanding hands, impressive contact rates, and some gap power. He's an above-average runner, he can hold his own in center field (although he's not spectacular there), and he could be good for 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases annually. He certainly could be a $480,000 upgrade over what Coco Crisp gave the A’s last year, at least offensively.

A 27th-round pick in 2008, Cook never had an ERA under five in three seasons at the University of Southern California, but he always had a pro body and arm strength. A move to the bullpen in 2011 helped jumpstart his career, as he missed bats with a 92-95-mph fastball and a slider that is solid but will need to improve in order for him to have above-average major-league value. He should get some big-league time in 2012.—Kevin Goldstein

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired P-R Trevor Cahill, P-L Craig Breslow, and cash considerations from the Athletics for P-R Jarrod Parker, OF-L Collin Cowgill, and P-R Ryan Cook.  [12/9]

Cahill is a polarizing pitcher insofar as he mixes attributes that tend to remain separate. He is a youthful veteran, a proven arm with potential. He has a career adjusted-earned run average over 100 that suggests he is a solid pitcher, but there are extant concerns stemming from shoddy component measures and a cavernous home park. Is Cahill a pumpkin, wisely discarded by the sagacious Billy Beane, or a misunderstood and underestimated young arm on the rise, smartly plucked by Kevin Towers?

You can make the ingenuity argument either way. Like so:

Why Beane could be right in selling Cahill now
Cahill owns a 1.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio since 2009, putting him among mediocre company like Jon Garland, Joe Saunders, and Jason Marquis. Those so-so numbers came within a pitcher’s paradise, and the move to Arizona is a move to a less uninviting environment. Cahill’s fastball also lost a mile per hour (on average) from to 2010 to 2011. With Cahill’s contract calling for a guaranteed $30 million over the next four years, and considering the capriciousness of pitchers, there is a chance that Beane could have been saddled with a burden had he held onto Cahill—and remember, Beane knows a good extension for pitchers when he sees one.

Why Towers could be right in buying Cahill now
Cahill is only eight months older than the youngest player heading to Oakland (Parker), yet he already has nearly 600 major-league innings under his belt. Armed with a top-10 groundball rate (among pitchers with 100-plus innings), Cahill also owned a contact rate on even ground with David Price and Felix Hernandez, which both represents a cause for optimism about his potential growth and separates him from the generic pitch-to-contact groundball pitchers who populate most of the rest of the list (see below). Should Cahill progress, that $30 million guaranteed will fall shy of his potential earnings on the open market, and the two club options hedge risk regardless.

Pitcher

2011 GB%

2011 Contact%

2011 SO%

Charlie Morton

61.4%

83.4%

14.3%

Jake Westbrook

60.5%

85.4%

12.9%

Derek Lowe

60.4%

79.1%

16.5%

Tim Hudson

58.0%

80.0%

17.9%

John Lannan

57.3%

82.5%

13.1%

Trevor Cahill

57.1%

80.7%

16.3%

Jhoulys Chacin

56.7%

79.2%

18.1%

Justin Masterson

56.2%

83.1%

17.4%

Fausto Carmona

55.7%

82.5%

13.1%

Ricky Romero

55.4%

78.5%

19.4%

Of course, both sides could be “right” about Cahill. He could never develop into a number-two starter or Brandon Webb clone while still providing value to the D-Backs. The assumption for now is that Cahill’s arrival will precipitate a Joe Saunders trade, leaving Daniel Hudson, Cahill, Ian Kennedy, and Josh Collmenter in Arizona’s rotation. Towers may still tweak something here or there, but give him credit: he is a man of his word.—R.J. Anderson


R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Jarrod Parker,  Trevor Cahill

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