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January 18, 2012

Transaction Analysis

A-nother Oakland Outfielder [Updated]

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
Return to Top

Acquired OF-L Seth Smith from the Rockies for RHP Guillermo Moscoso and LHP Josh Outman. [1/16]

Colorado agreed to a one-year, $2.42 million deal with Smith just hours before shipping him to Oakland. In a small way, it was a win-win-win move. The Rockies were rumored to be shopping Smith all offseason, which could not have been an easy predicament for the left-handed hitting outfielder to be in. Meanwhile, Billy Beane adds a seemingly undervalued corner outfielder for the umpteenth time in his career.

Smith’s comment in BP2010 read like this:

The Rockies' player development staff has shown a recent knack for not just building outfielders, but shipping them to Coors fully assembled. Smith is the latest model to come off the line, built on the Brad Hawpe chassis but with an upgraded glove and a less pronounced platoon split. The decision to play Smith in left most days played a large role the in the Rockies’ mid-season turnaround, and while he’s not exactly young he is exactly cheap—meaning it’s time to starting editing those “We’ll Miss You, Brad” video compilations. Smith’s not a star, but should be a valuable contributor for a few years before being replaced by a younger, cheaper version of himself.

Staying faithful to the Hawpe comparison, Smith pounds righties (a multi-year .290 True Average against them), struggles against lefties (.203), and leaves Colorado without fanfare. There are issues with the comparison, of course—Smith covers more ground in a corner outfield spot than Hawpe could in an elevator—but Smith will have to avoid Hawpe’s fate of being known as a Coors Field hitter and nothing more. Hitters tend to fare better at home than on the road, and Smith is no exception. Despite twice posting OPS of more than 800 away from Coors, expect folks to focus on the 175-point career differential.

Bob Melvin, on the other hand, should turn his attention to Smith’s issues against lefties during the latter stages of close games. With Josh Reddick in the other corner and Coco Crisp in center, the A’s outfield will feature three left-handed hitters to start most games. Rather than keeping Michael Taylor around to record 10 plate appearances a week, the A’s could opt to sign Cody Ross or another right-handed hitting corner outfielder before camp opens. That might irk Taylor and annoy Collin Cowgill—who now seems unlikely to break camp with the team barring an injury—but have no fear, as the A’s could flip Smith before too long, thus vacating a spot they previously had their eyes on.

CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-R Ryan Ludwick to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million guaranteed and includes incentives and a mutual option for 2013. [1/16]
Signed C-S Dioner Navarro to a minor league deal. [1/16]

The offseason of All-Star additions to the Reds’ roster continues. Granted, neither Ludwick nor Navarro has graced the Midsummer Classic since 2008, but both could help the Reds in their own special ways.

Ludwick hit 59 home runs between 2008 and 2009 but has just 30 in the two seasons since. Tracing Ludwick’s struggles back to the trade that sent him to San Diego is natural. The Padres and Ludwick alike blamed his slow start with the club on an unhealed calf injury, although the injury ostensibly did not cause his struggles in either San Diego or Pittsburgh in 2011. More legitimate is the thought that Ludwick simply was the victim of bad luck.

Not bad luck in the sense that his batting average on balls in play finished lower than his career average, or the sense that he hit rockets all over the place only to see the defense catch them. Bad luck in the sense that he played in two parks that restrict right-handed power in the way few others can. In fleeing PETCO and PNC for the Great American Ballpark, Ludwick should see his raw statistics improve, even if the quality of his batted balls and at-bats do not.

The big nitpick with Ludwick is that the Reds may have gotten similar production from in-house options like Chris Heisey and Todd Frazier while saving $2 million. At the same time, Cincinnati is positioned to win now, and adding a veteran blanket makes sense.

Navarro’s utility stems from his major league experience—an attribute the Reds wanted in Triple-A, per Walt Jocketty. (As an aside: anytime the general manager mentions you in a sentence with Corky Miller, the subject matter better be facial hair. Otherwise, run.) The endgame for Navarro is simple. If he goes to Triple-A, hits like a former top prospect and All-Star should at age 28, and plays the role of good soldier, then he could find himself back in the majors—either as an injury replacement or after the September roster expansion. However, if Navarro hits like he did in the majors since 2009 (.207/.267/.311) or shows the same sense of entitlement that saw him leave the Rays after failing to make the club’s 2010 playoff roster and get cut from the Dodgers over poor work ethic, then his major league career could be over.

COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Guillermo Moscoso and LHP Josh Outman from the Athletics for OF-L Seth Smith. [1/16]

Over the past year, Dan O’Dowd has added six pitchers under consideration for a spot in the Rockies’ opening day rotation: Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Tyler Chatwood, Kevin Slowey, and now Moscoso and Outman. Toss in Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel, Clayton Mortensen, Christian Friedrich, Esmil Rogers, and the recovering Juan Nicasio and Jorge De La Rosa, and the Rockies have enough options where those who do not make the rotation could move to the bullpen.

Moscoso is one such case, partially because he appears to be out of options, but also because of his scouting (known as a fastball-first and fastball-only pitcher) and statistical profiles (he gives up a ton of fly balls and will now call Coors Field home). What might prove most interesting about Moscoso is that he posted a 27 percent groundball rate in 2011 yet managed to allow 11 unearned runs. As a result, Moscoso’s earned run average finished 0.77 points lower than his run average—odd, since groundballs tend to turn into errors more often than fly balls. Given how Moscoso stacks up to other fly ball pitchers with 30 or more innings last season, do not be surprised if his earned runs and runs totals finish closer in 2012, regardless of his role:

Pitcher

FB%-GB%

ERA

RA

ERA-RA

David Huff

0.50%

4.08

6.21

-2.13

Jose Mijares

3.70%

4.59

5.69

-1.10

Guillermo Moscoso

16.10%

3.38

4.15

-0.77

Brandon Gomes

3.70%

2.92

3.65

-0.73

Aneury Rodriguez

8.50%

5.28

6.01

-0.60

Brad Hand

10.10%

4.20

4.80

-0.48

Daisuke Matsuzaka

12.80%

5.31

5.79

-0.48

Frank Hermann

1.00%

5.12

5.60

-0.39

Franklin Morales

7.70%

3.69

4.08

-0.33

Octavio Dotel

5.20%

3.50

3.83

-0.30

Outman owns the better name and came to the Athletics in the 2008 Joe Blanton trade with hopes that he could develop into a middle-of-the-rotation starter. Instead, Outman finishes this phase of his A’s career with 151 1/3 innings pitched over 33 appearances and a 114 adjusted-earned run average. To Outman’s credit, he did begin the 2009 season in the A’s rotation, but an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery zapped most of his 2009 and all of his 2010 seasons. He returned in 2011 with apparent rust during his Triple-A time, although he did show his old velocity (low-90s, tops out at 95) during his time in the majors.  Given a 6-foot-1 frame, the zipper, and the radar gun readings, Outman could also find himself in a future Rockies’ bullpen should this starting thing fail. 

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-L Norichika Aoki to a two-year deal with a club option for 2014.  [1/16]

With a bid of more than $2 million, the Brewers won the rights to negotiate with Aoki. It took almost the entirety of the 30-day window to agree to terms, in part because Aoki worked out for the Brewers, but Milwaukee will have a new outfielder new to America when camp opens. Here’s what Derek Carty wrote about Aoki earlier in the offseason:

His bat figures to be playable against major-league pitching given his good hand-eye coordination, but scouts aren’t impressed with his power. He posted home-run totals of 20, 14, 16, and 14 from 2007 to 2010, which might look promising enough given the Quadruple-A label some slap on Japanese ball, but we need to remember that in those years, Nippon Professional Baseball was using a different ball.  When the league introduced new baseball for the 2011 season, Aoki's homer total dropped to a mere four—corroborating the scouting take that said his power won't translate well to America. 

Aoki could come in handy if Ryan Braun must serve his 50-game suspension. The Brewers could continue to platoon Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Gomez in center, play Corey Hart in right, and use Aoki in left field—perhaps in a platoon with non-roster invitee Brooks Conrad if need be, although it should be understood that success is far from a guarantee with Aoki. He did hit .329/.408/.467 from 2007-2011 but just .292/.358/.360 in 2011. If that is representative of Aoki’s true talent level in Japan, his line in America figures to be worse.

The saving grace could be Aoki’s potentially-plus defense in a corner outfield spot, which would allow the Brewers to weather Braun’s absence and Aoki’s own lack of pop and declining speed.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed to a five-year contract extension with P-L Gio Gonzalez worth $42 million with two club options that could bring the deal’s total value to $65 million. [1/15]

Getting right to the point: the Nationals are smitten with their new left-handed pitcher. Over the last two seasons, Gonzalez’s adjusted-earned run average is 129, placing him sixth amongst left-handed starters with 30-plus starts and alongside names like Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Ricky Romero, and David Price. That association is from a surface-level statistic, though, and here is how Gonzalez stacks up when using Wins Above Replacement Player:

Pitcher

2010-2011 WARP

Hamels

7

Price

6.5

Lester

4.9

Gonzalez

4.5

Romero

3.9

Despite ranking fourth in WARP, Gonzalez secured more guaranteed money than Romero (signed a five-year, $30 million extension with a club option after his second full season) and Lester (signed a five-year, $30 million deal with a club option after tallying two full seasons, too). Even fellow Super Two-ers Price (signed a one-year deal worth more than $4 million) and Hamels (originally signed a three-year, $20.5 million extension that bought out three of his four arbitration years) did not get deals like the one Gonzalez signed. But that does not mean Gonzalez is a clear winner and the Nationals gain nothing.

Guaranteeing Gonzalez more than $40 million will appear prudent should he develop into part of the organization’s bedrock. If not, the Nats should feel good knowing they have a secure and long grasp on his left arm—even if they had to pay extra to ensure it.

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

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