August 21, 2012
The A's Acquire Stephen Drew *UPDATED*
Traded SS-R Sean Jamieson and cash to Diamondbacks for SS-R Stephen Drew. [8/21]
Impact on playoff odds: +0.0 percent
It’s looking increasingly likely that the AL West team with the best chance of winning a Wild Card is the one that tinkered at midseason, not the one that went all in. The Angels were off yesterday, which means that for the first time since last Wednesday, they didn’t lose. The A’s did lose, but they remain 3 ½ games up on Anaheim with around 40 left to play. Whether out of financial necessity or an understanding that a less-than-50-percent shot at a 50 percent shot at the ALDS isn’t worth making a major move, Billy Beane’s team has been fairly quiet on the trade front. The A’s added George Kottaras in July in a tepid attempt to shore up one weak infield position, and now they’ve done the same with Drew.
Oakland tried to acquire Drew before the deadline, but an injury to John McDonald convinced Arizona to keep Drew. However, the A’s persisted and put in a claim, and with McDonald due back soon, the Diamondbacks saw the wisdom of parting with their highest-paid player. Drew is expected to take most of his playing time from Cliff Pennington, the team’s starter at short since 2010. Pennington hasn’t hit, but if this is an upgrade for the A’s, it’s a small one.
Drew arrives in Oakland sporting a Pennington-esque .223 TAv since returning from an ankle fracture that kept him out of action for almost a year. Of course, his bat is better than that. Drew says, “I’ve been hitting the ball well but haven’t been finding holes,” and there is some statistical support for his claim. He has the 20th-highest line-drive percentage of any hitter with at least 150 PA, which, considering some of the names ahead of him, probably says as much about the uncertainties of batted-ball classification as it does about Drew. However, his .242 BABIP is well below his career average, and it’s safe to expect a rebound, despite the change in league and ballpark. Like most players, Drew has hit better at home, but he’s not the Chase Field creation that Jason Kubel is.
Still, while Pennington doesn’t have Drew’s name recognition, he comes pretty close to his pedigree and performance record. Both players were first-round picks, and while Drew was the better prospect, Pennington has outperformed him over the past three seasons. Even in Drew’s “breakout” 2010, Pennington bested him by combining a bat that was slightly above league average with a great glove and good baserunning. When Drew replaces Pennington, Adam Rosales, and Eric Sogard, Oakland’s playoff odds don’t budge. If he could play third over Josh Donaldson in Brandon Inge’s absence—a position he hasn’t played professionally, but which he probably has the arm for—Oakland would get more mileage out of its available options. It’s worth mentioning that Bob Melvin was Drew’s manager for the first four years of his career, which can only ease his transition. And if you think playoff experience matters to a young team without much of it on the roster, Drew has whatever wisdom he might have picked up during Arizona’s 2007 NLCS run to impart.
Wherever Drew plays, if he stays healthy and hits any better than he has, he stands to make a lot of money a few months from now. As unlikely as it sounds, Drew will be the best shortstop available this winter, assuming the Tigers pick up Jhonny Peralta’s $6 million option for 2013. The other options are Ryan Theriot, Luis Rodriguez, Geoff Blum, and Jason Bartlett, so even after two down years, Drew’s offensive potential will stand out.
*Edit* In a flurry of transactions on Tuesday afternoon, the A's DFA'd Graham Godfrey to clear space for Drew on the 40-man roster, activated Seth Smith from the 15-day DL, and optioned sophomore second baseman Jemile Weeks to Sacramento. Weeks' demotion was the most surprising move (to most observers, if not to Weeks). The 25-year-old had a strong rookie season in 2011, finishing just a hair behind Josh Willingham on the A's WARP leaderboard, and he was the only Athletic deemed "untouchable" over the winter. However, he hasn't hit much better than Pennington in 2012, and now he'll have to be untouchable in Triple-A.
According to mlb.com A's beat writer Jane Lee, Weeks is "proud of improving" other aspects of his game, but it's tough to detect any improvement in his performance outside the batter's box: Weeks' -8.7 FRAA is second to last among all second basemen (behind only brother Rickie), and his baserunning also rates as below average. Maybe this was a wake-up call intended to inspire Weeks, but playoff contenders can't afford to place wake-up calls unless they think their short-term futures won't be worse for it. For now, the A's short-term future holds a lot more Adam Rosales, who started at second on Tuesday. He should be an upgrade until Weeks can get himself back together. —Ben Lindbergh
Traded SS-R Stephen Drew to Athletics for SS-R Sean Jamieson and cash. [8/21]
Impact on playoff odds: +0.0 percent
Between the remainder of Drew’s $7.75 million 2012 salary and his $1.35 million buyout for 2013, the Diamondbacks saved roughly $3.3 million by dealing their longest-tenured player. Best of all, they did it without damaging either their short-term playoff hopes or their long-term future. PECOTA didn’t think the D-Backs had any better chance of overcoming their five-game deficit in either the division or the Wild Card race with Drew than they do with Willie Bloomquist, John McDonald, and Jacob Elmore, and removing one player from that mix will make Kirk Gibson’s life a little easier when McDonald comes off the DL on Friday.
The 29-year-old Drew, Arizona’s first-round pick in the 2004 draft, was an above-average player from 2008-2009 and appeared to be entering an even more impressive peak in 2010, but injuries have curtailed both his playing time and his productivity over the past two seasons. In light of his agent (Scott Boras), his status as the most attractive free-agent shortstop on the market, and the comments Diamondbacks managing general partner Ken Kendrick made about his commitment in June, six weeks was likely all Drew had left in Arizona. Kevin Towers acknowledged as much after announcing the move, noting that Boras and Drew had not contacted him to discuss an extension or express any interest in returning.
The D-Backs will spend the rest of the season taking a longer look at Elmore, but the best they can hope for from the former 34th-round pick is a ready replacement for Bloomquist and McDonald when their contracts expire after next season. It might be a stretch to expect even that much from Jamieson, who falls below Double-A shortstop Chris Owings on the organization's prospect depth chart. With Owings unlikely to help before 2014, Drew’s departure leaves the D-Backs without an attractive option at shortstop on Opening Day , but that would have been the case even had they held on to him. At least this way they’ll have more cash in the coffers to put toward a potential solution. —Ben Lindbergh
A 17th-round pick in 2011 out of the baseball hotbed that is Canisius College (no player drafted out of the school has reached the big leagues), Jamieson has a good understanding of the strike zone, gap power, and a bit of speed. However, his full-season debut has left far too many questions about his bat, as 23-year-olds hitting .234/.345/.379 at Low-A rarely have much of a future. —Kevin Goldstein
Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ben_lindbergh