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January 17, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Bring Me the Bat Man

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired C/DH-L John Jaso from the Mariners as part of a three-team trade; sent A.J. Cole, RHP Blake Treinen, and a player to be named later to the Nationals. [1/16]
Designated C-L George Kottaras for assignment. [1/16]

The A’s being opportunistic, now there’s a surprise. Oakland had no business aiding Seattle in its pursuit of more offense. Yet the A's finagled their way into the talks, financed the prospects portion of the deal for the Mariners, and in the process nabbed a big-league contributor of their own. All for one arm they rented from the Nationals and another whose future may lie in the bullpen.

Jaso is a souped-up version of Kottaras—who, by the way, should land on his feet with a new team as a bat-first backstop—coming off a banner season after altering his mechanics and philosophy. While Jaso’s offense used to center around contact and walks versus right-handed pitchers, his improved power production could be a game changer. Jaso’s smart speed is a nice bonus, and he’s keen on taking advantage of advancement opportunities. The positive superlatives stop there. Jaso is a below-average defender who doesn’t throw well, receive well, or block pitches in the dirt well.

The A’s will control Jaso for three more years and he could form a nice platoon with Derek Norris. – R.J. Anderson.

SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired OF-R Mike Morse from the Nationals as part of a three-team trade; sent C/DH-L John Jaso to the Athletics. [1/16]

Offense at any cost is not the Mariners’ official offseason slogan but it could be. Jack Zduriencik’s Mariners teams have had defense-first identities, in part because Seattle has become a safe haven for the first-class glove wielders and out makers of the league. Names like Franklin Gutierrez, Jack Wilson, Endy Chavez, Jack Hannahan, and Ryan Langerhans have glittered Seattle’s lineup card. In recent times, Zduriencik turned to Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, and Justin Smoak—young, promising hitters—to turn the tide and light up the scoreboard. Both ventures failed to produce wins, as the Mariners have finished below .500 in each season under Zduriencik except his first.

This winter brought a new strategy to town. Seattle is trading in its out makers for run creators—a tag that works in more than one sense like its predecessor. Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, and now Morse combined feature little defense to spare. The Mariners are okay with it provided these bat-first players bring the thump. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees with Ibanez and Bay, leaving the burden on Morales and Morse.

Morse is a big, strong man capable of handling his share. Although Morse bats righty, he hit 13 of his 18 home runs last season toward right or right-center field. And while Morse is indeed a big, strong fellow with power tendencies, he avoids the pitfalls of having a low batting average. Such is a benefit of foregoing deep counts and shunning walks; yes, Morse is no fan of the free pass. He’s walked in about 6 percent of his career plate appearances and walked about 4 percent of the time in 2012.

So long as Morse hits a lot of home runs and sustains a decent batting average he should be a productive offensive player. He’ll need to be, because the Mariners aren’t employing him for his ability to field whatever position he winds up at. Morse came up through the Mariners system as a shortstop, but he’s now limited to first base or the corner outfield. He’s grumbled about DHing before and it’s not clear that the Mariners should poke the bear; after all, can he be worse out there than Bay or Ibanez?

Like Morales, Morse will hit free agency at season’s end. Zduriencik is essentially trading three years of Jaso for one of Morse. It’s a risk borne from a dire need of offense and power. Perhaps it works out in the end. Right now, it looks like a short-term move for a team with a questionable short-term outlook. – R.J. Anderson

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Acquired RHP A.J. Cole, RHP Blake Treinen, and a player to be named later from the Athletics as part of a three-team trade; sent OF-R Mike Morse to the Mariners. [1/16]

In exchange for sending Morse to Seattle, the Nationals received two prospects from the Oakland A’s, both with impressive raw arm strength. A.J. Cole is the more notable of the two prospect and he actually returns to the team that drafted him in the fourth round in 2010. The National originally shipped Cole to Oakland as part of the Gio Gonzalez deal prior to last year.

Cole’s most impressive attribute is his big-time fastball that can sit in the 94-95 mph range and reach as high as 98 when he needs a little extra. His fastball doesn’t just draw attention for its velocity, but also for the natural sinking movement it displays. Both Cole’s curveball and changeup need to improve but he shows flashes of feel for both pitches and if everything comes together, he could have a very good three-pitch mix. Cole’s biggest issue is his lack of consistent command. He throws strikes regularly but doesn’t locate any of his pitches within the strike zone, leaving him far more hittable than his raw stuff suggests. The Nationals are very familiar with Cole and know what they’re getting in return: a potential high-end starter.

Although he is a lesser-known prospect, right-hander Blake Treinen offers intriguing raw stuff. A product of South Dakota State University, Treinen has shown velocity as high as 96 mph in the past, but rarely displayed that kind of heat in 2012. His fastball sat mostly in the 91-93 mph range and reached 94 during his outings. Both his breaking ball and changeup lag behind, leaving him far too predictable and hittable. Most scouts believe Treinen profiles better as a power-armed reliever where his fastball could play up and his slider may take a step forward. – Mark 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

Related Content:  John Jaso,  Michael Morse,  A.J. Cole

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