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January 12, 2015

Transaction Analysis

A's Deal A Zo Blow to Rays

by R.J. Anderson, Nick J. Faleris and Ben Carsley

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Tampa Bay Rays
Acquired ?-L John Jaso, SS-R Daniel Robertson, OF-L Herschel Powell, and cash considerations in exchange for W/E-S Ben Zobrist and SS-R Yunel Escobar. [1/10]

Matthew Silverman makes his seventh trade as the Rays' point guard, this time turning his starting double-play combination into three players, including one who knows his way around the Trop.

Jaso returns to his original organization after three seasons spent on the west coast. While he might not want to put down roots in St. Pete, as he's scheduled to become a free agent come winter, he ought to provide Tampa Bay with a boost thanks to his well-rounded offensive game. Jaso can hit for average, walk, and provide pop—a wrinkle added since the last time he donned the string ray. If there is a clear negative to Jaso's game, it's that he last topped 400 plate appearances in a season back in 2010, his first full year in the majors. Credit that development to a pair of concussions and some strict platooning.

How often Jaso plays is the second-most pressing question about him these days, with the first being where he'll play. Jaso was cleared for baseball activity in December, and seemed willing to resume catching; still, you couldn't blame him if he prioritized his long-term health by swapping his mitt for a different glove, if any. Additionally—and this is trivial by comparison—it's unclear if the Rays want him to catch, given that his well-below-average defense clashes with their recent glove-first preferences behind the plate.

Wherever Jaso plays and however you evaluate the prospects involved, give Silverman credit for deftly navigating a complex situation.

Silverman started the dance by signing Asdrubal Cabrera for Zobrist's dollar amount, thereby allowing him to trade Escobar without resorting to a minor-league shortstop. Escobar's inclusion in the deal almost certainly allowed Silverman to net two prospects and a productive big-league hitter, rather than a lesser package for Zobrist alone—or, alternatively, settling on a draft pick come the winter. Add in the players gained using the money freed from Escobar's inclusion and acquired from Oakland, and the Rays stand to gain another possible deadline trade chit to go with Cabrera. As such, the Rays are probably better off for the future than they would have been otherwise.

The downside to this scheme is the Rays will be worse in 2015, particularly when it comes to up-the-middle defense. Cabrera figures to slot in as the starting shortstop or second baseman, with Nick Franklin completing the double-play combination. Of course, one cleared cluster on the infield could lead to another logjam in the outfield, especially if Jaso is penciled in as the most-days DH. Perhaps another trade is in the works, likely involving David DeJesus, or maybe just a platoon is in order. Who can say at this point.

Regardless of where the Rays go next, this is a sad day in St. Pete. In addition to being one of the best players in franchise history, Zobrist was one of the organization's best people and role models. The Rays have enough depth in the outfield and middle infield that extending a player entering his mid-30s might not make financial or baseball sense. Yet as difficult as it is to replace Zobrist on the field, replacing him off it is impossible. Zobrist should be held in high regard in the region until long after these three players have departed. —R.J. Anderson

Daniel Robertson is the second-highest ranked prospect to be traded this offseason (behind left-handed hurler Andrew Heaney), and was the highest-ranked prospect in the Oakland system at the time of the trade. The offensive-oriented infielder immediately becomes the top dog in a Tampa system that includes an interesting collection of potential major-league contributors, but lacks much in the way of impact.

Robertson utilizes a compact, contact-friendly stroke that helps provide coverage across the quadrants and produces line drives to all fields. There is solid bat speed and good strength in the core and wrists, but at present the former supplemental-first-rounder doesn’t pack much punch in his trunk and doesn’t project for more than fringy playable power at maturity. He does demonstrate a strong feel for the strike zone and is adept at tracking and identifying offerings, which bodes well for his ability to continue to maintain an on-base-to-average delta in the 60- to 80-point range, which combined with the potential for above-average to plus hit production points to a potential foundational bat at the top of the lineup card.

Defensively, Robertson has made strides at the six spot, and his hands and arm both fit the profile. The lower half, however, lacks fluidity, which impacts his ability to set up and finish across his coverage zone, and which has a tendency to tack on an extra half second from set-up to fielding through release on his throws. This is not in and of itself destructive to his chances of sticking at short, but could have an increased negative impact on his performance as the game speeds-up at the upper-levels. Were he to shift off of short, he could find a home at either third base or second, though the overall profile probably plays best at the former.

Herschel “Boog” Powell (no relation to the Camden Yards barbecue master, who also played some ball in his day) is an undersized but physical talent with a good feel for contact in spite of a swing that can get a little long and sweepy. There’s above-average footspeed here, which plays out in center, but Powell lacks the reads and instincts to allow that speed to play up on the bases. The former Orange Coast Junior College product was hit with a 50-game amphetamines suspension last summer, his first positive test, but made up for missed time by logging 80-plus Arizona Fall League at-bats while slashing .300/.402/.429 and walking more than he struck out (12 walks against 11 strikeouts). His average arm is playable in center, but can lack accuracy and carry at times, leaving open the possibility of a shift to left. If Powell can stick in center he could profile as an everyday player, with enough pop to keep pitchers honest and allow for the on-base skill set to play. He should return to High-A in 2015 with a chance to hit his way to an in-season promotion. —Nick J. Faleris

Fantasy Impact

John Jaso

This is going to get a little repetitive, but here we go: There's just not much of a change for Jaso. He may be less likely to catch in Tampa than he was in Oakland, given the Rays' emphasis on defense behind the plate, but he'll still probably get 20 games to retain eligibility. There's not enough of a change in his contextual factors to move him one way or the other, though he could serve as the Rays' primary DH against right-handers, which would help him accumulate stats.

Rene Rivera

It's a tough day for all of you who were banking on an MVP-type year from Rivera. I don't think the Jaso acquisition will take away quite as much time from Rivera as you might think, but he gets dinged nonetheless.

Asdrubal Cabrera

Cabrera's odds of playing shortstop are better now that Escobar and Zobrist are out of the picture.

Nick Franklin/Logan Forsythe/Hak-Ju Lee

The Rays have cleared out their middle infield, and while Cabrera figures to play everyday there's way more opportunity for this triumvirate than there was a few weeks ago. Expect Forscythe to start the year with the job, but Franklin to emerge before long. Lee still has a lot to prove before he's truly fantasy-relevant again, but his odds of reaching the majors are slightly better now, at least.

Stephen Souza/Brandon Guyer

With Zobrist and Matt Joyce gone, there's a lot more playing time up for grabs in the Rays' outfield. Souza is the one to watch here, as he could emerge as a solid OF5 if given regular playing time. David DeJesus doesn't get the up arrow treatment here because Jaso figures to snatch away a good portion of his time at DH. —Ben Carsley

Oakland Athletics
Acquired W/E-S Ben Zobrist and SS-R Yunel Escobar from the Rays in exchange for ?-L John Jaso, SS-R Daniel Robertson, OF-L Herschel Powell, and cash considerations. [1/10]

After trading a number of regulars for youngsters over the winter, it might seem counterintuitive for Billy Beane to change course and trade prospects for veterans. Yet that's how Beane operates: his focus on the bigger picture, but never to the extent that it renders the present irrelevant. By acquiring a new starting middle infield, Beane has increased his team's odds of making a surprise run at the postseason.

Zobrist is both the better player of the two incoming Athletics and the truer rental, as he'll qualify for free agency at season's end. During the intermittent period, Zobrist should aid Oakland's efforts in several ways. As cliche as it sounds, his game revolves around versatility. At the plate that means switch-hitting without a negative platoon split and contributing in a variety of ways. He'll hit for average, walk, provide a little pop, and showcase smart speed—emphasis on smart—on the basepaths.

Defensively, Zobrist's flexibility has been well covered; he can play just about everywhere. Second base? Obviously. The outfield? Duh. Shortstop? Ya. And so on. Zobrist's protean nature helps his clubs in a few ways, but the most important part might be how it allows them greater freedom in constructing their rosters. (Consider the possibility that the A's could still employ Zobrist and Marcus Semien in the same lineup a few times a week, should they so wish.) Factor in Zobrist's character and durability—he's topped 599 plate appearances in each season since 2009—and he's as close to a sure thing as any non-elite player entering his mid-30s can be.

Escobar, on the other hand, is a dicier proposition. He followed up an impressive first year in St. Petersburg with a shaky second effort. His offense remained about even (his True Average dipped nine points), but his defense declined. Escobar has always atoned for less than elite range with a big arm, yet he seemed a step slower than usual in '14. Given his emotional ways—when he's right, he plays the position with skill and verve—the A's could be banking on a change of scenery doing his mind and body well. They hope so because, while Jed Lowrie set the defensive bar impossibly low, Escobar is under contract through the '16 season at $12 million. The A's also own a club option on his services for the 2017 season, so a defensive rebound would go a long way in determining that deal's quality.

Pair 'em together and the A's have added two potentially above-average contributors. Will that be enough to put Oakland in the divisional hunt? Probably not. But even if the A's fall short of the postseason, the downside here is limited. Jaso had no spot in the A's plans and Robertson seems to be the only long-term asset lost. Beane can test the waters on Zobrist and Escobar come the deadline. Beane might not top Robertson, but that's a risk he's willing to take. Given the upside, why not? - R.J. Anderson

Fantasy Impact

Ben Zobrist

Although there are a ton of moving parts and some interesting names in this deal, from a fantasy POV, it's honestly sort of a snoozer. Zobrist headlines the players involved for our purposes, but there's no reason to value him any differently in Oakland than there was in Tampa Bay. He's going to another unfavorable home ballpark, another questionable lineup and is staying in the American League. It's impossible to determine how much playing time he'll get where, but he's a safe bet to at least retain his OF and 2B eligibility into 2016, with SS eligibility a less certain proposition. Zobrist finished as fantasy's 13th-best shortstop, 14th-best second baseman and 43rd-best outfielder in 2014. He's really not an elite option anywhere anymore, but there's no reason he can't repeat said performance in 2015 with the A's, and versatility is valuable.

Marcus Semien
It's going to be tougher for Semien to get playing time in the wake of this trade. With Zobrist at second base, Escobar at shortstop and Brett Lawrie at third, Semien figures more as a frequently played utility guy than an everyday option. That could be good for his eligibility in the long-run, but his 2015 value takes a hit, even if he's still likely to get ~400 PA.

Yunel Escobar

He was relevant solely in AL-only leagues before the trade, and he's relevant solely in AL-only leagues now. Move along.

Josh Phegley/Stephen Vogt

Derek Norris and John Jaso are gone, meaning Phegley and Vogt should get substantial playing time in 2015. Phegley is interesting because he destroyed Triple-A in both 2013 and 2014, and while he's been unimpressive in the majors, the power is real. He'll be a popular sleeper pick in AL-only or two-catcher leagues. Vogt looks to be Phegley's platoon partner, and while he has defensive limitations, he brings a more balanced offensive approach. —Ben Carsley

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
Nick J. Faleris is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Nick's other articles. You can contact Nick by clicking here
Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

Related Content:  Oakland Athletics,  Tampa Bay Rays

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