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July 7, 2009
The Hairston Deal
Acquired OF-R Scott Hairston from the Padres for RHPs Ryan Webb and Craig Italiano and a PTBNL; optioned OF-L Travis Buck to Sacramento (Triple-A); placed LHP Dallas Braden on the Bereavement Leave List; recalled LHP Dana Eveland from Sacramento. [7/6]
I guess I find this news somewhat bittersweet, albeit only somewhat. The Padres only had to give up Leo Rosales to land Hairston, and the A's ended up investing a lot more than that. As much reassurance as can be had from the suggestion that most stacks of arms only end up amounting to much in exotic locations like some of California's dustier, more distant diamonds, or even Oregon maybe, A's fans should take. The interesting immediate ripple is that Hairston's expected to step into the job in center field, which sounds great, except that it doesn't automatically involve a commitment to Buck in right field, it means that Ryan Sweeney's going to play there a bit, but still some Jack Cust some too, what with Nomar Garciaparra to placate with playing time until he hurts himself again.
It's sort of interesting to witness: the A's are going nowhere in the standings, and while they've made an admirable commitment to young pitching that has served them well, they're still putzing around with the mindless, repetitive failures of so many veterans. We might see that change by month's end, when perhaps they can bundle the odd Nomar or Bobby Crosby in the much-anticipated Matt Holliday deal.
To give credit where it's due, per Clay Davenport's new-model defensive metrics (from this year's annual) or UZR or RZR, it looks as if Hairston's made himself into a passable center fielder, no better than adequate perhaps, but a big improvement from his days as a defensive liability at second base and then his initial clumsiness once the Snakes shunted him out to left field. With the right-handed power to a lineup that leans a bit left, he's a nifty addition at the price of spare stock in organizational arms, and with a year or two of arbitration to go, he could be employed at relatively modest cost for a couple of seasons. Considering his older brother Jerry's equally modest yet brag-worthy success adapting to more difficult defensive positions late in his career, they make for an interesting pair of propositions as far as how career arcs don't always follow expectations when it comes to the defensive spectrum. Tip your cap or your glass to the power of adaptation instead of assumption.
In the meantime, it's a bit strange to see the A's carry a pair of defense-oriented outfielders like Sweeney and Davis when Hairston's going to get the reps in the middle pasturage. Increasingly, I'm beginning to think of Sweeney as the ghost of Gary Hancock made flesh, which probably means nothing to anybody but me and a few other gibbering idiots who remember the '80s and the post-Billyball hangover only too well. Lest we forget, Hancock was the other guy the A's received in the Tony Armas-for-Carney Lansford exchange, and because he'd come over in something so significant and-at the time-sort of depressing development, and in light of his managing to slug a bit in Pawtucket now and again, the A's sort of fell into playing him, spotting him for the forever-frustrating Mike Davis or having him grab a few at-bats from a wound-down Wayne Gross at first base. To his credit, Hancock went 7-for-14 as a pinch-hitter, but I think that sums up the highlight of his career with the A's. He played because they had him and they didn't really know what else to do, and he batted lefty, and he had some power but not as much as you'd wish for, and he made plenty of contact. That's keen, but it's also sort of a random selection for a bench guy-it's great for him if he strikes a team's fancy, but not all that important in the grand scheme of things.
Which brings me to my dilemma: What's Sweeney for? Over the winter they decided to make him their center fielder with all of the assertiveness of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, and whatever you fielding poison-Zone Ratings Ultimate or Revised, or Clay's older metric, Fielding Runs-he's been not just a good center fielder, but a good center fielder. The power people keep wishing for after watching him in batting practice, however, still hasn't shown up, even if he's still only 24 years old. So what are you left with? Sweeney's athletic yet not all that fast and relatively slugless, and he's a contact hitter who is platoonable in light of his career performance against right-handers (.288/.339/.391). And if he isn't playing center, he's essentially filler until you find someone with power potential.
What are the available options here? We projected Sweeney for a .265 EqA and an ISO of .131; he's delivering .255 and an ISO under .100. We projected Buck for .267 and an ISO of .157; that's not a big improvement, and the man's a year older. Aaron Cunningham's a year younger, and we pegged him at a .260 EqA and a .152 ISO. See the problem? Asking what Sweeney is for isn't going to give you a very happy answer-he's a symptom. Picking any one of these guys involves bruising your bean on all of the seemingly low ceilings. Some sort of job-sharing arrangement between Cunningham-projected with the best upside risk-and Buck might work out. It certainly couldn't be worse than falling back on Sweeney, but with the roster crowded with assorted veteran junk and the redundancies of Jason Giambi and Nomar No More and Jack Cust, it appears hard to get around to at least exploring that modest potential instead of enjoying the present guarantees for failure.
Placed C-R Henry Blanco on the 15-day DL; purchased the contract of C-S Jose Lobaton from Portland (Triple-A); designated RHP Edwin Moreno for assignment. [7/5]
Traded OF-R Scott Hairston to the Athletics for RHPs Ryan Webb and Craig Italiano and a PTBNL; placed 2B-R David Eckstein on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring); activated RHP Luke Gregerson from the 15-day DL; recalled RHP Mike Ekstrom from Portland. [7/6]
Going from bad and injury-afflicted and pitiable to bad and increasingly bland might be the sort of thing that drives fans away with an alacrity not seen since the horrors of the Tom Werner era, when paying customers dropped below 20,000 per game. They're already down 5,000 per contest this season, under 25,000; if they deal Adrian Gonzalez, you could see an implosion of the walk-ups who sensibly elect to instead walk away. But with Eckstein shelved, and Hairston dispensed with, what is there that's left to watch besides A-Gonz? Well, to be fair, Everth Cabrera's looking like a real shortstop, and there's the hope that a happily Giles-free outfield made up of Kid Gwynn and Will Venable and Chase "Only Related to Less-Famous Headleys" Headley can at least inform the team as to which ones are worth keeping into the future. But does that sound like something worth the big-league price of admission, or something like extended spring training in scrimmages that help other teams in the standings?
At least we can credit the front office with doing something else that's cool, in that they converted that initial investment in Scott Hairston-the immortal Leo Rosales-and received a pair of pitching prospects better than Leo Rosales and a PTBNL, and that's a rate of exchange you want to repeat as many times as possible. (Let's see what comes of Kevin Kouzmanoff; almost by default it has to be someone or something better than Josh Barfield, right?) Webb's a big guy, standing six-foot-six, and that added altitude on the mound gives him that nice downhill plane on a sinker he gets people to beat into the ground at a decent clip, but he's not overpowering, settling for a 3-1 strikeout to walk ratio that jumped to 6-1 as a reliever with Sacramento this summer. He might settle into the back end of a big-league bullpen, but he might also be an up-and-down type who gets on a first-name basis with the skycaps in Portland's airport.
Italiano was a second-round pick in that 2005 A's draft that seemed to signal a break from the Moneyball-described avoidance of high school arms (also selected were Jared Lansford and Vin Mazzaro); he's still coming back from a 2006 labrum surgery to some extent and was struggling as a starter in the Cal League, giving up 6.5 runs per nine. He was also throwing in the low 90s consistently, touches 95, and supplements that heat with a good curve, and using those to generate 75 strikeouts in 76
All in all, it's a good deal for the Padres. They might "only" wind up with a pair of usable relievers in the long view, but they're also getting the benefit of seeing how much a guy like Venable might be able to stick, and that should serve them well in their subsequent decision-making as well as their pen-staffing.