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January 17, 2010

Transaction Action

The Kouzmanoff Trade

by Christina Kahrl

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BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHPs Jorge Sosa and Edwin Moreno and SS-Rs Angel Sanchez and Gil Velazquez to minor-league contracts. [1/15]

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to terms with RHP Bobby Jenks ($7.5 million) and OF-R Carlos Quentin ($3.2 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration with both. [1/17]

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Noted the departure of 1B/3B-R Tommy Everidge to the Mariners via a waiver claim. [1/15]
Traded OF-Rs Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham to the Padres for 3B-R Kevin Kouzmanoff and 2B-L Eric Sogard. [1/16]

And with that, Jake Fox-as-a-third baseman goes back to a slightly more out-of-the-way place on the options menu, while Eric Chavez might have to live with being a utility player-at least before he returns to the DL, as a cynic might note.* To his credit, Chavez has already suggested that if he's healthy-and if he doesn't know, who could claim to?-he could envision handling a utility role, backing up at first base (who?), the outfield corners (naturally), and even proposing shortstop, which he played in high school. Sure, maybe that sounds crazy, but if Nomar could handle it as recently as 2008, why not suggest it? Meanwhile, Billy Beane's commented on Chavez possibly handling platoon duties at the hot corner; again, that's if healthy, because that's really Chavez's nickname at this point: Eric "If Healthy" Chavez. Me, I don't give a darn if he's at shortstop or platoons at third, I just figure it would be swell If Healthy resembled a healthy If Healthy when healthy, if he's healthy.

So let's move over to Kouzmanoff, the guy who should end I Don't Know's three-year run at third. His improvement as a third baseman is taken as a matter of course in some circles, and while he's not going to be mistaken at third for Chavez (If Healthy), he's improved enough to be an asset in his own right, providing a nice reminder that players control some element of their own skills and can actively improve upon them. Since Kouzmanoff's entering his initial spin of arbitration eligibility, they might have him as their hot corner fix for three years to come, not a shabby solution as such things go, and, since he'll be past 30 once he's eligible for free agency, one they only need to really consider and employ within that span of time.

What about his hitting? Despite his consistently slugging 70-80 points better on the road in his three seasons as a Pad person, this isn't a reprieve: he's moving from one league's toughest park to the other league's toughest park, with the additional disadvantage of moving to the tougher league. He doesn't walk much, since his full-season big-league high was six percent in 2007, and coming to Al Davis' uglified Mausoleum should make for more instant-death at-bats via popups. Add in his losing at-bats in personal-favorite venues like the unBOB in Phoenix and a career rate of hitting .251/.300/.420 against right-handed pitching (and .252/.301/.438 against right-handers away from Petco), and you can understand why Beane's willing to publicly posit platoon possibilities. Kouzmanoff could certainly be sat down against a number of northpaws, but those career marks against the majority of pitchers while coming over to the tougher league adds up to making this a more modest addition than might be taken in at first glance. It beats pretending Fox can play third, but Kouzmanoff's a player with his own share of shortcomings.

So who's on first? If Healthy Chavez might be, but he's been gone long enough that people will no doubt be asking who again. It may not be entirely in his hands, because there's still the pending zero-sum contest between Daric Barton and Chris Carter to resolve. Happily, where Carter's concerned, the A's don't have to ask which, since they know they have the right one, and devil (or the Mets) take the other. Retaining Jack Cust at his actual (not arbitration-inflated) market price means there's really only one job for the two of them, and whether or not If Healthy is might prove irrelevant should one or both have big springs. I know and you know that spring stats are silly, but we also know they have a way of punctuating a decision-making process by turning question marks into exclamation points.

Moving around the horn, what have they got in Sogard? He's on second, certainly, but what's what as far as his prospects at the keystone? As a hedge against Jemile Weeks' Chavez-like inability to stay healthy (and possibly moving away from second base to help him with that), Sogard's a nifty add-on to the deal. He provides the additional benefit of not having to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2010 season, although he might advance that timetable if he continues to grind his way towards The Show, and should Mark Ellis have another one of his run-ins with the disabled list. As a 23-year-old at Double-A last season, the former Arizona State star and 2007 second-round selection hit .293/.370/.400 overall, and .325/.399/.442 against right-handers with an 11.2 percent walk rate. Despite questions about his range at second, he scores scrappy points with observers, and while the upside might be modest, it isn't hard to see a potentially useful bit player in there.

That might be enough maiming of the classics for one Sunday afternoon, but now we know who's on third, and I don't know's at first, at least for now. While it might seem as if they've out-Fox'd themselves, he's still on the bench to spot at all four corners as well as DH, because even with Jack Cust sticking around and the list of candidates for left field shortened down to just Rajai Davis and Eric Patterson, there should still be plenty of at-bats for Fox. I'm sort of intrigued by the possibility they could wind up with a Patterson/Davis platoon in left, so Fox might have to spot for Ryan Sweeney in right against lefties. It makes for a moderately interesting collection of possibilities, which is about all A's fans can ask for beyond who or what, today or tomorrow, naturally.

*: There is, of course, the possibility the A's might be nearing a decision to eat the last $15 million they owe Chavez, $12 million for this year, and the inevitable "Three'll get you 9 " proposition as far as the $3 million buyout of the $12.5 million 2011 option on Chavez.


SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Claimed 1B/3B-R Tommy Everidge off waivers from the Athletics. [1/15]

He had a nice little breakout, and if you can pretend that Chris Shelton can play third for the benefit of the good people of Tacoma, Everidge represents at least a modest defensive upgrade in those terms. To some extent, he might be fighting a one-on-one battle with Matt Tuiasosopo to sort out which of them winds up with a big-league bench job and who gets to play every day for the Rainiers, since the Mariners have been looking at Tuiasosopo as more than just a third baseman, and there's room for a right-handed caddy on the bench of a ballclub counting on Casey Kotchman at first base.


SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to terms with RHP Heath Bell on a one-year, $4 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/15]
Traded 3B-R Kevin Kouzmanoff and 2B-L Eric Sogard to the Athletics for OF-Rs Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham. [1/16]

Several elements played parts in the decision to make Kouzmanoff go away. Money certainly did, since Kouzmanoff's arrival at arbitration eligibility figures to get expensive if left to the panelists' whims, but Hairston's arb-eligible for the next two years, and while he figures to be more biddable, the savings to the next two annual budgets won't be huge. Of course, there was also a desire to move Chase Headley back to third base, where his bat plays better, and which shouldn't hurt the Pads on defense, however vaunted Kouzmanoff's recent work with leather might be. Finally, opening up both corners so that both Kyle Blanks and Will Venable can play regularly certainly makes sense for the club going forward.

Beyond all of these gains, however, this wasn't a give-away deal, in that the Padres acquired a pair of useful players. Hairston's right-handed pop gives them a fourth outfielder they can use to spot against lefties for Tony Gwynn Jr. in center or Will Venable in right, as well as someone not daunted by the prospect of playing in Petco. To some extent, Cunningham gives them a younger version of Hairston, a right-handed hitter who makes good contact with decent power, with perhaps somewhat less playability in center. For as long as Cunningham's been bandied about as a prospect, it's worth noting that he'll only be turning 24 during the season, and it's intriguing to note Geronimo Berroa among his PECOTA comps. Add in that he's ready-now (or as ready as he'll ever be), and yet the Pads might have six seasons of control, and he makes for a nice addition.

The question now is whether or not this represents any modification of the modest ambitions in San Diego, born of the hope that last season's nice 33-25 finish makes for a run at relevance in 2010. To some extent, I see it as a boost, despite surrendering a regular for one outfielder who won't be and another who won't be yet. However, a five-man outfield collection of Blanks, Venable, Cunningham, Hairston, and Gwynn winds up being a fun mix-and-match set that shouldn't hurt their bid at contention in the least. Kouzmanoff's basic mediocrity as an offensive producer is essentially being replaced by the bats of outfielders with upside in Venable and Blanks, which should translate into a slightly stronger lineup. That's before you get into the additional tactical benefits of having Hairston around for double-switches and perhaps both acquired outfielders being around to help against lefties or providing part-time power. So, despite the fact that this isn't really a challenge trade or an apples-for-apples exchange of starting player for starting player, it might end up as a right-now win/win deal for the Pads and the A's alike, while Cunningham's potential upside could eventually make it a better longer-term good move for the Padres.



Thanks for Kevin Goldstein and Eric Seidman for their assistance.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  Eric Chavez,  A's,  The Who

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