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OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Acquired OF-L Chris Coghlan from the Cubs in exchange for RHP Aaron Brooks [2/25]

It happened again. The Athletics went out and required an inexpensive pre-free agency regular with platoon splits, a low ceiling, a little positional flexibility. Coghlan had a career revival as soon as he stepped foot in Chicago after four disappointing seasons in Miami, and now he’ll attempt to do it again on the West Coast. In this move, the Athletics once again snagged an average baseball player with a wart or two, and may spend the rest of the spring trying to make a new puzzle piece fit their mishmash roster.

Before this deal, PECOTA was projecting Coghlan to post a .253 True Average in his upcoming walk year, but that mark would be decidedly less than ideal. He can do better, and has proved over the last two seasons: in 2014 he posted a .292 TAv, in 2015 he posted a .279 TAv. The former Cub’s critical flaw is a common one—nearly all the damage he’s done has been against right-handed pitching. Last season he took it to the extreme, as the Cubs barely used him against lefties (just 49 PA), but he posted a .208 OBP and .140 slugging percentage. Leveraged against right-handers, Coghlan can be an offensive difference-maker, but against southpaws he might as well be a hat rack.

It’s almost worth considering his offense a sure thing, but his position on the diamond is certainly not. His career has been a bit of a walkabout, moving from most of his time in the bigs patrolling the outfield to short stints in the infield. As a corner outfielder, Coghlan has been a mixed bag over his career: FRAA is certainly the high system on his defense, giving him good marks in Chicago (+7 runs); other defensive metrics DRS and UZR have pegged him as an awful defensive outfielder right up until 2015, during which he was about average. Joe Maddon, master of positional flexibility, also used him at first, second, and third base during his time in Chicago. He’s spent less than 200 innings in the infield, but the Athletics already appear to be punting infield defense, so you could imagine a scenario where he slots in at second or third base in a world where the A’s decide to get creative.

Of course, we already know the A’s are creative. The most interesting part of the deal is that the Athletics didn’t seem to need another guy like Coghlan. Even with his positional flexibility–and remember, he’s not really a good defender anywhere–he’ll need to be partnered with a right-handed hitter. On this roster, that means one of Khris Davis, Danny Valencia, Marcus Semien, Billy Butler, Mark Canha, or maybe Jed Lowrie. Davis is likely to play every day, Valencia is reported to be playing every day, and Semien is, at least in name, the team’s shortstop. Thanks to the presence of another lefty (Yonder Alonso), I’d imagine that either Butler or Canha would be the platoon partner for Alonso at first/DH. Since Butler can’t play defense worth a darn, let's assume Canha is Alonso’s partner, which leaves Butler and Lowrie as short-side platoon options. Either of those would be a bit of a surprise, but Lowrie seems a bit less likely to be platooned. He’s a switch-hitter (albeit one with a -.068 TAv platoon split last season) and perhaps the only other “true” middle infielder on the roster aside from Semien. Lowrie’s defense may be no great shakes, but Coghlan could still be a downgrade with the glove.

So that leaves Billy Butler, the team’s DH and also the A’s highest-paid player. Are the Athletics really ready to make him the short side of a platoon? If they want to run the best possible team out there for 2016 … yeah, maybe. Butler’s PECOTA-projected TAv is superior to Coghlan’s (.273 for 2016), but which of the two would you most likely project to beat their projection, Coghlan or Butler? My bet would be the guy who has outperformed the projection over the past two years—Coghlan—over the guy who has under-performed, in Butler. And that’s probably enough to turn them into a platoon, when the A’s will need to scrounge for every win.

However it plays out, the Athletics acquired an above-average regular in exchange for a middling relief pitcher in Brooks. Maybe they’ll deal Coghlan at the deadline, maybe they’ll deal someone else, but unless there’s a sudden and surprising breakout, the Athletics definitely won this trade on paper. The only “problem” here is that there doesn’t seem to be a natural fit, even for someone who logs some time almost every position. Part of me thinks that this deal is as much a referendum on the Billy Butler contract than on anything else—despite the investment, performance is still king. Beane and Forst have made a career out of zigging when other teams are zagging—they did it when they brought Butler in, and they’re doing it again now by adding a player who’s not an ideal fit. Even so, he’s a valuable player that Oakland acquired for a song, and that’s a very A’s move indeed. —Bryan Grosnick

CHICAGO CUBS
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Signed OF-S Dexter Fowler to a one-year contract worth $8 million, with a mutual option for 2017; Acquired RHP Aaron Brooks from the Athletics in exchange for OF-L Chris Coghlan [2/25]

Well. There is a great deal to talk about with respect to this transaction, and only some of it has to do with the deal’s baseball implications. There’s the fact that, a mere 72 hours ago, we believed that Fowler had agreed to a three-year, $35 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles, there to play right field at Camden Yards. There’s the corresponding fact that nobody—not one person—had heard a whisper of this deal until a white-shirted Fowler strode out onto the Cubs’ Field 6 and greeted his cheering teammates. And there’s the CBA-driven oddity that Fowler, a 3.7 WARP player last year, was unsigned at this late date in the first place.

But we’re not here to talk about any of those angles, interesting though they are. We’re here to talk about the implications of a simple fact: On Thursday morning, the Cubs organization was home to (among others) outfielder Chris Coghlan, and this Friday morning it is home instead to Dexter Fowler and Aaron Brooks. What does that mean for Chicago?

Quite a lot. We’ll get to Brooks in a moment, but let’s for a moment consider instead the Coghlan->Fowler upgrade. Coghlan is a good player, and he would’ve contributed positively as a Cub in 2016. He can play all three outfield positions (center field only in a pinch), has a good eye at the plate, and has a reasonable degree of power. All good things.

But he can’t really hit lefties: His TAv against them, last year, was .141, compared to .294 against righties. And that made it quite difficult for him to be more than a very solid fourth outfielder in a Chicago outfield rotation that also (prior to yesterday’s chicanery) included Heyward, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber, and Javier Baez. Manager Joe Maddon would of course have found a use for him, but his role was limited.

Enter Fowler, who can play pretty much every day, and can play center field to boot.

Fowler’s presence in center allows the Cubs to move Heyward back to his natural home in right field (although he’ll still back up Fowler in center, as Fowler will back him up in right), pushes Soler to a backup position in both right and left (to Kyle Schwarber), and gives Baez (who’d been getting reps in center, during winter league) the opportunity to focus more on his infield work (at second, shortstop, and third base) for the time being. It also probably means that Matt Szczur is no longer needed on the roster (he’d been wanted for his ability to back up center field), which opens the door for Tommy La Stella to grab the second utility infielder role (he plays second, third, and occasionally first), which provides Kris Bryant (who’s also played center field in the big leagues) the opportunity to slide into left field late in games if necessary.

Oh, and Schwarber is planning to catch a few games, too. And we haven’t even talked about Ben Zobrist.

Dizzy yet? That’s a natural byproduct of the extraordinary flexibility the Cubs have built into their roster this season. On any given day, the Cubs can run out a lineup of big-league stars explicitly tailored to the opposing starters’ weaknesses, and then run out a second string of perfectly competent big-league regulars to take on the opponent’s bullpen. Against righties, the lineup will probably be Schwarber-Fowler-Heyward. Against lefties? It’s probably Soler-Fowler-Heyward, with Schwarber either on the bench or behind the plate. And if the starter has a reverse-split? Then…

We needn’t go on. Chris Coghlan was a very good fourth outfielder. Jorge Soler is a better one—a starter on nearly all teams—and Fowler’s profile in the lineup (where his on-base percentage will be just as valuable as it was last year) and in the field gives the Cubs an astonishing array of depth and talent to deploy at the time of their choosing. And the price they paid for the privilege? A mere $8 million, plus or minus the net value of Coghlan/Brooks, and presumably another $5 million when Fowler declines his half of the mutual option for 2017. The Cubs wouldn’t have gone out and got Fowler at the price the Orioles were willing to pay, of course, but Fowler took a discount to come back to a city he connected with, and thereby put a deal on the table that the Cubs couldn’t afford to turn down.

Ah, Aaron Brooks. The man about whom many words would likely have been written, were it not for what came right afterward. From the Cubs’ perspective, Brooks has a few pleasant qualifications: He’s tall (6-foot-4), he walks many fewer people than he strikes out (7.8 K/9 vs. 1.8 BB/9), and he has minor-league options left. The first two qualifications make him merely a typical Cubs pitcher of the last few years; the last makes him a perfect fit for an incredibly crowded bullpen and rotation picture in Chicago this year. Brooks won’t make the big-league bullpen out of spring training—not unless lightning strikes, like, 10 other people between now and April—but will instead head to Triple-A Iowa, there to await big-league disaster or a September roster expansion. But, enough words about him, because this deal wasn’t really about him. I mean, the Cubs are always after pitching depth—who isn’t? But what they needed to do yesterday, fundamentally, was move salary so they could pick up Dexter Fowler. And move it they did, in the form of acquiring Aaron Brooks. —Rian Watt

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Unraveller
2/26
Do we really need mixed metaphors in the teasers? Am I reading Buzzfeed here?
tomshipley75
2/26
re: the Coughlan/Brooks trade, does history between the front offices play a part here? You say that the A's are obvious winners on paper. Do Hoyer/Epstein not press Beane for much in return here because A) They need to move Coughlan and B) The memory of getting Addy Russell/McKinney for half-seasons of Shark and Hammel? Not that this trade balances out the Russell trade, but in general, is there that dynamic between front offices? We'll go a little easier this time since we know we got a great deal last time?
woodlc05
2/26
Nit picking a bit, but it was 1.5 seasons of Shark, who was flipped for Semien and Phegley.
vic19x
2/27
Keeping this in perspective, while Coghlan is a decent player, flipping him for Brooks is really just the privilege of employing him and paying him for 2016. Think of it this way, for a little extra cash the Cubs are employing Fowler and Brooks instead of just Coghlan. So while the direct comparison between the assets Coghlan and Brooks the A's do win "on paper" overall the Cubs roster is in a stronger position taking everything else (Fowler) into consideration.
TwinsfanTravis
2/26
While having versatility is nice, I'm not sure you can just say "major league regulars coming off the bench equals better". History is rife with players whose production has dropped off due to them not playing everyday. Baseball is a game of rhythm and it's tough adjust from playing every day to seeing sporadic playing time. Not to mention the ego and confidence issues it can cause. I'm don't think juggling these players will be as easy as everyone thinks it will.
jonathanaustin
2/26
Is there any data that you can point to that shows that a player transitioning from a full time job to a bench role drops in production? While I'm sure there are examples of this, without data it's sort of a meaningless point (the only data I've seen is that pinch-hitters do worse, but not that bench players in general play worse as a starter than they would if they were a full-time player). I'm sure you can find plenty of examples of players doing better when given less PT - doesn't mean that it was the less PT that caused the improvement (although I have seen some studies showing that players play slightly better when they didn't play the day before, so moving to part-time could help as its more likely that the players will be rested).
TwinsfanTravis
2/27
I don't really have time to comb the annals of all baseball statistics but I can point to the fact that hitter generally are less productive as DHes after moving from playing the field full time. I think most players will tell you that it is tough to adjust when you are used to a certain rhythm and it can be difficult to stay mentally sharp when you don't know when or where you will be playing. Especially with young guys like the Cubs have. Bryant, Russell, Schwarber, Soler, Baez, they are all very young and still developing and adjusting to the game at this level. Just saying positional and role instability may hinder that development.
tearecrules
2/26
How much of that history though are players whose production does not justify being a full-time starter in the first place?
tomshipley75
2/26
I think the key for the Cubs is Maddon's willingness to rest more players more often, thus allowing for Soler to potentially get close to 500 ABs this year, which isn't exactly a "bench" player.
Richie
2/26
Whitey Herzog said back in the 80s that if a player is unwilling to fill the role you have for him, you have to get rid of him pronto, before he poisons the clubhouse. If you accept that, then this is all on Soler. Will he be minimally/acceptably content with 2-3 starts a week?
Taldan9
2/26
No mention that that nameless guy, the Cub's field manager, is the key to this working
BrewersTT
2/26
I'm scratching my head as to why Fowler would take 1/$8M + option over 3/$35M, if the figures are accurate. He must really like being on the Cubs, and/or being at the top of the standings.
tearecrules
2/26
Flower is getting less than he'd have gotten from accepting the QO, but it is an $8m with $9m option for next year and a 5m buyout so he'll get at least $13m this season with the option to reenter FA or take the $9m. I see his agent is Casey Close. I question Close's statement that this is the most irresponsible behavior he's ever seen in his agent career. He was the agent for Brady Aiken after all.
Richie
2/26
Where did you find Close's statement?
tearecrules
2/26
I saw it on Ken Rosenthal (I think) on Fox, but it was originally on Close' agency's twitter feed.
vic19x
2/27
Makes you wonder why Fowler didn't just take the Cubs qualifying offer. Next off-season he'll be in the same situation........free agent (if the mutual option is not executed) with draft pick compensation attached if the Cubs extend a QA again. Maybe Fowler (and Close as his advisor) are hoping the new collective bargaining agreement changes the rules regarding QAs being tied to draft picks, thus allowing a true free market to bid for Fowler's service. If that's his gamble he sure left a lot of guaranteed money on the table.
vic19x
2/27
"QO." My auto-correct changed it and I didn't notice.
maphal
2/26
And then add Victorino as of this morning. Seems like the Cubs are fielding a 30 man roster this year. Suffice to say that expectations are REALLY high on the north side of Chicago this year.
maphal
2/26
Granted, on a minor league deal.
I75Titans
2/26
The Cubs lineup is built precisely like a Championship-caliber Strat-o-Matic team.
sbnirish77
2/26
The Cubs probably had the best prospect collection of position player talent in the past 20 years. Unfortunately Theo has done just about everything possible this winter to impede the development of the group. Castro you don't like? Fine - get something more than 5/6 starter for him. Zobrist blocks Baez who at one point in time was thought to be the best of the lot. He has no place on the field now. Schwarber should be getting at least a little time behind the plate and could easily serve as a backup C but Theo choose to carry Lester's caddy Ross who was terrible least year and should be in a retirement home. Getting Fowler puts Schwarbs and Soler in a platoon in LF. Soler made tremendous strides in his plate approach down the stretch last year and gets rewarded with a 200 AB role in the upcoming year. Bringing in Victorino makes the situation even worse. At least with all the OFs we will be spared the ridiculous sight of Bryant in CF and he'll stay at 3B. Albert Almora (CF) can forget about ever seeing a taste of MLB this year delaying his development further. Ditto for CJ Edwards the best pitching prospect who will be blocked by the slide in the starter staff to accommodate John Lackey signed coming off his best year in 10, two years removed from chicken and beer. Bottom line - the development of Schwarber, Soler, Baez, Almora, Edwards has been retarded no matter what the Cubs achieve this year by the signing of Zobrist, Heyward, Ross, Lackey. Overpaying for a non-power hitting, good defensive OF in Heyward looks eerily similar to that of Crawford in Boston. I'm sorry I'm very excited to watch the young Cub prospects develop but I've got zero interest in watching the old overpaid cronies of Theo.
Richie
2/26
Theo has done this bass-ackwards from how it is usually done. Play your ultra-cheap young studs to see what you got, then spend those nice juicy savings where you don't have ultra-cheap young studs. Where the young guys crater, or get hurt, come the All Star break there are always veterans now-available from the disappointing teams. Heyward I'm alright with, as I don't see a future for Schwarber in the outfield. But Price was the only FA they had real need for. And they could've so easily afforded him. Plus saved $$$ for when it's time to extend the young guys that do come through. And for Harper time.
batts40
2/26
If Castro counts as one of the young guys, then Rizzo and Heyward are the same age, and they're out there every day. Ditto Bryant and Russell, and Schwarber on most days. Soler might feel the brunt of this, but Baez hasn't shown that he's going to live up to his billing, and that was showing even before the new influx of talent. CJE is a pen arm, Almora isn't ready for the bigs and Dex is only here for one year, and has questions about his offensive profile anyway. Bottom line- I'm very happy with the way the Cubs have handled the young players, in large part. The Cubs have a strong case for the best roster in the league and are still very young almost everywhere.
Richie
2/26
No "might", Soler will feel the brunt of this. And Baez is now buried, which with his skills you don't do after a first shaky trial. Heck, the Angels would've traded Trout for 'proven talent' on that basis. I'm not sour on what Theo has done - other than Zobrist - I just think he's rushed something he didn't have to. The Cubs were set up to be the late-90s Yankees, with a cheap young core giving them the financial room to cover any mid-season injury, sign any free agent, gild the bench, satisfy whatever want or need came up. Now, not so much. Like Captain Queeg, Theo's instead chosen to try to recreate his greatest triumph. Bring a championship to a storied franchise after decades and decades without one. He probably will sometime in the next few years, and so again be a hero. Just this had the makings of a 10-year dynasty. Now, not so much.
tomshipley75
2/26
I'm not worried about Baez. He'll get his ABs this year. And if he proves himself, Zobrist won't block him for long. An extra year of Soler and Schwarber not being relied upon as full-timers isn't a bad thing. If both play well this year (they too, I think will get their ABs), then Fowler is gone next year and Heyward can move to CF. Or Maybe Soler is flipped and Baez moves to center? Or Baez is flipped... I think Maddon gets the kids ABs, it's just now the 2016 don't need to rely so much on them. And Theo has added even more flexibility for the future. I like his moves this offseason.
tomshipley75
2/26
That should be Jed/Theo... and 'their moves.'
sbnirish77
2/28
BINGO
Richie
2/26
And minusing sbnirish77?? Jeepers.
vic19x
2/29
The two "losers" having Zobrist and Fowler on the roster are Baez and Soler. But see the forest through the trees. This is a championship caliber team and the one thing having those guys does is raise the overall floor. What you want to guard against is being stuck in the one-game wild card again, and despite the high upside of the young players they still have a lot left to prove. Take a look at the PECOTA projections for the players whose playing time is most affected (90 percentile, 10 percentile): Zobrist .304, .252 Schwarber .330, .258 Baez .301, .221 Soler .305, .235 Fowler .295, .241 PECOTA isn't the be all end all but if you're trying to guarantee a division championship you've taken some insurance out against one or more of those guys being on the lower end of their projections. The floor is higher for Z and Fowler while the upsides are close enough that there's not enough of a reason to make a fuss (really). Maddon will figure out a way to make this work. It's a long season and if anything having so many good lineup possibilities will guard againt injury and players getting worn down. I still wouldn't be surprised if a trade happens at some point.
cachhubguy
2/27
I can't believe some of the whining about playing time. They have built a team so good they have starters as bench players. And some have so little faith in Joe Maddon that they think Soler and Baez will be hurt by this. Just the opposite. They will get plenty of at bats and it won't be with the pressure of the daily grind. Soler will play left against lefties, in AL parks and when Fowler gets a rest. He'll play right when Heyward get a rest. Baez can play almost anywhere except catcher. This team is so versatile it should be the most rested team by the end of the regular season.
morro089
2/28
Plus injuries happen. Outside of Soler the Cubs may have forgotten about injuries after last year's lucky streak.
sbnirish77
2/28
Its not about playing time - its about developing the young players to the best of their ability. Getting the 200 ABs that Soler and Baez will get is just a waste. Don't pretend you get the same development as with 500 or 600 ABs. If Schwarber can at least approximate the defense of Posada the Cubs have a giant at the position. Lets at least see if that is possible. That absolutely has ZERO chance of happening if he takes two seasons off at the position. Simply criminal for that to occur to accommodate Ross. Wouldn't it be better to play Baez at 2B regularly and let Zobrist play all over like he has in the past? Probably but not at that salary. Joe asked Castro to 'suck it up' and accept a role change. Lets see if he does the same with Zobrist who I am pretty sure thinks in his own mind is coming here to play 2B.
mhmosher
2/29
The most overhyped team in 20 years. You would think they are about to win 125 games and then go unbeaten in the playoffs. I know they have a nice team, but shouldn't fans pump the brakes just a little?