Monday, January 10, 2011

The Perfect Pickup: Oakland Athletics

I actually have very few issues with the way the A’s front office went about this offseason. A’s outfielders put up 3.3 WAR overall last season, a total that bested only the Dodgers. Coco Crisp was the only fly-catcher on the club with better than 1.5 WAR, so the A’s outfield was in desperate need of a major overhaul. However, instead of looking for help on what turned out to be an extremely player-friendly free agent market, GM Billy Beane turned to the trade market, picking up two of the most underrated and underappreciated outfielders in baseball.

First, Beane swapped starter Vin Mazzaro and minor league lefty Justin Marks for left fielder David DeJesus, who will be playing outside of Kansas City’s franchise for the first time in his professional career. DeJesus doesn’t exactly have a sexy skill set, and he won’t provide the power most teams are looking for from their corner outfield positions, but he can give the A’s a solid 2-3 wins most years based on solid all-around offense and strong defense. In addition, DeJesus was in the middle of a breakout year last year, with 2.6 WAR through 91 games before crashing into a wall on July 22nd, suffering a ligament tear in his right thumb which would cost him the rest of his season. If DeJesus is able to pick up where he left off, a 4-5 WAR year in Oakland isn’t out of the question.

Then, Beane added Josh Willingham in exchange for reliever Henry Rodriguez and outfielder Corey Brown. Willingham will be the A’s everyday right fielder. Much like DeJesus, Willingham has consistently provided above-average production as an extremely affordable corner outfielder. He’s been between 2 and 3 WAR in each of the last 5 seasons, and above 2.5 for each of the last 3. He’ll flash some power, and Willingham led all outfielders with more than 450 plate appearances with a walk rate of 14.9%, and he hasn’t struck out in more than a quarter of his at-bats in a season since his rookie year. Willingham is consistently underrated and underpaid, but Beane and his savvy talent evaluators will get their money’s worth.

I’d give the A’s a perfect pickup, but there’s no corner outfielder who offers the combination of skill and value the A’s will get from DeJesus and Willingham. For a team without the financial resources to make a run at Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth, the Athletics did the best they could with a very top-heavy outfield market. Rodriguez is really the only interesting piece they had to give up, and the flamethrowing reliever still has control issues that could be a major barrier to his being successful in the majors. This has been a hugely successful offseason for the A’s, largely because they were able to mostly avoid a very player-friendly free agent market and instead take advantage of their minor league system to bring in new talent.

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