The Details: On December 28, the Oakland A's traded right-handed reliever Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney to the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Josh Reddick, corner infielder Miles Head and right-handed pitcher Raul Alcantara.
The A's made their third trade of the off-season, once again dealing a former All-Star to a contending club for a package of younger players. This time, the A's swapped All-Star closer Andrew Bailey and former starting outfielder Ryan Sweeney to Boston. In return, they received one major league ready outfielder and two minor league prospects.
In some ways, the A's were dealing from a position of weakness when they traded Bailey and Sweeney. Both players have had recent, well-documented injury problems that have lowered their perceived value around the league considerably.
Bailey's health, in particular, has been a subject of much speculation throughout last 12 months. A survivor of Tommy John surgery in college, Bailey had a clean-up procedure on his right elbow before the 2011 season and then suffered what appeared to be a serious right elbow injury during a spring training outing. The injury itself turned out to be a strain and the break-up of some scar tissue, but he still missed nearly all of the first two months of the season.
Once Bailey returned to the mound, he had a solid season, although it was slightly less impressive than his previous two campaigns. For the first time in his career, he posted an ERA higher than 2.00 (3.24). But some of that inflated ERA was bad luck. His WHIP was still a solid 1.10 and he allowed only three homeruns in 41.2 innings. His velocity was down a bit throughout the year, but he was still averaging better than 93 MPH on his fastball.
For his career, Bailey has a 2.07 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP and 174 strike-outs versus 49 walks in 174 innings pitched. Although some believe the value of a closer is over-inflated, there is certainly no question that when healthy, Bailey has been one of the best relievers – regardless of roles – in the American League the past three seasons.
The A's may have felt that trading Bailey this off-season was a necessity because they didn't want to risk another injury-filled season lowering his trade value even more. On the flip-side, Bailey may have had significantly more trade value this July if he was healthy for the first half of the season. He was arbitration-eligible for the first time and salary considerations may have pushed the A's to move Bailey now rather than wait until the deadline.
The inclusion of Sweeney in this trade was somewhat more of a surprise, not so much because he was productive in 2011, but because he was the only outfielder from the A's 2011 Opening Day roster expected to return to the club in 2012. Like Bailey, Sweeney's trade value was probably at its lowest point since the A's acquired him in 2008, although he was never a particularly hot trade commodity even at his peak.
The left-handed hitting and throwing outfielder had – up until the 2011 season – been an everyday player for the A's and one of the team's leading hitters from a batting average perspective. However, he was never able to hit for the kind of power expected of an outfielder with his 6'4'', 225-pound frame, and he battled knee problems for much of his time with the A's. Those knee problems limited him to only 82 games in 2010 and required off-season surgery. Although he was considered healthy in 2011, Sweeney was relegated to a fourth outfielder role thanks in part to concerns over whether his knees could handle the wear-and-tear of everyday play. A strong defensive corner outfielder, Sweeney was asked to play centerfield at times with the A's and he held his own, but his ongoing knee issues made it less and less likely that he would assume that role in future years. Like Bailey, Sweeney was an arbitration-eligible player and he was set to make more than $1.5 million in 2012.
Sweeney's 2012 playing time with Oakland will now likely go to Reddick, who, in some ways, is the exact opposite from Sweeney as an offensive player. Drafted in 2006 out of a Georgia junior college, Reddick had an impressive debut in the Low-A Sally League in 2007 that catapulted him onto the prospect radar. He followed that effort by destroying the hitter-friendly Cal League with High-A Lancaster before finally hitting a speed bump with Double-A Portland during the second half of the 2008 season.
Reddick would rebound nicely with Portland in 2009 and was called up to the major leagues. He would yo-yo between the majors and Triple-A the rest of that season, appearing in 18 games for Triple-A Pawtucket and 27 games for the Red Sox. In 2010, Reddick began the year in Triple-A and would spend a majority of the season at that level, although he did appear in 29 games with the Red Sox. During his first two years in the big leagues, Reddick was unable to get his average above the .200 mark.
The 2011 season was a bit of a breakthrough for Reddick, at least at the major league level. He hit only .230 with Pawtucket, but his 14 homers and .508 SLG in 52 games were a big part of his 841 OPS. He was called up at the end of May and by July he had replaced Mike Cameron in the Red Sox's outfield rotation. Reddick was a shot in the arm for Boston, at least initially. He played nearly everyday in July and posted an 817 OPS with three homers. In August, his playing time dipped some and his production also fell off, as he posted a 603 OPS. In September, he appeared in nearly every game early in the month, but found himself on the bench during the final week of the Red Sox's epic collapse. Reddick finished the year with a .280/.327/.457 line in 87 games for the Red Sox.
As a hitter, Reddick's calling card is his power. He has reached double-digits in homeruns in every year he has played professionally and he has never posted a SLG lower than .466 in any minor league season. A left-handed hitter, Reddick has an aggressive approach at the plate, and while he doesn't swing and miss that often, he also doesn't walk a whole lot. He has average speed and isn't much of a threat to steal. He will turn 25 on February 19.
Defensively, Reddick is actually fairly similar to Sweeney, although Reddick won't see time in centerfield like Sweeney did with Oakland. Reddick has an above-average throwing arm and handles right-field well. If he winds up teaming with Collin Cowgill and Michael Taylor in the A's outfield next season, Oakland may have one of the top throwing outfields in the big leagues.
The other two players the A's acquired from Boston – Head and Alcantara – are not expected to arrive in Oakland for another two years at least, as neither has played above the A-ball level.
Head was a 26th-round pick of the Red Sox in 2009 out of a Georgia high school. The Red Sox signed Head away from a commitment to the University of Georgia with a $335,000 bonus. He had two nondescript seasons in 2009 and 2010 before breaking out with Low-A Greenville in 2011. With the Drive, Head batted .338 with 15 homers in 66 games before he was promoted to High-A Salem. With the Salem Red Sox, Head struggled initially, posting an OPS of 660 in 31 June and July games. He heated up in August, however, putting up an 805 OPS in 27 games. He would finish his time with Salem with a .254/.328/.405 line and he had a .299/.372/.515 line for his entire season between Greenville and Salem.
The 20-year-old has a solid feel for hitting and quick wrists. He projected as a power hitter in high school and that aspect of his game really emerged in 2011. He isn't particularly tall (listed at 6'0''), but he has a well-built frame and weighs in at around 215 pounds. His body type is similar to the A's Daric Barton, although he is more muscular than Barton was at the same age.
In high school, Head was a third baseman, but the Red Sox moved him to first base in 2010, in part because they projected him to grow out of the third base position if he continued to add muscle and girth. He has a third baseman's throwing arm and good hands, but there are questions as to whether he has the athleticism to handle third base at the higher levels. Given the A's organizational needs at third, Head may return to that position in 2012, but whether he will stick there will remain an ongoing question. He played well defensively at first base last season and should be able to stay at that position long-term. In some ways, he has a similar defensive profile to former A's prospect Brett Wallace, although Head's arm strength grades higher than Wallace's.
Head did appear in a half-season's worth of games at the High-A level last year, but given that he didn't dominate the Carolina League like he did the Sally League and that he won't turn 21 until May, the A's are likely to have him start the 2012 campaign with High-A Stockton. The Oakland front office will be able to get a closer look at Head if he is with Stockton, plus they will prevent him from having to face the frustration of the power-sapping winds of the Texas League, at least for a short time.
Alcantara is the biggest wild card of the three players the A's acquired in the Boston deal. The Dominican right-hander just turned 19 in early December. Signed to an international amateur free agent deal by the Red Sox in 2009, Alcantara spent only one season pitching in the Dominican Summer League before the Sox brought him stateside. He made his US debut in 2011 with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast Red Sox and dominated that league in nine starts, allowing only four earned runs in 48 innings pitched (0.75 ERA) and striking out 36 while walking only six.
The Red Sox promoted Alcantara to short-season Lowell of the New York-Penn League in August and he made four starts with the Spinners. He was rocked in his first outing, allowing seven runs in 2.1 innings. Alcantara walked an uncharacteristic four batters in that outing. He settled down for the final three starts of the year, however. In 15 innings, he allowed only five earned runs and he struck-out 13 while walking only two. As an 18-year-old, Alcantara was one of the younger pitchers in the New York-Penn League.
Alcantara has a lively arm and with his 6'3'', 175-pound frame, plenty of room for projection. He already throws with solid velocity, sitting in the low-90s as a starter and occasionally touching 96 MPH. He also has the makings of a solid curveball and change-up and displays remarkable command for a pitcher of his age and experience. He doesn't yet miss as many bats as one would expect for his level of stuff, but that should become a bigger part of his game as he refines his secondary pitches and perhaps adds a cut fastball to his arsenal to give him more movement within the strike-zone.
Alcantara should make his full-season debut in 2012, likely with Low-A Burlington and the pitcher-friendly environment of the Midwest League. Given his age and inexperience, Alcantara's progress through the A's system figures to be gradual and it is possible the A's might hold Alcantara back in Arizona for the first month or so of the season to wait for the weather in the Midwest to warm.