The Oakland A's busy off-season continued on Monday when they acquired a starting outfielder, trading away some of their starting pitching depth in the process. While there were rumors that the A's were interested in Smith for much of the off-season, the trade itself was still somewhat of a surprise given the A's stated intent this off-season to rebuild and field a team of young players with an eye on the future.
While not old, Smith is certainly a player who fits a team more in a "win-now" mentality than a rebuilding one. Smith played in parts of five seasons with the Rockies, appearing in at least 130 games in each of the past three campaigns. Smith has been fairly productive during his time with Colorado. In 2009, Smith had an 888 OPS in 133 games. After falling off to a 783 OPS in 2010, Smith rebounded this past season with an 830 OPS in a career-high 147 games. Overall for his career, Smith has an 833 OPS with 51 homers in 487 games played.
Smith's calling card as a hitter has been his work against right-handed pitching. Over the past three seasons, he has hit .287 with an 878 OPS versus righties. He has had significantly less success versus southpaws. The left-handed hitter has managed only a 616 OPS against lefties over that same span.
Those aren't the only notable splits on Smith's stat sheet, however. Like many hitters who have played a significant portion of their careers with the Rockies, Smith has hit much better in the thin air at Coors Field than he has at sea level. His home OPS over the past three years is 935, while his road OPS is a much more meager 736. Whether Smith can continue to be a productive player playing his home game in a pitcher-friendly ballpark remains a significant question.
Smith was the Rockies' second-round pick in 2004 out of Ole Miss, where he was both a baseball star and the back-up quarterback on Eli Manning's Rebel squads. He had a very productive minor league career, moving quickly through the Rockies' system, reaching the big leagues for the first time in 2007. In five minor leagues seasons in total, Smith had an 885 OPS and he reached double-digits in homeruns in every minor league season but one.
Smith will be under team control through the 2014 season. Before being traded to Oakland, he and the Rockies had agreed to a one-year deal worth $2.4 million, avoiding arbitration.
In return for Smith's services, the A's sent two pitchers to Colorado who were expected to play large roles in the A's starting pitching rotation during the 2012 season. Before the trade, Moscoso was slated to be the A's number two or three starter this season. He had a breakthrough rookie campaign with the A's last year, posting a 3.38 ERA in 128 innings. The Venezuelan allowed only 102 hits and walked only 38, helping him overcome the fact that he struck-out only 74 batters. He has been a flyball pitcher throughout his career, a trait that made him well-suited for the cavernous Oakland Coliseum. It remains to be seen whether his style will translate well to Coors Field.
Outman will also have his flyball-tendencies tested at Coors Field. The hard-throwing southpaw threw 136.2 innings last season, a campaign split between Triple-A Sacramento and the big leagues. It was Outman's first season back on the mound after having Tommy John surgery midway through the 2009 campaign. Outman posted an ERA of 3.91 in 17 starts with the River Cats and 3.70 in 13 appearances (nine starts) with Oakland last year. He struck-out 107 and walked 70, although his control improved as the season went on.
Before his surgery, Outman was on his way to establishing himself as a permanent member of the A's rotation. He had a 3.48 ERA in 67.1 innings with a 53:25 K:BB ratio in 2009 before getting hurt. His biggest bugaboo that season was his HR/9 ratio, which was 1.2. Outman has been both a reliever and a starter during his career and could fill multiple roles for the Rockies moving forward.
Last week, we took a look at the potential backlogs in the A's system in 2012 and noted that both the starting pitching and outfield situations were the two largest potential backlogs. This trade, at least for the moment, has lessened the backlog in one of those areas, but has added more stress to the other.
The starting pitching situation has cleared up some with the trades of Moscoso and Outman. Multiple news outlets have reported that the A's have agreed to a one-year free agent contract with veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon. Colon, if the signing becomes official, will slot into the rotation spot that Moscoso would have held. Outman's potential spot either in the A's rotation or the bullpen is now up for grabs amongst the remaining pitchers in the Oakland spring camp. The chances now of one of the A's recently acquired pitching prospects – Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock and Tom Milone – making the team's Opening Day roster have also increased and there should be another spot available in Triple-A for a starter that wouldn't have been available before the trade.
The outfield situation is also clearer, at least at the major league level. Smith will be slotted into the A's starting outfield as the regular left fielder. The A's are talking right now about having Smith play everyday, regardless of whether there is a right-hander or left-hander on the mound. However, if Smith continues to struggle versus southpaws, it wouldn't be surprising for him to turn into a platoon outfielder.
The other two starting outfield slots are also set. Josh Reddick, acquired from the Boston Red Sox in the Andrew Bailey trade, will be the A's everyday right fielder, while the veteran Coco Crisp will be the A's everyday centerfielder for the third consecutive season. Reddick is a left-handed hitter and Crisp is a switch-hitter, but is also injury-prone, meaning that the A's back-up outfielders – especially the right-handed ones – are likely to play significant roles for the A's this season.
The A's have several candidates to be their back-up outfielders this season. Right-handed centerfielder Collin Cowgill and right-handed corner outfielder Michael Taylor are the leading candidates to play those roles in 2012. However, the left-handed hitting Brandon Allen, Jermaine Mitchell, Jeff Fiorentino, Cedric Hunter, Brandon Moss and Jason Pridie will all have opportunities to try to earn a spot as the A's fourth or fifth outfielder. Adding Smith does make it likely – barring another trade or an injury – that there will be at least one more experienced outfielder who is sent down to Triple-A, pushing other outfielders in the A's system down another rung.
This trade also sends another mixed message as to how the A's front office views the 2012 campaign. The trades of Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey were sold as part of a rebuilding plan. However, the A's recent additions of veterans Crisp, Smith and reportedly Colon appear more like the kind of moves a team that is hoping to be somewhat competitive would make. The A's have talked about building towards a competitive window that begins in 2014 or 2015. Crisp and Colon will certainly not be part of that window and Smith, a free agent after 2014, isn't likely to be either.
Moscoso and Outman weren't likely to play significant roles on a championship team in 2015 (although Outman has the stuff to exceed expectations). However, by acquiring Smith and signing Crisp, the A's are once again not giving themselves an opportunity to try out their young talent to see if those young players are the long-term answers in the outfield. In addition, in Smith the A's are once-again bringing in a hitter whose success has come in a very different hitting environment than the one he will encounter in Oakland. The A's recent history with these type of acquisitions has been disappointing, at best.
In all likelihood, the acquisition of Smith (as well as Crisp and Colon) will make the team marginally better in 2012. However, in a division with Albert Pujols and the two-time defending AL Champions, the A's have little hope of actually being competitive. If wins and losses in 2012 mattered, it seems like the A's would have been better served holding onto Cahill, Gonzalez and Bailey and not venturing down this rebuilding path at all. However, having embarked down the rebuilding path, it is curious that the A's are now seemingly making an attempt to try to improve for 2012 with less of an eye on the long-term future of the team. This half-rebuild/half-compete mode has been the team's modus operandi the past five seasons and it hasn't netted the franchise anything more than mediocrity. Will that streak continue into a sixth season?