Trade Analysis: Saarloos For Shafer

On Tuesday, the Oakland A's sent swingman Kirk Saarloos to Cincinnati for minor league reliever David Shafer. We have an analysis of this trade inside.

The Trade Details

The Oakland A's sent RHP Kirk Saarloos and a player to be named later to the Cincinnati Reds for RHP David Shafer and a player to be named later.

Overview

Any analysis of this trade will not be complete until we find out the identity of the players to be named later. However, we can still assess what the impact of the trade will be as it stands right now.

What The A's Gave Up

In Saarloos, the A's have given up their safety blanket from the last few years. In 2004, the right-hander made five starts for the A's when Tim Hudson went down with an oblique strain. In 2005, he became the A's fifth starter when Oakland traded away two-fifths of their rotation. Then in 2006, he began the season as a reliever and then moved back-and-forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen as the A's needs dictated.

Saarloos' versatility is his best asset. He is an extreme groundball pitcher, but last year his control was iffy, at best. In 2006, his walk rate jumped from 3.04 per nine innings to 3.93 per nine innings, although his strikeout rate did rise from 2.99 per nine innings to 3.86. Saarloos' other peripheral stats trended badly in 2006, as well. He allowed two more hits per nine innings than in 2005 (jumping up to 11.05 per nine innings). He also allowed almost double the number of homeruns per nine innings, a bad sign for a groundball pitcher. His 1.66 WHIP was the highest of any A's pitcher with more than 50 innings of work in 2006.

In other words, despite being only 27 years old, there is a good chance that Saarloos has already peaked as a major league pitcher. He threw a lot of innings in college at Cal-State Fullerton and then was rushed to the big leagues by his first team, the Houston Astros. He also has a high-effort delivery which has caused him some periods of elbow pain in the past.

When Saarloos is on his game, he is very dependent on his middle infielders to succeed and the A's have had one of the best middle infields for most of Saarloos' tenure in Oakland. If the Reds can field well up the middle and Saarloos is throwing as well as he did in 2005, he could be a solid fifth starter for the Reds. His groundball tendencies will be well-suited to the bandbox of Great America Ballpark. He could also fill a longman role in the Reds' bullpen.

What The A's Acquired

Shafer already has a few friends in the A's organization. He was a college teammate of Rich Harden and Brad Knox at Central Arizona Junior College. Like both Harden and Knox, Shafer is a right-handed pitcher. That is pretty much where the similarities end between Harden, Knox and Shafer, however.

Unlike Harden and Knox, Shafer has been a reliever almost exclusively during his minor league career. He also relies on a slider as his out-pitch. Like Knox, Shafer has taken a somewhat deliberate path through the minor leagues. Despite posting good numbers at every level, Shafer has not pitched above Double-A during his five years in the Reds' farm system.

He first reached Double-A in 2005, when he made 34 appearances for the Chattanooga Lookouts. He struggled with his command during his first Double-A stint, walking 5.45 batters per nine innings. The 2006 season at Double-A was much more successful for Shafer, however. He walked only 2.90 batters per nine innings in 2006 and his WHIP was a sparkling 1.07. Acting as the Lookouts closer in 2006, Shafer began the year with 22 saves before being stalled with bicep tendonitis. He struggled a bit in August as he recovered from his injury, but his overall numbers in 2006 were still very solid.

Shafer has a high-80s/low-90s fastball with some sink and a solid slider which he uses as a swing-through pitch. He has been tough to hit throughout his minor league career, holding opposing batters to a .209 batting average. His control, with the exception of the 2005 season, has always been excellent. Shafer has been a closer in the minors, but his stuff projects better as a set-up man than a ninth inning guy at the major league level. He will turn 25 on March 7.

The Impact On The A's System

By trading Saarloos, the A's have opened up an opportunity for a few of their younger pitchers to surprise at spring training and stick on the Opening Day roster. Before the trade, Saarloos was probably the number two option behind Joe Kennedy for the fifth starter role. Now Brad Halsey, Jason Windsor, Shane Komine and Dan Meyer move up a slot on the A's starting pitching depth chart.

In addition, the A's crowded bullpen gets a bit of a relief. Before the trade, the A's had seven major league relievers already practically guaranteed a spot on the Opening Day roster (Huston Street, Justin Duchscherer, Kiko Calero, Alan Embree, Chad Gaudin, Kirk Saarloos and Jay Witasick). In addition, the A's have two relievers who were on the A's roster for most of the season (Ron Flores and Halsey), a Rule 5 pick that they will lose if they don't carry him on the roster all season (Jay Marshall), two Triple-A starters who could be solid middle relievers (Windsor and Komine) and four promising relievers on the verge of competing for a major league bullpen spot (Marcus McBeth, Connor Robertson, Santiago Casilla and Mike Mitchell).

While Saarloos' absence doesn't clear up all of those log-jams, it does give the A's one less pitcher with a major league contract to worry about when making those decisions. It also frees up $1.2 million that the A's can apply towards a trade for roster help during the season if need be.

Shafer will join a long list of solid right-handed relief prospects in the A's organization. He will be in major league camp along with the aforementioned McBeth, Robertson, Casilla and Mitchell. If all five wind-up in Triple-A Sacramento, the River Cats could have one of the best bullpens in the minor leagues. Shafer's presence in the system will also allow the A's to trade one of their relief prospects in the right deal without compromising their depth in that area. In a lot of ways, Shafer is replacing Jared Burton on the A's minor league relief depth chart. Ironically, the A's lost Burton to the Reds during this year's Rule 5 Draft.


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