Since before the start of the 2009 season, the Oakland A's have been searching for a solution to their right-handed power void. That search has led to a series of deals. Since November 2008, the A's have acquired right-handed sluggers Matt Holliday, Scott Hairston, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Jake Fox in a series of trades, which have cost them a laundry list of players, including Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street, Aaron Cunningham, Ryan Webb, Craig Italiano, Jeff Gray and Sean Gallagher, among others. As of Monday, only Kouzmanoff remained with the team. The A's are hopeful that their latest right-handed offensive acquisition, Conor Jackson, will have a more lasting impact on the team.
Jackson is a player who is already familiar to Bay Area baseball fans. The Southern California native was a first-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2003 after a stellar collegiate career at Cal. Jackson rose quickly through the Arizona farm system, reaching the big leagues in 2005. Starting in 2006 going through 2008, Jackson was a fixture in the D-Backs' line-up, posting OPSs higher than 800 and reaching double-digit homerun totals in each of those seasons. In 2009, Jackson was limited to only 30 games, and he struggled, batting .182. He was hitting .238 in 42 games this season at the time of the trade.
Like so many members of the A's roster, Jackson comes with an injury history. He missed a majority of the 2009 season with a bad case of Valley Fever and pneumonia. He had some quad and shoulder issues in 2008 that caused him to miss a handful of games, as well. Jackson missed time earlier this season with a hamstring problem. However, none of his injuries, with the exception of the Valley Fever he contracted last season, have cost him more than a few weeks at a time.
Jackson has played primarily first base and left-field throughout his big league career, and he has even made an emergency appearance at third. With the A's, he is likely to see most of his time in the outfield, although he could spell A's regular first-baseman Daric Barton against tough left-handed pitchers.
Jackson signed a $3 million contract with the Diamondbacks to avoid arbitration before the start of this season and he is owed $1.9 million for the rest of the year, some of which will be paid by Arizona. The A's will control his rights through 2011, should they choose to offer him arbitration this off-season. Oakland reportedly beat out a number of suitors for Jackson, including their AL West rival Texas Rangers.
Oakland is looking for Jackson to provide the A's line-up with punch from the right-side, something they were hoping that both Fox and Kouzmanoff could do for the team this season. Fox had a poor spring and then never got on-track at the plate in limited at-bats with the A's and was hitting only .214 with a 591 OPS in 98 at-bats when he was designated for assignment over the weekend. Kouzmanoff has been better than Fox, although Kouzmanoff's OPS sits at only 723 (although he is batting .451 with an 1129 OPS in June).
When healthy and on his game, Jackson is a good hitter for average with gap power and the ability to take a walk. He is also a tough hitter to strike-out. In some ways, Jackson is a very similar hitter to Barton, but from the right-side, although Jackson has more power. The A's figure to play him mostly in left-field and at DH, which means the team will have an interesting decision to make when Coco Crisp is activated from the disabled list. Crisp was signed this off-season to be the A's starting centerfielder but he has missed all but two games this season with a broken thumb and a strained stomach muscle. Crisp is expected to start a rehab assignment in the next week or so.
Once Crisp returns, the A's will have a crowded OF/DH picture with Crisp, Jackson, Ryan Sweeney, Rajai Davis, Eric Patterson, Jack Cust and Gabe Gross all factoring into the mix. The picture will become even more complicated once Eric Chavez and Travis Buck return from their injuries. Of course, given the A's history problems this season, a crowd at any position would be a problem the team would be happy to have.
To get Jackson, the A's have had to dip once again into their minor league depth. Sam Demel may be the lesser-known name involved in the trade at the moment, but he could be a factor in the major leagues as soon as this season. On Sunday, A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson was raving about Demel's progress this season in an interview with Scout.com. Demel added a cut-fastball this season and it has been a devastating weapon for him, according to Patterson.
"His cutter is 90 to 91 and his fastball is 93 to 94. He can sink it," Patterson said.
"He's got a great change-up and a good slider. He's got four weapons that are not big changeable weapons. Basically all of the pitches are fastballs. It's a fastball that cuts, it's a fastball that sinks, it's a fastball that moves and a fastball that goes slow, with the change-up. It's almost the same arm everything except the ball is going three different ways, right, left and down. And then he's got a slider."
Demel was a third-round pick of the A's in the 2007 draft after a standout career at Texas Christian. He has moved quickly through the A's system since that time, reaching Triple-A last season. Throughout his career, Demel has put up outstanding strike-out totals, whiffing more than 10 per every nine innings pitched. However, up until this season, he struggled with his command, walking nearly five batters per nine innings pitched. Much of those command issues disappeared this season, as he has walked only nine in 28.2 innings. He has struck-out 28 and was holding PCL batters to a .212 average while posting a 1.26 ERA and saving six games.
"He is just able to command the ball better and repeat his delivery better," Patterson said.
Demel should be given a chance to contribute to the D-Backs' bullpen this season. He will help the D-Backs replace Daniel Schlereth, a hard-throwing young reliever that the team traded to Detroit this off-season in the Edwin Jackson trade.
Over the past several years, the A's have been deepest in their bullpen, so it wouldn't appear at first that dealing Demel would be a huge blow to the team's overall depth. However, injuries could quickly make the A's area depth an area of weakness. Joey Devine and Josh Outman are still making their way back from Tommy John surgery and left-hander Brad Kilby is sidelined with a shoulder problem. The A's will be counting on Henry Rodriguez to continue to show his improved command at Triple-A and on Fautino De Los Santos to continue to throw well for High-A Stockton in his recovery from Tommy John surgery to make up for the loss of Demel on the team's depth chart.
If anything, this trade is an indication that the A's are intending to compete for the AL West title this season and that they weren't willing to let a three-game sweep at the hands of the San Francisco Giants over the weekend deter them from that goal.