The deal: The A's acquire CF Chris Young and cash considerations from the Arizona Diamondbacks for IFs Cliff Pennington and Yordy Cabrera. The Diamondbacks acquire RP Heath Bell and cash considerations for Cabrera.
The wheeling and dealing Oakland A's are at it again. Billy Beane and the A's front office got an early start to their off-season maneuvering over the weekend when they traded middle infielder Cliff Pennington and prospect Yordy Cabrera to the Arizona Diamondbacks for veteran outfielder Chris Young.
The trade gives the A's five veteran outfielders under contract for the 2013 season (six if one counts first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss) and lends the team considerable flexibility as they look to defend their 2012 AL West Division title.
In Young, the A's are receiving a player that, in many ways, embodies the way Oakland was built to win games in 2012. Young hits for power (in six-plus seasons with Arizona, he averaged 24 homers a season), runs well (he averaged 21 stolen bases per season) and plays good defense. He also strikes out a lot (an average of 149 per season) and rarely hits for average (.239 career BA). Young, like so many players the A's have targeted in trades in recent seasons, is coming off of a down year that was impacted by injury.
Young is signed through 2013 for $8.5 million and he has a $11 million club option for 2014 that includes a $1.5 million buyout. Arizona sent $500,000 to the A's as part of the trade. Although Young is a veteran, he won't turn 30 until next September. A right shoulder injury limited Young early last season and his 2012 campaign ended early with a quadriceps strain. In total, he played only 101 games last season, a career-low. Before 2012, Young had appeared in at least 134 games in every season since 2007.
A 16th-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2001, Young was traded to the Diamondbacks as part of the deal that sent Javier Vazquez to Chicago before the 2006 season. Current A's manager Bob Melvin was Young's manager in Arizona from 2006 through 2009. Young joins Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill, Chris Carter, Stephen Drew and Jordan Norberto as players on the team's current 40-man roster acquired by the A's from Arizona. Drew has a mutual option for the 2013 season worth $10 million. The rest are under team control for next season and beyond.
Young joins a now deep A's outfield. At this time last year, the A's had none of their 2011 starting outfielders under contract for 2012. Now the A's have five outfielders with significant starting experience in the big leagues under contract for 2013 – Young, Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith. The A's also have Moss, who hit 21 homeruns last season while splitting time between the outfield and first base.
It isn't immediately clear how the A's intend to use Young. When they were all healthy, Cespedes, Crisp and Reddick were the A's three starting outfielders in 2012, with Smith getting the starts at DH versus right-handed pitching. Young has been an everyday player throughout his career, and with a salary of $8.5 million, he will be paid like a starter. However, Melvin proved in 2012 that he was very adept at mixing and matching players. In addition, Crisp, Cespedes and Smith all missed significant time last season due to injury and Reddick's production fell off precipitously in September, perhaps due to the wear-and-tear of playing every day. Adding Young will give the A's cushion against injuries and wear-and-tear.
As it stands at the moment, the arrival of Young would seem to indicate that the A's are not likely to re-sign free agent-to-be Jonny Gomes, who was the team's right-handed DH/corner outfielder last season. In 333 at-bats, Gomes hit 18 homers and he posted an 868 OPS. He also was the team's emotional leader. However, given that the off-season hasn't even officially begun, it would be foolish to rule out Gomes' return entirely. The A's signed Gomes late in the off-season last year and it is possible that the A's could deal one of their current outfielders and still have time to sign Gomes.
This trade also has an impact on the A's infield. Before dealing Pennington, the A's were looking at a potentially crowded infield situation, especially if Drew returned as the team's shortstop. Pennington was the A's starting shortstop for much of the past three seasons. While he was a solid defensive shortstop for much of that time, Pennington never posted an OPS above 690 in any of those seasons (his OPS in 2012 was 589). He did impress defensively at second base when he moved to that position after the A's acquired Drew this past August and hit better after that move, although Pennington has been a streaky hitter throughout his career, so the uptick in production after the position move could be coincidental.
The deal leaves the A's without a true shortstop on their current 40-man roster under contract for the 2013 season, and could be an indication that the A's believe that they can retain Drew's services at least for 2013. The A's have plenty of depth at the second and third base positions, however.
Going into spring training this season, Scott Sizemore was the incumbent third baseman after he posted a 778 OPS in 93 games for the A's in 2011. However, Sizemore tore his ACL on the first day of spring training and missed the entire season. Sizemore's injury gave Josh Donaldson an opportunity as the A's everyday third baseman. Although Donaldson struggled in that role early in the year, he excelled down-the-stretch after replacing an injured Brandon Inge, especially defensively.
Sizemore, a second baseman throughout his minor league career, was still learning to play third base at the time of his injury and didn't appear to have Donaldson's natural defensive acumen at third. By moving Pennington, the A's can now look at Sizemore at his natural second base position once again.
The A's will also have the luxury of some healthy competition for playing time at second and third. Jemile Weeks, who was pegged as "untouchable" by the A's front office last off-season, finished the year as an odd-man out for playing time after struggling during his sophomore season. However, in 2011, he was arguably the A's most dynamic offensive player and he could win back the A's starting second base job if he can regain his 2011 form. If Weeks were to win the second base job back, Sizemore and Donaldson would battle for playing time at third.
If Weeks can't find that stroke again or if the A's decide to deal their 2008 first-round pick, Oakland will still have some healthy competition in camp. Oakland's 2009 first-round pick Grant Green played his first full season at the Triple-A level in 2012 and he is getting close to being ready for the major leagues. Green was drafted as a shortstop, but he has seen most of his infield playing time at third base and second base of late and is currently competing in the Arizona Fall League as a second baseman. Green is a gifted hitter who many scouts believe has the ability to hit .300 on a regular basis in the major leagues. He can also play all three outfield positions and could give the A's some defensive flexibility off the bench next season should he make the roster.
Oakland also has back-up infielders Adam Rosales and Eric Sogard on the roster. Both Rosales and Sogard are solid defensive players who can play second, third and short, giving the A's additional depth.
Should the A's look to make another trade or two this off-season, they will have several chips to choose from on the position-player side of their roster. While Cespedes and Reddick are likely untouchable, Crisp and Smith could attract some attention on the trade market. Weeks and Green are players who would likely be attractive to teams looking to deal veteran players to build for the future. In addition, the A's have several minor league players such as Michael Taylor, Jermaine Mitchell, Shane Peterson and Collin Cowgill who appear blocked in the A's system at the moment who could be attractive secondary pieces in a multi-player deal.
While Pennington is the name that most people recognize on the A's side of the deal, it shouldn't be forgotten that the A's also traded Yordy Cabrera in the deal for Young. Cabrera will be plying his trade in the Miami Marlins' organization next season, as he was dealt immediately by the Diamondbacks to the Marlins for veteran reliever Heath Bell and cash considerations. We ranked Cabrera as the A's 24th-best prospect going into the 2012 season, and based on pure talent alone, Cabrera may have been in the top-10 in the A's system.
The native of the Dominican Republic was drafted by the A's in the second round of the 2010 draft out of a Miami-area high school. Cabrera was signed to an over-slot deal by the A's just before the signing deadline in 2010 (he had been committed to the University of Miami). Scouts love Cabrera's raw talent. He has natural power to all fields, quick wrists and good speed for a man of his muscular build. While many scouts believe Cabrera will eventually find his defensive home at third base because of his size, they rate his arm strength as plus. Cabrera was a two-way player in high school and his fastball was reportedly clocked in the mid-90s at times.
Despite Cabrera's talents, he has yet to find his groove as a professional. Defensively, he has struggled with consistency at shortstop, often rushing easy plays and trying to do too much on the difficult opportunities. At the plate, Cabrera has shined in camp settings such as the Instructional League and spring training, but he has struggled during the regular season. In 2011, Cabrera posted a 684 OPS for Low-A Burlington in 101 games. He got off to a good start that season and made the Midwest League All-Star team, but he struggled badly after the break to make in-season adjustments.
This year, Cabrera seemed poised for a big season when he got off to a fast start during spring training. However, a back injury sidelined him late in camp and kept him at extended spring training for the first few months of the season. The back injury would impact him all year and he played in only 60 games for the High-A Stockton Ports, posting a 625 OPS. Cabrera was added to the roster of the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League last week to replace injured A's prospect Miles Head. Cabrera was off to a good start in the league, going three-for-his-first-nine with a homer and five RBIs.
Cabrera just turned 22 in September, so he has time to realize his full potential. While the A's are risking the possibility of seeing Cabrera blossom in another uniform, it is a risk that a team poised for contention is happy to make to acquire a known commodity like Young, who can help at the major league level immediately. The strong debuts of 2012 first-round picks Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson – both of whom play on the left-side of the infield – make it easier for the A's to part with a talent like Cabrera.
At the end of the day, it is too early to know exactly what this trade means for the 2013 Oakland A's, except that it is a strong indication that the A's are likely to be making headlines all off-season for a second straight year.