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Cardinals trade partner profile: Oakland A’s

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One where we’re almost definitely the seller, not the buyer

MLB: Oakland Athletics at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the seventh installment in a series of articles profiling organizations that might match up well as trade partners for the Cardinals this offseason. The intent of these pieces is not to propose or analyze specific trade ideas (although I will suggest a framework trade or three, and kicking around specific ideas in the comments is encouraged). The idea is to provide readers with more information about organizations they might not know as well as they know the Cardinals, so they can be more informed for Hot Stove season.

This week we’ll be looking at the Oakland A’s, who don’t have (or aren’t going to make available) the kind of high-impact stars the Cardinals are looking to acquire this offseason, but who instead could be a natural landing spot for whatever excess pieces the Cardinals may have left after whatever else they do.

Things to know from 2017

The A’s weren’t good in 2017, but they weren’t all that bad, either. Their 75-87 record was poor, but their 79-83 BaseRuns record suggests their true quality of play was closer to that of a .500-ish club.

Oakland’s offense was solid: their team wRC+ of 102 was tied for 4th in the AL. They got great half-seasons from 1B/DHs Matt Olson and Yonder Alonso, another strong power-hitting year from OF/DH Khris Davis, and above-average batting lines from 3B Matt Chapman, OF Matt Joyce, and 2B Jed Lowrie.

However, their defense was awful. Khris Davis posted the single lowest defensive value in the league according to FanGraphs, and while single-season defensive numbers are so noisy that they demand major caveats, his three-year defensive numbers say he is indeed terrible. Ryon Healy was a major liability at first base, although he’s since been traded. Joyce and Alonso were also notably bad, and (with the notable exception of Chapman, who looks like a future Gold-Glover at third) nobody was good. Fixing the defense will likely be an offseason priority.

The rotation was also bad. Sonny Gray had a bounce-back year, but that resulted in a deadline trade. Seth Manaea was solid in 29 starts, but nobody else stepped up with much quantity or quality. Promising righty Jharel Cotton was a big disappointment with ERA/FIP/xFIP numbers all above 5, and the rest of Oakland’s starters looked like #6/swingman types who were too often asked to pitch in the middle of the rotation instead.

The bullpen was pretty good. So, Billy Beane being Billy Beane, the good ones mostly got traded midseason.

Strengths

Matts Chapman and Olson, aged 24 and 23 respectively, have the look of potential cornerstone players. Chapman is a true plus fielder at the hot corner, with enough power and walks to post above-average batting lines even if he never cuts down on his high strikeout rates (and if he does cut the K% down, look out). Olson’s eye-popping 2018 power numbers (.392 ISO, .651 SLG) were buoyed by a HR/FB rate over 40%; that’s not going to continue, but Statcast tells us he legitimately murdered the ball last year, with elite exit velocity on fly balls and liners.

Midseason trades pulled Oakland’s system up quite a bit. It’s not one of the very best systems in the league but (much like the Cards’ system) it offers an intriguing mix of high-end impact players and quality depth, and should provide ample ammunition for short-term upgrades if the A’s want to be aggressive in the trade market. Highlights include:

  • SS/2B Franklin Barreto and LHP A.J. Puk are the crown jewels. Barreto has been promoted very aggressively but has held his own offensively despite it, and would be the best position-player prospect in the Cards’ system. He’s not ready for a full-time MLB job yet, but is getting close. Puk is a gigantic fastball/slider lefty who could either turn into a #1 starter or wash out due to concerns about his durability, conditioning, and command -- I could actually see him doing both. He needs at least another year in the minors, likely more.
  • OF Dustin Fowler, RHP James Kaprelian, and INF/OF Jorge Mateo were the fruit of the Sonny Gray trade. All three could be quite good indeed. Fowler and Mateo both have the speed to handle center field (although Fowler is recovering from a bad knee injury), Mateo may even stick at shortstop, and both have hit well in the upper minors. Kaprielian has the physical and stuff profile of a #2-3 starter, but has been hampered by arm injuries.
  • LHP Jesus Luzardo and 3B Sheldon Neuse came over when Washington traded for relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. These guys are probably a notch below each of the three obtained for Gray, but they are quality B/B- type prospects.
  • There are a bunch of other interesting names here – too many to list with full blurbs. Some personal favorites include 2B Max Schrock (quiet physical tools but he just hits and hits and hits), RHP Frankie Montas (big tools that he hasn’t harnessed), 3B Renato Nunez (the Grichuk profile but an infielder), and SS/3B Yairo Munoz (kind of an afterthought in their system but has flashed the kind of high contact+power ability that reminds me of the good version of Aledmys Diaz).

Needs

Alonso’s departure as a free agent opens up the DH spot, which presumably goes to Khris Davis, opening up the LF spot. None of Oakland’s 2018 LF options there are compelling; they could play the kids and hope for the best, but with a puncher’s chance at the second wild card in 2018 I doubt they will.

There is pitching talent starting to percolate up from the farm, but as the 2018 struggles of Cotton and Montas show, it’s awfully risky to bet on pitchers being real contributors during their first look at MLB competitions. Right now, the A’s 2018 rotation projects as something like Manaea, Cotton, Kendall Graveman, Jesse Hahn, and one of Chris Bassitt/Andrew Triggs/Paul Blackburn. If everything breaks exactly right, that’s like 50% of a playoff rotation. Everything will not break exactly right.

Finally, Oakland may have a catcher issue on their hands. Stephen Vogt had an awful year in 2017 and gave way to rookie Bruce Maxwell, who was fine. But earlier this offseason, Maxwell got himself arrested on gun charges in an extremely stupid story that I’ll let you look up yourself. The A’s say they intend to stick with him in 2018, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that they may be in the market for a cheap, blocked catcher.

What they should do

Oakland’s defensive woes can largely be addressed with addition by subtraction. Alonso’s exit cures a lot of the problem, as he’s more of a DH than a 1B. Ditto the Healy trade. Moving Davis to DH full time seems like no-brainer, given that there’s not another big no-defense bat demanding DH time. Simply taking those three off the field and replacing them with average defenders will go a long way.

Oakland’s offense was good enough to contend in 2017, and can easily be again in 2018. Although Alonso’s departure hurts, full seasons from 2018 rookies Olson and Chapman should help smooth over that loss. Right now, Oakland projects for at least adequate (relative to position) offensive production at every position but one in 2018: left field, assuming Davis is a DH. Given that they are unlikely to shell out big money for a new outfielder in free agency, Oakland should shop around for a cost-effective corner outfielder in trade.

They also need to add some pitching depth if they’re serious about trying to be relevant in 2018. To be fair, they may not be serious about it – the bulk of their prospect wave appears timed more for 2019 than 2018, so perhaps they would prefer to wait things out another season. But given how deep with interesting prospects Oakland is, I would advise them to turn at least some of that depth into at least one starting pitcher who you are pretty sure you’re going to get 150 good innings from, because they have either zero or one of those right now.

How they match up with St. Louis

Oakland doesn’t have a star to offer the Cardinals (no, Davis isn’t one). Or if they do, it’s probably Chapman, and they certainly aren’t trading him. So any likely match here is going to be them buying from us, not the other way around.

And that’s fine, because even though the Cardinals are going to be net buyers this offseason, they have surplus to trim in certain areas where Oakland has needs. An outfielder trade couldn’t be more obvious. Beane has always been willing to trade away established relievers (which apparently the Cardinals are hot to acquire). Oakland’s farm system has some solid depth in areas where the Cards’ system is relatively thin, namely infielders at the upper levels. And though I wouldn’t want to see St. Louis trade them a pitcher now, after a month or two of moves are made, offering them a solid SP option could make sense; still, this is harder to envision right at the moment.

Finally, Oakland is near Stephen Piscotty’s hometown and parents, and that would be nice for everybody.

Framework trades

The trade I pinched from A’s Nation: our sister blog suggested Carson Kelly and Stephen Piscotty for Franklin Barreto, Grant Holmes, and Kevin Merrell. I wouldn’t say no: Oakland gets cheap bets with a reasonable chance at good value at two positions of need, and the Cards get a top-level prospect with more positional flexibility than Kelly (Barreto), last year’s #33 overall draft pick (Merrell), and another arm to throw on the pile of Jake Woodfords and Connor Joneses and Zac Gallens.

The simpler one: Piscotty (this could be Grichuk but damn it, let it be Stephen) for Jesse Hahn and a dealer’s choice of Schrock, Nunez, or Munoz. Read this about Hahn and allow yourself to believe he just needs a change of scenery.

The boring one: Austin Gomber for somebody you’ve probably never heard of who doesn’t need a roster spot yet and has a little bit of upside.

There are a lot of ways St. Louis could help Oakland out without hurting itself, and a lot of ways Oakland could compensate them for it. Please feel free to add yours in the comments.