Yesterday, reports from Ken Rosenthal talked about how the Rangers and Diamondbacks had briefly been discussing a deal that would send left fielder Conor Jackson to Texas. It made sense, as the Rangers had been looking for right-handed corner infield help for months and the Diamondbacks were often discussed as one of the summer's primary sellers.
Well, Jackson was traded today to the AL West, so in that sense Rosenthal's report was right on. He just reported about the wrong team. Because this morning, Steve Gilbert of MLB.com reported that Oakland and Arizona have agreed to swap Jackson and right-handed reliever Sam Demel.
I think that this is a pretty solid deal from both perspectives, frankly. The Diamondbacks clearly wanted to make room for Gerardo Parra in left field, which doesn't really leave a place for Jackson, and they desperately need some help in the bullpen. By dealing Jackson now, they do end up selling low a good deal, but Jackson's been struggling for a while now, and they ended up landing a potentially high-quality reliever while also saving roughly $1.5M this season. Arizona probably would've non-tendered Jackson to make room for Parra after this season anyways, so being able to save some money now while also trying to patch up the bullpen long-term seems like a pretty prudent way to go about things, particularly for a team that really should have its eye on 2011 now.
The A's, on the other hand, made a really nice buy-low here if Jackson proves to bounce back. As Jack Moore noted over at FanGraphs, Jackson would easily become the team's best-hitting outfielder if he reverted back to his old self, and from Billy Beane's perspective, the price was pretty reasonable. Demel likely never was going to be a prominent part of any winning Athletics team, and $1.5M isn't exactly a ton of money, even for a team like the A's. Oakland is still within 4 games of Texas despite being only 32-33, and they really need all of the help that they can get. The combination of upside and a reasonable price seems pretty evident here, so this was a nice job on Beane's part to make a move early in the trading season.
There are some more details on the two players that were traded, as well as their situations, after the hip hop.
Jackson, 28, is due $1.85M for the remainder of this season, with the Athletics paying him $1.45M and the Diamondbacks chipping in the remaining $400K. He's also under team control through next season, as he's currently in his second of three arbitration seasons, although he's been well-noted as a possible non-tender candidate after the season. Jackson was once considered one of the game's best hitting prospects, twice ranking among the game's best 40 prospects according to Baseball America, peaking at No. 17 before the 2006 season. It was during that season that Jackson established himself as the team's everyday first baseman, where he would put up respective wOBA's between .352 and .364 in the next three seasons, making him a solid starter combined with his improving defense. But things have been nothing but bad for Jackson since the end of the 2008 season, as he played in only 30 games in 2009 due to a case of Valley Fever, and has struggled to regain his hitting prowess so far this season.
It's not surprising that the A's are interested in taking a flier though, particularly after designating Jake Fox for assignment last week. Jackson probably won't be getting any playing time at first base soon, Daric Barton has easily been the team's best hitter so far this season, but he should be in line to get a good deal of starts in the team's outfield. Ryan Sweeney and [when he returns from the DL] Coco Crisp shouldn't lose too much playing time to Jackson in right and center, respectively, but there should be a good deal of competition for playing time in left field going forward. And frankly, it's competition that Jackson should beat. Among the team's potential left field options, which include Gabe Gross, Eric Patterson, Rajai Davis, Travis Buck and Matt Carson, none of them can match Jackson's rest-of-season projection from ZiPS (.340 wOBA). The only guy that might be able to compete is Davis, who won't offer as much with the bat (.332 RoS wOBA) but is regarded as an above average defender in left field, while Jackson is generally considered average.
In exchange for Jackson, the A's gave up the 24-year-old Demel, a third-round pick from 2007 that's thriving in Triple-A despite failing to make the team's Top 30 prospects before the season. On the other hand, he was No. 18 on John Sickels' Top 20 for the A's, with Sickels describing him in this manner: "Funky delivery with above average stuff, could help in pen soon if command sharpens up."
And I think that final line is the one that the Diamondbacks have really focused on. Arizona's bullpen woes have been well-documented, and Demel isn't the first young reliever that the D-Backs have added this season, as Carlos Rosa is already tooling his trade with Arizona after coming over from Kansas City in late April. But Demel does finally appear to be sharpening up his command, and Arizona is probably hoping he'll give their ailing relief corps a nice boost. After walking 5.8 batters per 9 innings in 32 innings of relief with Triple-A Sacramento last season, he's walked just 2.8 per 9 so far in 28 innings this season.
As Sickels noted, Demel's command was the main thing holding him back from being an effective reliever in the majors. He's currently flashing a 8.8 K/9 and 49% groundball rate in Triple-A, good for a 3.11 FIP. According to MinorLeagueSplits.com, Demel's Triple-A numbers would translate to a 3.31 FIP as an MLB reliever. Considering that the D-Backs have one pitcher with an FIP lower than that on their roster, and it's Rosa with a 3.30 mark, they're probably pretty happy to add Demel to the roster.