Perhaps no position in the free agent and hot stove market is as deep, or as coveted, as center field this offseason. After the acquisition of Chris Young from the Diamondbacks earlier in October, the Oakland Athletics are looking at a very full outfield, and some change will probably need to be made.
In this next installment in our simulated trade talks series, we'll take a look at a (highly) fictional trade discussion between Oakland and the Atlanta Braves, who will look to add to their outfield following the free agency of Michael Bourn and retirement of Chipper Jones.
Excellent BtB contributor Nathaniel Stoltz followed Brad Pitt's lead (again) by taking the role of A's general manager
and Moneyball author* Billy Beane. Meanwhile, I took the role of Braves GM Frank Wren. I haven't seen Trouble With The Curve, but I assume that was who Justin Timberlake played in that movie.
Anyways, here's our discussion, followed by our thoughts and a poll where you can judge who won this fake trade.
* Note: No scouts or spreadsheets were harmed in the production of this article.
Hide your prospects, Frank. Billy Beane is on Line 1.
BB: Hey there, Frank.
FW: Billy, good to hear from you. What can I do for you today?
BB: So you know, I'm looking to deal Coco Crisp. We're also looking to trading Seth Smith, either by himself or as part of a deal for Coco. I feel confident that between Chris Young, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss, as well as minor leaguers Michael Taylor, Grant Green, Conner Crumbliss, etc. -- we can cobble together a good outfield without Coco and Seth.
FW: You can to the right place, as we're looking for a few outfielders to offset Michael Bourn's free agency, if we can't bring him back at the right cost.
BB: Well, you're not the only team looking for outfielders. We'll probably need a sizeable return to make something work.
FW: Fair enough, Billy.
BB: I'd like to make you an offer: you can have Coco for three guys: Tyler Pastornicky, Aaron Northcraft and Tommy La Stella. Pastornicky would give us some depth at shortstop after we declined Stephen Drew's option, and Northcraft and La Stella are interesting prospects.
FW: Hrm. Let me see ... Crisp's contract is worth $8 million for 2013, when you factor in the 2014 buyout, right?
BB: That's right.
FW: Well, we're not exactly looking to take on a contract of that size without getting a little bit of money back. You're not the only team working with a budget, you know. I know Coco came on strong in the second half last year, and I'd be lying if I said we don't have any interest at all to us ... but we see him as kind of an in-between player at this point. He's not exactly an elite defender in center anymore, but the bat doesn't exactly profile as we'd like in left field. Beyond that, he's not exactly a safe bet for anything more than about 135 games next season.
BB: I see, so ...
FW: So, that deal probably wouldn't work at all for us. First of all, we really like Aaron, and think he could be in the rotation as soon as 2014. His strikeout rate is improving, he's getting ground balls, and he's a rising pitcher in our system. For Coco, he's probably a non-starter in trade talks. If we were discussing Yoenis or Reddick, that'd be another story. Without Northcraft in your proposed deal, we'd still need money back to take on Crisp, given how much we're going to need to pay in arbitration raises this year. If you really want La Stella's powerful (but admittedly raw) bat as part of this deal, I'd say you'd need to put in about $4 million as part of this deal.
BB: Ok, ok. If Northcraft is entirely off the table for you, I could look elsewhere in your system for some supplementary pieces. Perhaps it would be easier to part with Pastornicky, La Stella, and a combo of Chris Garcia (an older 1B without power) or Ronan Pacheco and his control issues?
FW: I think both of those guys could be on the table, potentially.
What do you think about Seth Smith?
BB: Okay, good. Let's talk some other options. How about Seth Smith then? Does he fit your needs better than Coco does, or are you looking for a pure CF? Acquiring Smith might save you a few million over Crisp, plus you get an extra year of control on him as well. I understand that you've still got Heyward and Prado on hand, but maybe you're going to move Prado to third with Chipper retiring? And I might also be willing to move Young, if the deal was right.
FW: To that point on Prado, we're in wait-and-see mode with Martin, but he gives us a lot of flexibility. As for Smith, the truth is that we're not really in the market for a platoon-only bat, which is how we see him at this point. We're guessing he'll see about $3 million after arbitration, plus he's probably got more value to you as an LF/DH than he would to us over in the NL, where we'd ideally have an everday guy out there. We'd take him in the right deal, something like straight up for Tyler Pastornicky, but we'd have to go out and find a complementary piece from somewhere as well.
BB: And what about Young?
FW: He's an option, I suppose. I actually have some questions about some of your other outfield pieces. I mentioned Yoenis before, and we'd certainly have interest in him, but also Michael Taylor or Grant Green -- if the price was right. What do you think?
More like NO-enis
BB: We would have to be blown away to move Yoenis. Obviously, we're always open to cutting costs and getting great young talent for expensive contracts, but the guy's going to be a star, and we've already got three years of somewhat reasonable cost control on him. It's not happening.
FW: Fair enough.
BB: We also really like Taylor. It's been tough to find a spot for him in the past, but he's starting to tap into that enormous potential he has. Grant's been playing some infield again recently, and we might be giving him a look at shortstop or second base next year, depending on the health and production of guys like Scott Sizemore, Jemile Weeks and Brandon Hicks. I guess we'd be more open to moving him than some other guys.
BB: Tell you what, what about Crisp and Green for Pastornicky, La Stella, Garcia and Pacheco?
FW: Sounds very interesting. But I think we've still got a sticking point with Coco's contract, I think. And sending back four talented young players for Crisp and one talented young player still feels like a lot. I'd be a lot more inclined to make this deal if I could get back that $4 million that I mentioned earlier.
BB: That's gonna be tough.
FW: Why is that?
BB: I feel like as it is, we're already giving you a lot of value in an everyday outfielder and a guy who often ranks in the Top 100 prospects in the game. All we're getting back are four guys who don't dent a lot of radars. If you want cash, you'll have to give me something more in exchange.
FW: Okay, I see your point, even if I don't quite agree. How comfortable are you at third base or in relief? You have interest in brining in Juan Francisco at the corners? Or how about a member of our vaunted bullpen? Any interest in Eric O'Flaherty as a setup guy?
We have no interest in Juan Francisco. Ever.
BB: Frank, you've gotta know me better than to think I'd want a guy with a 70-to-11 K/BB ratio! And I'm not sure Francisco's power would play in the AL, especially here in Oakland. As for the bullpen, we're actually quite good right now.
FW: Okay, well ....
BB: How about Evan Gattis?
FW: No, I don't think so. I think I'd rather have Evan right now than Grant Green. He might be even closer to a Top 100 prospect than Grant at this stage, despite his age. That bat will play. But if you really want Gattis, perhaps we could swap him out La Stella, and then you could cut me that check for the $4 mil?
BB: Okay, scrap Gattis then. Let's go back to that original four-for-two deal, but I'll only give you $1 million to get it done.
FW: I think we could make it work if it was $2 million.
BB: Tell you what, we can do $2 million, but you'll have to throw in Ross Heffley as a PTBNL.
FW: That I can live with, I think. You've got a deal.
FW: Congrats on turning a spare part into a bunch of interesting prospects.
BB: It was a pleasure doing business with you, Frank. And congrats to you on turning those prospects into two guys who can help you in 2013.
Result: Oakland Athletics trade OF Coco Crisp and OF/IF Grant Green to the Atlanta Braves for SS Tyler Pastornicky, 2B Tommy La Stella, 1B Chris Garcia, LHP Ronan Pacheco and 2B Ross Heffley.
OH SNAP WE'RE NOT DONE YET! BONUS COMMENTARY!
That's right, guys. Here's the director's cut: there's a section each below that gives you some insight to what Nathaniel and I were thinking when we were hashing out this deal.
"What this trade ultimately came down to for me was dealing expendable parts (MLB-level outfielders) for depth and cost savings. The A’s are perfectly fine with Seth Smith, Chris Young, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Michael Taylor, and Brandon Moss combining for some sort of six-headed OF/DH monster, and there’s additional depth behind them in Sacramento in the form of OBP monsters Conner Crumbliss and Shane Peterson and toolsy Jermaine Mitchell.
So, the 2013 A’s aren’t adversely affected at all by this deal—if anything, Crisp might have been the worst of the three options for center field, so clearing him and his hefty salary from the picture ensures the A’s will play the more capable duo of Young and Cespedes on a regular basis.
As for the prospects acquired:
It’s easy to forget Pastornicky will just be 23 next month. Yes, he slipped badly last year, but he has plenty of time to rebound. Consider that the A’s shortstop for the past several years was Cliff Pennington. What was Pennington doing at age 22? Hitting an empty .203 in the California League. It’s not hard to imagine Pastornicky evolving into a Pennington-esque player; the A’s shouldn’t go into 2013 with him starting at short, but he’s a better option than fellow former Brave Brandon Hicks, and a nice insurance piece with plenty of years ahead of him.
Tommy La Stella had more extra-base hits (32) and walks (36) than strikeouts (24) this past year while hitting .302/.386/.460 in the tough Carolina League. He doesn’t play a great second base, but it’s not hard to imagine him evolving into a nice offense-oriented second baseman. He’ll start 2013 in the upper minors and be another guy who can reinforce the upper-level middle-infield depth.
Chris Garcia is a random longshot first baseman who’s put up some pinball-machine numbers in independent ball and the low minors, with a career .330/.435/.494 line, including .285/.408/.431 in the Carolina League last year. He’s another nice depth piece.
Finally, Pacheco and Heffley are two players I personally scouted twice last year. Pacheco, a favorite of Fangraphs’ Mike Newman, is a big, bony lefthander who rarely knows where the ball is going, but is absolutely electric on the rare occasion he locates his pitches. He’s a taller Francisco Liriano without the changeup, almost, or perhaps the 2011 version of Aroldis Chapman. I’ve seen Pacheco crank his fastball up to 98 mph from the left side, and the first time I saw him pitch, he struck out nine of the eleven batters he faced. He’s a longshot due to the violence in his slingshot motion and the control issues it creates, but he’s an arm you can’t help but get excited about. Heffley is a 5’7" second baseman who, like La Stella, makes contact at excellent rates (13.9% K last year) and exhibits surprising gap power at the position.
As for giving up Green, he’s already 25 and he’s essentially been an average upper-minors hitter the last two seasons (101 wRC+ in AA in 2011, 102 in AAA last year). He’s not an especially effective defender anywhere but the corner spots (where his bat doesn’t distinguish him), and he’s blocked in the outfield by the mountain of other options.
So, we save some money and trade two fairly overrated players for depth guys that aren’t all that far away from the majors. Yes, the value gets dispersed a little bit, but it makes sense for Oakland."
"For me, it was all about the near future. The Braves are a very, very good team right now. Adding a player like Coco helps the squad maintain its general identity: a highly-capable defensive outfield, while providing a speedy (not to mention switch-hitting) presence at the top of the order. When Nathaniel went straight for Tyler Pastornicky, I got excited, given that I see him as a bit redundant with Andrelton Simmons on the roster. If we need to replace a no-hit, good-field middle infielder, we can still do that on the cheap.
As for Northcraft, I think he was too good to release, given some very positive comments about him since his mechanics adjustment. And all these young Atlanta starters won't stay young forever, so the team has got to keep something in the pipeline. I like La Stella, but you've got to give up something to get something, and there's the chance his bat doesn't translate to the bigs.
Grant Green is actually a guy I really like as someone with the potential to be Ben Zobrist-lite in the bigs. Last season he played almost everywhere in the infield, and can also handle center. If his bat can even hold up a little (he's never been a below league-average hitter at any level!), that's a player with a lot of value. I'd start him in the bigs for 2013 on this new Braves squad, making him the primary backup for Prado at 3B, Crisp in CF and Uggla at 2B -- with Prado moving to 2B when Uggla sits. Of course I'd be moving Prado to 3B because ...
... this would be part one of a three-part offseason acquisition plan. The Braves can win now, and I'd go all-out to do it. With the $7 million outlay for Crisp's contract, and expected arbitration raises to Prado / Hanson / O'Flaherty / Heyward / Medlen / Venters / Martinez, I'd estimate the Braves are sitting at about $70 million in 2013 payroll. If the Braves could have a payroll of somewhere near $95 million (they were at $93 million last season), I'd go out and sign Josh Hamilton at 5/$100 and Anibal Sanchez at 4/$52 (maybe while dumping O'Flaherty) or Zack Greinke at 6/$114 and Torii Hunter at 2/$20 to fill out my offseason. That would definitely put the #Barves as a very competitive team for both the NL East crown and the wild card, while adding serious depth to both bullpen and lineup, without compromising much on defense."
So, BtB readers, tell us in the poll and comments below who won this trade!