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Trade Retrospective: the A’s trade Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks for Jarrod Parker

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Billy Beane nailed the Andrew Bailey trade, but it’s tough to see his reasoning behind this transaction.

Oakland Athletics v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

For the second straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.

Last week, we took a look at the A’s acquiring Josh Reddick in exchange for Andrew Bailey back in December 2011, a trade that showed good process and results from Oakland’s perspective. That was not the only major move the A’s made that offseason, as they also traded away Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks for Jarrod Parker. Also included in the trade to the East Bay were Collin Cowgill and Ryan Cook with Craig Breslow heading the other way.

In this trade retrospective series, trades will still be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation. Process over results and all that. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.

The Deal

I went over the state of the Athletics last week, so I will not rehash it here. Suffice it to say that the A’s were rebuilding in the 2011-12 offseason.

Trevor Cahill had just finished his third season in the majors. Over the course of those three seasons he had tallied 4.23 RA9 and a 4.51 FIP, not to mention racking up 3.9 WARP in 2010. He couldn’t strike guys out, but he made up for it with a 53.3-percent groundball rate thanks to his great sinker.

Scouts believed that Cahill had more upside left in him, which is likely part of the reason why Beane signed him to a team-friendly extension in April 2011. Cahill showed what he could be in 2010, and if he continued on that path he could get expensive in arbitration for the cost-conscious A’s. The four-year, $30 million extension bought out his arbitration years and one free agency year. The contract also included two team options with low buyouts.

This all made Beane’s decision to part with Cahill especially strange. He was a proven major league talent who was also cheap and under team control for six more years. This was exactly the kind of situation that the A’s needed. Now, it is possible that Beane saw the low strikeouts and the pitcher-friendly ballpark as a red flag. During Cahill’s three years in Oakland, he posted a 95 ERA-, a stat that adjusts for park factors. He was barely above average.

However, even an average, cost-controlled pitcher is a valuable player to have. Parting with such a player for Jarrod Parker was an odd thing to do. Parker was considered one of the top pitching prospects in the game before he went down with Tommy John surgery in 2010. So the A’s were also parting with a durable pitcher for one who was not. They assumed an awful lot of risk in this deal.

The Diamondbacks were coming off a great season where they won the division by winning 94 games. It was a whopping 29-win improvement from the previous season. How that happened is a topic for another day, but obviously GM Kevin Towers wanted to build on that.

Led by Ian Kennedy, the Diamondback’s rotation had a successful year. They were tied with the Yankees for fifth-best ERA- in baseball. However, the rotation’s FIP was significantly higher than their ERA, so regression was a possibility. A more pressing issue was that the team had no viable fifth starter. They trotted out a hodge-podge of failed starters for that role. Not counting Jarrod Parker’s one start, the fifth spot in the rotation combined for an whopping -3 bWAR. A conservative estimate could have valued Cahill as at least a five-win upgrade. That’s huge.

The funny thing about this is that if you were to go up to a Diamondbacks fan at the time and tell the person that Towers just made a trade with Beane, the person would probably be terrified. Strangely enough, Towers won this trade on process. Sadly, though, the results were disastrous for both sides.

Like Cahill, Parker also had a lot of upside, but he was unproven at the major league level and was less than nine months younger than Cahill. Perhaps other teams saw the red flags too, and that this was the best Beane could do. I can only speculate. Still, there was no predicting that Cahill’s performance would plummet as much as it did. This was a poor return given Cahill’s expected future performance at the time.

The Results

Last week I mentioned how Ryan Kalish has had one of the most injury-plagued careers that I have ever seen. Well, Jarrod Parker might have something to say about that.

Parker had a good first season in Oakland with a 3.52 RA9. Like Cahill, though, his strikeout rates were not good. He still managed a 3.43 FIP thanks to the fact that he kept the ball in the park, but the Coliseum probably helped a lot with that, as evidenced by his 4.53 DRA. Sure enough, in 2013, the regression monster struck, and Parker’s home run rate doubled. His RA9 went up to 4.20, which was closer to his 4.51 DRA.

In 2014, it was revealed that Parker needed another Tommy John surgery and missed the entire season. While pitching in a rehab assignment in 2015, he fractured his elbow and needed surgery. He missed the entire season again. Then in another cruel twist of fate, in spring training of last year he fractured his elbow AGAIN. He missed his third consecutive season.

At the end of 2016, Parker elected free agency. He is currently unsigned. Alex Hall of Athletics Nation wished him nothing but the best, and though I’m not an A’s fan, you don’t have have to be to feel the same way.

Collin Cowgill spent only one season in Oakland. He was traded to the Mets in the following offseason. He spent almost all of last season on Cleveland’s Triple A team. He recently signed a minor league deal with the Padres.

As for Ryan Cook, he had a pretty good run as a reliever. He had a 2.78 RA9 from 2012 to 2014. Unfortunately, his run average skyrocketed in 2015, so the A’s traded him to the Red Sox. He was even worse in Boston. He got waived and eventually signed with the Mariners. He spent all of last season in the minors.

The A’s did not pay a lot per win, but the results are still pretty disappointing. Cook turned out quite well, though.

A’s Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Jarrod Parker 6 5.7 $1.00
Collin Cowgill 6 0.4 $0.50
Ryan Cook 6 4.1 $2.90
Total 18 10.2 $4.40
All data are just from time spent on the A’s.

Trevor Cahill’s first season in Arizona was more or less a repeat of his previous season by both RA9 and DRA. He showed that he was not just a product of the Coliseum, especially since his HR/FB ratio did not go up by much. DRA credited him for pitching in the warm, hitter-friendly environment of Chase Field. In 2013, his run average only went up slightly, but he was worth only 0.7 bWAR as a result of missed time due to injury and a ton of help from his defense.

In 2014, everything fell apart for Cahill. He started walking too many batters and his run average shot up to 6.18. He was worth -1.5 bWAR in only 110 23 IP. He got demoted to the minors to try to figure things out. The Diamondbacks decided to give up on him, trading him to the Braves a few days before the 2015 season.

Cahill’s run average was almost 8.00 in Atlanta, so they designated him for assignment after only a couple of months. The Cubs picked him up in September and seemingly revitalized his career as a reliever. He stayed on the team through 2016, and in that time he had a 2.85 RA9 in 82 23 IP. His strikeout rates improved to over 25 percent, though he was still struggling with walking hitters and giving up home runs.

The Cubs decided not to bring back Cahill after 2016. This offseason he signed with the Padres on a one-year, $1.8 million deal. Craig Breslow ended up playing only half a season for the Diamondbacks before getting traded to the Red Sox. He recently signed a minor league deal with the Twins.

The Diamondbacks did not end up paying a lot per win, but given the fact that they never made the playoffs with these players when they expected to, it was a poor value. Regardless, the results were disappointing.

Diamondbacks Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Trevor Cahill 6 1.7 $16.7
Craig Breslow 2 0.8 $1.8
Total 8 2.5 $18.5
All data are just from time spent on the Diamondbacks.

This trade arguably turned out worse than the Montero/Pineda trade. At least the Yankees got some mileage out of Michael Pineda. The results for the A’s and Diamondbacks were disastrous. However, nobody could have predicted that Cahill would fall so fast, or Parker’s tragic string of serious injuries. Chalk this one up to “You Can’t Predict Baseball.”

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.