I’ll try to avoid covering too much of the same ground covered right here on Wednesday, but talk about why the Yoenis Cespedes trade will still probably help Oakland this season. The A’s are generally considered a pretty smart front office, and I think they saw a problem that needed fixing. I also think that their offense is worse without Cespedes, so we will have to get to that too.
The main source of confusion in this trade stemmed from the fact that the pitching staff seemed to be a strength. So why would a team trade away one of their middle of the order bats to bolster an already solid part of their team? The answer is that the team wants to win in the playoffs, and the horses of the rotation for the first half were not going to continue their success.
Jesse Chavez had posted a 3.14 ERA prior to the All-Star break, and since then it has been 4.37 with most of that has been from the bullpen. Cracks in his performance were showing in June and he was failing to get deep into games, so there was no way they were going to count on him as an option in the postseason.
Drew Pomeranz was showing some signs of being an option before he got hurt, but the injury cut short his opportunity and made him too big of a question mark to count on.
The most important guy in the equation was Sonny Gray. He has been very good so far this year, but he is heading into uncharted territory fast and it is starting to show. Last year Gray threw 182.3 innings between triple-A and the majors. He is now at 162.7 with more than a month before the playoffs even start. He was still going strong in July, but his velocity had peaked in late May and early June and has slowly been coming down ever since. They were right not to trust him if August is any indication. Since the trade Gray has posted a 4.94 ERA, his K-rate is down, and players are hitting him harder.
That all leaves Scott Kazmir and two players that had already been acquired in Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Hammel has been bad since the trade with only one start where he made it 6 innings. Honestly Samardzija’s been pretty bad as well, but prior to the Cespedes trade he had put together a couple good and a couple mediocre starts. If your only two guys you trust going into October are Samardzija and Kazmir, things are probably not feeling very good.
All of this lead to Jon Lester who so far has been everything they want him to be except that the team has struggled during the time since his arrival. The hitting collapsed with Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, and Derek Norris being especially bad. Steven Vogt also came back to Earth a bit, and the Jonny Gomes/Sam Fuld replacement for Cespedes has under-performed so far.
The solid 3-4-5 of Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, and Brandon Moss lost a piece, and they don’t really have a great option to plug into the 5 hole consistently. Josh Reddick has come on recently to help in a somewhat depleted offense, but they are keeping him at the bottom of the order since he has been anything but trustworthy over the past couple seasons.
This has hurt the offense for sure and simple confidence intervals of before and after the trade show a significant drop in output. At the same time I assume they saw this coming to some extent. Guys like Norris and Vogt were playing way over their heads and were likely to regress some. Only the weird collapse of half the offense at one time has made it look as bad as it is. It is unlikely that this rough stretch will be sustained. It also didn’t help that the Royals, Rays, Braves, and Mets were all on the schedule and are above-average run-prevention teams.
If I were the A’s I would still be happy about this trade. Lester, Samardzija, and Kazmir is a much better way to head into the post season. Catching the Angels just became more likely due to the unfortunate loss of Garrett Richards too. Billy Beane has been to the playoffs, and almost certainly will be again this season. He wants to win in the playoffs, and this pitching staff gives him a good opportunity to do so.