At the beginning of the off-season, we looked at five questions the Oakland A's front office needed…
The day after the Oakland A's acquired closer Jim Johnson and reportedly came to terms with free agent Scott Kazmir, Oakland's front office made yet another move, trading two top prospects (Michael Choice and Chris Bostick) to a division rival for centerfielder Craig Gentry and right-hander Josh Lindblom. The A's – clearly in win-now mode – have added speed and pitching depth to their 2014 roster while giving up two players who projected as possible everyday assets for Oakland in the long-term.
Gentry is projected to take over the role that Chris Young played for the A's last season as a back-up to all three outfield positions. Gentry doesn't have Young's power, but he makes a lot more consistent contact and he brings a good glove and throwing arm to all three outfield spots. Gentry is also one of the fastest players in the American League, and he stole 24 bases in 27 chances last year. Speed was not as big of a factor for the A's last season as it was in 2012, when the team had five players with double-digit stolen base totals.
A 10th-round pick of the Rangers in 2006, Gentry made his major-league debut in 2009 at age 25. Gentry became a regular member of the Rangers' line-up in 2012, when he appeared in 122 games. Last season, Gentry appeared in 106 games. He broke his hand in late June and missed nearly a month with the injury. Gentry is a contact hitter who hits for average and can draw a walk. He also finished in the top-10 in each of the past two seasons in the hit-by-pitch category. In 2012, he batted .304 with a .367 OBP and in 2013, Gentry hit .280/.373.
Gentry has played all three outfield positions for the Rangers. He has a plus throwing arm and he had seven outfield assists in each of the past two seasons. He finished fourth in Total Zone Runs as a centerfielder this past year. Gentry turned 30 years old on November 29 and he is arbitration-eligible for the first time. He is under team control until 2017.
Lindblom was the Los Angeles Dodgers' second-round pick in 2008 out of Purdue. The 6'4'' right-hander was part of the deal that sent Shane Victorino from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012. Then last off-season, Lindblom was traded again, this time to Texas in the Michael Young deal.
Lindblom has split his time as a professional between the rotation and the bullpen. He made his major-league debut in 2011 as a reliever with the Dodgers, posting a 2.73 ERA in 29.2 innings with a 28:10 K:BB. In 2012 with the Phillies, Lindblom was exclusively used as a reliever. In 74 appearances, he had a 3.55 ERA with a 70:35 K:BB in 71 innings.
The Rangers viewed Lindblom as a starter and he spent most of the 2013 season in the Triple-A Round Rock rotation, making 18 starts and two relief appearances. He posted a 3.08 ERA and a 79:31 K:BB in 108 innings with the Express. Lindblom also made five starts and three relief appearances for the Rangers, posting a 5.46 ERA and a 21:11 K:BB in 31.1 innings.
Lindblom is a hard thrower who has struggled with location at times. His best pitches are his fastball (92-95 MPH) and his slider that gets good break across the plate. He also features a curveball and a change-up. He has been durable throughout his professional career and he has a starter's build.
Choice has been one of the A's top prospects since he was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft. A native of Arlington, Texas, Choice moved up a level a year with the A's and he made his major-league debut with Oakland this past September. Since signing with the A's, Choice has done an excellent job of making adjustments with his swing mechanics, increasing his contact rate and his batting average every season. Choice has sacrificed some of his raw power to make those adjustments, although he still has plenty of power to reach the seats in any stadium.
A natural centerfielder, Choice saw significant playing time in the corner outfield spots with Triple-A Sacramento for the first time this season. Choice has the speed to play center, but he has sometimes struggled with routes. Most scouts pegged him as a right-fielder long-term and he should have the arm strength and the range to handle the position. Despite his speed, Choice hasn't done much running on the bases since turning pro. He was one-for-three in stolen base opportunities with Sacramento this year and his career-high in stolen bases is nine.
Bostick was a 44th-round pick of the A's in 2011 out of a Rochester, New York-area high school. The second baseman has exceeded expectations since the draft, quickly becoming one of the A's top prospects despite his draft round status. Last season, Bostick was one of the top run-producers in the Midwest League. He drove in 89 and posted a .282/.354/.452 line with 14 homers and 25 stolen bases in 33 chances for the Low-A Beloit Snappers. Defensively, Bostick is still learning, but he has the physical tools to be a solid defender at second base. He is 20 years old.
With Choice and Bostick out of the system, the A's have thinned their minor league talent pool considerably, as the two were among the A's top power-speed prospects. Before the deal, Choice was projected to take over the role that Gentry will now fill in Oakland, while Bostick was likely headed to High-A Stockton for 2014. With Nelson Cruz a strong candidate to leave the Rangers via free agency, Choice has an opportunity to be an everyday player for the playoff-contending Rangers at the start of the 2014 season. At the very least, he figures to get a bulk of the playing time that Gentry received in Texas last season.
The Rangers will be betting on the idea that Choice can maintain his improved contact rate while regaining the power that he showed in 2011, when he hit 30 homers for the Stockton Ports. Texas has plenty of young talent in the middle infield in their system, so it is hard to project where Bostick fits into their plans long-term, but he has several years of development left before that becomes a real issue for Texas. The Rangers, at a minimum, have improved what was already a very deep minor league system.
For the A's, this deal is designed to make the team better this year and over the next couple of years. Both Gentry and Lindblom have several years left under team control and can contribute to the A's at the major-league level for the next few seasons. Gentry could take over as the A's everyday centerfielder in 2015, should Oakland decide not to extend incumbent Coco Crisp's contract. Gentry's presence on the roster will allow A's manager Bob Melvin to use Crisp as a DH more frequently to save wear-and-tear on his legs. Lindblom gives the A's another talented young arm either for their rotation or their bullpen and gives them flexibility should they look to move a current starter or right-handed reliever.
Gentry is a significant power downgrade both from Choice (potentially) and from Chris Young. The A's will be banking on Gentry's ability to get on-base, run the bases well and save runs defensively to make up for what they will be losing in power. Their minor league depth both in the outfield and at second base takes a definite hit with this trade. This deal isn't likely to be the last deal the A's make this off-season – or even this week. The A's now have an even bigger surplus of pitching than they did yesterday when they added two major-league pitchers. And they still haven't finished addressing some of their needs on offense. Once more pieces of the puzzle have been revealed, it will be easier to see how this trade impacts the A's in 2014 and moving forward.