With the trade deadline nearing, we answer a question about what the A's might look to do at the…
Trade Analysis: A's Acquire Trio
In the end, the two trades amount to an exchange of back-up outfielders and the addition of two relievers for a minor league second baseman and a reliever coming off of back surgery. On those merits alone, it appears that the A's are winners in this day of trading. And if you consider the flexibility that these trades will give the A's in future trades, the A's come out even better.
A number of fans will question why the A's would have exchanged Eric Byrnes for Jay Payton. For those who don't watch Byrnes play every day, it seems odd that the A's would be looking for a defensive upgrade over Byrnes. After all, Byrnes is the guy who makes regular appearances on Baseball Tonight's "Web Gems" program. However, those who watch the A's play every day have come to understand that Byrnes is a below-average defensive outfielder. His speed and aggressiveness allows him to make up ground from bad jumps on occasion, but he is often out of position and has misplayed a number of key balls this season.
Payton, on the other hand, is an above-average outfielder who can play all three outfield positions well. He will give the A's a late-inning defensive option in the corner spots and will give the A's a chance to rest starting centerfielder Mark Kotsay without losing a lot on defense. Payton also gives the A's another veteran right-handed bat on the bench. Like Byrnes, Payton hits left-handed pitching better than right-handed pitching. He will get plenty of playing time against lefties in the place of rookie Nick Swisher (who is hitting under .200 against lefties) and Kotsay.
By acquiring Joe Kennedy and Jay Witasick, the A's have also improved the depth and experience in their bullpen. Long-term, the left-handed Kennedy will probably be a starting pitcher for Oakland. However, in the immediate future, Kennedy will give the A's a second left-hander alongside lefty Ricardo Rincon. Kennedy was one of the National League's best starting pitchers in 2004 when he posted a 3.66 ERA despite pitching half of his games at Coors Field. He has struggled badly this season, but he is a young lefty with upside. He has handled left-handed hitters well throughout his career and will give the A's another option out of the bullpen against tough lefties and will also be able to go multiple innings.
Witasick returns to the A's organization after a seven-year absence. Witasick made his major league debut with Oakland in 1996. He has spent time with Kansas City, San Francisco, the New York Yankees, San Diego and Colorado. Witasick is a hard-throwing right-hander who will give the A's a veteran presence in the sixth and seventh innings, allowing Oakland to use set-up men Justin Duchscherer and Kiko Calero more often in the eighth inning. Witasick has a 2.52 ERA in 35.2 innings this season and he has struck out 40. He has only allowed two homeruns over that span. Unlike the righty Chad Bradford, whom the A's sent to Boston for Payton, Witasick pitches well against both righties and lefties, which will allow the A's to use him for more than one batter at a time.
Jennings and Witasick will likely replace rookie Ron Flores and journeyman Ryan Glynn in the A's bullpen. Flores was impressive in his minimal appearances with Oakland and he could get another look in September. Glynn will have to clear waivers to return to Sacramento. He struggled as a starter and didn't see much time as a reliever during his tenure with Oakland.
By trading middle infield prospect Omar Quintanilla, the A's are sending a signal that they like what they have seen from 2004 draftee Kevin Melillo and 2005 first-round pick Cliff Pennington. Quintanilla, Melillo and Pennington are all top-of-the-order middle infield prospects. Melillo has shown more power than Quintanilla did during his time in the Oakland chain and Mellilo has gotten on-base at a higher clip. Quintanilla was the A's top middle-infield prospect coming into the 2005 season, but he has posted mediocre numbers for AA-Midland (742 OPS) this season. After a good debut season in 2004, Melillo began the 2005 season with Kane County and posted an 856 OPS for the Cougars before being promoted to Stockton on July 4th. Since his promotion, Melillo has been red-hot. He is hitting over .400 and has clubbed four homeruns in only nine games.
Pennington was drafted in the first round in this year's June draft and he was considered such an advanced prospect that he jumped right past short-season A to low-A Kane County. Pennington has been very good for the Cougars in his first few weeks with the team. He is hitting .291 and he has two homers and five stolen bases in 19 games. Pennington has been playing at shortstop, but he is likely to be converted to second base in the future.
These trades are mostly about the A's present and are less about the future, however. By acquiring veterans like Kennedy, Witasick and Payton, Beane is sending a strong signal that he intends to push to contend this season. Witasick and Kennedy give the A's a veteran bullpen capable of competing against playoff-caliber teams. Witasick, in particular, has playoff experience which could come in handy in a playoff race. And Payton is the kind of quality, veteran bench player common on playoff-caliber teams.
These trades also give the A's a little more flexibility if they want to make another, bigger trade for a bat. By acquiring the lefty Kennedy, the A's can now take bids on Rincon and on prospect starting pitcher Dan Meyer, if they want to. There is a long list of playoff-contending teams who are looking for lefty relief help who may be willing to give up a top prospect to acquire a quality lefty like Rincon. Without Kennedy, the A's wouldn't have been able to trade Rincon without stripping their bullpen bare of left-handed relief. In addition, Kennedy is under the A's control for the next two and a half seasons. He could very well become a long-term solution at the back-end of the A's starting rotation. With that being the case, the A's may be willing to deal top prospect left-handed prospect Meyer to a team like Cincinnati who is looking for young pitching and has a surplus of strong hitting outfielders.
Clearly, the A's are not done dealing. However, these trades are a strong indication that Oakland plans to buy this season in an attempt to make up those 4.5 games that separate them and a playoff spot.
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