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Fantasy Rundown: A’s Make A Flurry of Trades

On Thursday the Athletics significantly improved their rotation and acquired one of the best defensive outfielders in the majors. Let’s get the trade logistics out of the way first. The A’s traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes. Several minutes later the A’s reacquired Sam Fuld from the Twins for the disgruntled Tommy Milone.

My initial reaction (on Twitter) to the trade was a slight rethinking of Jason Hammel going forward:

I wrote yesterday that Hammel should improve, but I have second thoughts about the recommendation because of Hammel’s struggles, and his ability to fix those struggles must have factored into this decision. As long as Hammel’s healthy he is going to be in the rotation for the next two or three starts.

Jesse Chavez, who has looked fatigued, moves to the bullpen and becomes the long reliever/spot starter. Chavez is going to have opportunities to make spot starts (hopefully at home) because the A’s are going to give days off to Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray, both of whom are on pace to pitch a career high of innings, especially if the A’s run away with the division.

Cespedes is an above average player who has a flair for the dramatic and provides a lot of SportsCenter highlights, but he was not without his flaws. He takes plays off; there are many instances where he has hindered rallies by not taking the extra base and/or not running out ground balls. He’s on pace to hit for the most home runs in his career, but his power does come at the expense of getting on base. He has a career .318 OBP and since 2013 his OBP is .298. A sub-.318 OBP is too low for a hitter who hits in the middle of the order.

You may be asking yourself whether the A’s ballpark has suppressed his numbers, but he’s actually been a better hitter at home than on the road (.845 OPS at home compared to .740 on the road). From 2012-2013 his Defensive Runs Saved, a defensive metric tracked by Baseball Info Solutions, were one and four, respectively, but this year it’s 10. I haven’t seen that dramatic of an improvement, which leads me to believe the rate of Runs Saved is going to regress.

Lastly, he’s a brittle player. Very rarely does he play two or three weeks without needing a day or two off plus days at DH to nurse various nagging injuries.

Cespedes’ fantasy value increases significantly. … He’s going to hit a lot of doubles of the Green Monster so I expect his batting average to increase 10-20 points.

Cespedes’ contract expires after the 2015 season and he was going to leave. He was scheduled to make $10.5MM next year, and another factor that went into this trade was for payroll flexibility in 2015. Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson, Jeff Samardzija, John Jaso, Ryan Cook, and Josh Reddick are all going to get substantial raises next year. Taking Cespedes’ and Jim Johnson’s contracts off the books, they will be able to afford those raises and they will have flexibility to acquire more pieces for the 2015 season.

Cespedes’ fantasy value increases significantly. He’s an extreme pull and fly ball hitter. He’s going to hit a lot of doubles of the Green Monster so I expect his batting average to increase 10-20 points. His power numbers should also improve as he’ll be legit candidate to hit 30 home runs.

I wasn’t high on Jon Lester entering the season because his strikeout rate was in decline, he was allowing more hard contact, and his draft value was being inflated by the team he played for. However, Lester is having the best year of his career and becomes the ace for the A’s. He has the lowest ERA and WHIP of his career, which are little fluky considering the 2.9% HR/FB rate at home. That said, what he’s doing this year is not a fluke. His curveball is missing more bats than ever, he has the lowest walk rate of his career, and he’s generating the most infield fly balls of his career, which indicates he’s inducing more weak contact. He’s not going to continue to have a sub-2.60 ERA, but a 3.10 ERA is his floor considering his new home ballpark, the A’s great defense, and the easy schedule the rest of the year.

The additions of Sam Fuld and Jonny Gomes may seem like minor acquisitions, but they will both have a great impact. They will likely be platoon partners in left field; ideally Gomes doesn’t play defense. Gomes’ biggest asset is his ability to mash lefties. He has a career .831 OPS against lefties and he has the same exact OPS this year. Fuld is a Gold Glove caliber defender but is best suited as a fourth outfielder because of his inability to hit either righties or lefties. This year he has a .356 OBP, which is 40 points higher than his career OBP. Maybe Fuld has made improvements at the plate to legitimize this year’s performance, but the data suggests he has benefited from a high .308 BABIP.

With Craig Gentry on the DL and Coco Crisp possibly going on the DL (sore neck) Fuld becomes the every day center fielder. If Gentry and Crisp are both healthy Fuld is the fourth outfielder. When Gentry comes off the DL he essentially plays every day; he’ll play in left against righties and right against lefties (Josh Reddick will be on the bench). I will fully admit I have bias for Gentry and I have no idea why he’s never been given the opportunity to play every day. What likely happens is Gentry plays primarily against lefties and Fuld gets the majority of playing time against righties.

Boston’s Revamped Rotation

The Red Sox rotation suddenly got a lot younger (four of their starters are 26 or younger) with a lot of upside. If you’ve read my work this year you know I recommend pitchers with exploding stuff (Jake Arrieta, Trevor Bauer, Kevin Gausman, Marcus Stroman, Yordano Ventura, and Brandon Maurer for example) rather than command-first pitchers. Therefore, it’s not surprising the pitcher I am the most intrigued about is Allen Webster because he has top of the rotation stuff, but he doesn’t know where it’s going. His walk rate improved this year in AAA at the expense of the strikeout, but his raw stuff is still really good and he’s someone I would add in all formats depending on the number of bench spots.

The presumption on social media is A’s made these trades for the playoffs, but the trade was made for two reasons:

  1. To win the division and avoid the Wild Card Game
  2. To get the number one seed in order to avoid the Tigers in the first round of the playoffs

If the A’s were in any other division they probably do not make this deal because they could coast to a division title. However, the Angels, who are the second best team in the American League, are not going away, so it made sense to bolster the starting rotation (Tyler Skaggs left in the middle of the game on Thursday and if he misses a lot of time the Angels are in big trouble).

Losing Cespedes hurts the offense, but the addition of Gomes and Fuld counteract 70% of Cespedes’ lost offense. However, the outfield defense improves greatly, which almost negates the loss of Cespedes. A defensive outfield of Gentry, Reddick, Crisp, and Fuld is easily the best defensive outfield in the majors. Overall, the A’s are better on Thursday than they were on Wednesday. The Red Sox improved their offense, have given opportunities to their young pitchers to earn spots in the rotation next year, and are the front runners to get Lester back in the offseason.

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About the author: I write a daily column for Baseball Professor called the Fantasy Roundup. You can also find my writing at Through the Fence Baseball and MattCommins.com.

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  • Chris

    Lots of movement for Boston. Do you think we see Henry Owens in some form by the end of the season in Fenway?

    • http://www.fishtankmedia.com/ Matt Commins

      The only chance Owens gets called up is in September when rosters expand. Best bet is we’ll likely see him in the rotation next July.