The Curious Case of Chris Resop

J. Meric

Oakland lost three players en route to picking up a 30-year old reliever with a career ERA+ of 87. Why? No, seriously, someone please explain it to me.

There's a pretty good chance that you've never heard of Chris Resop. If this weren't a baseball blog, you might not even realize that he is a professional pitcher. Sure, he's appeared for 4 different teams in 7 different seasons, but most of those teams have been bad and he hasn't exactly been a high-impact player. He is now a member of your Oakland Athletics, though, which means that sometime in the next 10 months you will probably spend at least one full day being either his biggest fan (because he struck out Albert Pujols in a close game) or hating his guts (because he allowed a go-ahead homer to Vernon Wells, or something inexcusably awful). Such is the life of a middle reliever.

How did Resop come to be with Oakland, and how did it cost the team three other pitchers? Here is the course of events, according to Baseball-Reference:

November 28: Oakland acquires reliever Sandy Rosario from Boston for a PTBNL (later revealed to be Graham Godfrey).

November 30: Oakland acquires reliever Chris Resop from Pittsburgh for minor-league reliever Zach Thornton.

November 30: Oakland DFA's Rosario to make room for Resop on the 40-man roster.

December 10: Boston re-claims Rosario off of waivers from Oakland.

December 12: Boston waives Rosario again, and this time the Cubs claim him.

What a peculiar list of transactions. When all is said and done, Oakland has lost three pitchers from its organization, with only Resop to show for it. I admit that I am looking at this situation through offseason-goggles (they're like beer-goggles, but for minor-league Hot Stove transactions), but I am fascinated by several things here. I will go in order from least interesting to most interesting.

1. Zach Thornton is a non-prospect, right?

Yes, most likely. Thornton (scouting report) was a 23rd-round draft pick in 2010, and he played in High-A Stockton at age 24 last season. However, he put up an 11.7 K/9 (strikeouts per 9 innings), and a 3.68 K:BB (strikeout to walk ratio), and it's just really hard to ignore those numbers at any level. Not after watching three long-shot pitchers vault their way from Double-A to the Majors last season. Thornton's success didn't come out of nowhere, either; in 2011, he had a K/9 of 9.0 and a K:BB of 3.74 for Single-A Burlington. I'd never heard of Thornton before this week, and he's not included on any organizational prospect lists. He's probably not a prospect. Almost certainly not. But if he were to make the Majors one day, it would be easy to look back at his 2012 numbers and say, "Wait, we threw away that guy?"

2. Oakland gave away Graham Godfrey for free.

This isn't that big of a loss, but Godfrey is probably the one name you already knew out of the four players involved here. He is the epitome of a 4-A pitcher: good enough to succeed in AAA, but utterly over-matched in the Majors. He made it into 5 games last season for Oakland, but he is organizational filler at this point. What I find interesting is the way in which he was dealt: traded for a pitcher who was immediately released and re-signed by his original team. Godfrey was literally traded to Boston for nothing.

3. Nobody wants Sandy Rosario, and I don't understand why.

Here are Rosario's last three minor-league seasons:

2010, age 24, Single-A: 90 innings, 122 K's, 17 walks (also threw 2 innings in AA and 1 in MLB)
2011, age 25, AA: 47.2 innings, 46 K's, 17 walks (also threw 6.2 innings in AAA and 3.2 in MLB)
2012, age 26, AAA: 26 innings, 24 K's, 2 walks (also threw 5.2 innings at lower levels and 3.0 in MLB)

Like Thornton, Rosario has tended to be old for his league. However, he still put up some eye-popping numbers while consistently advancing upward through the minor-league system. He throws hard, he has two offspeed pitches (slider and change-up), and I was excited for Oakland to take a flyer on him. Unfortunately, it won't happen. What surprises me, though, is how much trouble he's having finding a job; he's now been released by Oakland and twice by Boston in the last two weeks. I understand that he's mostly been a roster casualty as teams make tough decisions in order to solidify their 40-man squads, but it's still surprising that he has repeatedly been the odd man out.

Also, as Susan Slusser points out, it was kind of a dick move for Boston to re-claim him after the initial trade for Godfrey; since the Sox clearly had no plans to keep Rosario anyway, all they did was screw Oakland out of the player who they had just spent an actual Major Leaguer to acquire. Nice doing business with you, Boston. I guess that was revenge for winning 8 out of 9 games against your craptastic 2012 team, or for stealing Josh Reddick last winter, or...OK, maybe the A's had it coming.

4. Why does Oakland want Chris Resop again?

Let's start with a look at Resop's MLB career:

2005-2008 (ages 22-25): 61 innings, 40 K's, 36 walks, 5.61 ERA, 77 ERA+

Ummmm....

2010-2012 (ages 27-29): 164.1 innings, 151 K's, 67 walks, 4.11 ERA, 92 ERA+

OK, at least that's an improvement. Although he'd shown some strikeout potential in the low minors, Resop's control clearly wasn't ready for the Majors in his early-20's. He walked nearly as many batters as he struck out, and his ineffectiveness earned him a trip to Japan. After learning to be awful at pitching in a second language (he was so bad for the Hanshin Tigers in 2008 that he pitched for their farm team in 2009, even though the Tigers were a sub-.500 NPB team), Resop apparently made some serious improvements to his arsenal of pitches. Atlanta brought him back to the States in 2010 and, now armed with strikeout stuff (8.3 K/9), he eventually settled in as a serviceable reliever for Pittsburgh.

One thing about that strikeout rate, though:

2010: 11.1 K/9 (21 innings)
2011: 10.2 K/9 (69.2 innings)
2012: 5.6 K/9 (73.2 innings)

Aw, barnacles. He had developed strikeout stuff, but in 2012 it completely disappeared. On one hand, you might interpret that as an off year and conclude that Beane bought low on a pitcher with big strikeout potential. On the other hand, you might interpret that as a scary decline or a sign of an underlying injury. I don't pretend to know which of those options is closer to the truth, but this conundrum brings another former Athletic to mind:

2005: 10.6 K/9
2006: 9.3
2007: 9.8
2008: 6.0
2009: 11.7

Those strikeout rates belong to Michael Wuertz. He had established himself as a high-strikeout reliever with the Cubs, but then he had an off year (2008) in which his K-rate took a nosedive. Beane snatched him up on the cheap and he had a bounce-back year in which he led all AL relievers in strikeouts. Perhaps Beane sees a similar opportunity with Resop.

In this case, it's sort of a choose-your-poison. Do you prefer Rosario, the pitcher with impressive minor-league numbers who is completely untested at the MLB level? Or Resop, the pitcher with mixed MLB success coming off of a down-year? (Also consider that Resop will probably end up costing more than $1M, while Rosario would have made league minimum.) In the end, Beane probably made a wise decision in going with the guy who has already been exposed to the Majors, even if it will cost a bit more money.

So, if I see upside in Resop, but I also really like Rosario, then the decision that I don't understand is this one:

5. Why dump Rosario when Jesse Chavez is still on the 40-man roster?

If there is one player whose presence I just don't understand, it's 29-year-old Jesse Chavez. He wasn't a high draft pick, he wasn't particularly noteworthy in the minors once he reached AAA, and he's been an absolute gascan in the Majors. Pitching for 5 different teams over the last 5 seasons, he's put up a 5.99 ERA (70 ERA+) in 177.1 innings. In the column for his Wins Above Replacement, it just says "No" (actually, it says "-2.7" on Baseball-Reference, and there's a negative value for every individual season in which he's played). His fastball used to clock at 94, but has fallen to 92 over the last two seasons (although that may be a sample size issue). His strikeouts did shoot up in 2011-12, but so did his walks, homers, hits, and ERA. I just don't see any upside at all in Chavez, whereas Rosario still has a chance to succeed (if only because he's an unknown quantity in the Majors so far; he could just as easily flame out as well).

What's worse, Rosario isn't the first pitcher that Oakland has cut in favor of Chavez. When they were solidifying their 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 draft, they kept Chavez while cutting Jim Miller. I wasn't that excited about Miller last spring, but he turned out to be a very adequate mop-up reliever in the back of the bullpen. He struck out nearly a batter per inning and posted a 154 ERA+, although his high walk rate and flukishly low BABIP suggest that he may have enjoyed a career year in 2012. When Chavez tried his hand at the mop-up role, he mostly succeeded in kicking over the bucket and dumping dirty water all over the floor.

In the end, I'm really just picking nits here. Relievers are an inconsistent bunch, and, with 7-9 superior relievers* already in the mix, we're talking about either the last spot in the bullpen or the first guy to be called up after an injury. It's unlikely that these decisions are going to make a huge difference in 2013, and any of the pitchers in question could potentially be passed over if guys like James Simmons, Arnold Leon, or the recently signed Mike Ekstrom make a case for a spot in Oakland. That doesn't change the fact that I am bewildered by the lengths that Beane has gone to to keep both Resop and Chavez on the 40-man roster. It truly is a curious case.

_______________________________________________

*Likely bullpen, pre-Resop: Balfour, Cook, Doolittle, Blevins, Blackley, Norberto, Neshek, plus Scribner and Figueroa as backups.

***Bonus - Words which are anagrams for Resop:

Ropes
Spore
Poser
Pores
Prose

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