Last week, we analyzed the first part of Billy Beane's annual mid-May roster shuffle. At that time, he had demoted Dan Straily and DL'd Ryan Cook. He replaced them by moving Drew Pomeranz from the bullpen to the rotation, and promoting Fernando Rodriguez and Joe Savery from the minors to fill in the pen. Shortly thereafter, he acquired Kyle Blanks to replace the struggling Daric Barton, who was then demoted to Triple-A; Blanks fills Barton's role as a backup first baseman who can start against lefties, and he also brings some extra versatility with his ability to play in left field. Finally, Savery was swapped out in favor of a more suitable long reliever, Jeff Francis.
To summarize those moves, Beane dropped his worst starting pitcher and his worst position player and replaced them with a couple of promising players, while drawing from his minor league depth to fill a couple of holes in the bullpen. Pomeranz may or may not work out as a starter this year, but he's been good in his first two trials and Straily was doing nothing. Blanks may or may not hit, but he's got potential and he's 1-for-2 so far, and Barton was doing nothing.
So, assuming for now that Pomeranz and Blanks pan out enough to stay on the team, what's the next move? Or is this the roster we'll see until the July 31 trading deadline? Let's take a quick look at the club to see if there are any other holes to fill (future injuries notwithstanding).
Rotation: Gray, Kazmir, Chavez, Pomeranz, Milone
Verdict: This is pretty well set. If Pomeranz or Milone falters, Straily probably comes back. Maybe we see Arnold Leon, or maybe Francis steps into the rotation. Otherwise, I doubt anything major will happen unless Beane targets someone at the deadline. (Arizona's Brandon McCarthy is the guy AN would like to grab.)
Bullpen: Doolittle, Johnson, Gregerson, Abad, Otero, Rodriguez, Francis
Verdict: They're not getting the job done in save situations, but what can you do? Doolittle, Abad and Otero have been great. Rodriguez and Francis, two legit Major Leaguers, are as good as you can hope for out of your Nos. 6 and 7 relievers. And the $15 million combo of Johnson and Gregerson will be given every opportunity to succeed. Evan Scribner and Savery are waiting in Triple-A for the first injury, but otherwise you should get used to this relief corps until Eric O'Flaherty returns from his Tommy John recovery. Ryan Cook is still theoretically coming back at some point, but I'll believe it when I see it.
Catchers: Jaso, Norris
Verdict: If you want to replace one of them, you'll have to get through me first. If someone gets hurt, Stephen Vogt comes up. No changes coming here.
First base: Moss, Blanks
Verdict: This has already been addressed for now. Beane won't rush into replacing Blanks without giving him a chance first.
Third base: Donaldson
Verdict: If he's healthy, he's playing. His current neck injury sounds like a minor day-to-day problem.
Outfield: Cespedes, Coco, Reddick, Gentry, (and Moss, Blanks as backups)
Verdict: On defense, they may be the best four-man unit in baseball. On offense, Cespedes is hitting like an All-Star (.835 OPS), Coco and Gentry are getting on base (both above .360 OBP) and running wild (combined 13-for-14 on steals), and Reddick is finally finding his stroke (last eight games: 11-for-34, three homers, only five strikeouts). This group is set.
That leaves one position on the diamond ...
Second base: Sogard, Punto, Callaspo
Verdict: Oy. There's work to be done here. Eric Sogard is fielding well, but he's not hitting at all. Nick Punto isn't hitting much better than Sogard, and he hasn't been anything special in the field. Alberto Callaspo was hitting well, but he's cooled off and his OPS is down to .688 on the season; he's also a terrible defender at second. The numbers:
Sogard: .175/.250/.216, plus-4 DRS
Punto: .225/.295/.275, neutral-0 DRS
Callaspo: .240/.347/.341, stop playing him at first
Sogard and Punto have actually combined to provide marginally positive value in terms of bWAR, so it's not that they're hurting the team. It's just that the A's can do better. The first step would be figuring out who goes. The arguments for each:
Now that Blanks is on the team, I really can't understand giving Callaspo any time at first base; he continued to look awful there on Sunday. And now that so many of Oakland's hitters are on fire, it's hard to justify using Callaspo as the DH when a far superior hitter is always available. The team clearly values defense over offense at second, so he isn't starting there. I don't think "Donaldson insurance" is worth an entire roster spot, either. I advocated trading Callaspo all winter, but I'm glad he was around in April because he did some good things. Now that his hot streak has cooled off, and it's time to talk about moving him again. He just has no place on this team, because he's only worthwhile if he's playing third base. No, I don't want to be stuck with Everyday Punto if Donaldson misses serious time, but then, if we lose our MVP, we're going to have big problems no matter what.
Say what you will, but he's the only backup shortstop on the roster. Sogard can sort of hold his own there on a short-term basis, but Punto has been excellent at the position for a decade. He's got better on-base skills than he's shown so far, he's a switch-hitter with no platoon split, and he can play second and third as well. He's the best utility man on the roster, and, quite frankly, Lowrie insurance is more important than Donaldson insurance based on likelihood of injury. Punto stays no matter what, unless the A's somehow acquire a fantastic backup shortstop (this is not a thing that exists, because they are all starting).
This all depends on what you think of our beloved Elf. Was last year's league-average .686 OPS a fluke? Is he just not a Major League hitter? Or will he come around and inch back toward respectability at the plate? His defense is for real, and it's spectacular. The A's can absolutely survive with him as the starter at second; heck, they're thriving with him right now. But this is the last spot at which a major upgrade is possible.
So, what are Billy's options? There isn't really any help available in the minors. Jake Elmore is on the 60-day DL, and otherwise there is just Andy Parrino, Tyler Ladendorf, and Hiro Nakajima. Brian Dozier is my Holy Grail, and he could platoon with Sogard, but the Twins are at .500 and they likely aren't rushing to part with a quality player who still has four more years of team control. If the Indians fall out of the race, Asdrubal Cabrera could be shifted to second. This feels strange to write, but the Cubs' Emilio Bonifacio could be an interesting option -- he'd probably be a lateral move at best, though. The D'Backs are going nowhere, and they have no reason to hold on to Aaron Hill, Martin Prado, or our old friend Cliff Pennington. Stephen Drew is still a free agent, but there could be a ton of demand for his services this summer and I think someone will throw more money at him than the A's are prepared to spend.
Of all of the seemingly available options, Prado is my favorite. He's decent at second, and he's also good at third, so he can back up Donaldson. He's a solid hitter who makes a lot of contact, gets on base, and has double-digit home run power. He could replace Callaspo on the roster, and with his ability to play a mean left field, the A's could still carry both Sogard and Punto on the bench as backups with seven legitimate outfield options already on the team. The one downside, apart from whatever it would cost to acquire Prado in a trade (and it would take a lot to get him), is the fact that he's due $11 million each of the next two seasons. But hey, I heard there's $10 million coming off the books from a certain relief pitcher after this year, so this sounds like a good way in which to reallocate it.
So, there's the state of affairs on May 18. It's likely that Beane is done tinkering until the deadline, with the exception of the always-changing seventh man in the pen. Any move at second base would probably be more of a June or July type of trade than a mid-May acquisition. If Blanks doesn't work out, another move will have to be made. Injuries can always change everything. But the fun part of following a Billy Beane team, besides all the winning, is that you really just have no idea what's coming next.