Pondering the A's frequent offensive struggles and their lack of right-handed hitters...
What about trading some relief pitching depth for one or two right-handed hitting corner outfielders that aren't in their respective team's plans, but would represent an upgrade to Oakland?
Here are the two deals I'm envisioning:
a.) Trade Alan Embree to the Tigers for Ryan Raburn. On a team chock full of big-name, big money offensive players, Raburn, 27, hasn't been able to get regular playing time. Yet in his minor league stints the last three years, he's done very well against AAA International League pitching (stats). Raburn's a plus defender in the corners and has even played some CF for the Tigers in a pinch. My desire to acquire him is based on my belief (very debatable, I acknowledge) that he can be a .775 OPS guy playing for the A's for the rest of this season in a pennant chase.
b.) Trade Keith Foulke or the recently DFA'd Kiko Calero to the Yankees for Shelley Duncan. Duncan, 28, is a different type of player than Raburn, but they share a few things in common; Duncan is also a right-handed hitter behind a team full of big name, big money players, and hasn't had an opportunity to play every day in the majors. Last year he absolutely crushed minor league pitching (stats); he is arguably the best power hitter in the minor leagues. He plays first base and also has a very good arm in right field. Hard to discern much from his range figures here - maybe an ANer has seen him play - but I think he could be a passable corner outfielder and spell Barton at first against tough lefties, or DH if Cust is in left. I believe (very debatable, I acknowledge) that if a major league team gave Shelley Duncan an every job and tolerated his 170 strikeouts, he'd reward them with 30 homers and an .800 OPS, even if he did get on base at a mere .310 or .320 clip.
The names of those three relief pitchers - Foulke, Calero, and Embree - could be swapped into either deal, depending on the preference of the Tigers and Yankees, of course. Clearly Calero is valued less than the other two. What all three have in common, though, is that they aren't a part of the next wave of Oakland A's teams - "the future" that we are all so excited about. Foulke is a free agent after this year and will probably garner bigger money elsewhere after resuscitating his career; Embree, 38, has an option for next year but might be considering retirement after '09; Calero will be a free agent after '09, assuming he's regained his health and effectiveness and is still pitching in the league.
The point is, none of the three are in the long-term plans. And part of what Raburn and Duncan attractive is that they both entered this season with less than a full year of major league service time. That means the A's would have contractual control over them for this season and five years into the future, should they blossom into viable part-time or full-time major leaguers once they get a real opportunity. Both of them could help fill our greatest organizational need on the 40-man roster - a lack of right-handed hitters with pop, specifically corner outfielders. If even one of the two pans out long-term like Cust has, and like Hannahan has to a lesser extent, I'd consider it a success.
Now, I realize that Raburn and Duncan aren't sexy names, and they don't inspire a lot of confidence in the way that a Jason Bay or Matt Holliday acquisition would. But any "name" acquisition would require giving up one of our Big Six starting pitchers, and I don't think we should give up any of them. So far this year, Lenny DiNardo has made two starts, and every other start has been made by Blanton, Smith, Eveland, Gaudin, Harden, or Duke. If we can keep it that way - one of those six guys making every start for the rest of the year - that's our best chance to get to the playoffs. They are insurance for each other. If one of them goes on the DL or gets tired arm, which is practically inevitable, Gaudin will slide right in.
I think that Raburn and Duncan are similar to what Cust was in the spring of '07, or what Jeff Keppinger
of the Reds was this past offseason - players that are finally good enough to start, but have been passed over, or given up on, buried on other teams and need another chance to prove their value. Beane and his staff excel at evaluating and acquiring those guys. I hope he adds two more.
Two other points that make Raburn and Duncan attractive: 1.) They both make slightly less than $400K, and 2.) they both have been optioned already this season, meaning that if Frank Thomas and/or Mike Sweeney return to health in a month or two, the A's have the flexibility to send Duncan and Raburn to Sacramento, and then bring them back up as needed.
These moves would precipitate two other moves that would make a few ANers wince, but I think they'd improve the team:
1.) DFA Emil Brown. With higher-upside right-handed hitting replacements for him, it would be time to let him go (if it isn't already).
2.) Send down Carlos Gonzalez to AAA for more seasoning. He's been thrilling, he's made some terrific plays defensively, but he's got a .275 OBP with 3 walks and 14 k's in 66 at-bats. And the A's need offensive upgrades in this pennant race.
Those moves bump Sweeney to CF, Raburn to one corner, and Cust/Duncan splitting the DH duties and left field duties. (Davis is still there in the late innings to take over CF and bump Sweeney over). Both of the new acquisitions would get a 1- to 2-month trial run while Thomas and Mike Sweeney are on the mend. If Raburn and Duncan thrive in their first real opportunity as full-timers, terrific...if they don't, they can be sent down to AAA when Thomas/Sweeney get healthy, or when Buck and CarGon can provide a better offensive lift.
These two acquisitions also protect us a bit from the possibility that Thomas and Sweeney - neither one a spring chicken- don't heal very well or are ineffective when they return down the stretch.
I think both moves offer us some intriguing upside, reduce our vulnerability to left-handed pitching, and cost us only something we already have in abundance - No. 3-4 relievers out of the bullpen.
That would leave us with a bullpen of Gaudin, Blevins, Braden, Ziegler, Andrew Brown, Casilla, Street, with Devine surely in that mix when he returns. Amazingly, even minus Calero/Embree/Foulke, that's a very good bullpen.
If anyone else from that group went down, the A's have two lefties in AAA that aren't on the 40-man roster that are having outstanding seasons:
Ryan Wing: 30.1 IP, 27 k's, 12 walks, 21 hits allowed, and a 1.09 WHIP.
Jay Marshall 2.0, now sporting a beard
that cutthemullet would be proud of: 11.2 IP, 0.77 era, 1.11 WHIP, with nearly twice as many ground outs as air outs (1.90-1).
Wing and Marshall could take the place of Calero and Emil Brown on the 40-man roster in this hypothetical scenario. Behind them would be Dan Meyer and Jeff Gray.
What do you think?