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How Useful Are "Marginal Upgrades"?

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Mike McGinnis

I ask this because that's what the A's appear to have walked away with from the Tyson Ross trade. By swapping Ross for Andrew Werner, the A's may have upgraded a bit at the "all-important #8 SP" position, and by adding Andy Parrino to the SS mix -- likely to replace Rosales, not to serve as the every day starter -- Oakland might also have slightly improved their utility infield position.

These are marginal upgrades in not one way, but two. They are upgrades at positions of relatively little importance, and they are slight upgrades, not huge ones.

Is it worth it to make marginal upgrades at "SP depth" and "utility INF"? The short answer is that sure, it's always worth getting a little better any time, and any way you can. But the longer answer is also interesting...

At SS, it seems to me that Parrino is perfectly likely to be another Rosales: A solid, but not gold glove fielder who can't really hit, a guy whose grit and hustle can't be measured because the things that can be measured say "just not that good".

The difference between Parrino and Rosales is "upside". Parrino might have a 90% chance of becoming Rosales Part Deux and a 10% chance of being the next Brandon Moss: The guy who blooms in his late 20s and finally makes good on a pedigree gone bad.

Rosales pretty much has a 99.8% chance of staying Rosales. He is not about to have an Omar Vizquel-like epiphany about how to turn his weak stroke into consistent productivity for the second half of his career. To use an overused expression that makes me want to harm defenseless animals when I hear it, "He is what he is." Parrino probably is, but that 10% chance that he blooms is well worth the exchange.

As for Werner, it's not so much that he's likely to be good as it is likely that Ross was going to be bad, at least in Oakland. Ross suffers not just from being primarily a "2-pitch pitcher" -- in fact that's far from his biggest problem in that he actually has 4 pitches (2-seamer, 4-seamer, slider, changeup) -- but rather from a complete lack of command. Ross falls behind in the count too much, and he leaves too many pitches up in the zone, and these will be issues for him whether he is starting or relieving.

Ross' two best chances to succeed are probably a move to the bullpen, which right there depresses his value (and perhaps a few of his closest friends), and just the proverbial "change of scenery" that occasionally brings a career to life. Swapping a failed SP who needs to go to the bullpen, and/or go elsewhere, for a decent-looking "depth guy," is an upgrade -- and one the A's will likely call upon given the volatile nature of SPs and the need for most teams, most years, to go 8-9 deep by year's end.

So it's due to Parrino's possible upside, Ross' stagnation with Oakland, and the fact that backup shortstops and #8 SPs really do get into the mix, that these marginal upgrades are a bit more useful than they might have been. Now if Parrino is the A's starting SS very often, and Werner makes 25 starts for Oakland, the "marginal" part of the upgrade will probably sink the A's faster than Cindi's battleship when she forgets which way the board is supposed to face. But if not, hey -- an upgrade is an upgrade, and if the A's are little better this week than they were last week, I say let's all do the Bernie and enjoy some pie!