On Friday, the Cardinals and Mets jumped to 1-0 NLDS leads over the Cubs and Dodgers, respectively. Another way to put that is that Jon Lester and Clayton Kershaw started series openers for their respective teams and lost -- so basically, the same as last year.
Each series will play Game 2 on Saturday, and there's an extra reason for A's fans to tune in this time. With the Cubs starting a right-hander (Kyle Hendricks), slugger Brandon Moss will draw the start for St. Louis, batting sixth and playing first base.
When the A's traded Moss last winter, it went down as a bit of a head-scratcher. It made logical sense to trade him at a time when the club was already planning on shedding both age and salary from the roster -- Moss played most of this year at age 31 and did so for $6.5 million, which would have made him the sixth-most expensive player on the team (after Coco, Kaz, Butler, Clippard, and Zobrist). Furthermore, he was coming off of a major hip injury that had ruined his 2014 campaign and required surgery, making him a particularly risky gamble even at his midlevel salary.
However, there were two parts to this particular deal. The first part was agreeing that it made sense to trade Moss, even if that meant selling slightly lower than you would normally like -- you might have agreed because there were comparable-but-cheaper in-house options to replace him, or because you suspected that he was done as a star hitter, or some other reason. The second part was agreeing that the A's got a worthwhile return in the trade, in the form of unheralded second base prospect Joey Wendle. It was (and is) possible to agree with the first part but not the second part.
I don't think there is any question about the first part. The A's sold at the right time. Moss stayed healthy enough to play 145 games, but he didn't hit much and his value hovered around replacement-level. He's in the playoffs now, sure, but the Cardinals were 65-37 (with a 5½-game lead in their division) when they acquired him so it's not like he led them to the promised land or anything. A quick rundown of his numbers:
Moss, Cle: 375 PAs, 15 HR, 84 OPS+,
Moss, StL: 151 PAs, 4 HR, 105 OPS+
Moss, total: .226/.304/.407, 90 OPS+, -0.5 bWAR, 0.6 fWAR
He was awful in Cleveland outside of an occasional homer, as the spotty power wasn't enough to make him a positive presence. He recovered a bit when he was sent to the National League*, a league of lesser talent in which there were no playoff races this year (outside of postseason teams jockeying for seeding) and where over half the league had given up by the time Moss even arrived. But even in that smaller pond, he was still barely better than average, and now he is part of an emergency backup platoon covering for the injured Matt Adams. That's a big drop from being a 2014 AL All-Star.
The fact that Ike Davis, Moss' replacement in Oakland, also flamed out only helps prove the point that the A's were smart to pay $3.8 million to get nothing out of first base rather than $6.5 million. And now, looking at $8 million or more in his final year of arbitration, Moss is an obvious non-tender candidate this winter, and when a player gets non-tendered the year after you trade him it usually means you made the right call salvaging some value while you could.
But you can make a good call on trading someone and still make a bad trade. I'm not saying this was a bad trade, and I still like Joey Wendle as a prospect if only because enough really smart people in multiple organizations have raved so highly about him that they seemingly can't all be completely wrong.
Still, the numbers are full of red flags. He was 25 this year and still hasn't made MLB, and he needed a huge late-season surge just to finish with a 101 wRC+ in Triple-A. His walk and strikeout numbers are poor, and he doesn't have any defensive versatility -- it's second base or bust. Worse yet, in the time since Wendle's acquisition, Colin Walsh has stepped up as a similarly interesting 2B prospect and Brett Lawrie has moved across the diamond and identified himself as a potential answer at the keystone. Wendle's best attribute was that he only had to be superior to Eric Sogard to make the A's a better team, and now he's got a fair amount of competition just to make the club at all.
Compounding the point is that the Indians probably got a better return for Moss at the deadline, even after four months of poor play, than Oakland did in the offseason. That's not that crazy -- everyone know prices are higher at the deadline due to the leverage of timing -- but lefty, 20-year-old, 2013 first-round pick Rob Kaminsky could crack top-100 lists this winter. You never know which prospect will turn out better, of course, but at this moment it's tough to rate Wendle over Kaminsky.
Personally, I'm willing to have patience and see what Wendle does next year. Prospects are just lotto tickets anyway, and there's no reason Wendle can't be productive -- especially considering that college second basemen with all-around skills who seem too old for their leagues are one of the most underrated demographics in the minors, in my opinion (and I know some others, on this site and elsewhere, share that opinion). But still, I wouldn't fault anyone for continuing to be disappointed in the Moss-for-Wendle trade, because selling before the crash looks decidedly less smart if you only sold for half-price and I can't fault anyone for thinking Wendle represented a figurative "50 cents on the dollar," give or take. If the A's had gotten someone like Kaminsky in the first place, a younger and/or more obvious talent with more upside, I imagine that far fewer people would have panned the trade last winter.
In the end, I think the A's were right to trade Moss when they did, and although I like the guy they got back I can't deny that it seems like they should have gotten slightly more. But I don't think the difference is enough to make it a bad trade overall. It's not like a 20-year-old pitching prospect is a guaranteed lock to make MLB either, and at least Wendle is only one good spring performance away from starting (or at least platooning) in Oakland.
*Seriously, though -- consider that the A's were by far the worst team in the AL this year, and yet one-third of the NL will pick ahead of them in the next draft due to being even worse. Nearly half of the NL will pick before the second-worst AL team picks. The NL was a joke in 2015, a true JV league compared to the absurdly well-matched AL, and it shows once again in the 162-132 advantage the AL held in interleague (.551 record, their best since 2012 and 12th straight year on top).
Cardinals vs. Cubs, Cards lead series 1-0
Time: 2:37 p.m. PT
|CHICAGO CUBS||ST. LOUIS CARDINALS|
|Dexter Fowler - CF||Matt Carpenter - 3B|
|Jorge Soler - RF||Stephen Piscotty - RF|
|Kris Bryant - 3B||Matt Holliday - LF|
|Anthony Rizzo - 1B||Jason Heyward - CF|
|Starlin Castro - 2B||Jhonny Peralta - SS|
|Austin Jackson - LF||Brandon Moss - 1B|
|Miguel Montero - C||Yadier Molina - C|
|Kyle Hendricks - RHP||Kolten Wong - 2B|
|Addison Russell - SS||Jaime Garcia - LHP|
Mets vs. Dodgers, Mets lead series 1-0
Time: 6:07 p.m. PT
|NEW YORK METS||LOS ANGELES DODGERS|
|Curtis Granderson - RF||Howie Kendrick - 2B|
|David Wright - 3B||Corey Seager - SS|
|Daniel Murphy - 2B||Adrian Gonzalez - 1B|
|Yoenis Cespedes - CF||Justin Turner - 3B|
|Lucas Duda - 1B||Andre Ethier - RF|
|Travis d'Arnaud - C||Carl Crawford - LF|
|Michael Conforto - LF||Yasmani Grandal - C|
|Ruben Tejada - SS||Enrique Hernandez - CF|
|Noah Syndergaard - RHP||Zack Greinke - RHP|