This article is mostly about how I don't expect an A's trade to add a new left fielder to the mix, so the headline is to be taken somewhat literally. But how did the phrase "came out of left field" come about? Why left field? Why can't something unexpected come out of right field? Or perhaps the dugout? I suppose the rally possum came out of left field and I have to say that was quite the surprise the first time. Yet I'm fairly certain (which is kind of like being "somewhat unique") that the expression "out of left field" predates the first sighting of the rally possum.
Anyhoo, the A's may not have tremendous quality in left field but they have too much quantity for me to believe they are cooking up a trade that would displace all the incumbents. You would think that Yonder Alonso, Mark Canha, and the controversial Billy Butler, have most of the games accounted for at 1B, LF, and DH. Behind them you have Coco Crisp, Jake Smolinski and Rangel Ravelo (each a potential platoon partner for Alonso), and Andrew Lambo in the mix. And that's not even counting Sam Fuld, in his current role as a backup insurance plan in CF.
To add a LFer, first of all you have to bring someone in who is a clear cut above the incumbents and while that may seem easy, in fact it really isn't. Most players aren't that great, and a combination of Canha and Smolinski, or Canha and Ravelo, or Lambo and Smolinksi, or Crisp and Ravelo? Give them the platoon advantage and select from the best of them and you're likely to get at least league average production. Only a really good player is going to be worth displacing the lot of them.
So yes, Yoenis Cespedes and Juston Upton might be examples of clear upgrades, but they are also examples of players not coming to Oakland. In the trade market, the cost to acquire a similar "clear upgrade" is going to be precisely the prospects Oakland is committed to keeping.
I think the A's are planning to throw a bunch of guys they already have at the wall and see what sticks. Likely that means hanging onto Butler as the primary DH, a lot of starts for Canha in LF, and a role for a RH platoon partner to Alonso -- that would be Smolinski or Ravelo. And perhaps you get a shot in the arm from Crisp at some point, perhaps you don't.
When the A's talk about January being a good month to be active in the trade market, and about still intending to improve the team, I imagine they are looking at options to land that veteran starting pitcher that eluded them as Bartolo Colon, Scott Kazmir, and even a couple guys who haven't already pitched for the A's, found greener (but not golder) pastures.
I could see the A's repeating their effort from a year ago, when they tried to boost their chances for the coming season by dealing John Jaso, Daniel Robertson, and Boog Powell in order to land Ben Zobrist in the last year of his contract. Yes, it was a step backwards on the rebuilding scale but it was a good "win now" move that did not require Oakland to part with a prospect at the level of Franklin Barreto, Matt Chapman, or Chris Bassitt, and this time around you can expect the likes of Sean Manaea and Jacob Nottingham to be off the table.
Who might the A's be looking at, as a possible addition to the front half of the rotation? Old friend Gio Gonzalez is entering his contract year, as are Andrew Cashner and Jorge de la Rosa (who has 10/5 rights to veto any trade, but who might be yearning to be freed from pitching in Colorado).
Who might the A's be willing to part with in order to improve their rotation for 2016 and take a better shot at competing? Of course some of it depends on which prospects, internally, the A's are most and least enamored. With Marcus Semien under contract control for 5 more years, it's possible Chad Pinder could follow Daniel Robertson as a "good bat, may or may not stick at SS" prospect sacrificed for the immediate good. Given his offensive potential but limited defensive upside, perhaps Oakland would be willing to offer Renato Nuñez to a team high on his considerable ability.
When the front office refers to keeping the current core of prospects together, I imagine the least touchable players in the minors are Barreto, Manaea, Olson, Nottingham, and Chapman. That is, of course, pure speculation on my part -- for all I know the A's are internally jazzed about Pinder as their future 3Bman and view Chapman as overrated trade bait. I don't know.
I suppose after writing this many words I am somewhat obligated to throw a random trade out there as a baseless prediction for what could transpire in the coming weeks. I have literally never guessed right, and have rarely come even close. So don't take my guesses with a grain of salt. Instead, my advice is to put big money on pepper.
How about Jorge de la Rosa, waiving his 10/5 rights for a chance to move from Coors to the O.co in his contract year, for Sean Nolin and Ryon Healy -- Nolin, if healthy, being a younger, cheaper, cost-controlled version of de la Rosa and Healy being a 1Bman (and former 3rd round pick) going to a Rockies' organization that has very little to offer at 1B in the big leagues or the high minors.
de la Rosa is an interesting study in predictive stats. There are a group of pitchers who rely largely on the combination of a fastball and a plus changeup, and another secondary pitch, who are distinguished by their fastball velocity and their control. Historically, you have Cole Hamels throwing 91-92 MPH with excellent control and being elite, you have Jason Vargas throwing 90-91 MPH with good control and being very solid, you have Tommy Milone throwing 87-88 MPH with elite control and being serviceable.
In de la Rosa, you have a pitcher who used to throw 93-94 MPH with so-so control and this translated to very spotty results -- more good than bad but a lot of inconsistency. As his career progressed, de la Rosa lost a tick of velocity but also improved his control a bit, with the end result being a similar level of success, perhaps a touch better. Whether throwing 94 MPH with too many walks, or 92 MPH with better control, de la Rosa has been a solid, but unspectacular middle-of-the-rotation arm good for about 30 starts.
Uh-oh...In 2015, de la Rosa's fastball averaged 91.4 MPH, down from 92.3 MPH the season prior. He also enjoyed one of his career best ground ball percentages at 52% and struck out 8.09 batters per 9 IP. de la Rosa will turn 35 on the second day of the season. For his career he has walked 4 batters per 9 IP.
So there is risk in de la Rosa: A pretty-good-but-flawed pitcher throughout his career who is now 35, lost a tick of velocity in 2015, and is only under contract for 1 season. That's why he might be available for talent the A's can well afford to move. On the flip side, he is a veteran SP who could slot into the middle of the rotation and provide insurance for an injury to Jesse Hahn or the wall Rich Hill or Chris Bassitt or Kendall Graveman might hit over a long season.
Ultimately, it's probably a bad trade for both teams. Hmm. There's a reason I don't come up with trade ideas.
In any event, back to the main point: I don't foresee the A's being active in adding a LFer but I do see them being determined to add a veteran SP. The question is who, and for whom?