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Danny Valencia trade makes sense for both Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s made their first big move of the offseason over the weekend, and now it’s time for every baseball fan’s favorite exercise: Judging a trade! The fun part comes a year from now, when we get to look back on this and laugh/cry/nod in agreement after seeing how things actually turned out. For now, all we can do is analyze the wisdom of the deal in this current moment.

Saturday’s trade sent positionless hitter Danny Valencia to the Mariners in exchange for minor league pitcher Paul Blackburn. Let’s look at it from both sides.

Oakland A’s

It was time for Oakland to move on from Valencia. Look, he’s a good hitter, and we’re past the point where it might be a total fluke. His wRC+ over the last four seasons is 109, and he was even better than that in three of them. He’s hit 35 homers over the last two years, and his OBP is decent. But the situation isn’t as simple as that.

First, there is defense. He was so bad at 3B last year that when he played there he nearly cancelled out his generous offensive contributions; in fact, it was one of the worst performances since the advanced metrics began in 2002. The A’s tried him at 1B and RF as well, and the damage was reduced a bit, but it was still clear he was being shoehorned in for his bat.

Next, there is roster fit. General manager David Forst made it clear after the trade that Oakland is looking to add outfielders, presumably real outfielders who aren’t just on administrative leave from 3B. There are also some near-ready prospects who can play 1B and RF, like Matt Olson and Renato Nunez and Jaycob Brugman, not to mention the likely chance of Ryon Healy moving over to 1B in the near future. At some point there just isn’t room for everyone, and a team that’s more rebuilding than competing should usually side with the youngsters.

Finally, there is the clubhouse stuff. I’ll let you decide how much you want to weigh getting into a fistfight with a teammate, no matter who started it, but it can’t be ignored that it happened. At the very least, that kind of thing gives the organization a bad look, especially when the team is also a joke on the field. If Valencia was an All-Star, or even a decent CF, it would probably be easier to overlook. But when you’re searching for reasons to cut one of a handful of similar corner players, it does serve as a convenient tiebreaker.

Valencia has value, but not enough to build a new team around him, and he’s unlikely to get any better at age 32. That makes him a prime candidate to sell high on when you have the chance, especially during his final year of team control, and especially when you can also save $5 million in the process while opening up playing time for potentially better candidates. When the A’s held onto him in July, many of us assumed it meant he had little to no trade value, so to see him fetch an actual prospect makes it more than just addition by subtraction.

The return was RHP Paul Blackburn. He’s an innings-eating starter in the upper minors, and although he’s not flashy he does have real potential to reach the back-end of an MLB rotation. He’s a bit redundant in a system that is heavy on right-handed starters, but it’s still mid-November so we don’t yet know if some other prospects might head out in other trades (say, for the aforementioned outfield upgrades). Strictly within the context of this deal, Blackburn is a handsome return talent-wise, and as a bonus he’s a local guy (Heritage High in Brentwood).

Verdict: Win. The A’s cleared space on the roster and payroll, while adding a worthwhile prospect.

* * *

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are trying to win now, and Valencia is a good hitter. He’s best against lefties, but he can handle righties well enough that he doesn’t need to be hidden in a platoon to be effective. He’s relatively cheap for a moderate power bat, at least in relation to a normal team’s payroll, and he was acquired for just a single lotto ticket. That’s exactly the kind of move they should be making right now.

Furthermore, whereas Valencia wasn’t a great fit in Oakland, he is in Seattle. Their current plans at RF (Seth Smith) and 1B (Dan Vogelbach) both happen to be lefties who could benefit from platoon roles, while their depth chart in LF is topped by untested prospect Ban Gamel, who also happens to be a lefty. As long as Valencia keeps hitting, there should be space for him somewhere. Except for 3B, where the presence of Gold Glover Kyle Seager should ensure that Valencia never accidentally wanders over there.

Come to think of it, Seager is also a lefty, as are Robinson Cano and Leonys Martin. Yeah, the Mariners needed another righty bat to complement Nelson Cruz, and now they have a pretty good one. Just so long as the ball isn’t hit toward him too often on the flip side.

And as a bonus, you know that Valencia will hit at least one walk-off homer against the green and gold this year. The Curse of the Former A’s and all.

Verdict: Win. The Mariners got exactly what they needed, at a modest trade price and salary.

* * *

That’s a win for both teams. The rebuilding A’s cashed in on a player who wasn’t in their future plans, and the win-now Mariners filled a need without spending lavishly.

Things could look differently down the road, after Valencia hits 30 HR/gets swallowed by Safeco like so many hopeful righties before him, and after Blackburn pans out as an MLB starter/blows out his arm tossing a towel in the hamper. Or perhaps nothing will change drastically, and Valencia will be a 1-2 WAR bat in 2017 before hitting free agency while Blackburn does normal fringe starter things for a few years. Either way, right now this deal makes perfect sense in a world that is often full of surprises.