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Oakland A’s trade for outfielder Stephen Piscotty

The Cardinals receive two minor league infielders in the deal.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s have officially acquired outfielder Stephen Piscotty from the Cardinals, the team announced Thursday morning. St. Louis will receive minor league infielders Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock in the trade. Munoz was on the 40-man roster, so no corresponding move was needed to clear space for the new guy.

Piscotty fits the A’s quest for a right-handed outfielder, and he’ll play next season at the prime age of 27. His top skills are two things Oakland needed most — defense, with positive metrics the last two years in RF; and on-base ability, with a 13% walk rate last year. He’s also shown some power in the past, with 22 homers in 2016. His offensive numbers dipped last season to an 88 wRC+, but his career marks give an idea of what kind of hitter he is (1,306 PAs, around 2 full seasons).

Piscotty, career: .268/.346/.438, 112 wRC+, 38 HR, 10.3% BB, 21.2% Ks

Unfortunately, 2017 was a lost year for Piscotty, made worse by off-field factors. He landed on the DL twice, once for a hamstring strain and again for a groin strain, and also had a non-invasive procedure in October to address a lingering knee problem. Furthermore, his mother, Gretchen, was diagnosed with ALS. That second point had a direct effect on this trade — Piscotty is from Pleasanton and went to Amador Valley High School, and the Cardinals clearly made an effort to send him close to home at this time of need.

All of that bad news came after signing a long-term contract last winter, which can extend through 2023. He’ll make $1.3 million in 2018, then a bit over $7 million each of the next four years, followed by a hefty team option for one more season. Those salaries are notable on Oakland’s characteristically modest payroll, but they aren’t albatrosses and could even be bargains if he bounces back. The contract is team-friendly, though of course all guaranteed pacts carry risk.

This swap looks like a win all around. The A’s got an outfielder they wanted, the Cardinals cleared a logjam created by their acquisition of Marcell Ozuna, and Piscotty gets an ideal accommodation for his personal life.

As for the other side of the deal, Oakland gave up on two promising middle infield prospects from their own logjam in the upper minors. Schrock and Munoz ranked in the teens on most A’s prospect lists, and I had them at No. 12 and No. 13 on my own version. Athletics Nation was a fan of both, especially Schrock and his fascinatingly low strikeout rate.

However, even with these departures, the A’s are still set up the middle. They’ve got Marcus Semien and Jed Lowrie on the MLB squad, elite prospect Franklin Barreto next in line at Triple-A, hot midseason addition Jorge Mateo right behind him in Double-A, and a couple top members of the most recent draft class filling out the depth chart (Kevin Merrell, Nick Allen). There’s also Arizona Fall League star Sheldon Neuse, a 3B who has experience in the middle infield.

As for Oakland’s outfield, we’ll have to wait to see how everyone will be arranged. One scenario could have Piscotty and Matt Joyce on the corners, Chad Pinder platooning with Joyce, and Dustin Fowler and/or Boog Powell manning center. Khris Davis is freed up to spend time at DH. Jake Smolinski and Mark Canha are still around as righty platoon options.

Hot takes

If the A’s insisted on adding an outfielder this winter, then Piscotty was on the short list of options I’d have been happy with. They got the right mix of skills they needed, they didn’t spend big for a free agent already in his 30s, and they didn’t trade away any of their best prospects from the farm they’ve worked so hard to grow. They also bought low on a bounce-back instead of biting on a sell-high player coming off a career year, which is the proper plan for a team that isn’t yet an obvious contender.

The acquisition price turned out to be sharper than we’d hoped for because Athletics Nation loves Schrock. I’m not going to downplay my sadness at losing one of our favorite sleeper prospects, but I will remind myself that the key word there is “sleeper.” His bat is most intriguing, but he’s limited to one position and doesn’t make headlines for defense. He could well fall into the same trap as Joey Wendle, who didn’t make it as a starter and didn’t have the versatility to slot in as a utilityman.

As for Munoz, it was tough to see where he fit into the big picture. He’ll already be using his second option year in 2018, so there wasn’t unlimited time to find him a role. He’s got a lot to offer as a prospect and he reached Triple-A at age 22, but there just wasn’t room for him in Oakland’s crowded infield. He’s got similarities to Pinder — solid bat but no on-base ability, and an excellent arm that has gotten him a look as a super-sub all over the field.

This trade checks all the boxes for me. I don’t love it partly because I could have lived without any outfield addition at all, but I like it and can get onboard with it. The A’s got upgrades in the areas they needed, and they bought low to get them. No one got robbed here, but each side drew from an area of depth to give up something of quality. The extra personal/family element of the story makes it even easier to appreciate.

Welcome home, Stephen!