The Oakland A’s filled their vacancy at second base on Friday by acquiring Jurickson Profar from the Rangers, the team announced. In exchange, the A’s will give up four assets in the three-team trade — infield prospect Eli White and some international bonus allowance go to Texas, while reliever Emilio Pagan and a 2019 draft pick go to the Rays. Profar has two seasons of team control, through 2020.
There is a lot to like about Profar, who began his career as an elite youngster. He debuted in MLB in 2012 at age 19, and the next winter he ranked as the consensus No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. His journey stalled from there, and he lost two full seasons in 2014-15 due to a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery. What’s more, he was often blocked from the bigs by Texas’ star-studded infield (Beltre, Andrus, Odor). Two more disappointing summers went by, but in 2018 the switch-hitter finally found his breakout at age 25.
Profar, 2018: .254/.335/.458, 108 wRC+, 20 HR, 9.1% BB, 14.8% Ks, 10-for-10 SB
He got poor marks on defense last year, but that was mostly at SS and 3B. Those positions are covered in Oakland so he won’t need to play there. Instead, he will be the everyday second baseman, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. If there is any position where he might be a plus defensively, it would be second base, but really his biggest strength on this side of the ball is the versatility he’s shown — in addition to the entire infield, he’s also had reps in LF during his career.
Looking deeper, Profar’s enormous prospect stock was never based on dynamic can’t-miss physical tools. Granted, he always looked good at every part of the game, but the things that helped set him apart were his high IQ, his incredible makeup, his strong work ethic, and his advanced skills at such a young age. Rangers blog Lone Star Ball raves about his smile and his overall attitude and positive vibe.
That description still shows up in his present-day profile. There’s not one area where he stands out, like Khris Davis’ power or Ramon Laureano’s speed, but he contributes across the board and has no weaknesses. Perhaps his best skill is his plate discipline, as he walks at an above-average clip while keeping the strikeouts low. His Hit tool might not be apparent from his .254 batting average last summer, but he makes a ton of contact and his swinging-strike rate would have been among the lowest on the A’s. Any bump up in average would result in a strong OBP, with the question being which peripheral you think will regress — a .269 BABIP that should rise, or a mediocre .320 xwOBA that suggests he might have slightly overachieved.
One way or other, though, second base was the A’s single biggest offseason question and they have now answered it. They didn’t pay to bring back Jed Lowrie, coming off an All-Star 5-WAR season that has his value as high as ever. They didn’t splurge on defensive whiz D.J. LeMahieu, nor did they gamble on a Troy Tulowitzki comeback nor an aging Ian Kinsler. On the trade front, they didn’t pry away a rental of proven veteran Scooter Gennett. Instead, they bought slightly low on a young player who is only just entering his prime instead of trying to cling to the last vestiges of it.
When the Profar trade rumors first came up at the Winter Meetings, I didn’t immediately understand why he was a good target. However, the more I looked at him, the more perfect he appeared for this A’s roster. Consider the following list of traits he brings:
- Switch-hitter in a right-heavy lineup
- Plate discipline and contact skills in a power-heavy, low-OBP lineup
- Defensive versatility on a squad with a short bench
- No glaring weakness that will drag down any area of the team (power, speed, glove, etc.)
He’s literally everything they needed, with virtually no downsides. If I could construct a realistic post-Lowrie option in a lab, it would look quite a bit like Profar. Heck, in many ways he is Lowrie, but a decade younger. And while Oakland loses Lowrie’s veteran presence, even in that department they gain the off-the-charts makeup that has long been a hallmark of Profar’s stock. To top it all off, they got him without significantly adding to the payroll, so there’s still room to beef up the pitching staff.
In fact, you know who I just described in that bulleted list? Ben Zobrist. Not just in the cliche sense of “a guy who plays multiple positions,” but the entire skill set. The modest average, strong discipline, low Ks, midlevel power/speed, and high character, all in a super-sub who specializes at 2B and LF but didn’t break out until his mid/late 20s. Profar is unlikely to post the enormous defensive metrics we saw from young Zobrist, but even if he just rises up to neutral at his new primary position he could find an easy path from last year’s 2-3 WAR up to 4+ next summer.
If all that sounds like I’m homerishly glowing about an A’s move, I promise that I was intending to write this exact article last weekend after the first trade rumor came out, but just never got around to it. I already wanted Profar, and the only difference is that I was going to suggest sending someone like Sheldon Neuse over to Texas, because I assumed it would take a notable package to pry away a young budding star. Instead they stole him for what feels like almost nothing.
The big loss is Eli White, who had worked his way up from sleeper status into being a legit infield prospect. I really like him, and he would have had a chance to crack my personal Top 10 A’s prospects this winter along with a ticket up to Triple-A. However, he profiles more as a bench player than an everyday guy, and his lack of power is a serious flaw. Furthermore, his righty super-sub skill set is somewhat similar to what Chad Pinder already offers in Oakland, and although they are totally different hitters they still occupy more or less the same role. White was probably blocked for now.
Next up is the draft pick, which would have been No. 38 overall. In recent years, the A’s selected pitcher Daulton Jefferies (37th) and speedster Kevin Merrell (33rd) around that spot. Both are talented prospects, but they’ve also done next to nothing in the pros yet due to extended injuries. Obviously you’d rather have the extra pick than not, but the point is that it’s not something to cling to in a contending season if a better offer like this one comes around. It’s just a particularly nice lotto ticket, and the biggest ramification is that the A’s overall draft bonus pool will shrink.
Finally, there’s Emilio Pagan. He’s a serviceable reliever with some upside remaining, but he gave up way too many homers last season (13 HR in 62 innings) to be anything more than a middleman for now. There would almost certainly not have been room for him in the jam-packed 2019 bullpen, which means he would have probably been part of the taxi squad who stashes in Triple-A and then comes up when needed to fill in for injuries. Oakland needs a solid taxi squad, but even that was getting full and there are still plenty more arms to choose from. Pagan is fine, but he was expendable from this roster.
Oh, and as has been the case for the last couple years, the international bonus money given up by the A’s is functionally irrelevant. They are still under penalty for past over-spending so they couldn’t do much with that pool allowance anyway, meaning it’s best used as a trade chip. It’s such a non-issue that I’m not even factoring it into the conversation.
Add it all up, and here’s what the A’s did. They got their new 2B, and he’s a young, inexpensive one who checks every box we could have hoped for and should be an immediate fan favorite for the next two years. To get him, they gave up a neat prospect whose likely ceiling is Profar Lite, plus their 10th-best reliever or so, plus a draft lotto ticket that wasn’t even their top pick next summer. They parted with a couple interesting pieces, but it sure feels like they just swiped Profar essentially for free. This could eventually go down as another brilliant swap by the Beane/Forst A’s, and a crucial cog of a fun, competitive 2019 season.
What about Barreto?
One more consideration in all of this is what happens with top infield prospect Franklin Barreto. It never seemed likely that they’d hand him the 2B job outright this spring, and now they definitely won’t. And of course there’s still the possibility that he could be traded for pitching, but let’s cross that bridge when we get there and just assume for now that he will stay in the organization.
Officially, here is the latest report (via Martin Gallegos of the East Bay Times): “Forst says Barreto will take on more of a utility role next season. A’s think his bat will play in big leagues and they’ll play him everywhere in spring training.”
In other words, the current plan is to try him out and see where he fits. That’s basically what Athletics Nation has wanted to do with him for the last few years, ever since it became clear he wouldn’t stick at shortstop forever. Better late than never, though, and Oakland has recently had great success moving players around the field (Pinder from middle infield to corner outfield, Canha from 1B to CF, Doolittle from 1B to P, etc.). Barreto’s athleticism is one of his top strengths, so adapting to a new position is a reasonable possibility.
Or, perhaps Barreto will ultimately stay at 2B and cut his strikeouts enough to force his way up at that spot. Even if that does happen, Profar could theoretically make room by shifting to the outfield himself, since his own 2B defense should be fine but probably won’t be an indispensable strength. Regardless of precisely how it all works out, the A’s have both the flexible personnel and the creative mindset to make the whole puzzle fit together one way or other if/when Barreto’s bat arrives.
This trade doesn’t add any bodies to the 40-man roster, because the outgoing Pagan frees up a spot for Profar. Along with the signing of reliever Joakim Soria, which was made official Friday morning, the roster now stands at 38 players (see below). Profar is estimated to make $3.4 million this season in arbitration, and Soria will get $6.5 million in the first year of his slightly backloaded deal, so the projected payroll stands just a shade under $80 million. Profar is under team control for two seasons, so the A’s have him for 2019 and 2020.
Here’s the updated 40-man roster, with two spots open. Those in italics haven’t yet debuted in MLB. (The A’s made another move the next day to sign pitcher Mike Fiers, so click here for the further updated roster.)
Daniel Mengden (R)
Chris Bassitt (R)
Frankie Montas (R)
Tanner Anderson (R)
Paul Blackburn (R)
Jharel Cotton (R)
Sean Manaea (L)
Daniel Gossett (R)
Grant Holmes (R)
James Kaprielian (R)
Blake Treinen (R)
Joakim Soria (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
Fernando Rodney (R)
Ryan Buchter (L)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Liam Hendriks (R)
Andrew Triggs (R)
J.B. Wendelken (R)
Ryan Dull (R)
Aaron Brooks (R)
Chris Herrmann (L)
Josh Phegley (R)
Matt Chapman (R)
Matt Olson (L)
Marcus Semien (R)
Jurickson Profar (S)
Franklin Barreto (R)
Jorge Mateo (R)
Khris Davis (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Ramon Laureano (R)
Mark Canha (R)
Chad Pinder (R)
Nick Martini (L)
Dustin Fowler (L)
Luis Barrera (L)
Skye Bolt (S)
Welcome, Jurickson! We can’t wait to see you in green and gold.