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April Deadweight: Separating The Wheat From The Chaff

Boston Red Sox v Oakland Athletics
“That should be good for a 6-4-3 Hundley!”
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

If you didn’t know that the A’s April roster had a slew of “chaff” on it, perhaps the somewhat deflating ( a much nicer word than “embarrassing”) sweep at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays put an exclamation point on the word.

However, as astonishing as the number of “currently bad, maybe always bad” players are on the current 25 man roster, some of them are good players who are having a bad run, some of them are good ideas that just haven’t worked out so far, and some are, well, just bad players, bad ideas, or both.

Let’s start by listing the breathtaking number of players who are contributing negatively to the Oakland A’s the first month of the season. Then, allow me to separate the wheat from the chaff — specifically as far as whether the front office had any business bringing these guys on board and whether they have any business keeping them around. Around the diamond:

Mike Fiers
Marco Estrada
Aaron Brooks
Liam Hendriks
Fernando Rodney
Kendrys Morales
Jurickson Profar
Nick Hundley
Robbie Grossman

Fiers: Barely Wheat

I give the A’s a pass on Fiers because he was never intended to be a top-of-the-rotation SP. He was supposed to give depth to the rotation by way of being healthy, able to provide 30 starts and 170 IP, and probably start a lot of games the team won due to Oakland’s strong offense and bullpen.

Obviously Fiers has pitched terribly, but he appears to be healthy, as usual, and he is not expensive by starting pitcher standards. There will likely be much better days ahead in which we will all appreciate Fiers’ durability and competence. The A’s just need 3 guys who are better than Fiers — hopefully by June that might be Jesus Luzardo, Jharel Cotton, and Frankie Montas.

Marco Estrada: Barely Chaff

The Estrada signing was low risk because at $4M, the A’s can eat the remainder of his salary and say “Hey, we gave it a shot.” When throwing 89-90 MPH Estrada is, like Fiers, a solid-not-spectacular starting pitcher.

Trouble is, Estrada has seen downticks in his velocity the past couple seasons and his chronic back problems have already resurfaced. I gather Estrada was sort of a Plan C signing after the A’s were rejected by Anibal Sanchez and C.C. Sabathia. It wasn’t the worst gamble to take, but in all likelihood Estrada will soon be rendered obsolete by the talented pitchers who are making their back from injury.

Aaron Brooks: Chaff

Brooks holds some intrigue, but has he ever been one of the 5 best starting pitchers in the mix? I’ll give the A’s half a pass for the fact that Chris Bassitt suffered an untimely shin-burner at the end of spring training which, along with Luzardo being shut down, dwindled the competition down to Brooks and Mengden.

Most likely, without both Luzardo and Bassitt going down Brooks either would not have made the team out of camp, or his days would have been severely numbered. Now, with Brett Anderson collapsing in a familiar heap on the grass, Brooks may have a rabbit’s foot in his back pocket that keeps him in the rotation even as Bassitt gets ready to join the fray.

But you would be hard pressed to convince me that Brooks should be starting over Mengden, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see either of Paul Blackburn or Tanner Anderson out-perform Brooks at the big league level.

Bottom line: Brooks should either be in long relief, as a way to give the A’s the long reliever they desperately need and to keep him from being exposed to waivers, or the A’s should risk optioning him because he is hardly a coveted commodity.

Liam Hendriks: Minor Chaff

Luckily, Hendriks comes pretty cheap but I will continue to maintain that he just isn’t a quality pitcher. Lacking fastball movement and overall command, Hendriks does what several AAA pitchers could be doing for league minimum.

Ryan Dull would be, at worst, a lateral move that saves money. Likely T. Anderson would provide more value by pitching better and offering multiple innings, and so on. The A’s should not have brought Hendriks back when he is essentially “replacement level” but at least he’s a fairly cheap mistake.

Fernando Rodney: Major Chaff

Rodney is the more upsetting misstep because he is costing over $5M to provide replacement level one inning stints. The A’s would have been far better off breaking camp with a true long reliever at league minimum, and never has this been more apparent than this weekend, when Fiers figuratively collapsed in the 4th inning yesterday and then B. Anderson literally collapsed in the 3rd inning today.

How nice would it have been, when Fiers was knocked out in the 4th, to give the ball to, say, Tanner Anderson asking him to toss 4 IP in relief? It has been a baffling, and costly, decision to bring Rodney back.

Kendrys Morales: Chaff

Don’t get me wrong, Morales has done some good things. His 1B defense has been surprisingly decent and he has hit a few balls hard for outs. But in no way has he provided anything Mark Canha could not have provided, and Canha has always been a player who thrived with every day playing time.

Remarkably, while the A’s have struggled at the plate overall Canha sits on the bench with a .241/.439/.483 slash line, good for a 156 wRC+. And he has, so far, actually been better against RHP so it’s not a matter of being protected and looking good only as a result.

Morales is only a place holder for the return of Matt Olson. Why “Canha every day” wasn’t that place holder is a bit beyond me. Something something veteran presence, I suppose. It’s great to hit left handed — until you’re past your prime, and then it really isn’t all that great.

Jurickson Profar: Wheat

I know, I know, Profar has been pretty much bad. His knowledge of the strike zone is roughly on par with my knowledge of Swahili, and his defense has been a tad porous at times. But his athleticism, prime age of 26, and breakout season in his first really healthy full season at age 25, made Profar an opportunistic add that is allowing Franklin Barreto to continue to refine his game at AAA.

In contrast to many of his colleagues, I predict Profar will turn it around as he gets more comfortable, stops trying so darn hard, hopefully listens to his coaches, and allows his skill set to speak for itself. I would make that trade every time, partly because the A’s didn’t give up all that much.

Nick Hundley: Neither

Surprised by the mulligan? Don’t misunderstand me, Hundley is terrible — or at least he has been for the A’s and I don’t anticipate any big breakthroughs any time soon. But remember: Hundley was brought in strictly as insurance and had Chris Herrmann not succumbed to knee surgery most likely Hundley would have been DFA 3 weeks ago.

And I don’t at all begrudge the A’s not rushing Sean Murphy to the big leagues. His time will come, very very soon, but it doesn’t have to be in April. If what it takes to give Murphy exactly the time he needs is to endure Hundley for a couple months, I can live with that. It was supposed to be Herrmann-Phegley anyway.

Robbie Grossman: Chaff

I never understood the Grossman signing, which happened when Nick Martini was healthy. The A’s may have internal metrics that say “Even though Grossman has batted much better right handed throughout his career, he’s actually super terrific from the left side.” My advice to the A’s would be to shred those reports and fire the reporter, because Grossman hits exactly like a guy who slugs .351 while playing below average defense.

Here’s what is so confounding. OK, maybe you privately believe Martini’s 2018 season was a fluke. He still put up a .397 OBP and maybe should have a chance to show what he can do, but even if he’s not grata — or as it turns out, hurt — in Chad Pinder and Dustin Fowler you have two LFers whose defense is so much better than Grossman’s they will probably provide as much value no matter how they hit. And both have some real offensive upside.

Now, you have a weird platoon in which Grossman sits against the very pitchers he has dominated in his career (.376 OBP against LHPs), neither Pinder nor Canha can get into any sort of groove, and despite hitting .300 so far this season Pinder has gotten only 60 at bats.

That’s how I see it. The fact that we are talking about 32% of the current active roster, and that more than half are decisions that were a bit baffling even before the A’s took off for Tokyo, is a tad troubling. On the plus side, Bassitt is starting Monday, Mengden available anytime, Murphy should be up soon, Luzardo, Cotton, Manaea in the not-too-distant future, and so on. Matt Olson cannot return fast enough.

Stay afloat, Oakland, because a much better roster should be in place over the coming weeks. Even if one could argue that much of it could have been in place weeks ago.