As the A’s sit on July 13th, more and more clearly buyers with each passing day, Corban Joseph sits at AAA wondering what he has to do to get called up to the big leagues. After all, Joseph plays 2B for Las Vegas and not only plays one of the A’s few positions manned by under-performers, he bats left-handed and oh, by the way, is sporting a line of .393/.453/.626 for the season. Joseph has 28 BB and 30 K on the season, the type of ratio known only to Joe DiMaggio and Max Schrock.
Granted, Joseph is 30 and was probably signed to be “major league filler,” but the former 4th round pick of the Yankees didn’t just now discover how to hit. Joseph batted .300/.381/.418 in full-season A ball at age 20, .276/.375/.465 at age 23 at AA and AAA combined, .312/.381/.497 last season at AA in the Orioles system, and in his minor league career he boasts a .292/.363/.438 line. Scouting reports rate his 2B defense as average.
If nothing else, Joseph looks like a great candidate to be 2019’s version of 2018 Nick Martini, who came up as a discarded late 20s non-prospect and parlayed his exceptional plate discipline and contact skills into a .394 OBP. Based on Oakland’s off-season signing of Robbie Grossman and Martini’s 0 big league plate appearances in 2019, clearly the front office saw Martini’s 2018 performance as a bit of a mirage and yet it most certainly happened and it helped a contending A’s team greatly.
So why isn’t Joseph getting a call under the same pretenses: fill a need, find lightning in a bottle, enjoy the on base and contact skills, chase down the Astros? The answer probably lies in the fact that Franklin Barreto is in his final option year and the A’s need to figure out now what they think they have in Barreto.
These next 2 weeks are going to be critical with regard to Barreto’s future, because despite his “breakout season” at Las Vegas, where hitters go to break out and where pitchers break out in cold sweat, Barreto has come up to Oakland and after 23 trips to the plate it looked only like “more of the same”. Barreto has yet to walk, he has struck out 10 times, and his propensity to take strikes, swing at balls, and sometimes just swing through strikes has led to a batting average better suited to a Bingo announcer. “O-87!”
So far, analysis of Barreto’s big league career has gone mostly the way of the apologist:
“You have to remember, Barreto is still only 21.”
“You have to remember, Barreto is still only 22.”
“You have to remember, Barreto is still only 23.”
“You have to remember, he has only had 71 big league at bats.”
“You have to remember, he has still only had 144 big league at bats.”
“You have to remember, he has still only had 167 big league at bats.”
And all this has been true at each turn. Nonetheless, if the A’s don’t trade Barreto by July 31st then most likely they envision him starting at 2B on Opening Day 2020. If the Barreto we have seen in his first 23 plate appearances continues to show up, though, it’s hard to imagine the A’s making a firm commitment to him going forward. At some point, the sample size may be on the small side but it’s also relentless.
Now the A’s could very well hang onto Barreto beyond July, and still trade him in the off-season, so it’s not as if Barreto’s future will necessarily be determined these next 2 weeks. But if the A’s have an opportunity to get an impact addition — for example, a starting pitcher — they will need to part with a better headliner.
So perhaps they stay true to their public prediction and go after a solid reliever, and the asking price is at the level of Sheldon Neuse, Dustin Fowler, Luis Barrera, Skye Bolt. Or maybe there is a chance to upgrade more significantly and the A’s have to decide whether to put Barreto (or Jorge Mateo) in the conversation.
Mateo is important because he offers a concrete back-up plan to rolling with Barreto at 2B going forward. Mateo’s 80-grade speed is alluring, his ceiling high, his floor low. What he offers that might appeal to the front office is better defense than his fellow-out-of-options brother Barreto. Mateo’s speed and defense alone could make him a worthy big league starter whose power is a side benefit. Or he could be a free-swinging bust in the mold of “Barreto-so-far”.
As a crude example of the dilemma, According to our own invisibleinkwell’s new Baseball Trade Values site, if the A’s wanted to pry Will Smith, a very good rental reliever, from the Giants, the cost might be along the lines of Sheldon Neuse or Dustin Fowler. But if they wanted to pry Madison Bumgarner the cost would probably jump to a Barreto.
Point is, it’s not just a question of whether to go “all in” for 2019; it’s just as much a question of whether to go “all in on Barreto” for the 2020s. Technically the A’s have until next spring to make that determination, but practically they may have until July 31st if they want to extract the most value out of the situation. And having Mateo in hand as an available “Plan B” only complicates the metrics.
Sorry Corban Joseph: you’re the one who is performing the very best and whose profile may best fit the A’s current needs. But right now the A’s aren’t just trying to win, they’re trying desperately to figure out a direction for 2B for the next several years. And to some degree, they may have 2 more weeks to draw their best conclusions.
All of which is to say that as Barreto gets the start today, and likely tomorrow, all eyes should be keenly on his every plate appearance right now. Something has to give, and soon. Frustrating, exhilarating, or simply exhausting, it should also be darned interesting to watch.
How Should The A’s Handle The 2B Dilemma?
This poll is closed
Commit to Barreto long term, ride out his adjustment period no matter how bumpy
Trade Barreto before July 31st, commit to Mateo long term
Give Profar another year and look for an outside, or lower minors, solution to surface by 2021
Give Barreto a long look this year, past the trade deadline, and then either commit to him or deal him this winter
Call up Corban Joseph and see what he can offer now, maybe even beyond 2019.