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Jorge Mateo trade analysis: Updating Oakland A’s infield setup, roster, and player pool

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Everything you need to know about the trade of Jorge Mateo to the Padres

Oakland Athletics Workout
It took Mateo only an hour to run all the way from Oakland to San Diego.

The Oakland A’s made a trade on Tuesday. Remember trades? They’re back! In this one, the A’s sent infield prospect Jorge Mateo to the San Diego Padres for a player to be named later.

The details on Mateo are well-chronicled. He’s got amazing physical tools, from his top-of-the-scale speed to a strong throwing arm, but he hasn’t yet been able to translate his extreme athleticism into consistent production on the field. Two full seasons of Triple-A have produced below-average batting lines, and even subpar success rates on stolen bases, which should be his top skill given his wheels.

Mateo might yet put it all together and pan out, but at this point he’s 25 years old and out of minor league options. That means the clock is ticking on his prospect status, and he can’t easily be stashed in the minor leagues anymore while he develops — or at least, not in the A’s organization, where he was on the 40-man roster and would have needed to clear waivers to go back down (which would definitely never happen because he’d be claimed and then lost with nothing in return for Oakland).

Add it up, and Mateo is a tantalizing prospect, but one whose time had simply run out in Oakland. The A’s have two other young infielders who are battling for the same roster spots and playing time that Mateo was, in Franklin Barreto and Vimael Machin, and at some point this summer one of them was almost certainly going to have to go. The A’s appear to have elected to trade Mateo now while they could still get something in return.

Based on the various insider reports this year, as well as the team’s own actions, my impression is that Mateo was the bottom of the depth chart among that young trio. Over the last couple years, whenever they needed an emergency backup infielder, it was always Barreto who got the call and never Mateo, even when Barreto flopped every time. Then this winter, they didn’t have to make a Rule 5 pick, or could have taken a pitcher or something else, but they chose Machin who overlapped with Mateo defensively in the middle infield. And then they went and signed another utilityman in Tony Kemp.

Those look to me like the moves of a team that didn’t think they already had their future star MLB-ready infielder in the system. Or they think Barreto is that guy and so they wanted a lefty to pair with him, not a redundant second righty.

That leaves us in a familiar position where we understand that the book isn’t closed on Mateo and he could still make good, but that it was time for a change of scenery on both sides. Depth is great, but at some point it reaches a level where talent is blocked and value is being wasted, and that value needs to be reallocated to elsewhere in the organization.

Of course, we still don’t know who the A’s will get back in this trade. The identity of the return player won’t change the solid logic behind moving on from Mateo, but it could inform us of whether they found a good deal for him. After all, if the downside of this situation was losing him for nothing on waivers in a month, then the trade must yield more than nothing in order to be worthwhile, or else they may as well have kept a superhuman pinch-runner on the bench for at least a couple weeks.

Throughout the offseason (before the coronavirus pandemic), I was unwavering in my belief that one of these three young infielders would be gone by Opening Day. Now that has indeed happened, even with active rosters expanding to 30 to start this season.

Infield

So where does that leave the A’s infield? Here’s the rundown for 2020:

  • 1B: Matt Olson
  • 2B: Position battle!
  • SS: Marcus Semien
  • 3B: Matt Chapman

The big picture hasn’t changed. Three of those spots are locked in with established stars who all received AL MVP votes last year, and 2B is still up for grabs to a certain extent. The A’s have Barreto, Machin, and Kemp, and one sensible setup would be a L/R platoon with the third guy on the bench as the utilityman. Barreto is the only righty now, which presumably bodes well for his chances, so the question would be which of the lefties to pair with him. But no matter what there’s now room for all of them, even when active rosters eventually shrink back down to 26, so it’s just a matter of how to arrange them.

Beyond that group, the A’s have a couple more names in their 60-man player pool. Minor league free agents Ryan Goins and Nate Orf aren’t on the 40-man roster, but they’re in the organization and available if needed — Goins bats lefty and plays the whole infield, while Orf is a righty who sticks to 2B/3B (plus some outfield). Third base prospect Sheldon Neuse tried out at 2B last year in his brief MLB audition and held his own there, making him another possibility and one who’s already on the 40-man. The other top infield prospects in the system are mostly a year or two away, if not more.

That collection gives the A’s plenty of choices for 2020. Even if none of them work, it would probably take more than 60 games to figure that out, so adding more depth might not help the situation. At this point, what they need is for an existing candidate to step up and seize the day.

If I had to pick right now, I’d like to see a Barreto/Machin platoon of some kind, with Kemp in the utility slot. It’s time to hand Barreto a job once and for all, make or break, and for more than the week or two he’s gotten in the past. They’ve gone to great lengths to insert Machin into the situation (picking him, spending a roster spot, dumping Mateo), so let’s see what he’s got too. As for Kemp, part of his value is his versatility anyway, so have him fill in all over as needed. Since the absolute ceiling on Kemp’s bat is barely even league-average, there’s not much opportunity cost to trying out Machin first.

40-man roster

Losing Mateo means opening up a spot on the 40-man roster. That should come in handy right away, as pitcher Daniel Mengden will need to be activated from the 60-day injured list at some point so now there’s room for him.

But even beyond that short-term consideration, the A’s did need to eventually clear out some of their idle roster spots. Nearly a quarter of the entire 40-man was being used on prospects who aren’t ready for MLB and were only there for protection from the Rule 5 draft, and that’s simply too much present-day deadweight for a contending team. Someone(s) needed to either elevate to the majors or move on.

Here’s what the roster looks like now, with 39 players (plus one more on the IL) and one spot open. Players in italics have not yet debuted in MLB.

Oakland A's 40-man roster
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Frankie Montas (R)
Sean Manaea (L)
Mike Fiers (R)
Chris Bassitt (R)
Jesus Luzardo (L)
A.J. Puk (L)
Paul Blackburn (R)
Daniel Gossett (R)
--Grant Holmes (R)
--Daulton Jefferies (R)
--James Kaprielian (R)


Relievers

Liam Hendriks (R)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Joakim Soria (R)
Jake Diekman (L)
T.J. McFarland (L)
Burch Smith (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
J.B. Wendelken (R)


60-day IL

(Daniel Mengden) (R)
Catchers

Sean Murphy (R)
Austin Allen (L)
--Jonah Heim (S)

Infielders

Matt Olson (L)
Marcus Semien (R)
Matt Chapman (R)
Tony Kemp (L)
Franklin Barreto (R)
Sheldon Neuse (R)
--Vimael Machin (L)

Outfielders

Khris Davis (R)
Mark Canha (R)
Ramon Laureano (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Robbie Grossman (S)
Chad Pinder (R)
Seth Brown (L)
Skye Bolt (S)
Dustin Fowler (L)
--Luis Barrera (L)

It’s possible that the PTBNL from San Diego turns out to need a roster spot, but that might be unlikely. The smart bet is that the A’s priority in this deal will be pushing back the timeline with their new player, meaning someone who isn’t yet on the roster and doesn’t yet need to worry about the Rule 5 draft. It also seems doubtful that it will be anyone from the Padres’ current 60-man player pool, or else the deal could have been completed already; it might be a PTBNL because they first have to add him to the pool to make him eligible for the trade.

If Mateo’s spot does go to Mengden, then it will even out the roster at 20 pitchers and 20 hitters, which is most often the balance they maintain.

60-man player pool

Mateo’s departure also opens up a spot in the 60-man player pool. Mengden was already listed there, so he won’t factor into this part. (What’s a 60-man player pool? Glad you asked! Click here to learn all about it.)

On Wednesday, the A’s formally announced six new additions to the pool, though most had already been reported by the insiders so there are no surprises. That means their 60-man pool is now filled to capacity.

Players in italics with asterisks** are not on the 40-man roster. Players indented with --hyphens are reporting to off-site alternate training camp rather than MLB camp at the Coliseum.

Oakland A's 60-man pool
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Frankie Montas (R)
Sean Manaea (L)
Mike Fiers (R)
Chris Bassitt (R)
Jesus Luzardo (L)
A.J. Puk (L)
Paul Blackburn (R)
Daniel Gossett (R)
Daniel Mengden (R)**
--Grant Holmes (R)
--Daulton Jefferies (R)
--James Kaprielian (R)
--Tyler Baum (R)**
--Parker Dunshee (R)**
--Brian Howard (R)**


Relievers

Liam Hendriks (R)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Joakim Soria (R)
Jake Diekman (L)
T.J. McFarland (L)
Burch Smith (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
J.B. Wendelken (R)
Lucas Luetge (L)**
Jaime Schultz (R)**
Jordan Weems (R)**
--Wandisson Charles (R)**
--Miguel Romero (R)**
Catchers

Sean Murphy (R)
Austin Allen (L)
Jonah Heim (S)
Carlos Perez (R)**
--Kyle McCann (L)**
--Tyler Soderstrom (L)**


Infielders

Matt Olson (L)
Marcus Semien (R)
Matt Chapman (R)
Tony Kemp (L)
Franklin Barreto (R)
Vimael Machin (L)
Sheldon Neuse (R)
Eric Campbell (R)**
Ryan Goins (L)**
Nate Orf (R)**
--Nick Allen (R)**
--Logan Davidson (S)**
--Robert Puason (S)**


Outfielders

Khris Davis (R)
Mark Canha (R)
Ramon Laureano (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Robbie Grossman (S)
Chad Pinder (R)
Seth Brown (L)
Skye Bolt (S)
--Luis Barrera (L)
--Dustin Fowler (L)
--Brayan Buelvas (R)**
--Greg Deichmann (L)**
--Buddy Reed (S)**

Five of the new members were already known, in Charles, Romero, Puason, Barrera, and Buelvas. Catcher and 1st-round draft pick Soderstrom was officially announced on Monday when he signed his contract. Click here to learn more about the A’s top prospects.

The newest addition, taking Mateo’s old spot, is veteran infielder Eric Campbell. He played for Triple-A Las Vegas last season and returned for a second go-around this year as a minor league free agent. While he’s stepping in for Mateo, though, his skill set is essentially the exact opposite — he’s more of a corner guy, playing mostly 1B/3B in his career, and his top trait is his excellent plate discipline. For more on Campbell, here’s our rundown from last year when he signed here for the first time.

***

That about wraps it up. Mateo is still a solid prospect, but it was time for a change of scenery. Now he’s got a new opportunity in San Diego, and the A’s infield picture is much clearer. He was replaced by veteran corner infielder Eric Campbell in the 60-man pool, and the smart bet is he’ll be replaced by pitcher Daniel Mengden on the 40-man roster.

Best of luck to Mateo with his new team! Congrats to Campbell on his selection! And welcome to whoever ends up coming here from the Padres!