Casper Wells joins the A's

By Jason Wojciechowski on April 23, 2013 at 1:02 AM

Casper Wells continues his quest to haunt1 every ballpark in the American League by joining the A's, who paid a little bit of cash to the Blue Jays to acquire him. This is after stints in Detroit and Seattle, although note that the Blue Jays never actually got him into any games in his brief time on the roster.

Wells was a 14th-round pick back in 2005, with other players from that round being Rusty Ryal and Scott Van Slyke. It's fair to say that Wells making it this far means he's an overachiever. (Pedro Alvarez was also taken in that round, but that was out of Horace Mann, i.e. high school, not his later number two overall selection from Vanderbilt.)

We don't have the most major-league data on Wells, as he's accumulated about a season's worth of plate appearances (656) in his three-plus years in the bigs. What we do see is a low-average hitter due to a ton of strikeouts (a 25.9 percent rate that ranks 32nd out of the 400 hitters who accumulated at least 500 PAs from 2010 to the present) who is neither averse to nor especially fond of the base on balls, but who does have a fair amount of pop (.189 isolated power from 58 extra-base hits). That slugging percentage plus the fact that he's played in some tough parks (Baseball Prospectus has him at a 94 batter park factor, which means that the mix of places he's played, home and road, has depressed offense by six percent) means that he's actually been an above-average hitter for his career, coming in at a .279 TAv, which is more generous than the 109 OPS+ and identical 109 wRC+ you see at Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs. The difference in this sample, though, is a quibble, and all three agree that what we've seen is an above-average hitter.

PECOTA and Steamer also agree that what we'll continue to see is an above-average hitter. I don't see anything in the PITCHf/x numbers to make me question that. Wells has bad contact numbers, but they appear to be swing- or tools-driven, not necessarily about a terrible approach: he actually swings less than average on pitches outside the strike zone, and more than average on pitches in the zone. Now, that's not everything, and a look at his BP hitter profile provides a bit more insight:

Full disclosure, though:

That one shows his normalized True Average. It thus only counts pitches on which he makes contact, but check out the low and away -- in four of those five border zones, he's actually getting above-average value when he makes contact out there.

I guess the lesson of this very quick analysis is: don't do baseball analysis. It's too goddamn hard.

Wells's place on the roster is uncertain. Michael Taylor will get sent back to Sacramento as soon as Wells arrives, which is supposed to be Tuesday. Yoenis Cespedes, however, is due back from his disabled list stint soon, and there's no hint in the newspapers that this trade means he's had some sort of setback.

Thus, there are two possibilities.

First, the tight-fisted A's paid cash for Casper Wells so that he could provide an upgrade on Michael Taylor for the next five days.

Second, Wells will stick around even once Cespedes comes back.

The second sure sounds more plausible than the first, but it's going to require some thinking about the roster:

  1. Maybe the A's will dump Jesse Chavez back to Triple-A and go with a six-man bullpen.2
  2. They could go with no utility infielder and send down the struggling Andy Parrino, and in case of injury they stick Nate Freiman or Derek Norris at third or Coco Crisp at second.
  3. Most likely, in my opinion, they waive Nate Freiman. He's a Rule 5 pick, recall, so he has to stay on the 25-man roster or be offered back to his original team (after passing through waivers, I believe, noting how the A's acquired him in the first place). If the A's like him enough, they could always try to work out some trade with the Padres to keep him, but I suspect that Freiman isn't on the team as some keeper-league stash guy but as a potentially useful right-handed platoon partner for Brandon Moss who can be cut any time the team feels that he's no longer serving that purpose.

    Freiman looks less like a platoon partner for Brandon Moss right now than a backup first baseman, and backup first basemen just aren't a thing that there's room for on a big-league roster. The spot is probably better used on a hitter in whom the team has more confidence and who also has defensive and baserunning value.

    And if Moss gets hurt? You cover the spot for a few innings with Andy Parrino and then you call up Shane Peterson (or, hell, Stephen Vogt) after the game. If Moss winds up injured in that "don't really want to put him on the disabled list but he can't play" way, then you're in a bit of a pickle, but you can always fake it with Parrino or Jed Lowrie or even Donaldson for a few games if you have to.

The other alternative is that the A's will simply make another move, flipping Wells along to yet another team. This strikes me as unlikely, mainly because how often do you actually see it happen? Beane did it with Ryan Langerhans, sure, but I'd put the odds of it happening again significantly lower than the odds that Freiman is cut. Here's my rank order:

  1. Freiman cut
  2. Wells DFA'd, hope he passes waivers
  3. Wells trade
  4. Parrino option
  5. Chavez option

Unless there's a Chris Young swap (for what, exactly? An upgrade at second?) in the offing, I only see three legitimate possibilities + two weird ones.

  1. GET IT. 

  2. Shut up, sometimes you just have to dream.