By Jason Wojciechowski on August 23, 2013 at 8:28 AM
Opponent: Baltimore Orioles
Starting pitchers: Dan Straily vs. Bud Norris
First pitch: 4:05 PT
A's in the West: Second place, 2 1/2 games behind Texas, 12 ahead of Seattle
A's in the Wild Card: Second Wild Card, 1 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay, 2 1/2 ahead of Cleveland
Baseball Prospectus playoff odds: 23 percent division, 43 percent wild card
Happy birthday to my wife!
Also welcome back Kurt Suzuki. The A's, completely dinged up at catcher (though they still haven't put Derek Norris on the disabled list, which one assumes they will do now that they have three catchers on board), have swung a deal with the more or less out-of-the-race Nationals to bring Suzuki back to Oakland. Heading to Washington is Dakota Bacus, a 2012 ninth rounder with good size who has pitched reasonably well at 22 this year in Low-A. (The A's got some cash from Washington, too.) Spending the entire year as a college draftee in the Midwest League doesn't necessarily speak well of his prospect status, and I don't know that it's worth, at this point, doing a lot more investigation than that.
The question is whether Suzuki adds anything to this team that David Freitas would not. Either way, you're adding someone to the 40-man, though Suzuki is a likely free agent after the year,1 while Freitas has issues with respect to using options and starting various clocks, so if the question on actual ability is narrow, you might well decide that sending a nonprospect pitcher away for the rental veteran is the right call.
Suzuki hit terribly in Oakland in 2012, rebounded in Washington after the trade to post a full-season line of "bad" rather than "horrifying," and has spent this year not hitting at all. We know that historically his caught-stealing numbers have been fine (though they've taken a dive this year), that he appears to be a good catcher on balls in the dirt, and that he doesn't show up on leaders or trailers lists in pitch-framing discussions. PECOTA, like the North, remembers, and Suzuki is not that far removed from a solid hitting season in 2011 (.258 True Average—the raw batting line, if you go look at it, is unimpressive, but the park context is rough and the league doesn't hit like it used to), so his rest-of-season projection of a .251 True Average doesn't seem entirely crazy, even though all A's fans remember is the brutality of his 75 games in 2012.
Is that a number David Freitas would match in the big leagues? As I noted on Wednesday, Freitas is hitting well in Sacramento but did not hit at all in Midland, and a thing I have heard is that the major leagues are harder than the minors. Freitas would also be learning how to work with all the pitchers, while Suzuki has experience with many of the pitchers already.
There is of course a lot of evidence that the A's have, or that the A's believe in, that we don't have—defense, pitcher-handling, chemistry, etc. Add all that up and it's probably more important than the 10 points either way that Freitas might have on Suzuki as a hitter or that Suzuki might have on Freitas.
One thing that will be interesting is when Norris comes back. I would expect the A's to stick with a righty/lefty combination, either Jaso/Norris or Vogt/Norris, depending on the status of Jaso's brain, which means that Suzuki is going to get shafted. Given that we're eight days from roster expansion, there's no reason to designate him for assignment, fortunately, but he could very easily wind up in a third catcher role, never playing.
Or! Maybe third catcher is perfect for him -- on the days that Vogt or Jaso start, it would be nice to be able to bring in a good defender to catch Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook, but it would also be nice to let Derek Norris actually have the full day off. Solution: Suzuki!
It's Bud Norris tonight for the Orioles. I completely forgot they traded for him. Oakland has smacked him around this year: 12 2/3 innings (three starts), 12 runs, 6 walks, 9 strikeouts. More of the same would be helpful to the A's playoff odds.
Prediction: A's win.
Suzuki will have reached six years of service time, so without a contract in place, he'll be a free agent after 2013, not an arbitration-eligible player. His present deal, signed July 23, 2010, contains a club option for $8.5 million and given the hitter he's turned into, which is sadly not the hitter he was in 2008–09, declining that option and paying the cheap ($650,000) buyout is a no-brainer. The only possible wrinkle is that the option also has a vesting component (for $9.25 million, actually, which is basically the option + the buyout + $10,000) if Suzuki makes 113 starts in 2013. (Amusingly enough, 113 is exactly the number of starts Suzuki made in 2012.) Per Baseball-Reference, Suzuki has made 73 starts this year, and the A's have 36 games remaining. Presumably postseason starts don't count (though who knows!), so the vesting aspect winds up not being a concern. ↩