Escobar for Clippard

By Jason Wojciechowski on February 1, 2015 at 2:10 PM

I'm a little late to this I guess? It took a bit of time, I think, to wrap my head around the notion of trading a multi-year shortstop, a legit shortstop (depending on how you feel about his 2014 defensive numbers, anyway), for a single-year setup man, especially one who is more expensive in this one year, albeit one whose five-year record of success is more befitting a closer than a mere eighth-inning dude:

Rank Pitcher 2010-14 FIP1
1 David Robertson 2.63
2 Jonathan Papelbon 2.71
3 Joaquin Benoit 3.02
4 Matt Belisle 3.06
5 Luke Gregerson 3.10
6 Fernando Rodney 3.13
7 Tyler Clippard 3.24
8 Joel Peralta 3.34
9 Burke Badenhop 3.35
10 Joe Smith 3.39

Okay, so that table doesn't actually really make my point, seeing as how the only closers on the list are Robertson (recently), Papelbon, and Benoit (recently). Really the point is that five good years without getting hurt is a tough thing to string together. Does it mean the sixth year, the one the A's have signed up for and will pay something like $9 million (Matt Swartz's estimate) to get, will go as swimmingly as the last five? Hardly. A pitcher is only healthy until he's not, and a reliever is only good until he's not. Billy Beane has been ruthless in churning relievers in the past and done the classic small-market job of filling his bullpen with randos (who was Jesse Chavez before the A's? Dan Otero? Sean Doolittle counts too, in a different way), so it's striking to see him pay in the form of an actual asset to acquire a reliever.

But, as we learned after Escobar was sent away, his acquisition in the first place was the cost of doing business with the Rays: No Zobrist if you don't take Escobar too. This puts a different spin on how we view Escobar going forward, as not one but two teams whose front offices we'd generally trust not to be total dunderheads have viewed him as something akin to dead weight. The Nationals presumably view him differently, and they're not dunderheads either, but they've also got a full pitching staff, a major open window to win a World Series, and a questionable second base situation. That Escobar is slated to play second for Washington may, just as the trades do, shed light on how we should realistically judge his defense.

In any event, where the A's are left (that's a new perma-page here on the blog that will be updated as things happen to the roster, and contains my guesses, in the offseason, and my observations, in-season, about how the roster is shaped, and so forth—old versions will be archived, and you can always get to the current version at that link, which is also in the blog's header, up above) is with Marcus Semien back into a shortstop role, at least part time (my hope/guess is that the A's take advantage of Ben Zobrist's versatility to toggle him between second and short depending on the opposing starter, with Semien and Eric Sogard as platoon partners, despite playing different positions), rather than the supersub role it looked like he'd have played with Escobar around.

It also leaves the A's with an obvious closer for however long it takes Sean Doolittle's shoulder to heal, including if that winds up being something disastrous like "all year." Would it be nicer if Doolittle were at the top of the bullpen, everyone else bumped down a notch, and R.J. Alvarez were forced to Triple-A by Too Many Pretty Good Pitchers Syndrome? Sure. But the point of depth is that sometimes you have to use it.

There is some weakness in the middle infield compared to where it looked like we were before Clippard was acquired; an injury to Zobrist or Semien or Sogard is going to result in the call-up of Tyler Ladendorf, who turns 27 in March, has yet to debut in the majors, and has slugged at such a rate that you shouldn't expect anything more than Sogardian power in Oakland. (Steamer suggests a .220/.286/.307 line.) Joe Wendle is on the farm, sure, and Andy Parrino is still hanging around off the 40-man, too, but Wendle isn't a shortstop, and it isn't clear you want Parrino in the majors any more than you want Ladendorf.

  1. FanGraphs version, 300 innings minimum, relievers only.