Minor transactions

By Jason Wojciechowski on July 6, 2015 at 8:15 PM

The A's have Made Some Moves about which I should Say Some Words. The theme of the two trades is acquiring minor-league relievers in exchange for international bonus slots. The meaning of the theme is that we shouldn't expect too much; these trades aren't even for cash, but for the right to spend cash on the international free agent market without incurring penalties. That's worth something, obviously, but I don't know if any of us know yet how much it's worth, and we're kind of relying on teams making the market over a couple of years of these trades to have a sense. Fortunately for you, I'm not of the mind that telling you whether transactions are Good or Bad is an interesting and worthwhile thing to do, so it doesn't actually matter, for purposes of this blog, how much international slots are worth. What matters is that the A's didn't want to use them or saw better uses for them in acquiring players who were already in organized baseball than signing some kids and wishing upon a star. (Which isn't to say that minor-league relief "prospects" are anything other than star-wishes, but they are undoubtedly a different type of star-wish.)

The other theme of the trades is that, four days apart, the A's acquired two minor-league pitchers from the Braves for two different international slots. That's weird! We could speculate: The A's thought they'd use the second one but then their targets were signing elsewhere so they called Atlanta back and said, "Actually, we'll trade it after all"; or Atlanta wanted the second one in the first place but didn't want to part with Aaron Kurcz but then finally relented when they weren't able to acquire the slot elsewhere for a price they preferred; or Billy Beane and John Hart just thought this would be hilarious.

The players: Cody Martin was a seventh-round pick in 2011 and was added to the Braves' 40-man roster this spring, whereupon he commenced to strike out major-league hitters at a nice rate (24 in 21 2/3 innings) but also walk a few more than is ideal (seven) and get hit pretty hard (24 hits, four homers, .357 BABIP). His dad was a professional pitcher, albeit not a major-leaguer, a fact that has been mentioned in each of the last three Baseball Prospectus annuals, and he's a pitch-mix type, someone without a standout offering, which makes his strikeout rate in relief for Atlanta a pretty nice surprise. As a minor-leaguer, he's been largely a starter, one with the strikeout rate (decent but under one per inning) fitting his type. The problem is that he doesn't have the control (over three walks per nine in his minors career) of a command-and-control guy, and he appears to get more flies than grounders. All of this adds up to, "Well, I guess this is why he was a seventh-round pick and then was available in the Rule 5 draft but not taken and then was available just for a bonus slot." He's made one start for Nashville already, striking out five and walking three (though one was intentional) in 4 1/3 innings.

Then there's Aaron "Col." Kurcz, who is already on his fourth organization: He was drafted by the Cubs, included in the Theo Epstein trade to Boston, then acquired by the Braves for Anthony Varvaro. He's had Tommy John surgery already, he's on the small side, he walks the world, and he gives up a lot of fly balls, but he's got a nice strikeout rate, and if you're whiffing 10 per nine in Triple-A, well, hey, that's worth a shot. He's not on the 40-man yet , though he'll be Rule 5 eligible this offseason if he isn't added. PECOTA threw a 2012 Brad Boxberger comp on him and 2012 Brad Boxberger was, depending on your metric, a major-league pitcher or just worse than one.

The victim: Nate Freiman was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man for Martin. All Freiman did the last two years in the majors was post a 100 OPS+, heavier on the OBP in 2013 and heavier on the SLG in 2014. He still didn't add up to even half a season of plate appearances over those two years, though, so it wasn't really much of a thing for the A's to send him down to Nashville when Beane managed to land his latest white whale, Mark Canha, particularly because Freiman is limited to first base (and he's not particularly spry even there) while Canha can lumber around left field and pretend he's capable of it. Freiman this year has been completely nothing, hurting his back and, when healthy, hitting .171/.225/.188 for Nashville. That's only 129 plate appearances, but it's the kind of line that, when you also see the phrase "back injury" in his bio, can end a career. League-average hitters don't grow on trees, even when those league-average hitters are boosted by a platoon-heavy deployment, but Freiman went unclaimed by the league. That's not a great sign.

Also: Chris Bassitt did his job filling in for Sonny Gray and acquitted himself well. Now he's headed back to Nashville. No corresponding move yet, but since the A's spent the last week undermanned on the position-player front, the word is that Jake Smolinski will be coming to Oakland. Perhaps, as a right-handed hitter, he will take at-bats from Sam Fuld against lefties.