A's acquire Chris Coghlan

By Jason Wojciechowski on February 27, 2016 at 5:06 PM

This here being an A's blog, I do believe you are owed my thoughts, deep and important as they are, on the local squad's acquisition of one Christopher B. Coghlan.

Coghlan, as you're aware, took home the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2009 for a sterling 3.1 WARP season, though that value fluctuates depending on whether you rate his defense "bad" (FRAA), "a little worse than bad" (UZR), or "horrible" (DRS). Despite being a first-round pick, he wasn't a big-time prospect, and he's never again hit as well as he did in his rookie year. He's also suffered repeated major injuries, twice to his left knee (2010 and 2011, costing a total of 119 games) and once to his back (2013, costing 73 games). Escaping Miami seems to have done him a world of good, though, as Coghlan put up .292 and .279 TAvs the last two years in Chicago, mostly while playing left field; last year, he was a bit of a rover, supplementing his 750 left-field innings with 148 more in right, 78 at second, 13 at first, and 10 at third base. That's not quite prime Ben Zobrist, but it's worth noting that the three defensive systems all had him at least average overall. (Small sample siren.)

From the A's perspective, you can see why they'd prefer him to Mark Canha, even at the cost of a starting pitcher and additional salary: Coghlan is more flexible (Canha is ... not playing second base) and has a better track record of hitting success (Canha's surprisingly solid season in 2015 resulted in a .270 TAv). Now on the other hand, Coghlan has a track record of lack of success: The projection systems will look back at his 2011–13 numbers (70 OPS+) and wince. That's why Canha's PECOTA projection beats Coghlan's by 20 points; Steamer similarly has Canha by 11 points of wRC+. Sometimes the computers are smarter than us because they don't get suckered into narratives ("Coghlan sucked because he was hurt but now he's healthy, so he'll be good"); sometimes we're smarter than computers because those narratives are true. The neat thing about being a baseball team is that you have human experts to help judge this sort of thing; we shouldn't just take the A's at their implied word that they think Coghlan will be his 2014–15 self, but it should ease some of the anxieties.

I've said Mark Canha's name an awful lot for a post that isn't about him, so it's worth noting that while the basic outfield of Reddick-Burns-Davis should be basically set, and while Coghlan is obviously going to make the major-league roster, and while it's equally clear that Coco Crisp and Josh Phegley aren't going anywhere, the 13th position-player spot is up in the air. It could still be Canha, to platoon with Yonder Alonso. It could be Sam Fuld, and damn the torpedoes with a three-outfielder bench so they don't lose him on waivers. It could be Eric Sogard, so that there's a shortstop on the bench. (Me personlly, I'm fine having Jed Lowrie serve as backup shortstop while also being the starting second baseman, but there are a billion reasons I'm not a major-league manager.)

The entirely ballsy move would be to use Coghlan to platoon with Billy Butler, but you'll note that I'm saying "ballsy" here, not "likely" or, for that matter, "good."

The cost for all this ruckus is Aaron Brooks. Don't forget how unimpressive he was notwithtanding his prototypical size and occasionally solid results. His virtues are that he's cheap, optionable, and owed the minimum salary. I'm completely comfortable counting on Dillon Overton or Felix Doubront or whoever for his innings.