Posted April 18, 2013

Three-team trade has potential for A’s, Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks, Heath Bell, Miami Marlins, Oakland A's

Heath Bell lost his closer’s job in July and finished 2012 with only 19 saves (Icon SMI).

Taking advantage of an off-day in the playoff schedule to make some headlines, the A’s, Diamondbacks and Marlins pulled off a three-team, four-player trade on Saturday that sent centerfielder Chris Young and a little cash to the A’s, infielder Cliff Pennington, right-handed reliever Heath Bell and a lot of cash to the Diamondbacks, and infield prospect Yordy Cabrera to the Marlins. Here’s a quick team-by-team look at the deal.

The Diamondbacks get IF Cliff Pennington and RHP Heath Bell for CF Chris Young and $500,000. The Marlins will pay $4 million of Bell’s contract in each of the next two seasons.

One of the Diamondbacks’ priorities coming into this offseason was trading an outfielder in order to ease the congestion they caused when signing Jason Kubel last winter. Flipping Young fits the bill nicely as he’s 29 and coming off a down year, while Gerardo Parra is ready to take over in center backed up by rookies A.J. Pollock and Adam Eaton. Dealing Young takes $9.5 million off the books over the next two years via his $8.5 million salary for 2013 and the $1.5 million buyout for his 2014 option, less the $500,000 the Diamondbacks sent to Oakland in the deal.

Of course, the Diamondbacks have gone and re-invested that $9.5 million plus another $3.5 million in Bell, who will be owed $13 million over the next two years even after subtracting the $8 million that the Marlins are covering. That’s a lot of money for what amounts to a seventh-inning reliever, as the Diamondbacks also picked up J.J. Putz’s $6.5 million option on Saturday and have already told Bell that Putz will remain the closer. David Hernandez should still be Putz’s primary set-up man and the closer-in-waiting for 2014, particularly given the fact that Bell’s $9 million option for 2015 vests with 55 games finished in 2014 (or 100 finished in 2013 and 2014).

Still, if there’s one thing for which Arizona general manager Kevin Towers has a proven knack, it’s building a dominant bullpen. Look no further than Putz and Hernandez for examples of pitchers who have dominated for Towers’ team when few others expected them to. As awful as Bell was as the Marlins’ closer in the first half of 2012 (6.75 ERA with five blown saves), he thrived in a set-up role in the second half (3.10 ERA in 33 appearances). The last two Diamondbacks teams to reach the playoffs, the 2007 and 2011 National League West champions, both featured dominant bullpens, and with Putz, Hernandez, Bell and Brad Ziegler, the 2013 D-backs should have that going for them once again.

As for Pennington, who is arbitration eligible for the first time this winter and under team control through 2015, he’s yet another slick-fielding, light-hitting middle infielder who goes on the pile with John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist, both of whom are under contract for 2013. What Pennington offers that those two don’t is youth (he’s 28 while Bloomquist, the younger of the two veterans, will be 35 in November) and the ability to hit left-handed. The switch-hitting Pennington, whose career OPS from the left side is more than 100 points higher than it is from the right side, finished the 2012 season as the lefthanded half of the A’s second base platoon after being the full-time starter in 2010 and ’11. Look for him to fill a similar platoon role at shortstop for the Diamondbacks in 2013 in partnership with one or both of those righthanded veterans.

The Marlins get SS Yordy Cabrera and $13 million of salary relief for Bell.

This is a straight salary dump for the Marlins, who gave up on last offseason’s makeover four months into the season when they traded Hanley Ramirez and his contract to the Dodgers. Cabrera is a legitimate prospect, a toolsy second-round pick from the 2010 draft who received a $1.25 million signing bonus from the A’s, but he has yet to translate his tools into performance. Despite being touted as an offense-first infielder with power, he has posted a pathetic .230/.297/.351 line in 166 minor league games, and most expect he’ll have to move off shortstop at some point during his development. Cabrera will repeat High-A at the age of 22 next year, but he’ll have to hit in order for his age to still be an advantage.

The A’s get Young and $500,000 for Pennington and Cabrera.

From Oakland’s perspective, Cabrera is a prospect that isn’t panning out and Pennington is a replacement-level player whose impending arbitration made him an unnecessary addition to a list of second-base candidates that includes Jemile Weeks, Adam Rosales, Eric Sogard, Brandon Hicks and Scott Sizemore, the last of whom is due back from a season lost to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The real price the A’s are paying for Young is the $9.5 million they’ve committed to between his 2013 salary and 2014 buy-out.

Still, even that seems like a lot for a player whose best fit on the A’s roster would seem to be as a right-handed platoon partner for incumbent centerfielder Coco Crisp, a switch-hitter who has hit better from the left side in each of the last two seasons. The A’s are likely hoping for more. Young is an outstanding defensive centerfielder, far better than Crisp, and has far more power at the plate, with four 20-home-run seasons including a career high of 32 in his rookie season of 2007. The trick is that Young strikes out a lot, struggles to hit for a respectable batting average (.239 career), and is coming off an injury-shortened season in which his walks and stolen bases were down as well.

Young got off to a red-hot start in 2012, but separated his shoulder after running into an outfield wall on April 17 and barely hit at all between his mid-May return and the All-Star break. He did have a solid second-half (.261/.327/.471), but a nagging quad strain pushed him to the bench in September. There’s significant upside here if Young can stay healthy. At his best, he has 30/30 potential, and his 2010 and 2011 seasons saw his power, speed and defense combine to make him a player worth roughly five wins above replacement per year, nearly twice as valuable as Crisp has been in each of the last two seasons.

– Cliff Corcoran

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