A’s sign Emil Brown and a related long player development rant

DMZ · January 12, 2008 at 12:44 pm · Filed Under General baseball 

May be an indication they’ve all but dealt Kotsay to the Braves (update: yup, Kotsay’s gone). I’m going to burn a lot of words on this.

My favorite quote from the MLB.com story:

Hitting with runners in scoring position has been a problem for the A’s in recent years, and Brown could help in that area, as well. He batted .316 (37-for-117) in such situations in 2007.”That’s obviously a plus,” Forst said, “but I wouldn’t say that was a factor in our decision to sign him.”

Hee hee hee! Oh, the A’s. You guys are so awesome.

Emil Brown’s an interesting player from a team-building and a development view. He’s a decent player, but moreover, he’s a great example of the kind of guy you can get for free if you’re paying attention. Brown started in the A’s minor league organization, then the Pirates took him in the Rule 5 draft. He kicked around the Pirates system for a while, not getting much playing time, then was traded to San Diego in 2001. In 2005, at 30, he signed a minor-league deal with the Royals and in that thin system got a full-time job and hit .286/.349/.455. And the next year he hit .287/.358/.457 — and this is a player the Royals got for free.

Then last year he sucked. He still hit left-handers pretty well, I don’t want to get into the “do righties have legitimate splits versus right-handers” argument.

Anyway, after being selected in the Rule 5 draft Emil wasn’t much of a factor on the Pirates, but his minor league lines are great: in 1998 in AA as a 23-year old, he hit .330/.395/.496 in Carolina and in AAA the next year for Nashville he hit .307/.359/.502. Then his minor league lines bounce all over the place as he goes from organization to organization.

Generally, teams, fans, and analysts are prospect-fixated, looking to the 18, 19, and 20-year old players and trying to imagine their ceiling and what players they can become. But there are plenty of players like Brown who because of injury, strange development paths, or whatever other factors are available every year and can help teams a great deal. And in those cases, teams need to look at what they can contribute instead of whether they’re 29 or 30.

A player like Brown who can help a team win games for a couple years on the cheap is extremely valuable to an organization.

Or think of it this way: draft picks are all gambles. The chances that any pick past the first few rounds will make the majors, much less contribute for a couple years, is pretty slim. Even in round two, after all the supplemental first round picks, it’s perhaps fifty-fifty that any choice reaches the majors at all.

A good minor-league free agent find like Brown contributed as much value to the Royals as the average #20 pick in the draft contributes to all his teams over his career. That’s not an exaggeration.

And these kind of finds are all over baseball. The M’s managed one with Burke last year, where they picked up Jamie Burke — a 35-year old catcher (!) — for nothing and he made for a file backstop. Over the last couple of years, there are a ton of once-abandoned prospects like Matt Diaz, or Jonny Gomes, long in the tooth with odd or neglected skill sets, or passed over for playing time for one reason or another who find opportunity and go nuts with it. Jack Cust! Once a darling of stathead prospect hounds, abandoned, found, a hugely flawed player with one skill finally finds a chance in Oakland and hits .256/.408/.504 (!) for next to nothing. And when – like Brown did last year – they fall apart, or get injured, or otherwise fall off, you’re not staring at another 3y and $24m on their contract.

It’s a huge and largely ignored facet of player development. If there was a team out there that got to draft twice, everyone would recognize that they had a huge advantage, but that’s exactly what happens in the off-season signings and no one makes a big deal about it. Teams that can sift through the minor leagues and find good gambles like Brown and give them a shot, who use their AAA team as something more than a holding pen for emergency injury replacements, have a huge advantage over their competition.

Part of that is looking at players and seeing what they can contribute, rather than what they’re not good at. Cust, for instance, offers one skill, but if you have that need, you should be extremely happy. If you’re looking for an outfielder who can carry a glove at every outfield position, steal some bases with good success, and might hit well, hey, there’s Emil Brown. Doesn’t have a tremendous arm, isn’t a fly-catching sensation, doesn’t hit for much power. But if a few years ago you had an all-lefty outfield and could use a little more speed and a right-handed backup, he’d have been great. Jamie Burke’s not a world-beating defensive catcher, he’s old enough you’d be right to be worried about his durability, but if you’ve got an almost-everyday starting catcher like Johjima… and then we could get into pitchers.

This is why I get so worked up about some of this stuff. If the Mariners are trying to compete in an increasingly competitive division with the looming threat of a rebuilt A’s team coming back up the standings in a few years, this is the kind of thing they have to get better at. Wasting a million dollars on Miguel Cairo to be Willie Bloomquist Light won’t cripple the team, but given the team’s shortcomings, and who they might have brought in that could be interesting, with some potential to contribute, you have to just shake your head.

At the very least, finding quality players like the Royals did with Brown means that a team can spend more on free agents, or spending more in the draft and international prospect development or whatever their taste runs to. Done well, it’s a whole other player development channel, potentially as valuable to a team’s success as conventional prospect cultivation on the farm.


30 Responses to “A’s sign Emil Brown and a related long player development rant”

  1. spokane dude on January 12th, 2008 1:09 pm

    Guys like Emil Brown are essential for building an effective bench, something the Mariners haven’t had in years. I’m a believer that, with four bench slots, at least two of those players should have some pop in their bats and be able to step into the lineup and be effective two or three times a week. Brown’s that type of guy, not much with the glove, but not bad with the bat in the right situation.

    My frustration is that the Mariners are content to spend money on questionable bench players (Hello, Miguel Cairo) and really improve the depth of the team when decent bats are available for the same or less money.

  2. gwangung on January 12th, 2008 1:31 pm

    The philosphy of this team is that the offense should be centered in the everyday lineup, defense in the bench. There doesn’t seem to be room for more balance on the bench.

  3. spokane dude on January 12th, 2008 2:07 pm

    I think that’s a poor decision. So, Raul Ibanez goes down with a hamstring pull and misses a month. We get a month of Willie Bloomquist in left field, instead of a platoon of Emil Brown and an average left-handed hitter who might be able to keep you afloat. Instead you put a hole in your lineup and handicap yourself. When you don’t have much margin for error, why give up so easily?

  4. terry on January 12th, 2008 2:37 pm

    Emil Brown and David Dejesus have been some of the best kept secrets in the majors until their struggles last season.

  5. Tanner Boyle on January 12th, 2008 2:54 pm

    Emil Brown’s #1 comp is Bobby Kielty, now available as an exclusive right handed batter.

  6. bakomariner on January 12th, 2008 3:25 pm


  7. Mike Snow on January 12th, 2008 4:50 pm

    Shh, Derek, shh. Don’t be talking about freely available talent in the outfield, it will just encourage Bavasi to trade Jones for Bedard knowing that he won’t have stick Balentien out there instead.

  8. Rusty on January 12th, 2008 7:55 pm

    Emil Brown… an outfielder who got a late start on a major league career but finally broke in by having back-to-back .800+ OPS seasons for Kansas City.

    Hmm… who does that sound like?

    I’m surprised the Mariners didn’t jump right in and sign Emil to a 4 year contract at $5 million per year.

  9. Dash on January 12th, 2008 9:03 pm

    And here’s another A’s move. Looks like they are moving Kotsay to the Braves for P Joey Devine. Though the A’s are going to eat some salary. (as reported by ESPN).

  10. imfinkspa on January 12th, 2008 9:30 pm

    FWIW, Emil Brown is a well above average outfielder in the corner. He has graded very highly on all of the metrics I have looked at.

  11. rcc on January 12th, 2008 9:47 pm

    I have posted before on this same subject….the A’s do things that “baseball fans” love….and that has made me a fan of the A’s. The M’s front office does not have the smarts to see what other teams have done or are doing, and to try and duplicate it.

    There is another advantage that the A’s get by having a player like Brown on their roster…they can leave some of their hot outfield prospects in the minors. Their prospects get to play, develop, and most importantly their service time does not begin until they are ready. In contrast Adam Jones has been up and down for a couple of years….what is his service time right now?

    I like what the A’s are doing in the off season. They may be horrible this year, but I don’t think they will be down for long.

  12. DMZ on January 12th, 2008 10:05 pm

    I didn’t see Brown show up as “very highly” on any of last year’s metrics — what were you looking at?

  13. Dayve on January 12th, 2008 10:33 pm

    Who cares about the A’s?

  14. msb on January 12th, 2008 10:35 pm

    In contrast Adam Jones has been up and down for a couple of years….what is his service time right now?

    73 days.

    “According to the collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners, one year of Major League service is 172 days. Players who have fewer than three years’ big league service are under club control, and thus are not eligible for arbitration.”

  15. Brockforbroglio on January 12th, 2008 11:26 pm

    http://www.cotscontracts.com has some good information about service time, and player options.

  16. thefin190 on January 13th, 2008 12:31 am

    This further proves Beane’s smarts as a GM.

    I think the difference between the A’s and the Mariners at this point is that A’s are set to try to find the best value that would benefit the team, in both skil and budget. The Mariners on the other hand try to find the high profile names to fill in the roster, whether they are in their prime or past their prime. Either way it is something to excite the casual fan in order to sell more tickets, rather than the well-being of the actual team.

    A good example would be Chris Reistma, when he was signed last year, the newspapers and mariners.com would say how he would produce in the past, and closed for the reds a few years ago. Even I had recognized his name from his past play so I was glad (this was before I started reading USSMariner). He ended up contributing very little for the Mariners.

    Kudos Billy Beane.

  17. hub on January 13th, 2008 4:07 am


  18. Wishhiker on January 13th, 2008 5:07 am


  19. Wishhiker on January 13th, 2008 5:31 am

    13 — those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it…I certainly don’t care about the A’s in particular. The M’s have been mostly oblivious to moves like this while the A’s have found enough to supplement their other acquisitions nicely. The M’s could use to learn from that. That is the point.

  20. fetish on January 13th, 2008 7:44 am

    I can’t help feel like, had the M’s signed Brown, we’d be looking at a Dave post about how Brown is just taking up roster space, is too old and washed up to contribute, and is hindering the development of some guy in the farm system.

  21. hub on January 13th, 2008 8:28 am

    Re 20:

    I find it difficult to believe that Dave would fail to point out Brown’s potential use to the Mariners as Ibanez’ platoon partner and defensive replacement.

  22. msb on January 13th, 2008 8:35 am

    interesting interview with A’s owner Lew Wolff

  23. scraps on January 13th, 2008 8:50 am

    20: Then I can’t help but feel that you don’t pay as much attention as you should. Have you forgotten Dave’s advocacy for signing Geoff Jenkins already?

  24. Cheap_Seats_Fan on January 13th, 2008 9:48 am

    The easiest position a Major League team can fill is a backup right handed hitting outfielder, especially one that is limited to playing only the outfield.

    Objectively, there is a very good reason Emil Brown has played his entire ML career on what amounts to second division teams with no chance of winning, he’s a second division backup player. In 2008 he’ll be with yet another second division team. He’s old, in decline and does nothing plus that you can hang your hat on.

  25. DMZ on January 13th, 2008 10:15 am

    Even if that was true now, in 2005 he was – just considering offense – the 11th-most valuable right fielder in baseball. In 2006 he was the 18th-most valuable left-fielder.

    In both cases, he contributed far more than what I’m sure you’d consider first-division teams.

    Objectively, you’re wrong about why he’s been where he’s been.

  26. noproblempablo on January 13th, 2008 6:40 pm

    Does pre-flameout to lazy to rehab Bucky Jacobsen count? What a magical month or so that was! All kidding aside, the real benfit of this deal for the A’s will come late summer when Emil Brown is having a decent year and Billy Beane flips him for a minor leaguer nobody has ever heard of who turns into the second coming. No doubt. This is my first post here.. I like the “post” button.

  27. Jack Howland on January 13th, 2008 8:14 pm

    20 re: fetish

    Perhaps you should do a little homework before making an assumption like that:


  28. JSully on January 14th, 2008 9:19 am


    “Cust, for instance, offers one skill…”

    It’s a bit nit-picky but Cust does get on base AND hit for power, which would be two skills. I don’t mean to be snarky, just thought I’d point that out.

  29. Dayve on January 14th, 2008 12:49 pm


    I suppose you’re right. I get that they have a model that is well respected here. However, must we continually pound our heads against the brick wall in hopes that the M’s front office does an about face? Until they are replaced, the M’s front office will not emulate any successful franchise.

  30. Alaskan on January 15th, 2008 5:14 pm

    So, what’s the deal with Chris Shelton exactly? And why wouldn’t he be a better 1B for us than Sexson? Did he just flare out, or what?

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.