The M’s 40-man Roster Set After Another Trade and a DFA
1: Last night, the M’s shipped recently-acquired and even more recently-injured OF prospect Ramon Flores, in part, it seems, because the player they got in return (Luis Sardinas) had another option year while Flores did not. As Flores is still recovering from an on-field compound fracture, you understand the it’s-just-business aspect of it, but it’s tough to see these two as equivalents. Given the M’s struggles in the OF last year, and given that they’ve shipped out their two primary CFs from 2015 and wisely moved Mark Trumbo out of the outfield, it seems odd to give up what OF depth they have for a glove-first SS. I say “glove-first” because that’s just nicer than saying no-bat, but seriously, look on Sardinas’ fangraphs page and despair. Yes, he’s controlled the bat decently in AAA, but that’s already factored in to the projection of a .246/.281/.319 slash line.
Look, not every trade is a blockbuster, and not every *minor* trade needs to have a clear and local winner. Given the day – the 40-man roster deadline- it’s even more understandable. Teams are swapping out optionless-but-talented players for lottery tickets all day today, so this is understandable. But you can’t help trace the precedents here and argue that the *primary* return for Dustin Ackley, #2 overall pick, college hitter of the decade and dude who hit 9 XBHs in 57 plate appearances for New York, was traded away due to the minutiae of the uniform player contract and the 40-man roster deadline. Dustin Ackley was never going to return a premium player, but Flores hit everything he saw until he saw his fibula poking out of his sock, and you expect to get more wish-casting enjoyment out of a lottery ticket than the M’s did.
2: The other depressing move necessitated by the deadline was Danny Hultzen’s removal from the 40-man. Another #2 overall pick, Hultzen’s battled shoulder problems for the last three years. He was reportedly solid in the spring, but managed just 8 innings for AA Jackson this year before soreness set in and ended his season. As we learned from AGM Jeff Kington in Greg Johns’ MLB.com story on the move, he’s still not throwing yet, after last pitching in mid-May.
While I’m not big fans of their work, this isn’t a time to blame the M’s player development. Hultzen’s shoulder gave out after very responsible innings limits and no real injury history. Yes, the M’s belatedly tweaked his delivery to avoid the across-the-body motion that provided some deception, but it’s not at all clear if that had anything to do with his injury. This may be nothing more than horrific luck for a young lefty who seems like a dedicated pitcher. He just physically can’t pitch. The M’s needed to make this move due to the moves they’ve made this offseason, but it’s difficult to avoid reading more into it – this, paired with the Miller trade (and the fact that Ackley was already gone), really feels like turning the page on the Zduriencik era. That specific reason is the only aspect of the move that doesn’t feel depressing, or perhaps depressing-yet-necessary.
3: It’s necessary because the M’s had to add new OF Boog Powell and utility man/strong safety Patrick Kivlehan. Kivlehan had a disappointing 2015, putting up a 100 wRC+ for Tacoma. He’s got some pop – he hit 22 HRs this year – but it can play down a bit due to a mediocre hit tool. Given his defensive flexibility and the M’s needs in the OF corners, this was a good call. His lack of experience in college and the fact that he worked hard at making more contact are good signs that he could have a bit more development in him. For next year, he’s a great test case for the new development regime. Boog Powell came over in the Brad Miller deal, and adds plate discipline to the M’s OF mix. If they need a 4th-OF next year, you have to figure Powell’s the guy, especially with Flores now out of the picture. His lack of power limits him, and big league pitchers may not walk him until he shows he can actually hurt them. He’s projected for a .262/.324/.368 line which I’d take in a heartbeat.
The downside – and I realize this post has already wallowed in downside enough – is that 40-man roster day means you can’t help but make comparisons to the unfortunates who’ve been DFA’d today. Need a plus-glove CF who can take a walk but has easily sub-Ketel Marte power? Well, Craig Gentry is available. You know who’s projected to post a very similar line to Powell’s? Daniel Nava! Freely available! Need a lefty-masher? Try Wilin Rosario, who is less than a year older than Kivlehan. These aren’t great comps, of course. Nava’s a decade older than Powell, and Gentry is also much, much older than Leonys Martin (more on him later), but it’s almost impossible to stop seeing similar skillsets on the major league scrap heap. It’s the nature of this time of year. AJ Griffin, one time A’s pop-up prospect and successful rotation member has had almost as many injury issues as Hultzen, and he’ll join Hultzen in limbo after being bumped off the roster by Rich Hill. Teams everywhere love to talk about veteran grit or veteran calm or veteran intelligence, and you can see in free agent salaries that they’re quite willing to pay for it. But for one day in November, it becomes an anchor, a tumor that teams excise.
4: Sooo, the M’s have a new CF, as Leonys Martin heads to Seattle in exchange for the Bartender. I like the approach here of buying low, and making the team more athletic and effective defensively. Martin had an absolutely awful 2015, posting a wRC+ of 50 and ceding his position to a Rule 5 pick. His average batted ball velocity was no great shakes, but it was better than Ketel Marte’s, Elvis Andrus’, Cole Kalhoun’s and Joe Panik’s. That said, there are still some warning signs in his stats.
For one, Martin has been an extreme platoon hitter, with a career wRC+ of 53 against southpaws. This isn’t just BABIP: his K:BB ratio tanks against lefties, and his already marginal power drops to pitcher levels. Yes, you should regress these observed splits, but we’re starting from a very, very low point. Worse, his terrible 2015 coincided with a career high in PAs against lefties. After seeing southpaws in just 28% and 25% of his PAs in 2013 and 2014, respectively, that percentage shot up to 36% last year and everything went to pot. Martin probably needs a right-handed platoon partner.
As Nathan Bishop and others have said, your feelings about Martin may hinge on how much you think a series of hand/wrist injuries hurt his production in 2015. Martin missed time early in the year after hurting his hand on a swing, and then hurt his wrist in the field a bit later. Worse, he suffered a broken hamate bone in his hand while down in AAA, which required surgery and ended his season in August. So really, this hinges on what you think about hamate problems. As always, we M’s fans tend towards the pessimistic, and remember, say, Chris Snelling’s hamate and how he didn’t look the same following it, or the fact that Mike Zunino injured his in 2013 and has looked…nevermind. Luckily, this article at The Hardball Times is a bit more confidence-inspiring. Several young players broke their hamate bones, and it had no effect on their production or power whatsoever. Michael Brantley broke his when he was still a tweener/4th-OF candidate and then became a potential MVP for a Troutless parallel universe. Dustin Pedroia injured his as a promising young player, and then became an MVP winner afterwards. There really is no clear-cut evidence that it saps power or anything else, though the case of Nick Markakis, who injured his in his late 20s (Martin will be 28 for opening day), is a cautionary tale – Markakis’ power dropped precipitously immediately after the injury and hasn’t returned.
It stings to lose Tom Wilhelmsen, though if I’m honest that’s largely due to the improbable back-story and his gif-able personality. He was a solid reliever with good stuff that often played down for some reason. While he had the all-important closer tag and was headed for larger arbitration paydays, and while he always felt like a good 7th-inning guy as opposed to a dominant closer, it feels weird to trade someone with his raw stuff for a glove-first CF coming off the kind of year that Martin just put up. Wilhelmsen now finds himself in a ‘pen that could be one of the AL’s best, though his chances to close again just dropped dramatically with Tolleson, Dyson, Diekman and Kela ahead of him.