By Jason Wojciechowski on March 9, 2012 at 4:15 PM
Much as I don't particularly feel like commenting on the release of a fifth-string catcher who wasn't even on the 40-man roster, this is an A's blog, and this was a transaction involving a former first-round pick who has spent significant time on the major-league roster (and bench), so a post is somewhat obligatory.
John Shea's story at *The Drumbeat is full of quotes from Powell that are rather bitter. This is understandable. He got fired. He got fired with a guaranteed contract that'll pay him more than I'll make over the next five years, but still, he got fired.
Powell probably is good enough to play on the A's, because being a backup catcher basically means not embarrassing yourself with the bat and having a glove that pitchers like throwing to. By all accounts, Powell was that. He was, as you'd expect from a man his size, not above-average at ball-blocking per FanGraphs (scroll to Advanced Fielding and look at his "RPP"), but that's performance, not talent -- he's only caught 814 major-league innings, so who knows what kind of variance we're looking at around the numbers. I'm fairly certain that neither Max Marchi nor Mike Fast included Powell in their write-ups on catchers' effects on pitchers / the strike zone, so as to that aspect of Powell's game, we're working on the statements of the A's staff. (Or on Dallas Braden's perfect game, if you want to use that as evidence.)
Still, he wasn't on the 40-man because the A's took him off this winter, preferring to hang on to Josh Donaldson and Anthony Recker. This is hardly unreasonable, because Powell hasn't shown himself in his limited time to be a hidden gem. He's just a guy, and as much as Powell and Recker are probably Just Guys, too, they're Just Guys with a little more youth on their side, and a little more bottom-line-favorable contract situations. (Also, ZiPS and PECOTA both see Recker and Donaldson out-hitting Powell. PECOTA only has the difference being about two runs over the course of the (truncated by the backup role) season, but still.) It's likely that Powell, however much he thought he mike make this team, never really had a shot, even with Donaldson sliding over to third in the wake of Scott Sizemore's year-ending injury.
Considering that they had to pay Powell either way, I'm sure they'd be perfectly happy to have him ply his trade in AAA, awaiting an injury or other emergency. The problem is that the acquisition of Derek Norris means that the only minor-league job available is as Norris's backup. With the A's likely not finding any trade partners willing to give up anything of value (or even just willing to take on Powell's contract), they were left to either give him that backup AAA spot or release him so that he can try to catch on somewhere else.
The wonder of it is that the release took even this long, but maybe Billy Beane wanted to satisfy himself that there really were no teams that wanted to acquire (pay) Powell's full contract.