By Jason Wojciechowski on April 30, 2012 at 1:15 PM
The A's designated Luke Hughes for assignment today, moving on to their next possibility at third base, the ex-Tiger Brandon Inge. Hughes didn't earn his release through poor play the way you might say that Josh Donaldson earned his demotion. Sure, Hughes was just one for thirteen and he struck out six times while making some poor defensive plays, but I think the A's knew what they were getting: a player with a .223/.289/.338 line in his only substantial major-league time (317 PAs in 2011), a player with just one good AAA season under his belt. A player, in other words, who you willingly cut the second a new shiny object comes around.
It's possible that Hughes could clear waivers and the A's could keep him in the organization, but do they even want him at AAA? Sacramento already features Josh Donaldson, Stephen Parker, and Wes Timmons. You could, I suppose, push Timmons to AA, because the third baseman of late at Midland has been Leonardo Gil, who is mashing in 31 PA so far, but he's 24 and has no history of hitting, so unless he's a defensive stud, he's probably nobody.
But Hughes is also nobody, so it's a question of which nobody you want to keep around, how much you value letting the organizational soldier (Gil, I mean) keep playing for your team, and so on.
As for the man replacing Hughes, meet Brandon Inge. The long-time Tiger was a legit defender once upon a time, posting FRAA seasons of +17, +24, and +19 in 2005-07, but he's seen his stats there decline of late, as you might expect from someone who cracked the age-30 barrier. He's put up about a +26 in 520 games from 2008 on. Despite that decline, and despite seeing action in just 102 games in 2011, FRAA had him ranked sixth in baseball among third baseman, essentially in a dead heat behind a top three of Jack Hannahan, Alberto Callaspo, and Placido Polanco. The acknowledged margin of error on FRAA is quite large, but I would say that the evidence suggests that Inge is still capable of pickin' it with some of the best in the league at the hot corner.
That's the good news. The bad news is that Inge has exactly one season in his career in which he was substantially above average with the bat, and that was all the way back in 2004 (his age-27 season, natch). As recently as 2009-10, he was basically league average, so it's possible that he could still have something left at the plate. PECOTA doesn't think so, giving him a weighted mean projection of just a .238 TAv, a projection well below that for any of the other four guys who have played / will play third for Oakland this year. To translate the difference between Brandon Inge and Eric Sogard, say, into runs: over 600 PA, Sogard projects to be ten runs better with the bat than Inge. It's possible that Inge is ten runs better on defense than Sogard over that same full season, but it's not like our own Harry Potter is Iron Hands at third.
The choice is only partially "Inge or Sogard," though, because the first question A's management faced was whether they'd rather have Inge or Hughes on the roster. Plugging Hughes into the previous paragraph narrows the offensive gap so far that Inge's defense almost certainly makes him a better overall player.
Thus, while it's hard to say that anything involving Brandon Inge is a good thing, this isn't a move worth getting overly worked up about, either. He's in the starting lineup tonight, batting toward the bottom of the card, and I'd dare say that a lefty pitcher who allows a lot of balls in play like Tom Milone is happier to see Inge in that spot that any of the rest of the options.