By Jason Wojciechowski on December 18, 2012 at 9:43 PM
If you haven't followed the A's news, I have good and bad. Let's start with the good and then you can just quit reading.
The good news is that Hiroyuki Nakajima, however he performs, is apparently a bit of a character. Reports out of the news conference have him expressing admiration for the Bernie and saying that he wanted to join the A's because Billy Beane is "sexy and cool." Everyone knows it, but it takes the brand new immigrant and freshest face on the team to finally point it out, I guess. I'm not sure even Dallas Braden ever went so far as to call the A's general manager "sexy," though that might be because Beane was at the head of the organization that paid Braden far less than what a fully free market would have borne. Reserve clause, woo!
The bad news, and I mean it, you can quit reading now, is that the A's decided to trade Collin Cowgill to clear a 40-man spot for Nakajima. "What'd we get back? Something cool, right? Yeah?" No, we got back Jefry Marte from the Mets.
Marte's not talentless, of course, but he's one of the Mets (or maybe Omar Minaya's) patented "bring the kid over early and toss him in the deep end" players -- Marte debuted in the Gulf Coast League at just 17 and played a full season in A-ball at 18, where the average batter age that year was 21 1/2. If you take the top 100 players in the 2009 South Atlantic League by plate appearances and sort them by age, you find that the only player younger than Marte was his teammate Wilmer Flores.
The thing is that Flores had been rated by Baseball America as the 47th-best prospect in the game before that season while Marte has not cracked the top-100. There's no shame in that, really, because lots of useful players are never considered among the very very best minor leaguers around. (Figure 180ish minor-league teams times 25ish players per team and subtract the Triple-A types who aren't rookies but add back in the guys who have signed in the Dominican but not debuted in America yet and you see what kind of percentile you have to be in to crack the top-100. It's rough.) But he also hasn't really hit: he had a good 2008 and a solid 2010 but has more or less stunk the last two years.
There's still time, of course. He's 22 this year and he's not on the 40-man so the A's could easily send him to Midland (the Double-A squad) and hope he hits and plays enough defense to figure in as a future option at third, or at least as a reserve/injury replacement that they keep hanging around in Sacramento until the time comes where they need him. The various deadlines to keep in mind, though I'm only guessing because roster stuff is hard -- I think Marte has already been Rule 5 eligible for two years, so if he hits well in 2013, the A's will likely want to add him to the 40-man anyway to protect him from being taken; if he doesn't and they feel there's no danger of losing him, I believe he's not a minor-league free agent until after 2014 (counting by seven years of minor-league ball beginning in 2008), so they could even hang onto him another year as long as they don't feel he's blocking the progress of better players.
And remember, even in 2014, he'll still just be 23. Derek Norris was 23 last year. Grant Green was 24. Chris Carter was 25. Collin Cowgill, the man for whom Marte was traded, was 26. Josh Donaldson was 26. Jarrod Parker was 23. Brad Peacock was 24.
What about this Cowgill thing, though? One the one hand, I can't really object: Chris Young, Chris Carter, Brandon Moss, Seth Smith, Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, and Josh Reddick are set to share five positions, and where the 2012 A's righty platoon player didn't really offer much on defense (Jonny Gomes), the 2013 version is Chris Young. Cowgill wasn't even going to crack the roster without injuries, and even with injuries, it was going to take two in parallel to get him into the lineup. Given that, and given the existence of Grant Green and Shane Peterson and Michael Taylor, two of whom have been considered excellent prospects in the past and one of whom absolutely raked in the high minors as a 24-year-old in 2012, I guess the A's are fine with their depth in the outfield.
On the other hand, you don't dump your depth unless you have to or unless you really like what you can get in return for that depth. Given the rather high likelihood that Marte never turns into anything (though with the massive caveat that the A's scouts are far more to be trusted in such a thing than his hitting numbers at this point), I think it's fair to ask: why is Jesse Chavez still on the 40-man roster? I pointed out on Twitter the other day that Chavez, who will be 29 in 2013, has a 5.99 career ERA and has made two major league starts. His Triple-A ERAs and peripherals have been good, but he has just been destroyed at the major league level, largely by his 34 homers allowed in 177 1/3 innings. He throws reasonably hard, though not as hard as he once did, and the eternal question: if anyone thought he was any good, why hasn't he been given a clear shot at some sort of relief job since 2009?
It's not even clear that the A's would lose him on waivers if they designated him for assignment, honestly. Stranger things than Jesse Chavez turning into a useful bullpen pitcher have happened, of course, but the odds of this happening are such that I find the decision to turn Collin Cowgill into Jefry Marte highly puzzling.
Is Occam's Razor that the A's like Jefry Marte that much? Maybe they think he's an undervalued player!
Here's Slusser's writeup of the Nakajima presser. She also notes that Marte is indeed "likely" to be at Midland this season.
Rick Eymer's story includes the quote (maybe it was in Slusser's, but I missed it -- I'm skimming over here) noting that Nakajima informed us that we could call him "Hiro." So there you are.