By Jason Wojciechowski on July 18, 2008 at 2:10 AM
A's fans have been waiting for the Joe Blanton hammer to drop for about two years now, and it finally did. The Phillies, who've been linked to basically ever pitcher who might be out there, swung a deal for Blanton today, sending the A's three minor leaguers: Adrian Cardenas, Josh Outman, and Matthew Spencer. Let's see what I can gather about these guys.
Cardenas is a 20-year-old second baseman playing in the high-A Florida State League this year. It's a notorious pitcher's league: the league OPS is .699, and his team is hitting .695. Cardenas, then, is smacking the ball, because his OPS stands at .818. He's been a high-average guy in his career, hitting .303 over his 1000 or so plate appearances, but with pretty decent walk numbers (.065 ISO-OBP this year), and pretty good power for a 20-year-old in pitcher's leagues: his ISO-SLG's are around .130. (His full line here.)
Phuture Phillies recently noted that Baseball America put Cardenas just outside its Top 25 prospects list. Top 25 in baseball, not just in the Phillie organization. He's a former supplemental first rounder out of high school in Miami. According to Baseball Prospectus's (subreq) 2007 annual, "Cardenas graduated near the top of his class and entertained guests at his draft party by playing Liszt and Gershwin on the piano." That's impressive. Sickels had him this year as the second-best Phillie prospect, a grade-B guy. In 2007, he noted that Cardenas had a "quick bat".
Cardenas, then, looks like a good prospect, perhaps an elite one, and young enough that he's not super-redundant with Jemile Weeks or Eric Patterson.
Josh Outman, besides having a great name for a pitcher, is a 23-year-old lefty, pitching at AA. He pitched at that level for seven games last year but spent most of the year at high-A. His walk rate is less than stellar (about 4.5 BB/9), but his strikeout rate is good, whiffing nearly one per inning. He's also given up a grand total of three homers in his seventy innings, so he's had success (3.20 ERA, RA not much higher) despite the high walk rate.
Outman's an interesting guy for the A's to pick up because, as detailed here, his father taught him to pitch rather unconventionally (that article contains Outman's description, which is pretty much incomprehensible to me), but teams were worried about his injury risk because of it, so he adjusted to a conventional motion before the draft. He claims that the old motion was actually very precisely designed biomechanically, and that it was thus better for his arm, but that those around baseball worried about it because they'd never seen it before. The question I have, then, is whether the A's, a team that's well known for its advanced understanding of pitching mechanics, will allow him (or ask him) to revert to his old motion. A lot would go into this, of course: Outman's been a successful pro pitcher so far, posting an ERA of exactly three in his career with very good strikeout and homer rates; he's thrown 414 innings with his "new" motion, and thus countless bullpens and workouts as well; it's possible that his new motion is actually mechanically just fine; it's even possible that Outman and his dad didn't now what they were doing with the old motion. So will they just let him be and hope he develops into the 3rd starter that it looks like he might be able to become?
Sickels had Outman as the 3rd-best Phillie prospect, also giving him a B grade. He had given Outman a B- in 2007, and queried whether he'd be a starter or a reliever as he moved up.
Finally, Matthew Spencer, who looks like a throw-in. He's 14th on Sickels' list with a C+ grade. Spencer's another 22-year-old, but he's only at high-A this year. He's a corner outfielder who isn't really hitting like one in the FSL, with an OPS below both his team and league averages. He had a nice .200 ISO in his pro debut, at low-A in the New York-Penn League, but that's dropped to about .120 this year. When you're batting .249, walking once every eleven PA's, and don't seem to have notable speed (five steals, though just one time caught), you look like a marginal prospect. I think we can just forget about Spencer as a factor in this deal and focus on the possibly elite second baseman and decent left-handed pitcher discussed above.
What about the A's at the major league level now? Well, Blanton's ERA was nearly five, remember, and David Pinto points out that even that is lower than you'd expect, because Blanton's road ERA is a whopping 5.73. The key is that he's only pitched six times on the road, compared to fourteen at home. (Problem for the Phillies: they don't play in Oakland.) None of the three guys the A's got for Blanton is on the Philly 40-man roster, so the A's have a spot on their 40-man opening up. The possibilities for the new fifth guy in the rotation are, then, a little broader than they would be if Oakland could only work with its current 40-man setup. Will Gio Gonzalez be added and called up? Will we see the return of Kirk Saarloos or Lenny DiNardo? Or perhaps Dan Meyer, who's already on the 40-man?
I think DiNardo is probably the most likely. He's had some success with the A's and he's been decent enough at AAA (4.09 ERA). Gonzalez hasn't blown AAA away, although his strikeout rate is quite healthy (over one per inning). Furthermore, with Mike Sweeney returning to the 40-man roster at some point, the A's are going to have to remove someone. DiNardo's a guy who it doesn't really matter if you lose him on waivers.
As for the effects on the A's prospects of winning games this year, as bad as Blanton's been, we've seen him have some measure of success in the past. As between Blanton and DiNardo, I'd much rather put money on the former to put up a sub-four ERA in the second half of the season. DiNardo likely won't be much worse than Blanton was in the first half, but there's a very good chance he'll be worse than Blanton in the second half. In that sense, then, the A's may have lost a little bit at the major league level. Of course, by trading three starters (one of them was in the bullpen, but he could perfectly well start) in ten days, it's pretty clear the A's aren't thinking about this year.