A's finally trade Danny Valencia

Posted by Jason Wojciechowski on November 12, 2016 at 2:52 PM

The "finally" in the title is not a "good riddance." I don't know who was more to blame for the dust-up between Valencia and Billy Butler last season, and it's hardly like the bad vibes either or both created were responsible for the lost season the team experienced—there's plenty of blame for that to go around, like Sonny Gray's weird season, Sean Doolitte's injuries, 532 plate appearances of Yonder Alonso, the total lack of a credible center fielder, 14 different starting pitchers having at least five starts, and Ryan Madson, John Axford, and Liam Hendriks pitching below their ideal or expected levels. No, the "finally" is because we all expected Valencia, who's eligible for arbitration for the third time and hit well enough to get a raise on last year's $3 million salary while remaining such a bad defensive player that he's probably not worth that, to be traded last year at the first trade deadline, or maybe during the waiver-trade period. Instead, he stuck around and played some outfield and a little first base while Ryon Healy, 2017 MVP, grabbed hold of the starting third base job and shook it in his teeth until it was dead.

The return in the intradivision (gasp!) trade is Paul Blackburn from the Mariners, not to be confused with soft-tossing right-handed prototypical Twin Nick Blackburn, who it appears has not played organized ball since 2013. The A's new Blackburn was a deep supplemental first-rounder (56th overall) by the Cubs in 2012 out of a southern California high school. He's worked his way up a level per year, pitching all of last season as a 22-year-old at Double-A, split between the Cubs' and Mariners' squads, the latter after coming over as a secondary piece in the Mike Montgomery–Dan Vogelbach extravaganza of late July.

The report from Christopher Crawford at the time was that he's a no-stuff pitchability guy with three okay deliveries but enough command and strike-throwing ability to be a fifth starter.

If I've done my math right, Blackburn has to be added to the 40-man roster this year or the A's risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft (because the 2017 Rule 5 will be the fifth Rule 5 draft after he signed as an 18-year-old), and it seems like a safe bet that someone would take a shot on him and throw him into their fifth-starter competition in the spring. That could work out with the A's getting him back at the end of the spring, but it's disruptive to their ability to get a look at him, to evaluate him for their own rotation and bullpen, and so forth. I would, therefore, expect the A's to 40-man him in the next week—Jeremy Koo says the deadline is this week and I trust Jeremy on these matters. The A's currently have 36 on the 40, and it sure would be strange to pick up a guy they could shortly lose and then not protect him.

That said, if the roster looks in March like it does now (rofl) he's probably a long shot to break camp as a starter with the A's when we can probably lock in a Gray-Manaea-Graveman-Cotton front four, leaving a Triggs-Hahn-Mengden-Neal(?)-Overton-Montas(?)-Alcantara competition for the last slot. All those same guys, plus Daniel Coulombe and some others are also presently in a battle for two rotation spots behind what I think it's safe to call five locks: Madson, Doolittle, Dull, Axford, Hendriks. As usual, this is all a moving target, in part because that's baseball and in part because that's Beaneball. (Hey!)

As for Valencia's "spots," the currently rostered adequate players for the four corners are Healy, Alonso, Khris Davis, Matt Olson, Mark Canha, and maybe Renato Nunez. Figuring Stephen Vogt to stick around but also figuring that Stephen Vogt is costing 13 runs a year behind the plate, according to Baseball Prospectus, we might see him transition back toward an outfield/first base/DH slot himself. Which is to say: even without adding a Eric Thames type (which does intrigue me), and even if the A's were to pass Alonso's anemic bat off on some other unsuspecting sucker, there's plenty here to credibly fill out a lineup and not have to forfeit any games.

EDIT (16:29) -- changed Marcus Thames to Eric. Marcus Thames is not playing baseball any longer. Bless up, @hollinger.