The Padres and A’s Keep Doing Things

If I had to sum up the offseason for the Oakland Athletics and San Diego Padres, it would be thusly:

At the start of the 2015 season, both teams are going to look markedly different, and they took another step away from the 2014 season tonight with yet another surprise trade. Yahoo’s Jeff Passan has the details:

There are a lot of facets to this deal, but the one that sticks out right away is how quickly the Padres put together a new battery. In successive trades, San Diego had dealt away the two players who caught all but 10 of their games last season. In each of those deals they acquired Ryan Hanigan and Tim Federowicz, but that duo probably wasn’t going to pass muster. Now, with Derek Norris in the fold, they have a full catching corps, with Federowicz probably destined to spend some time in Triple-A.

The second thing that sticks out about this deal is that just with the Wil Myers trade, one of the centerpieces has now been traded twice in a year. In this case, it is right-handed pitcher Jesse Hahn. Just as we have speculated that perhaps the Royals and Rays knew something about Myers that the rest of us don’t know, do the Rays — and know the Padres — know something about Hahn that the rest of us don’t?

Actually, it’s not just Hahn. R.J. Alvarez is one of the other main pieces in the deal, and he has now been traded twice in less than a year. Alavrez had a pretty great 2014 season, and made his major league debut in September. He struck out nine batters in eight innings, and put himself on the radar for a bullpen job in 2015. He’ll presumably get that shot in Oakland, but again — two trades in less than a year. Is that a reason for concern, or is this just part of the A.J. Preller Offseason Extravaganza?

The Padres get back another interesting piece in Seth Streich, but he’s at least a year away. And there’s the international bonus slot, which is nice given Preller’s proficiency in procuring international prospects. But this deal is mostly about getting Norris. Let’s turn to the Steamer projections to see how things are projected next season for the former and current San Diego catching corps:

  • Grandal/Rivera: .234/.311/.375
  • Hanigan/Norris: .235/.324/.352

So, not really an improvement. This might actually look worse in the end, because the Grandal/Rivera numbers are put through the filter of them playing half of their games in Petco Park, while Hanigan/Norris still have the Rays/A’s adjustments. Simply put, neither Steamer nor ZiPS believes in Norris’ on-base percentage improvement — Steamer has his OBP dropping from .361 to .332, and ZiPS has it at .327. Norris will still be an interesting player at that level, but certainly not the budding superstar that he appeared to be at times last season.

And then there’s these per game stats from the StatCorner catcher framing report:

  • Rivera: 1.75
  • Grandal: 1.43
  • Hanigan: 0.23
  • Norris: -0.19

So, the Padres haven’t necessarily acquired better hitters, and they also have likely downgraded in pitch framing in a big way. And since the Padres already had one of the walkingest starting rotations in the game last season, you can probably file this under the “bad news” column. (We don’t even need to re-hash what happened to Norris on the basepaths that one fateful October night).

I say probably because of the seven Padres starters who tossed 50 or more innings last season, Hahn had the highest walk rate. So maybe that cancels out a little. Still, Hahn is a nice get for the A’s, who should help fill the void left behind by Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Looking at the A’s rotation, you can see that Oakland has a deep staff that is long on upside — Gray, Pomeranz and Hahn in particular have room to grow.

Dave pointed out one reason for optimism with Hahn — his contact rate. His overall contact rate last year was akin to Samardzija’s. Another one is his beefy changeup. It’s always nice to be the best at something, and while 70 innings isn’t a heck of a lot, Hahn’s change graded out as the best in the game last season. His fastball also ranked 20th. And as Jeff Zimmerman noted in September, Hahn gets a lot of swings and misses on his curveball. Back in July, when Eno looked at swinging strike rates per pitch, an above average swinging strike rate for a curveball was 10.8%. Hahn clocked in at 18.3%. It wasn’t super effective overall because it rarely landed in the strike zone, but it tied batters in knots.

Hahn needs to iron out some of his control problems. Yes, he had a great contact rate, but he also had a below average swing rate and zone rate, and if he can’t get the ball over the plate, eventually batters will just stop swinging. But this seems like a good deal for the A’s. Yes, Norris was ostensibly the starter, but Stephen Vogt profiles well as the starter, and if John Jaso is right for the start of next season, the team probably won’t miss a beat. Even with minimal contributions penciled in from Jaso, the A’s are projected to be sixth in the majors in catchers’ WAR. And now they have another good piece for their rotation and their bullpen, both of which are teeming with depth.

It’s difficult to assess just how things will shake out for the Padres overall, but in a vacuum, their catcher swap looks like it comes out even at best. Perhaps that’s fine. If you said that they could float two catchers away, end up with the same catching level of talent in their catching corps, and also add Matt Kemp and Wil Myers, you’d probably take that as a Padres fan. Of course, it isn’t that simple — there’s also Trea Turner, Joe Ross, Hahn, Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin to consider. And San Diego probably isn’t done yet, unless they’re planning to roll out the ghastly combo of Alexi Amarista and Yangervis Solarte on the left side of the infield. But at the very least, in looking at this deal, we can say they’re down a starting pitcher, and not necessarily any better in the catching department than they were in 2014.

Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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Buck Rotgut
Buck Rotgut

Finally the A’s make a trade that I like, getting rid of that incompetent boob of a catcher who cost them the playoffs.