Exploring the A’s Trade Options at Second Base

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    Updated: July 25, 2014
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    The Oakland Athletics are, on paper, the best team in baseball. They have the best record in baseball as well as a historically good run differential that is better than the next two closest teams combined. They just completed a blockbuster trade for two of the better starting pitchers in baseball, All-Star Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Unfortunately their lineup still has two glaring holes, second base and right field, both of which feature regulars sporting negative offensive WARs (Eric Sogard: -10.4. Ouch). While Oakland GM Billy Beane seems oddly content with Josh Reddick in right, Beane is aggressively investigating the infield trade market and several names have surfaced in connection with the A’s.

    First and foremost is Nick Franklin. The A’s are said to be in fervent pursuit of the Seattle Mariners second baseman. Franklin, 23, has hit at every level of the minors leagues and was once ranked as high as the 38th best prospect in baseball by MLB.com. Things did not go well for Franklin as a rookie year last year. He hit .225/.303/.308 and was tied for dead last in defensive WAR amongst second basemen with 400 plate appearances. The Mariners responded by signing superstar second baseman Robinson Cano in the off-season.

    Seattle apparently doesn’t believe that Franklin can play shortstop as he has spent most of the year in AAA Tacoma, where he’s batting .294/.392/.469. All of Franklin’s minor league stats indicate he should be a very good hitting major league second baseman. While minor league defensive stats are sketchy at best, John Sickels of Minorleagueball.com stated that he has“no doubts at all about his ability to be an above-average, even excellent, gloveman at second base.” The Mariners have been actively shopping Franklin and it would be a classic buy low move on Beane’s part, but it remains to be seen if Seattle would be willing to trade Franklin to a division rival.

    If the Franklin talks fall apart then there’s always Ben Zobrist. The Tampa Bay second baseman is a 33-year-old switch hitter whose 2.7 WAR ranks 8th best in the league at second base. His main asset is his excellent defense but he is an above average hitter for his position as well. Interestingly he also plays a superb right field, which could provide A’s manager Bob Melvin with a very dangerous chess piece to move around the board come post-season. Zobrist has a $7.5 million team option for next year, an exceptional value for a player of his caliber. Tampa Bay, however, appears to be undecided if they can make a run in a rare weak year for the AL East and have thus far been reluctant to move anyone.

    The man A’s fans have been clamoring for weeks for the team to acquire is Philadelphia shortstop and Oakland native, 35-year-old Jimmy Rollins. While this maneuver would certainly tug at the heartstrings, it’s not clear how much of an upgrade it truly is. For starters, it addresses shortstop, not second base. While incumbent shortstop Jed Lowrie’s bat has been sub-par, his defensive WAR is good for 8th in the league, just a shade ahead of Rollins. Rollins’ overall 2.4 WAR is certainly an upgrade over Lowrie’s 1.1 due to his superior power and baserunning ability, but if the A’s move Lowrie to second base and his defensive performance slips, they’ve effectively turned him into what they already have: a no-hit so-so defensive second basemen. To complicate matters Rollins has a no-trade clause, although, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Rollins would go if traded.

    The real wild card in all this is Rollins’ teammate, second baseman Chase Utley. Out of all the potential A’s trade options, Utley, 35, would provide the most immediate impact. Criminally underrated throughout his potentially Hall of Fame career, Utley is currently flashing a 3.0 WAR, good for 6th amongst all second basemen. Through July 24th, Utley is slashing .288/.346/.431 on the year to go along with some of the best defense in the game at his position and typical heady baserunning. There are simply zero holes in his game. The A’s would benefit greatly by getting Utley but they would have to be willing to provide the premium haul the Phillies would surely demand.

    Much like Rollins, Utley has a full no-trade clause due to his status as a 10 and 5 player. Unlike Rollins, Utley has publicly denied any interest waiving his no trade clause. That stance could change however if Phillies GM Ruben Amaro finally pulls the trigger on a much-needed rebuild and ships Rollins and Hamels out-of-town. If that happens Beane needs to pounce.

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