EDIT (7:00 PM): the deal has been confirmed.
I’m pretty sure this was scooped by Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports (and my apologies if someone got it first, Rosenthal was the first in my feed with details), but the Diamondbacks are looking to acquire starting pitcher Trevor Cahill from the Athletics (along with reliever Craig Breslow) for a package headlined by prospects Jarrod Parker and Collin Cowgill. Now, a lot of this trade depends on the rest of the package (which Jon Heyman has clarified doesn’t include top Diamondbacks prospects Tyler Skaggs or Trevor Bauer), because obviously, just Parker and Cowgill isn’t a significant return. But for them to be the headliners of the deal? That’s where I get thrown off.
A’s GM Billy Beane is mostly known for fleecing his trade partners, as he has much too often in the past. Cowgill struggled in his major league debut last season, hitting .239/.300/.304 in a 100 at bat trial late in the season, but was raking in AAA Reno with a .354/.430/.554 line in 456 plate appearances. He’s not nearly that good though, as a .397 BABIP inflated his slash lines. I think his true talent lies in his 2010 numbers, where he hit .285/.360/.464 with 16 homers and 25 steals. Cowgill doesn’t have superstar potential, but he could be a solid regular: decent power, good speed, good plate discipline, and he can play all three outfield positions. He’s blocked at all three in Arizona though, so I understand the rationale for trading him. But at 25 (26 two months into the 2012 season), it’s hard to see what Billy Beane sees in him as a large part of this deal.
It’s much easier to see what Beane sees in Parker, who’s 2011 season was a nice return after missing all of 2010 following Tommy John surgery. In 2011 down in AA Mobile, Parker struck out 113, walked 55 and allowed seven homers in 130 2/3 innings pitched. He got a late season callup for Arizona, and made one start, throwing 5 2/3 shutout innings with one strikeout and one walk. Considering that control is one of the last things to come back following Tommy John, the season has to be deemed a success. He’s got the stuff to be a solid #2, and at just 23 on Opening Day 2012, he’s definitely the kind of guy to be the center of the deal.
That brings me to Cahill, the established major leaguer of the deal. He’s good. Not great, as his 2010 ERA would indicate…but good. He’s locked up until 2015 for a guaranteed $30 million, with options for 2016 and 2017 that could be worth an additional $27 million. But let’s face the facts on Cahill: over his three season major league career, he’s struck out 5.48 batters per nine, walked 3.35, and has a 4.51 FIP, which is admittedly skewed by an awful rookie season. But those numbers are a little more impressive when you realize he posted them during his age 21-23 seasons. 5.3 fWAR over three seasons isn’t good at all, but for a player who should still be in the minors, they’re suitable. In each season of his career, his fWAR has increased, while both his FIP and xFIP have decreased. Cahill’s strikeout rate and innings pitched in each season have also increased, peaking at 6.37 per nine innings and 207 2/3 last season.
Based on those peripherals, I can understand why Beane is trading him. He’ll have Parker under control for six seasons compared to four for Cahill (max of six), and will probably end up paying him less too. In 2015, when Parker is still earning around the league minimum, Cahill is scheduled to make $12 million. For a team like the A’s, that savings is huge. And if Arizona is willing to give up a couple more B-C level prospects, I can totally see how this deal makes sense for the A’s. But how does it make sense for the Diamondbacks?
Cahill seems like a dream pitcher for Chase Field, a notorious hitter’s paradise. He’s an exceptional ground ball pitcher, logging right arond 56% in each of the last two seasons. Of the four returning Arizona starters, the highest groundball rate was 44.5%, posted by Joe Saunders. So Cahill represents a different breed of starter in comparison to the rest of Arizona’s current rotation of Saunders, Cy Young fourth place finisher Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, and Josh Collmenter. A rotation with Saunders as your fifth is pretty solid, which is what all he looks like with that horrendous strikeout rate and the awful homer rate. But I’m not sure if budgeting money to pay Cahill is wise when you have guys like Parker, Skaggs and Bauer looking close to ready for the majors. Parker could probably start for them in 2012, and do better than their cavalcade of vomit-inducing fifth starters (Zach Duke, Armando Galarraga, Jason Marquis, etc) did in 2011. The team is budgeting money for Cahill when they still haven’t locked up either Kennedy or Hudson long-term, both of whom I believe are better pitchers.
With the young pitching coming up through their system, I think Arizona has bigger needs than another starter right now. Cahill is a nice option for the ballpark, but I’d rather have Parker at a fraction of the cost. Arizona isn’t really crazy with the spending, and I think taking on a contract that escalates like Cahill’s does is a little bit of a risk at this point in time. And in two years, when Bauer and Skaggs are ready, it would be prime time to get long-term deals done. D-Backs GM Kevin Towers like to shake things up, but this one just seems a little excessive for me, especially in a weak NL West where the Diamondbacks look like a strong favorite in 2012.