General managers Brian Cashman and Dave Dombrowski may have made the splashiest moves thus far into the offseason. But Athletics GM Billy Beane is getting serious work done under the fold, building what's beginning to look like the best team in the American League.
On Tuesday, Oakland further strengthened what was already an excellent bullpen by acquiring reliever Luke Gregerson in exchange for outfielder Seth Smith. That was Beane's second move of the day, following a trade for outfielder Craig Gentry. To begin the week, the A's added starting pitcher Scott Kazmir and closer Jim Johnson to the roster.
Smith didn't have a great season, batting .253 with eight home runs, 40 RBI and a .721 OPS in 410 plate appearances. But he had a strong postseason, compiling a .313/.353/.500 slash average and providing one of Oakland's most dangerous bats versus the Tigers in the ALDS. That performance may have been enough for Beane to swap Smith for Gregerson, arguably one of the best setup relievers in the National League. Considering Smith no longer really had a role with the A's, this trade looks like a steal.
Like Smith, Gregerson has one more year of arbitration eligibility. MLB Trade Rumors' Matt Swartz projects him to earn a salary of $5 million next season, similar to what Smith would have earned through the same process. Yet Gregerson figures to make a far more meaningful contribution to the A's in 2013.
With a collective ERA of 3.22, Oakland's bullpen was the third-best in the AL this season. That relief corps already had two effective setup men in Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook, and now have Gregerson joining its ranks. This year with the Padres, the 29-year-old right-hander posted a 2.71 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 66.1 innings, a rate of 8.7 K's per nine. Right-handers hit only .192 against him in 136 plate appearances.
Gregerson also provides some insurance at closer if Johnson falters or just needs a rest. He occasionally pitched in that role with San Diego, notching four saves in five opportunities in 2013. Having both relievers on hand for one year lends to the notion that the A's are going all-in for a World Series run next season.
For the Padres, Smith provides a left-handed bat that the lineup needed. Against right-handed pitching, San Diego had a team batting average of .241, fourth-worst in the NL. Only the Marlins had a worse team OPS versus righties than the Padres' .668 mark. Smith should help improve those numbers, along with a healthy Yonder Alonso (and switch-hitting Chase Headley, if the third baseman isn't traded). Will Venable is also coming off the best season of his career, slugging 22 home runs with a .798 OPS.
Depending on how Cameron Maybin recovers from wrist surgery and a knee injury, Smith could end up as the starting right fielder. He could also play left field if and when Carlos Quentin gets hurt and needs to sit out for a few games. Of course, Smith also gives San Diego a strong option at designated hitter when needed during interleague play.
At the very least, this move gives the Padres more depth in the outfield, enough that a player or two will likely be traded. General manager Josh Byrnes might look to sell high on Venable, though probably doesn't want to lose his left-handed bat. Chris Denorfia could be moved to a team seeking a right-handed corner outfielder. And while Alexi Amarista wasn't very good in center field this season defensively, he could help a team looking for help there. Amarista could also be a utilityman, whether for the Padres or another club.