Analyzing the A’s Matt Trades

What are the on-the-field consequences of Oakland’s most recent payroll gutting, specifically moving Matt Chapman and Matt Olson?

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#28 Matt Olson and #26 Matt Chapman look on during the national anthem.

Karthik Iyer, Staff Editor

I get it, I get it, this probably isn’t the type of article on the Oakland Athletics that you would expect. What I could do is rant about how much of a cheapskate John Fisher is, how the Howard Terminal project has seemingly gone nowhere, and how the A’s are doomed to experience the same fate as the Raiders, and move to Las Vegas. (That honestly wouldn’t be half-bad for them.)

But, as must often be done with MLB front offices who don’t like to run actual baseball clubs, we are going to give the A’s the benefit of the doubt (again), and see whether¬†this time¬†their rendition of Operation™ on the 40-man will benefit the team in the long-run.

The A’s trade 1B Matt Olson to the Braves for CF Christian Pache, C Shea Langeliers, RHP Ryan Cusick, and LHP Joey Estes

This trade was the big one for the A’s. Matt Olson was coming off a year of redemption, capturing his first All-Star appearance and slugging .540 with an 113-88 K-BB ratio. He was able to maintain the same power stroke that he showcased in the earlier part of his career, but with a much more discerning eye. Maybe he can assist Cody Bellinger with the same transformation. So, with 2 years left on his contract, the A’s decided to capitalize on Olson’s resurgence by trading him to his hometown Atlanta Braves. Now, as much as I hate to say it, the A’s made out pretty well in this trade. Pache has been known as the best defensive center fielder in the minors for at least the past two years. He possesses the three rare qualities teams look for in a defense-first center fielder: blazing speed, a cannon arm, and rare defensive IQ. Basically, his floor is Ramon Laureano, whose 80-game suspension for Nandrolone (really?) puts his place on the roster in jeopardy for 2023. If Pache can figure how to hit a little bit, he’ll be the starting CF in Oakland for at least his 3 years of pre-arbitration salary.

The acquisition of Shea Langeliers follows a similar pattern. Langeliers was also renowned for his defense as a catcher, who somewhat struggled to hit (but never to the extent of Pache). Sean Murphy, the A’s starting catcher has a similar profile. Murphy won a Gold Glove this past season, but hit .216 with a 114-40 K-BB ratio. Murphy is 27 and entering his final year of pre-arbitration; if his salary spikes next season because of that Golden Glove, Langeliers may very well be his replacement. Cusick was a first-round draft pick last year, a typical cold weather arm who has high velocity but little refinement in his off-speed pitches. Both him and Estes are high-variance arms that could amount to something, but with little to no track record promising success.

The A’s trade 3B Matt Chapman to the Blue Jays for RHP Gunnar Hoglund, INF Kevin Smith, LHP Zach Logue, and LHP Kirby Snead

Despite also being named Matt, as well as being named a Gold Glover, Chapman found himself ending the 2022 season in the diametrically opposite situation that Olson did. Despite winning a Gold Glove for his excellent defense (which has become a standard at this point), he hit .210 while striking out over 200 times. The A’s felt that the contract he would demand the closer he got to free agency would not be worth the offensive production that he would provide. The Blue Jays are banking on the hope that this last season was a fluke for Chapman. (Update: Through eight games, he was doing worse, but not a large enough sample size.) Once again, I feel that it’s fair to say the A’s did pretty well here, but not as good as they did with Olson.

Hoglund was Toronto’s first round pick in last year’s draft, a college pitcher out of Ole Miss. Hoglund was considered to be the best college pitcher in the 2020 draft, but Tommy John surgery dropped his stock to the point where the Blue Jays were able to draft him 19th overall. Hoglund has an ideal pitcher’s frame at 6’5″, 210 pounds, with a mid-to-high 90s fastball and above average secondary pitches. However, it is the repeatability of his mechanics that give him the best chance to succeed at the next level. The A’s will hope that his arm is able to maintain the same velocity that it previously had over a full season. Kevin Smith is a utility infielder (which means he can play every infield position to a reasonable degree), who makes hard contact on occasion. If Smith can refine his offensive craft to hit lefties well at the very least, he will be a useful platoon or bench player for Oakland before he is consigned to the scrap heap. There’s not much to talk about with Logue and Snead, who seem to be lefty bullpen pieces that can be shuttled between Triple A and the majors. For a cheap team, that’s not a bad haul for a third baseman who hit just over .200.

Overall, I think that it’s fair to say any city doesn’t deserve to find themselves in this situation. Olson and Chapman are both cornerstone players that the fanbase has seen develop over time, and they should have both signed to long term extensions. It’s pretty embarrassing for a baseball team to treat their players like items on Craiglist, hoping that the junk they can pick up in return will appreciate over time, only to be traded again. Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt, reliable members of their rotation last year, were also shipped for prospects. But, if the A’s want to barter in perpetuity, they did pretty well to replenish areas of their roster and acquire insurance in case the owner wants to decrease payroll further in 2023.