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July 6, 2014 at 9:48 pm ET
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Good Trade, Bad Assignment

Tommy Milone is headed for Sacramento.

Oakland Athletics fans like my friend Kevin are having an identity crisis today. “Are we a constantly-rebuilding team that trades away talent for optimum value?” they ask. “Or are we a rebuild-until-we’re-really-good-and-then-start-taking-chances team?” They’re also asking, “We optioned Tommy Milone to AAA?”

The answers are, “Both, kind of,” And , ”Yes, and you should be upset.” That’s me quoting myself, by the way. Let me say this. I love the trade of pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for first-round-picks Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, starting pitcher Dan Straily and somebody else. You should too if you’re an A’s fan. And it certainly has promise if you’re a Cubs fan, though many of you will still check to see if Theo Epstein is following the example set by his former players in Boston by drinking on the job.

The A’s are giving up a mixed bag of young talent. Straily was a competent-to-very-good starter last year with similar numbers this year, except for home runs allowed which has driven his earned-run-average to almost five. The numbers should even out and he should be solid. Russell is an infielder who definitely looks like something with power numbers and speed as evidenced by a high number of extra-base hits and triples among them. He has hit well at all levels up to and including AA, but, he struck out nine times in 13 at-bats at AAA. I don’t know about McKinney. He is an outfielder who’s hitting .241 in Class-A Stockton, but he has shown some power this year with ten home runs. Let me say for the record I love the player to be named later. I’m an optimist and I just know he’s gonna be great.

The A’s get two starting pitchers with sub 3.00 ERA’s, but who have expiring contracts either at the end of this year (Hammel) or the end of next year (Samardzija.) Their numbers are similar, but Samardzija is more consistent -working on his fourth solid campaign.

The question should be, who’s going to the bullpen? The A’s already have four starters with ERA’s well under four. Tommy Millone (3.55) Jesse Chavez (3.23) Sonny Gray (3.08) and Scott Kazmir (2.61) have good numbers that could be better. The team has been let down by the bullpen at various times this season, with various relievers being bailed out several times by late-game heroics by the offense.

Hammel is having a career year as a starter, but it seems unlikely a guy with only one year with an ERA under four will continue to put up such outstanding numbers. If he does, he could command more money than the A’s are willing to pay him. He’s bounced around a lot and has been a starter primarily for bad teams. If it’s presented to him that he can he can be the bullpen ace the team needs, it shouldn’t hurt his feelings too much to put him in the role as closer and see how he fares. Anyone has to be better than the Jim Johnson/Jeff Francis platoon that has a combined ERA of right around six. It should be noted Hammel did appear in 40 games as a reliever for Tampa Bay in 2008.

I wish I could answer, “Why is Jim Johnson still butchering ball games while Milone heads to Sacramento?” But I can’t. For a “genius,” general manager Billy Beane sure looks like a big dumb-dumb here. “Dumb-dumb” is a technical term used by my two-year-old to describe someone daddy is yelling at in traffic. It’s also a technical term used to describe a general manager who is keeping two miserably-failing relievers instead of two quality starting pitchers while moving one to the bullpen.

It’s simply a mistake to send Milone to AAA. He has an ERA of 2.62 with a 6-0 record in his last 11 starts. Johnson got big money in the off-season after two 50-save seasons. His performance is another example of why I loathe the idea of paying anyone substantially to save games when there are plenty of guys out there who can do what Johnson can’t –throw strikes and set up batters for outs. Foxsports.com reports Johnson was almost traded to the Miami Marlins for a draft pick and cash. Too bad it didn’t happen.

The solution is simple –send Johnson away, send Hammel to the pen, and bring Milone back. This was a really good trade for the A’s. Weakening the team as a result makes no sense.

‘A’ Grade for Rotation

With Friday’s trade, all five members of the Athletics’ rotation now rank among the top 35 qualified starters in the majors in ERA. Here’s a look:

Pitcher ERA Rank
Scott Kazmir 2.61 12th
Jeff Samardzija 2.83 18th
Jason Hammel 2.98 23rd
Sonny Gray 3.08 27th
Jesse Chavez 3.23 33rd
– ESPN Stats & Information


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