A’s taking a big chance in trading Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks

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Trevor Cahill won 18 games as a 22-year-old for the A’s in 2010. Now he’s a goner, having been sent to the Diamondbacks along with left-handed reliever Craig Breslow in exchange for right-hander Jarrod Parker, outfielder Collin Cowgill and right-hander Ryan Cook.

It’s a deal that would make a lot more sense for Cahill if he were about to become really expensive. However, he’s owed a pretty modest $28.7 million over the next four years. His contract also includes options for 2016 ($13 million, $300,000 buyout) and 2017 ($13 million, $500,000 buyout) that could be well under market value if he goes about establishing himself as a No. 2 starter.

That’s what Cahill should become. His peripherals didn’t justfy his 2.97 ERA in 2010, but his strikeout rate took a nice step forward last season, even as his ERA increased along with it. He finished the year 12-14 with a 4.16 ERA, but his overall outlook seems just as positive as it was a year ago. He’s never been hurt, and as a big-time groundball pitcher, he’s a great fit in an hitter friendly ballpark like Chase Field.

In return, the A’s get a premium pitching prospect, but one who has been hurt and who struggles with command. Back from Tommy John surgery, Parker went 11-8 with a 3.79 ERA in Double-A last season. He finished with a 112/55 K/BB ratio in 130 2/3 innings. Parker is actually just eight months younger than Cahill, and while he is a harder thrower with greater strikeout potential, he’s not a great bet to succeed right away, not when he’ll likely be walking at least four batters per nine innings.

The A’s also get Cowgill and Cook. Cowgill, 25, never received enough credit as a prospect coming up through the Diamondbacks system, largely because he’s 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds. While he’s a career .299/.383/.490 hitter in the minors, many believe his power won’t translate into the majors. And if they’re right, then he’s a good fourth outfielder, nothing more. The A’s, though, figure to pencil him right into their 2012 outfield.

Cook, 24, had a 2.21 ERA and a 62/22 K/BB ratio in 61 innings between Double- and Triple-A last season. He’s an unexceptional relief prospect, and he doesn’t add much to Oakland’s haul here.

Breslow is the other player in the deal. The veteran left-handed hitter was viewed as expendable and might have been non-tendered if not traded. His ERA has gone from 2.60 in 2009 to 3.01 in 2010 to 3.79 last season, and his strikeout rate also took a big dip last season. The league-switch might help him, though.

Overall, this looks like a loser for Oakland. The A’s must be convinced that Cahill will never return to 2010 form and that his 2011 performance will be the norm going forward. It is a possibility, and if so, they were smart to sell when they did. But from my view, Cahill is a better bet than Parker going forward and Cowgill isn’t nearly promising enough to make up the difference. Score one for the Diamondbacks.

Yoenis Cespedes should be ready for Tuesday’s game

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The Mets are off today, and that day off may be just enough to get outfielder Yoenis Cespedes ready to start their next game, on Tuesday, against the Braves. At least that’s what he’s telling Mets manager Terry Collins.

Cespedes did not play in the weekend series against the Nationals, but was available as a pinch hitter yesterday. He was even on the on-deck circle at the end of last night’s game.

Cespedes, who tweaked his hammy running to second base on Thursday, is hitting .255/.364/.636 with six homers and 10 RBI in 15 games on the young season.

Marcus Stroman was called for an illegal quick pitch for some reason

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A “quick pitch” is an illegal action in which the pitcher pitches the ball before the batter is prepared. What makes a quick pitch a quick pitch? According to Rule 6.02(a)(5), it’s this:

 . . . Umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter’s box. With runners on base the penalty is a balk; with no runners on base, it is a ball. The quick pitch is dangerous and should not be permitted.

There are a couple of reasons why you don’t want quick pitches in baseball. In one respect, it’s about safety, as mentioned specifically in the rule. You don’t want a pitcher throwing a 90 m.p.h. fastball in the batter’s general direction if he’s not ready for it, because if it goes off course the batter will have no ability to defend himself and bail. But there’s also a spirit-of-the-game reason for it. The essence of baseball is the face-off between batter and pitcher. While everyone wants the game to move along promptly, the game isn’t really the game if the batter isn’t ready.

There is more art than science to all of this, of course, as all batters and pitchers have different pre-pitch routines, but when you watch a game, there’s a rhythm to all of that. You know the batter is gonna take a couple of practice swings and settle in. The pitcher tends to respect that. The quick pitch rule is rarely invoked for this reason.

It was used in yesterday’s Angels-Blue Jays game, however. And used badly in my view. Watch Marcus Stroman pitch to Kole Calhoun. The ump is Ramon DeJesus. The count was 3-1, so the automatic ball resulted in Calhoun being awarded first base:

Calhoun was obviously upset about something, calling time after Stroman is into his motion (which is not allowed) throwing his hands up and stuff after the pitch. But tell me, in what way was he not “reasonably ready” for that pitch, to use the language of the rule? He’s facing Stroman, looking at him. He’s done with his warmup swings, his bat is up and cocked and he’s standing in hitting position. I understand that it’s a judgment call by the umpire, but it seems to me like the umpire just called time too late because Calhoun didn’t feel ideally comfortable or something.

Either way, it set off Stroman and manager John Gibbons. Gibbons was ejected arguing the call. Stroman, who was otherwise excellent yesterday, was rattled for a bit, giving up a couple of hits and a run afterward. It was Calhoun who scored, natch.

It didn’t affect the outcome, but it certainly seemed like a bad call. And possibly a bad precedent, as batters may now try to lobby harder for quick pitch calls, given its success yesterday. Or, if umpires tend to think that was a bad call too, maybe they’ll overcompensate for it and be less likely to call quick pitches? You never know how this stuff will play out.

Whatever happens, I’ve been against Major League Baseball’s habit of increasingly taking judgment calls away from umpires, trying to make the subjective objective and making a flawed instant replay system the Supreme Court of Baseball Calls. But jeez, it’s hard to argue for allowing umps to hold on to judgment calls when they blow ’em like this.