The Houston Astros need to upgrade their bullpen. We’ve heard this narrative, no? The Astros also have $20M to spend this winter. Again, no surprises. Ryan Cook of the Oakland Athletics is a solid reliever, but the A’s could use some help at shortstop. Assuming that Marwin Gonzalez sees a fair amount of time at short in 2015, that could make Jonanthan Villar expendable this offseason. With Carlos Correa lurking in the minors, trading a shortstop now, especially to a desperate team, could be a good move.
Cook has played three seasons with Oakland, going 13-9 with a 2.66 ERA in that time. In 2014, Cook battled injuries, and accumulated just 50 innings, down from his usual average of 70 between 2012 and 2013. Injuries were part of the reason. The other was that Cook struggled with command at times, leading to a 3.42 ERA last season. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Cook, when healthy, has been relied upon primarily in the seventh and eighth innings, as well as being asked to close out the occasional game, in a bullpen that has ranked among the best in baseball.
Cook won’t reach free agency until after the 2017 season, and is projected to make roughly $1.3M through arbitration this offseason. That’s a relatively low price for what the Astros could get in return.
As I mentioned before, the A’s need a shortstop. Villar had a disappointing 2014 season, batting just .209 and striking out in thirty percent of his at-bats. He’s a decent defender, and according to a piece by Evan Drellich, Astros GM, Jeff Luhnow said of Villar, “I think Villar has all of the tools and skills to be an every day, elite shortstop in this league. He just hasn’t gotten there yet and it’s a little frustrating expecting him to be there sooner than he’s ready to be there.”
In this same piece, Drellich wonders when the Astros’ patience with the shortstop will run out. If Luhnow believes that Villar is going to develop, he can hold on to him. Yet, with Jose Altuve and the aforementioned Correa likely manning the middle infield for years to come, Villar may also become trade bait.
The asking price for the shortstop may be higher than Ryan Cook, but if a deal were to be done with Oakland, that could certainly be a nice starting point.
If the Astros want Cook, and either want to hold on to Villar, or think they can get more for him elsewhere, another option for a trade would be minor leaguer Joe Sclafani. We talked about him recently, and the utility man could be a good fit with the A’s, who pride themselves on their usage of platoons. Sclafani is an unproven talent at the major league level, but has hit every step of the way in the minors. It would be a gamble for Oakland to give up a major league reliever for a prospect, but this is a trade that Billy Beane could make.
Then again, trading within the division is always tricky. You think Oakland regrets trading Chris Carter to Houston after all of the damage he’s caused them? For now, we will just have to wait and see what Jeff Luhnow has up his sleeve.