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Brandon Moss and the Indians' judgement of value

This Cleveland offseason is rife with patterns from the past. A consideration.

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My old friend Don O'Fleer and I have spent this winter observing parallels between the events of this offseason and the events of offseasons past. This is the second of three posts we've put together from those observations. Don is driving on this one. -afh

II. Moss : Wendle :: Shoppach : Talbot

In the months leading up to Kelly Shoppach’s trade to Tampa, a significant portion of the Indians commentariat was clutching to the premise that positional value and the diminishing bias toward batting average was riding tandem with an under-valuing of power and walks, especially from the right side. We’d seen Shoppach progress from a fairly unheralded piece in the Coco Crisp trade to become, at least for a while, the most interesting backup catcher in baseball. He had struggled through injury in his final season with Cleveland, but he still would’ve had the fifth highest wOBA among catchers had he qualified. There were still many in our number who believed he was a starting catcher and anticipated (hoped?) that other organizations would value him as such. It was in this tradition that, when I heard the rumor that Shoppach was bound for Tampa, I scoured the Rays’ depth chart ("Lots of pitching! The Indians need pitching! It’s destiny!") and set my sights on Alex Cobb.

Kelly did head to Tampa, packaged with some cash, in exchange for a PTBNL.  When the PTBNL was subsequently named, the trade complete and consummated, the return was underwhelming to myself and many others: a second-division fifth starter who had no options remaining. I recall expressing my feelings about that trade like this: Imagine you have a friend who, for several consecutive weekends, pointedly refuses to discuss what he’s been up to. And then he invites you over to his house, ushers you inside, and it turns out he’s been tiling his bathroom. ("What? I told you I wanted it to be a surprise!")

It was for this reason that I sympathized with Oakland fans in the Moss trade, because those who followed the rumors were expecting more in return than Joe Wendle. Sometimes, as was true of me with respect to Shoppach, the narrative of a player – Moss, plucked from relative obscurity to become a legitimate MLB power threat! – blinds us, as fans, to the way he appears to those who did not participate in that narrative. In Moss’s case, a swing-and-miss guy, not much of an asset with a glove on, getting older, getting pricier, coming off a hip injury. The more circumspect of the Oakland set is coming around to the factors that reduced Moss’ trade value, in the same way I had to with Shoppach.

I accept that this interpretation of the Moss trade may be uncharitable, if not outright wrong. To some degree, I am comparing a molehill to a medium-sized hill — Moss is a more valuable player than Shoppach, and Wendle is a more valuable prospect than Talbot.

Even accepting this frame shift, it's entirely possible Billy Beane overvalued Joe Wendle or underestimated Moss’s physical vitality. Perhaps Moss will defy the aging curve and be worth every million of the not-so-insignificant number of millions he is owed. (For what it’s worth, Mr. Moss and I are precious few months apart. To you, my good 31-year-old: Rage, rage, etc.)

Or, alternatively, perhaps Chris Antonetti’s penchant for acquiring and overpaying injured veteran outfielders marches on unabated. Perhaps Moss’s best days are behind him, and Joe Wendle will explode into relevance, lapping his Indians’ depth chart nemesis, Jason Kipnis; Billy Beane, the wily prospector, bespies yet another passed-over lump of gold ore.

But then, correct me if I’m wrong, Shoppach-for-Talbot turned out to be at least in the neighborhood of a fair trade, no? My take-away lesson from the matter was that most MLB trades, in context, roughly approximate equitable transactions.

Maybe this resonates with you: Because I style myself an observer of baseball and not just a fan, I am wont to over-OBSERVE and under-COMPREHEND. When trades happen, then, I have to remind myself that if you were to handcuff me to DiamondView terminal with John Mirabelli’s password and a couple grams of methylphenidate, the most likely outcome is I’d stumble into the daylight a few hours later, blinking, not knowing a damned thing more about the value of a baseball player than I did going in.

I admit, this is less exciting than crowing about how the front office of my chosen team has swindled the front office of your chosen team.

Now, return to this space in two days to watch me backpedal and discuss the value, in context, of the player whom many Athletics fans expected to receive in the Moss trade: Jose Ramirez.