The Athletics' rebuild continued on Monday as they executed the first trade of the winter meetings, sending Brandon Moss to the Indians for second base prospect Joe Wendle. The 31-year-old Moss, who hit 55 home runs over the last two seasons for Oakland, adds significant power to the lineup of a Cleveland team that hasn't had a 30-home-run player since 2008 and missed the wild card by just three games in 2014. Wendle, meanwhile, could be in the mix for playing time in the Athletics' infield in the second half of 2015.
Wendle is not a top prospect. A sixth-round pick out of West Chester University of Pennsylvania in 2012, he will turn 25 in late April, and his 87 games in Double A this past season represent his only experience above High A. Wendle wasn't terribly impressive in those 87 games, either. A bat-first player, he hit just .253/.311/.414 for Akron, the first time in his minor league career that he was younger than the league average. But the A's have a significant lack of depth in the middle infield behind Eric Sogard at second base and Nick Punto at shortstop. Jed Lowrie and Alberto Callaspo are both free agents who are unlikely to return to Oakland, and top shortstop prospect Addison Russell was traded to the Cubs in July.
Given the opportunity, it's not surprising that the A's, who are now clearly in the middle of a rebuild, traded Moss. After all, he is a late-blooming slugger in his early thirties on the far left side of the defensive spectrum. On top of that, he's coming off October surgery to repair a torn left hip labrum and is headed for a raise in arbitration after making $4.1 million last year. In the last five months, the A's have dealt Russell, Yoenis Cespedes, and their best player, Josh Donaldson. They've also lost most of the return for Russell and Cespedes to free agency (Jason Hammel returned to the Cubs and Jon Lester is heading elsewhere) and are reportedly shopping the last piece, starter Jeff Samardzija. With so much roster turnover already happening, the A's were right to get what they could for Moss.
That doesn't mean that Moss won't be a valuable player in Cleveland, however. Though it remains to be seen how the hip surgery impacts his already limited mobility, Moss can play first base and the outfield corners. That gives skipper Terry Francona considerable versatility in his lineup, with switch-hitter Nick Swisher (whom Cleveland is reportedly shopping but without much interest), righty Carlos Santana, and the lefty Moss as the primary starters in rightfield, at first base and at designated hitter, respectively. Moss and Swisher can both move between all three of those positions, and Santana can spot at catcher and third base. That clears room for spot starts from lefty David Murphy and righthanded utility men Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn.
The move to Cleveland is a good one for Moss, as well, as he leaves a park that devours lefty power for one that will be rather friendly to him. Over the last three years, Oakland's O.co Coliseum had a lefthanded home run park factor of 80, per the Bill James Handbook, while Progressive Field had a factor of 109. That rather dramatic increase should help Moss become the first Indians player to hit 30 homers since Grady Sizemore (another lefty) hit 33 in 2008. Also encouraging: Moss' walk rate has increased in each of the last two seasons as his strikeout rate his fallen, and the hip injury that limited him to two homers and a .162 average over his final 188 plate appearances last season has been repaired. Add that all up, and Cleveland may have made a significant addition to their lineup at an affordable price.