A’s Deal For Wuertz

The Deal
The Cubs made trade No. 7 of the offseason, this time sending righthanded reliever Michael Wuertz to Oakland for shortstop/second baseman Justin Sellers and corner outfielder Richie Robnett.

Wuertz, 30, had a 3.63 ERA in 44 2/3 innings with a 30-20 K-BB ratio in 2008. Over the last four seasons, Wuertz has never had an ERA above 4.00 despite pitching his home games at Wrigley Field, and he has averaged more than a strikeout per inning during his five-year major league career.

However, Wuertz’s strikeout rate dropped last year as he developed a breaking-ball addiction and pitched more off of his mid-80s slider than his fastball. Still, Wuertz does have solid-average fastball velocity and will mix in an occasional changeup.

Wuertz and the Cubs avoided arbitration this offseason by agreeing to a one-year, $1.1 million deal. He will be under A’s control in 2009 and 2010, his final year of arbitration eligibility.

The Young Players
Neither Sellers nor Robnett is a major prospect, and neither made the Top 30 Prospects list this year for the A’s, though Sellers might have had a chance to crack the Cubs’ top 30 in a much thinner farm system.

Sellers, 23, is a light-hitting middle infielder with soft hands and good range. The righty-hitting Sellers batted .255/.333/.367 for Midland in the Double-A Texas League last year, bringing his career minor league line to .256/.343/.352 since signing for $150,000 in 2005 as a sixth-round pick out of a Huntington Beach, Calif., high school.

Robnett was Oakland’s first-rounder (26th overall) out of Fresno State in 2004. Despite his significant raw power, the 25-year-old Robnett has done little to show major league promise since signing. He hit .259/.385/.365 in 23 Double-A games last year, then batted .236/.307/.351 in 58 Triple-A games. Robnett is a good athlete with strong, quick hands and above-average arm strength, but his pitch recognition skills are limited, as the lefthanded batter has struck out in one quarter of his professional plate appearances.

Quick Take
It’s not a major move, but Oakland will probably get more value out of this deal. Wuertz’s declining strikeout rate is a concern, but his stuff appears to still be there and he seems likely to put together another ERA around or below 4.00 again (the change in ballparks will help that as well, albeit superficially).

If the Cubs really wanted Sellers, they could have had him in December in the Rule 5 draft, though now they at least won’t be forced to keep him in the big leagues or return him to the A’s. He could eventually fill in as a utility player, but Wuertz providing one to two years of solid production out of the bullpen at a low cost looks like a better bet at this point.

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