Image credit: Khris Davis (Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images)
The A’s and Rangers made a surprising trade Saturday afternoon, swapping longtime regulars in a deal that likely strikes emotional nerves for both fan bases while also carrying intriguing financial implications.
Oakland is sending Khris Davis, catcher Jonah Heim and righthander Dane Acker to Texas in exchange for shortstop Elvis Andrus and catcher Aramis Garcia. The Rangers are also sending $13.5 million in cash to Oakland, according to the BA correspondent Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Both Davis and Andrus have seen their production dip starkly over the last two seasons as they dealt with a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness.
Davis, 33, hit just .200/.303/.329 in 99 plate appearances in 2020 and lost full-time DH status, relegated to facing mostly lefthanded pitchers. He did, however, hit three homers in six playoff games.
His struggles were a continuation from 2019, when he slumped badly in the second half and finished with a .220/.293/.387 slash line and 23 homers, snapping a streak of three consecutive 40-plus homer seasons.
Andrus, 32, owns a .263/.304/688 line and a 75 OPS+ over his last 176 games dating back to the start of 2019, and hasn’t quite looked the same since breaking his elbow in 2018 after being hit by a pitch. His fielding numbers also took a nosedive in 2020.
Andrus does, however, fill a glaring need at shortstop for the A’s, who lost Marcus Semien in free agency to the Blue Jays and did not have a MLB-ready option in 2021.
Acquiring Andrus also frees the cash-strapped A’s up with enough payroll flexibility to shore up their bullpen, which has lost several key contributors, headlined by Liam Hendriks.
Davis is due nearly $17 million in 2021, while Andrus is due $14 million in each of the next two seasons. The Rangers are essentially paying Andrus’ salary in 2021 by kicking in cash in the deal, freeing up about $16 million for the A’s to spend.
Shortly after the deal, the A’s re-signed RHP Mike Fiers to a 1-year, $3.5 million deal, according to The Athletic.
The price, however, is Heim, the No. 8 in Oakland’s system, and Acker, drafted in 2020.
Khris Davis, LF/DH
The A’s acquired Davis five years ago in a trade with the Brewers and watched him develop into both a fan and clubhouse favorite, mashing his way to a wRC+ of 122 or better in each of his first three seasons in Oakland while famously hitting .247 for four straight seasons. During that time, his barrel percentage and exit velocities always ranked near the top of the league. But things started to go sideways for Davis in the second half of 2019, when he posted a .605 OPS over his final 59 games, and didn’t get much better in a shortened 2020 season, highlighted by a significant drop in hard-hit percentage (31.7% in 2020 compared to his peak of 52.3% in 2017). Davis has especially struggled against breaking balls over the last two seasons. Almost all of Davis’ value is tied to his bat — he has both below-average speed and arm strength in left field. He figures to compete for at-bats in a crowded left field/DH depth chart in Texas, but a path to a regular role is unclear. In acquiring Davis, the Rangers achieve greater payroll flexibility in 2022 and beyond as they navigate their rebuild.
Jonah Heim, C
This is the third time Heim has been traded since the Orioles drafted him in the fourth round in 2013. A switch-hitting catcher, Heim was mostly viewed as a defense-first option with surprisingly adept blocking and receiving chops for a 6-foot-4 backstop. But his bat began to catch up in 2019, when he posted a .863 OPS in the minors and showed a better ability to control the strike zone and find pitches to drive with his moderate power. A laid back personality, the A’s challenged Heim to display more assertiveness and leadership that teams traditionally come to expect out of their catchers. He did, and in the process became a catcher who pitchers in the A’s system loved to throw to. Oakland ultimately turned to Heim down the stretch as a backup last season, but his ceiling with the A’s was limited in deference to Sean Murphy. Some in the A’s organization believed Heim could be a starter in another situation, and he’ll get a chance to carve out a more consistent role in Texas, where he could potentially team with Sam Huff in the years to come.
Dane Acker, RHP
The A’s took Acker in the fourth round of the shortened 2020 draft and signed him for $447,400 out of Oklahoma. He gained some notoriety last spring after becoming the first pitcher to no-hit Louisiana State in a nine-inning game, striking out 11 batters on 117 pitches. The A’s had members of their scouting department on hand to watch that game, and came away impressed with Acker’s polish, clean delivery and feel for pitching. He features a low-90s fastball, and the A’s felt his velocity could tick up as he spent time in pro ball. He also features a big, breaking curveball and a changeup with late fade that both have solid-average potential. Despite a track record of throwing strikes and a clean delivery, Acker surprisingly struggled with his command and confidence at Oakland’s fall instructional camp. He ranked as Oakland’s No. 38 prospect entering 2021 and should remain on a starter track.
Elvis Andrus, SS
Andrus was Texas’ starting shortstop for the last 12 years, one of the longest-tenured players in team history and the last link to their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010-11. But his time in Texas ended on a rather sour note: A nagging back injury sapped his effectiveness in 2020, then the team announced this winter it would move forward with Isiah Kiner-Falefa as its starting shortstop in 2021. Still, he fills a much-needed void for the A’s, who entered the month of February without a clear starting shortstop or second baseman. Andrus won’t match Marcus Semien’s bat, but the A’s are hoping a healthier version is more the player from 2017 and 2018 (.281/.326/432, 95 OPS+) and his 2020 season (.582 OPS, -3 Outs Above Average defensively) was an injury-marred aberration. In acquiring Andrus, Oakland committed to paying him $14 million each of the next two seasons. There’s also an option for 2023 for $15 million which is a bit intriguing — because Andrus was traded, that vesting option becomes a player option if he reaches either 550 plate appearances in 2022, or 1,100 plate appearances combined over the next two seasons.
Aramis Garcia, C
A long-time Giants prospect, Garcia was originally drafted 52nd overall in 2014 by San Francisco. He ranked as a top-30 prospect in their system five consecutive seasons, but has played just 37 games in parts of 2018 and 2019, hitting .229/.270./.419. The Rangers claimed Garcia after he was designated for assignment last November, but he never played for Texas, instead undergoing surgery for a torn hip labrum. Garcia did show above-average raw power as a prospect but struggled to get to it, showing a propensity to swing-and-miss and little patience. Still, he’s an above-average defender with a strong arm and does provide the A’s another defensive-oriented option behind Murphy. Garcia figures to compete with lefty slugger Austin Allen and Carlos Perez, who was an alternate site standout for Oakland in 2020, for the A’s backup job in 2021.