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A’s Trade Ellis to Rockies

July 1, 2011

Midday Thursday, just about 12 hours before the calendar turned to July, we finally witnessed the first significant trade since the start of the 2011 season. The Colorado Rockies acquired second baseman Mark Ellis from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for pitcher Bruce Billings and a player to be named later. Colorado will also receive cash in the deal.

Ellis, a 9 year veteran who has spent his entire career with the A’s, has struggled offensively this season to the tune of a .217/.253/.290 line with just one HR and 16 RBI in 233 plate appearances. Oakland’s starting second baseman for the past few seasons, Ellis’s season was interrupted by a hamstring injury. By the time he returned from the DL his starting spot had been comfortably taken over by rookie Jemile Weeks who is batting .309/.349/.469 through his first 160 career at bats. Ellis, who steadfastly believes he is still capable of being a starting second baseman, welcomed the trade in quotes passed along by the Associate Press (via ESPN):

I’ve been proud to have been a part of it for 10 years. It’s going to be tough. There’s a time in everybody’s life where this stuff happens. This just happens to be my time to move on. ….. I still see myself as an everyday second baseman and this is an opportunity to do that.

For the A’s the move makes sense, despite Ellis’s tenure with the organization. He no longer fit into their starting lineup and playing time would be limited. He will be a free agent at season’s end. He does make a manageable salary and provides clubhouse leadership, while valuable to Oakland, would be valuable to another team which potentially stood a better chance at reaching the postseason. Colorado was willing to part with Billings and a PTBNL for him to help solve one of their chief lineup concerns.

Billings has spent most of the season at Triple-A where he has pitched to a 6-2 record with a 4.47 ERA in 29 appearances (50.1 innings) out of the bullpen. He did make his Major League debut on May 27 against the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing one run over two innings of work. Presumably he’ll be assigned to Oakland’s Triple-A team initially.

Joining the Rockies should allow Ellis to step back into such a starting role despite his struggles at the plate this year, as the team has struggled to stop the revolving door they’ve had to use through the season’s first half. To date the team has used Jose Lopez, Chris Nelson, Eric Young Jr., Alfredo Amezega, Jose Morales, and Jonathan Herrera at second base. Collectively they have batted a combined .236/.291/.319 with 5 HR, 22 RBI, 8 2B, and a 2:1 K:BB ratio in 361 plate appearances.

Herrera has received the bulk of playing time at second. He got off to a strong start to the season, hitting for average and showing good speed on the basepaths. Nelson and Young have also seen time at third base and center field, in addition to second. Neither has hit consistently enough to stay in the lineup but have the potential to be solid contact hitters. Morales is a catcher by trade and only played a total of 3.0 innings at second over his two appearances. Amezega found himself back in Triple-A where he is swinging the bat well but he’s never truly impressed at any one thing over his journeyman career. Lopez started at second on Opening Day, played 38 games for the Rockies, and then was released. He is now coming off the bench for the Marlins but still struggling at the plate.

Colorado will also receive about $2 Million from the A’s, leaving them with just a $1 Million cost for Ellis’s services the remainder of the season. The deal gives them an additional veteran presence in the clubhouse and hopefully stabilizes a lineup for a team still potentially in the playoff hunt in the NL West. But, should the team falter, could the move to acquire Ellis be detrimental to the team longterm?

If the Rockies fall out of contention before mid July and subsequently trade Ellis to a contender then this is a moot point. But if the team is out of it, and they continue to start Ellis over the young options then could this stunt their development? Also, could this prevent the team from taking a serious look at this group of players – namely Herrera, Nelson, and Young – in terms of what their respective future is with the organization? Each possess certain tools that make them valuable, but none of the three have been able to produce in any capacity on a consistent basis and the organization can’t keep all three on the roster without production. These evaluations will go a long way towards determining if they are part of the 2012 team or potential trade bait this offseason in any efforts to improve going forward.

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