|Image taken by mwlguide on Flickr|
The timing is interesting, but probably coincidental. As much as the A's look like they gave up, this deal was likely in the works at the winter meetings. It probably would have happened no matter where Pujols signed.
Let's take a look at who the Diamondbacks acquired:
Trevor Cahill is a known commodity, to a degree. Though only 23 years old, he already has 3 full seasons in the majors under his belt. While 2010 is considered his breakout season, many numbers suggest that he continued to improve in 2011. Cahill's strikeout rate went up, without much of a change in his ground ball or home run rates, which probably has something to do with his overall increase in WAR - despite an ERA over a run higher.
It will be interesting to see if Cahill takes another step forward with the Diamondbacks. It's possible. He is still young, and the lack of a DH favors pitchers anyway. For me, Cahill has been a number 3 starter, but perhaps he can push more towards number 2 territory in Arizona.
Craig Breslow is a 30-something lefty, though without big platoon splits. He's a solid bullpen arm that has been alarmingly consistent, particularly by bullpen standards. Breslow is not a major piece of the deal - or if he is, then the Diamondbacks will be disappointed.
Now, on to the Athletics return:
Jarrod Parker is the centerpiece going to Oakland. He has been among the best pitching prospects in the game for three years. A major arm injury caused him to miss all of 2010, but he came back pretty strong in 2011. Many pitchers really gain their form in the second season after a major injury, so Parker might be poised to take off. While a prospect, he is about ready for the majors. It would not surprise me if he opens the season in the A's rotation.
Collin Cowgill will almost certainly be somewhere in the A's outfield. He put up a monster year in AAA before being promoted to Arizona for the final few months of the season. Cowgill struggled some, thanks to a high strikeout rate, but his minor league track record suggests that he'll hit for more contact as he adjusts to the new level. All in all, Cowgill doesn't bring one particularly great tool to the table. His speed might be his best asset, but he doesn't have a real weakness either. Cowgill does a little bit of everything, and as a guy I highlighted in the 2006 draft, I'm pulling for him to find success.
Ryan Cook looks to have a pretty good arm, and ran through the minors pretty quickly once being shortened up to a bullpen role. He might be with the A's on opening day. He might not. Cook, particularly at this point, looks like bullpen depth. He has some upside, but I think he's depth more than anything.
To me, the most interesting thing about this trade is that Jarrod Parker is only about 8 months younger than Trevor Cahill, yet there are completely different perceptions about the two pitchers. Cahill is seen as an established workhorse, while Parker is more of a young gun with big upside. In reality, Cahill was clearly better at a younger age, and also doesn't have a major arm injury in his past. It's clear to me the pitcher I'd rather have.
Still, the Athletics had holes to fill, and Cahill is a bit overrated at this point. His best single season WAR to date is 2.5, which simply isn't top-of-rotation material. It's valuable, don't get me wrong, but the production doesn't match his reputation. The ironic twist is that I think Cahill has a chance to bump up to a new level in Arizona, but if he does, I bet most people will simply say the D'Backs "got what they expected." Parker has a very good chance to be as good of a pitcher as the A's just lost, and maybe even as early as this season. Along with that, Oakland was able to get an outfielder that I think can safely play every day for them.
Overall, this is a good deal for both sides. The Diamondbacks bolstered their rotation with a young guy that's at worst an innings-eater, and at best a pretty good impersonator of Brandon Webb. The Athletics got a pitcher and hitter who they can use right away, and hold on to both for several years at affordable prices. Both sides have a chance to be happy with their returns.