In a surprise early-deadline move, the Oakland A’s and the Kansas City Royals swapped a pair of outfielders on Saturday. The Athletics sent 26-year-old Billy Burns to the Royals for 27-year-old Brett Eibner.
It appears to be an odd move for the A’s. Just under a year ago, Burns was in the running for American League Rookie of the Year. He ended the season fifth in the voting but really had a better season than that even implies. With an influx of young talent, such as Houston’s Carlos Correa and the Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor, finishing fifth in the voting meant having a very good season.
Burns hit .294/.334/.392 in 2015. Definitely a speedster and not a power hitter, the switch-hitting Burns hit more home runs (five) than he did in his entire minor league career. He drove in 42 runs and stole 26 bases for the 2015 A’s.
With a 2.8 WAR on the season and an above-average fielding percentage in the outfield, he was producing runs and covering center field more like a veteran than a rookie.
Although his fielding in 69 games in center field and four in right field remained consistent, with Burns committing just two errors in 2016, putting up a fielding percentage of .987 which was once again above the league-average, his offense was sub-par. Especially when you consider that he hit over the .300 mark for most of the year in 2015.
In 73 games this year at the big league level, Burns slashed just .234/.270/.303. He wasn’t beating out as many infield hits as he did in 2015 and hit far fewer line drives. All of his home runs last season were of the line drive variety and he hadn’t hit one out of the yard yet after almost half a season’s worth of games this year.
Patience with Burns’ lack of offense must have begun to run thin with the A’s brass; he was ultimately sent to Triple-A Nashville, where he played the last 10 games for the Sounds. He was sent down to find his swing, and it appeared to have been working; Burns hit .293/.326/.317 for Nashville before being traded to the Royals, where he will report to their Triple-A affiliate in Omaha.
The Royals apparently wanted Burns fairly badly because of a piece of advice given to Royals’ manager Ned Yost by the former super-utility man for both the Royals and A’s, Ben Zobrist. Zobrist played with Burns for half of the 2015 season on the Athletics before being traded to the Royals and eventually signing with the Cubs in the offseason.
Ned Yost said Ben Zobrist told him last year of Billy Burns: “If you get a chance to go get him, do it.” #Royals
— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) July 30, 2016
In Eibner, the A’s have gotten a player who is a year older and with less experience in the majors. However, they will have more control over Eibner than they would have with Burns, as Eibner’s rookie status is intact through the end of this season.
So far, Eibner’s only big league experience came when Lorenzo Cain was placed on the disabled list, and he was just recently optioned back to Triple-A Omaha on Friday. He’s set to report to Nashville.
With Eibner, the A’s get more power. In just 26 games in the majors he managed to hit three long balls and drove in 10 runs. However, his batting average was just .231, lower than Burns’ was when he was sent down. Eibner batted .288/.385/.516 with 11 home runs and 32 RBI in 50 games in Omaha.
Eibner was perfect in both right and left field while with the Royals, which holds some appeal and a positive 0.5 WAR where Burns’ WAR was non-existent. After examining the stats and comparing the two players as much as possible, the real appeal for the Athletics’ in Eibner was his excellent on-base percentage while in the minors.
The A’s are looking to increase their on-base percentage. It is currently ranked 26th out of the 30 MLB teams. They’ll have an extra “fourth” outfielder to step in in the event Josh Reddick or Khris Davis is traded, or maybe they’ll wait until Coco Crisp is ready to retire (or not let his option vest) to bring up Eibner.
As it currently stands, the A’s have Davis, Jake Smoklinski, Crisp and Reddick taking care of the outfield, but the baseball world knows that Billy Beane is unpredictable, and that could change in the next two days.
The A’s valued power over speed and were happy to obtain a little bit of both.
The A’s wanted a player more versatile than Burns, while the Royals could use Burns’ speed to their advantage. It’s hard to predict how the trade will turn out in the long run, but for now it appears that both sides got what they wanted in a player.
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