In getting left fielder Khris Davis from the Milwaukee Brewers in a trade for two prospects, you can see what the Oakland Athletics are going for. Power is a hard commodity to come by. And power that is in the A's price range? Perhaps harder still.
So it's easy to see why the A's like the deal: Davis is under club control for the next four years, isn't eligible for arbitration until next season, and on paper it looks as if he helps address the power outage that has bedeviled the lineup the past two seasons. The team dropped from hitting 195 and 186 home runs in 2012 and 2013, respectively, to just 146 in both 2014 and 2015. Davis has a career .494 slugging percentage and 60 career home runs in roughly two seasons' worth of plate appearances. For an A's team that saw its left fielders hit just .199/.268/.338 combined last season (worse than anybody save the Los Angeles Angels), that sounds like a godsend. Now the A's can afford to wait and see whether Coco Crisp will come back healthy and be able to contribute, instead of having to count on it.
Again, looking at Davis' total production, there are also other things to like. Davis has shown good power to all fields and a good blend of full plate coverage with power -- 32 of his 60 homers were hit to center or right field by the righty slugger. A 24 percent strikeout percentage isn't all that high for a power hitter these days, and Davis shows a good ability to get balls in play up the middle, which might shield him somewhat from O.co Coliseum's big foul ground.
There are questions, of course. Davis had a huge second-half breakout in 2015 -- hammering 21 HRs after the break, second most among National League players. And his 23.9 percent rate of home runs per fly ball led all players in the second half, but it seems impossible to sustain. However, he simultaneously became a more aggressive hitter, offering earlier in counts and seeing his strikeout rate climb past 30 percent.
There are other negatives, of course. The biggest problem is that whatever promise Davis' track record may have at first glance, he may not ultimately provide the punch they need. That's because he probably owes a significant chunk of his good power to all fields to Miller Park's cozy dimensions, slugging .534 in Milwaukee against just .451 everywhere else. Switch to isolated power (slugging minus batting average), and it's a less extreme split, with .265 at home against .221 on the road. Miller Park ranked fourth in Baseball Info Solutions' three-year ranking of ballparks for right-handed home runs, while the Coliseum tied for 21st. Simply put, what Davis does well may not play so well in the O.co's less-friendly dimensions.
The additional consideration that's problematic for the A's is twofold. First, it's potentially another instance of the organization working its way down a chain of value in a series of moves, as they go from coveting to discarding other people's prospects without spending much time with them. Jacob Nottingham came to the organization in the Scott Kazmir trade (with low-ceiling righty Scott Mengden), and with the follow-up move to designate former Blue Jays prospect Sean Nolin for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Davis, they might lose one of the purported keys to the Josh Donaldson deal as well. Nolin was hampered by a groin injury during most of his season with the A's, but with better health, he could be a dark-horse candidate for the back end of some second-division rotations right now. That's the kind of "hidden" cost that might ultimately make the Davis deal look even worse in the long run.
From the Brewers' side, it's a reasonable swap using one of their last remaining ready-now assets. There was no short-term payoff to trying to keep up with the NL Central's top trio of teams -- the money would have been spent in vain while the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates rule the roost, and this is consistent with their commitment to rebuild at the outset of new GM David Stearns' watch. Nottingham was the prize prospect in the Kazmir trade last summer, a big catcher with a strong arm, power at the plate and significant upside if he can remain behind the plate, but a 20-year-old kid who will also have to prove he can hit outside the hitter-friendly Cal League. Add him to an already strong farm system, ranked fifth by Keith Law, and you've got a franchise with what promises to be a fairly brief bottoming-out on tap. Another couple of years of Davis wasn't going to help with that, but Nottingham probably will help by the end of 2017 if he makes a successful move up to Double-A this year. And right-hander Bubba Derby is no mere throw-in -- he's a 2015 sixth-rounder out of San Diego State with mid-90s heat; the experience and stuff could bring him into the bullpen mix sooner rather than later.
The ripple effects in Milwaukee: Moving Davis also creates an opportunity to potentially move Domingo Santana to an outfield corner, which could promise Brewers pitching some defensive help in the form of either Keon Broxton or Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center. And with Nottingham in the organization, a strong start from him in Double-A this season might help motivate the long-awaited (and long-lamented) trade of star catcher Jonathan Lucroy in the coming months.
The call: It's a win-win trade, but one with more risk -- both upside and downside -- for the A's. Oakland has placed an expensive bet that Davis' second-half improvement was real, giving them a power source they can afford now and for the next several seasons. But will it help them get back in the American League West mix by the time their conglomeration of young pitching pans out? That's TBD. The Brewers got a premium catching prospect and an arm that can play; don't be surprised when both Nottingham and Derby are part of an improved Brewers ballclub by 2018. It's easy to like the deal more for the Brewers, but even knowing about Davis' home-road splits going in, I like it more for the A's than I expected on further review.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.