While imagining what free agent we might try to sign or Devil Ray we might try to trade for is interesting enough, it's speculative in the extreme, and unlikely to be particularly accurate (who saw us going after Bradley 12 months ago?) So let's take a look at where things are likely to stand six months from now, always remaining aware of the caveat that I have little idea who Billy's going to see as undervalued out there.
First, these are the players we have under contract for 2007, and how much they'll make. This includes players that haven't yet reached arbitration eligibility. It occurs to me that I don't actually know what the 2007 minimum salary is. I'm gonna round them all to $350K. The minimum will likely be less than that, but given that some pre-arb players will be making slightly more than the minimum, it's probably close enough.
Jason Kendall: $8M (His salary's $13M, but this is the year we get $5M from Pittsburgh)
Mark Ellis: $3.5M
Bobby Crosby: $2.5M
Eric Chavez: $9.5M
Mark Kotsay: $8.03M
Esteban Loaiza: $7M
Rich Harden: $2M
Dan Haren: $2.2M
Dan Johnson: $350K
Nick Swisher: $350K
Antonio Perez: $350K
Joe Blanton: $350K
Huston Street: $350K
Chad Gaudin: $350K
Brad Halsey: $350K
There are others, such as Flores, but these are the ones I'm reasonably sure will be on the 25-man roster next year. That's 14 players at a cost of just over $45M. (It's 15, but given his performance last year and the likely return of the Crosby/Ellis combo up the middle, I don't see Perez as necessary, and assume he'll get sent down to Sacramento)
Next, the players who have reached arbitration. This list is going to include the player, last year's salary, what year of arbitration the player is in, (service time has a big effect on a player's salary in arbitration. It's why Joe Kennedy made $2.4M while Kiko Calero made $850K,) and my guess as to what the player will go for.
Milton Bradley: $3M. 3rd year. (Actually his 4th, but he's missed enough time to injury that his service time isn't enough for free agency) Had a good year, but missed time to injury. Playoff performance may add to his price. $4.75M.
Joe Kennedy: $2.4M. 3rd year. Like Bradley, had a good year, if a short one. Being a reliever will keep his price from going to high. $3.2M
D'Angelo Jimenez: $750K. (his starting salary with the Rangers. I imagine that Oakland paid him whatever the minimum was) 3rd year. I don't know what 62 PA with a .601 OPS and being the guy called in to play in the postseason because 3 other guys are hurt gets you in arbitration, but I don't think it's going to matter since I doubt the A's will offer it to him.
Bobby Kielty: $1.85M. 3rd year. In 2005 he was a 4th OF with a league-average OPS, and that got him a raise of $1M. In 2006 he was a 4th OF with a league-average OPS. Call it another mil. $2.85M
Adam Melhuse: $700K. 2nd year. Kendall's suspension and the A's clinching brought Melhuse 30 more at-bats than last year. I can't see how else he's going to justify a raise. $750K. And if it's any more than that, why not just bring in Jeremy Brown? It's not like this is a position we need to be spending more money on right now.
Kiko Calero: $850K. 2nd year. Had a very good 2006. Value will be limited by being a reliever. $1.5M
Justin Duchscherer: $344K. 1st year. Was in the top 10 relief pitchers in baseball. That plus 2005's selection to the All-Star team ought to lift him up to $1M, rather high for a relief pitcher in his first year of arbitration, but obviously worth it.
Hiram Bocachica: $327K. 1st year. It's taken him 7 seasons since his rookie debut to accrue three seasons of service time. There's a reason for that. $550K, and it wouldn't surprise me if he were let go or traded for someone else no one wants.
Kirk Saarloos: $354K. 1st year. Has a weird line of 7 wins, 7 losses and 2 saves for 2006. I want to digress just a bit here and point out something from Saarloos's numbers this year.
As a starter: 89.1 IP, 4.94 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, 3.72 K/9, 15 HR
As a reliever: 32 IP, 4.21 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 4.21 K/9, 4 HR
Saarloos is a much better reliever than he is a starter. He's not truly that great of a relief pitcher, but there's value to be had in having a guy who, when one of your real pitchers goes down, can give you better-than-replacement-level innings, unlike such replacements as Windsor and Komine. This is not to say he shouldn't be on the team next year, but plans should definitely not have him in the 5-man rotation rather than as an emergency backup.
That said (and back to the point here), he did start, and that's going to drive up his price in arby-land. $1.2M
Marco Scutaro: $340K. 1st year. Has basically been an everyday player the last few years, albeit not by anyone's choice. He's definitely gotten more selective at the plate. That and his occasional gap power actually gave him a 97 OPS+ last year, de-emphasizing the 'light-hitting' portion of light-hitting middle infielder. $750K
If I'm right about who we're keeping (and close to right about what they'll make) that's 8 more guys and sixteen million more. If you're counting along, that's 22 spots filled and $61M spent. Last year, the opening day payroll was $63M vs $60M the year before. I'm thinking $67M is about right for this year. While less overall tickets were sold, Wolff has claimed that profits were up a notch due to closing the 3rd deck and not having to pay to feed/clean/secure those stands. Plus we'll get some added revenues from the playoffs. Let's take a look at what we need to fill out the roster:
Catchers: Kendall, Melhuse.
Infielders: Swisher (1b/of), Johnson (1b), Ellis (2b), Crosby (ss), Chavez (3b), Scutaro (2b/ss/3b)
Outfielders: Kotsay, Bradley, Kielty, Swisher (also 1b)
Starters: Harden, Haren, Loaiza, Blanton.
Relievers: Street, Duchscherer, Calero, Gaudin, Kennedy, Halsey, Saarloos.
So what's missing there? A 5th OF, a 5th starter, and a DH. You might argue a 1B/OFer, but I think we've already got that in the system. Kielty should obviously play against lefties. Who to partner him with? Dan Johnson. Even in this year where he couldn't seem to do much at all, he still had a .735 OPS against right-handed pitching. I think he can do better, and Swisher's 1B/LF swapping will pay off as we allow these two hitters to play to their matchup strengths.
First: The Designated Hitter. Frank's coming back. Frank wants to come back, Wolff wants him back, and while Billy Beane may think he can do well at this spot for less money, he knows Barton's at least another year away, and he's not going to fight this all too hard, (though he might argue for the sake of trying to say it'll strain the payroll, for the purpose of convincing Wolff & co to raise said payroll. We'll see how that works. The reported offer Oakland made was for 2 years/$6-8M. Frank's response was along the lines of 'we're not there yet'.
Basically, Frank's our free agent signing this year, barring us somehow trading Kotsay or Kendall. Payton's gone. No money to sign him. Witasick's gone too, not that he's needed. While this doesn't bother me much, it does mean that those last two spots on the roster are going to be filled on the cheap.
For the 5th OF spot, this isn't a big deal. Bocachica would do. Doug Clark is an option. Really, there's any number of AAAA fringe players that could be signed for fringe money to occupy a roster spot. The 5th starter, however? Even a below-average starter costs millions on the open market. We're going to have to fill it from within, somehow.
One of the few things we have a glut of are back-end prospects, albeit it they're none of them great ones. Gaudin may be the best option. Great stuff, but he's GOT to bring that K/BB ratio down. You can't pitch in the majors with a sub-1 K/BB ratio, and Gaudin's 143 ERA+ despite that is unusual in the extreme, enough so that it really makes one wonder which is the anomaly, his walk ratio or his ERA?
Other options include Saarloos, (a bad option, as I've mentioned) Halsey, Windsor, Komine, Jerome Williams, Juan Dominguez and Dan Meyer. The new manager's gonna have a lot of fun picking from that crew. I hope he picks well, because this may be the difference between contention and failure in 2007.
In the final analysis, it probably looks like we're "standing pat". Well, maybe, but take into account the following:
I will have gotten at least one crucial element of this completely wrong. Probably more than one. We'll make a trade I've never considered. Maybe we'll be trading for someone I've never heard of. Maybe we'll be trading for someone I never would have guessed was available. Maybe my arbitration guesses are as accurate as the weight of the planet as calculated by the Flat Earth Society. Maybe the A's portion of the proceeds from MLB's sale of the Nationals will go into payroll and not into ownership dividends or a bid to purchase the city of Fremont outright. When I did something like this last year (at http://www.onlybaseballmatters.com/archives/2005/10/23-nathan_around_these_parts_we.php for those who want to verify what I got right and wrong,) I got the Opening Day Salary pretty much on the nose, missed 3 of the 4 guesses on the arbitration-eligible players by $500K or more, and figured that the $7M we'd have to spend on a free agent would go to a high-priced DH while the 5th starter would be Saarloos. (Like we didn't already know Billy was smarter than me.) Bradley, Loaiza and Thomas were the surprises last year. I trust I don't have to remind everyone what the surprises were the year before. It'll be interesting to see what the surprises will be this year, and just how much of it is going to totally invalidate what I've said here.