Staturday: Its not ranting if the facts back me up.

I am not a patient muppet. Nor am I renowned for my optimism. So the last time I wrote something that wasn’t, at best, a summary of the work of others I took a small leap of faith to include Rafael Furcal as one of the assets on the A’s 2009 roster. At the time, I didn’t think there was any way for Billy Beane to screw up the deal. The A’s were the only team pursuing Furcal as the Giants and the Cardinals had dropped out of the race and acquired new shortstops. I thought, there was no way that the A’s were heading to Las Vegas without Furcal in green and gold!

 

I was wrong.

 

Please, bear with me for a while. This isn’t another rant about Rafael Furcal. Nope, I’m just questioning why Beane has decided to gamble the success of the 2009 season and maybe beyond in an effort to save a few dollars. If you’re not interested in why Beane seems to be throwing away a chance at winning the AL West in 2009 then don’t bother clicking on the link to continue, I’m not going to be sharing sunshine and rainbows on the flip side. If, on the other hand, you’re willing to lay down the green and gold tinted glasses and hear some harsh truth (or maybe you’re just itching for a good fight) c’mon inside, I’m you’re huckleberry.

As I said at the top, this isn’t another rant about Rafael Furcal. However, we can’t get down to brass tacks without addressing the epic failure that was the A’s not signing him prior to the Winter Meetings. So a quick summary is in order. We know that Furcal was the A’s #1 free agent priority prior to the Winter Meetings, we also know that priority didn’t change much during the Winter Meetings. We know that Furcal rejected a 4 year offer worth between $35 and $40 million. We have reasonably speculated that the A’s offered 4 years/$36 million with $4 million in incentives. It makes sense that 4/36 was guaranteed, because that is the floor for any reasonable offer to the premier free agent SS on the 2009 market. Any lesser offer based on those figures (say, the 4th year not guaranteed) represents a waste of the A’s time and bargaining position and makes my condemnation of Beane’s actions thus far even more justified.

 

At this point someone probably wants to jump in and say: “Grover, it would have been foolish for Beane to bid against himself” after Team Furcal said no. I get it, Beane was trying to save a couple bucks.

 

Get this, the A’s aren’t the only team bidding for Furcal now. And has anyone noticed the market trend this offseason? A lot of good players are getting less then they thought they would, but the premier guys are getting their money. Furcal is a premier guy because of the position he plays, his age (3 years younger than Renteria and Cabrera) and the fact he doesn’t cost his new team a draft pick. If it wasn’t for a back injury that he recovered from in time to play in the postseason he’d get every cent his agent asked for. The A’s missed on their best shot at signing Furcal. They have gained nothing by dragging out the negotiations.

 

“But Beane was trying to save money.”

 

Let’s step back for a moment and take a big picture view of this. The specific number varies, but the general rule of thumb is that 1 Win Above Replacement (WAR) will cost a team $4 million via free agency. That’s considered a fair deal, no one side taking advantage of the other. Therefore, if I told you the A’s were going to spend $16 million in free agency to field a 4 WAR middle infield you would have to conclude that it was a fair deal all around. Now, at that point does it matter if both players made $8 million or if one guy made more than the other? Not really, not as it affects the 2009 season anyways. Furcal is projected to be a 2 WAR player in 2009 and I’ve argued that it’s going to take $10 million guaranteed, annual to sign him. Earlier in the offseason the A’s re-signed free agent to be Mark Ellis to a deal that guaranteed him an average of $5.5 million. Ellis is projected to be at least a 2 WAR player. So there’s your 4 WAR infield for $16 million, all fair and equitable! Folks, Beane saved money when he re-signed Ellis to that ridiculously team friendly deal. Deals like Ellis’ don’t come around that often, it behooves a team to take advantage when it does.

 

“But… but… that still doesn’t justify over-bidding on Furcal!”

 

Let’s get something straight. The A’s are more of a contender with Furcal on their roster then they are when Bobby Crosby is penciled in at SS. Trading for Holliday and signing Furcal goes a long way in convincing other people that the 2009 Oakland Athletics will be better than their 75-86 record from 2008. People like, SP Randy Johnson. The Big Unit is another free agent the A’s are interested in wooing, in large part because he can still deal AND he’s looking for a 1 year contract. He is, in essence, another unexpected bargain in that normally a pitcher of his age and skill level would be seeking a multi-year deal. The A’s have little incentive to sign any veteran SP to a long term deal because they have about 73 SP prospects in the upper minors and they don’t want to jam their big league rotation with expensive players.

 

Thing is, Johnson knows he’s coming as a bargain and he can therefore be extremely picky about which team he chooses. He even has a list of requirements for his new team. He wants to play on the West Coast, he wants to go to Spring Training in Arizona, he wants to play for a contender and he wants to stay in the NL. Let’s address the geographics first. The A’s play on the West Coast and train in Arizona, definite plusses. They don’t play in the NL and I doubt Beane can change that anytime soon. Therefore, if the A’s are going to have a serious chance at landing Johnson they need to excel at the final requirement: They need to be a contender. Rafael Furcal does more to make the A’s a contender than any SS currently in the organization or in the free agent market. In other words, signing Furcal increases the A’s chances of signing a quality SP to a bargain contract. That also means the longer it takes for the A’s to sign Furcal the greater the chance that some other team will be able to sign Johnson before the A’s can convince him that they’re line-up makes up for the fact that he has to pitch in the AL.

 

Oh, but the consequences of not signing Furcal before the Winter Meetings could stretch well beyond 2009. It’s nice that the talking heads still consider the A’s to be the front runners in landing Furcal, but lets not kid ourselves into thinking the A’s have a better chance of signing him now then when they were the only team making him an offer. And if the A’s don’t sign Furcal then they’re going to be looking for alternatives that they already decided were less valuable than what Furcal could add to the team. There’s even a chance the A’s forgo adding a new SS and stick with a homegrown option, be it Crosby, Petit or Pennington. It’s possible that approach could turn out OK but if the A’s really considered that likely they probably don’t pursue Furcal so heartily. So let’s pretend for a moment that the A’s don’t budge in their negotiations and Furcal signs elsewhere. What happens then? Well, the A’s play a lesser option at SS and that probably leads to the 2009 A’s winning fewer games then they would have with Furcal.

 

Don’t you think Matt Holliday might like to play for a contender in 2010 and that the quality of the team might have some sway on his decision to sign a new contract? If the A’s don’t contend in 2009 it severely diminishes their ability to re-sign Holliday without having to be the highest bidder. C.C. Sabathia was willing to give the Brewers a hometown discount after playing in Milwaukee for half a season, in large part because he liked the clubhouse atmosphere and was playing for a contender! He waited weeks for the Brewers to up their initial offer, and even then it wasn’t until the Yankees bumped their $140 million offer to $161 million that he agreed to play for NY. I’m not saying the A’s aren’t going to have to shell out a ton of money to keep Holliday but I’m figuring the clubhouse atmosphere won’t be a problem, therefore the quality of the roster and the team’s ability to contend will be deciding factors in Holliday’s willingness to offer the A’s a hometown discount.

 

You want to talk about saving money? Spending an extra $1 million a year on Furcal now could save you $5 million a year on Holliday a year from now.

 

“But…”

 

Enough with the “buts”, if there’s one thing the A’s have right now is the financial flexibility to spend a little more on Furcal if they have to. If there’s one thing the A’s don’t have is a quality SS, or even anyone who projects to be an average SS in the next few years. Don’t blame me for that, blame the guy who traded Haren, Blanton, Harden and Gaudin and didn’t get one damn SS prospect back in the exchange. Quite simply, the A’s need Rafael Furcal because he’s the best free agent SS on the market this year and next and the A’s are in a position to add talent through monetary means and not lose talent via trade. The quicker the A’s sign Furcal the better their chance to sign Randy Johnson. If Beane can add those two talents to his roster it could mean 4-5 extra wins for Oakland in the 2009 season. That would give them a strong chance to win the division and that could lead to a better chance at retaining Matt Holliday in 2010 and beyond. I’m not saying that signing Furcal guarantees the A’s sign Johnson, win the AL West crown and keep Holliday beyond 2009 but he’d go a long way towards making all those things happen.

 

I get it. Beane’s trying to save a couple bucks on Furcal.

 

But at what cost to the A’s?
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