I love all the off-season action so far. Our favorite team has been, unquestionably, the most active team in baseball during the first two weeks of the Hot Stove Season.
It seemed like a good time to take an in-depth look at where the team stands.
3b Beltre OR Kouzmanoff (Bouzmanoff)*
DH Cust OR Berkman (Bustman)#
* I'm counting Bouzmanoff as one player, because I think it's very likely that one or the other is the starting third baseman for the 2011 Oakland A's. MLB Trade Rumors is a great site, but I quibble with their non-tender analysis. They've written many articles about Kouz as a "likely" non-tender candidate, and I see less than a 5% chance of that happening. He's better than 10 starting third basemen in baseball, and his arb figure will be supressed because his value is hidden in his defense. If the A's land Beltre with their rumored 5 year, ~$65M deal, Kouzmanoff will be traded to another team in need of a starting 3b. If they don't, Kouzmanoff will be their opening-day 3b.
# I'm counting Bustman as one player, because I think it's very likely that one or the other is the Opening-Day DH. But I only see a roster spot for one of them, because both are immobile DH's that hammer right-handed pitching. I think that Bustman will cost significantly more than Cust, and he's got three red flags to me (contemplated retirement last season, very little DH experience, very little AL experience), so I'd prefer to go with Cust, but it's certainly not a make-or-break decision.
RF: I don't see the A's as a major player for an RF upgrade, because there have been public reports about the A's being in support of Sweeney and Jackson. Between those two and (gulp) a possible position switch for Encarnacion (his cannon arm might play well in RF, but this is only our speculation so far), I think there enough good-upside internal options. I think it's more likely that the team signs Berkman and Cust (and uses Cust in the outfield occasionally) than it is that the team pursues an elite RFer like Werth or Upton.
I think it's more likely that Encarnacion is on the Opening Day roster than Kouz, if Beltre were to sign. Kouz has better trade value, because he's seen as a viable second-division starting third baseman and he's going to be a few million cheaper. I also think Kouz would be less useful in a bench role than Encarnacion, because Encarnacion's athleticism/youth and lefty-mashing can be leveraged well as a possible four-corner utility guy. Or maybe both guys will be traded. If the A's land Beltre, certainly there will be some teams that are hard-up at 3b.
That's 13 offensive players. A terrific (top 3) defensive team, and probably a league-average projection on offense in the Beltre scenario (quite a feat, considering the defensive emphasis and park effects).
Here was my first thought when I read that the A's have (allegedly) offered Beltre 5 years, ~$64M: this offer probably has an expiration date in the next two weeks, and the Iwakuma situation is connected. The team is in a nice position with its winning Iwakuma bid: a.) they blocked their AL West rivals from signing him; b.) they guaranteed that they would have a "useful" place to spend their money this offseason, and c.) they kept some crucial flexibility for the off-season. That last part might be important. The A's have earmarked a ~$17M posting fee for Iwakuma, but that fee gets returned if the teams don't agree to terms in the next 30 days. If they get a commitment from Beltre in the next week at a painful price - say, 5 years, $70M - then have the flexibility to put that $17M for Iwakuma right back in their pocket (or into Beltre's). They wouldn't say that publicly, obviously, but it's very easy to say that "contract negotiations broke down" and it's impossible to prove otherwise.
If the team did make a whopping $14M per year investment in Beltre, they'd have a nice upgrade at third, a few trade assets in Kouz and Encarnacion (if they ate some salary), and they would've blocked one of the top 5 free agent SPs from signing with a division rival (Iwakuma), even in the bad scenario where they aren't able to sign him. I'm more than willing to enter camp with Mortensen/Cramer/Outman/Ross in a shaky fifth starter mix if everything else in that scenario unfolds that way.
I'm also irrationally obsessed with taking advantage of this team's protected draft pick status. Signing Beltre means only giving up the No. ~65 overall pick - No. 18 overall in the second round, after the sammich round. The A's barely finished in the bottom 15 of MLB this year at 81-81, and they are on the upswing from here. It might be their last time to add an elite player without giving up a first-round pick for a long time.
40-Man Roster Considerations
(Keep in mind we are counting Bustman and Bouzmanoff as one player each, due to the extreme unlikelihood that both alter egos break camp with the A's in March).
The 40-man roster is currently at
36, 35, after the Rajai trade. I love Rajai, but I also love today's trade. You know why the A's never have to pay crazy-high FA prices for relievers? Because they are very good about making under-the-radar deals like this. The A's perpetual relief depth is something I'm starting to take for granted, but it doesn't happen by accident. I think our favorite team does a great job at trolling the waiver wire and at acquiring unheralded guys that end up having useful MLB careers.
I think the team will have to add three players for protection from the Rule 5 draft: Adrian Cardenas, Michael Taylor, and one of the new recent acquisitions, Trystan Magnuson, all of whom are eligible for the first time this year. (Today's other acquisition, Daniel Farquhar, is an '08 draftee and not eligible yet). I humbly disagree with PT and grover that Corey Brown necessitates protection, but he would be the 4th name for me.
The 40th slot? It's far more likely that Iwakuma is signed at this point than it is that he gets away, so I'll assume he's on there.
I think there's enough bullpen depth to go entirely internal next year, especially with the addition of Magnuson, who will shuttle back and forth between AAA and the bigs as needed due to injuries.
Questions for you, if you have the time and desire to participate in the comments:
1. What is that hypothetical price tag of that team? Keep in mind that, even after dealing Rajai, the A's have 10 arb-eligible players, more than any other team in baseball.
2. What is your win projection for that team?
Thank you for reading. Please participate in the poll below.