2012, Part II

Bump to a good man, and something I was going to write about anyways! - Zonis

A few days ago I wrote a post predicting and analyzing the decisions that the A's will be faced with in 2012.  I was grateful for all the great feedback from the community; it gave me some ideas for reflection and revision.  In the interest of narcissism continuing the conversation, here's Part II of a plan for 2012. 

Mimicking the Rays and Red Sox

A recent strategy of the Rays and Red Sox, two of the best front offices in the game, has been to bring in outside talent rather than retaining their own free agents.  This, I believe, is linked directly to the free agent compensation system, which encourages such a strategy.  The Red Sox allow Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez to walk, while signing Carl Crawford, and it creates a net gain of three high-level draft picks.  The Rays allow all their Type A's and Type B's to walk, then sign a slew of unheralded guys with no compensation attached to replace them, setting themselves up for a potentially historic 2011 draft with ten(?) of the top 100 picks. 

This is essentially what I am advocating the A's do, in terms of their strategy with next year's offseason.  If DeJesus and Willingham achieve Type A status, offer them compensation but make no effort to sign them and instead collect the four picks.  Then sign a high-upside player who does not have Type A compensation attached .  Last post I advocated rolling the dice with Sizemore, but his 2012 contract option and health complicate matters.  So my new suggestion would be Magglio Ordonez, who signed a one year, $8M deal this offseason to remain a Tiger. 

Magglio won't be offered arbitration next year, even if he qualifies as a Type A or B, for fear he would accept.  Arbitration hearings factor in service time, so aging outfielder/DH types with 10+ years of service are far less likely to be offered arb, because if they accept it the team gets hit with a gargantuan figure that outpaces the player's worth. 

The A's would have to pay the ST tax to get Magglio to Oakland, of course.  That probably means paying him at least 10% better than his next best offer.  I would guess that one year, $9-10M gets it done.  For those who (rightfully) criticized my blind hope for Michael Taylor/Ryan Sweeney in the last post, hopefully this mitigates their concerns. 

Coupled with my suggestion of re-signing Coco Crisp, this leaves us with a projected 2012 offense as follows:

C:  Suzuki, Powell (Donaldson burning his third and final option year in Sac, providing injury insurance)
1b: Barton
2b: Cardenas/Sogard
SS:  Pennington
3b:  Kouzmanoff (in his final year before free agency, making approximately $6M, and very likely to project as a Type B or borderline Type A free agent after 2012 - see the theme here?) 
LF:  Carter
CF:  Crisp
RF:  Ordonez
DH:  Matsui or Nick Johnson - I think this should be filled by a left-handed hitter, to provide balance to the rest of the righty-heavy lineup. 

Backup OF:  Sweeney, Michael Taylor, maybe even a re-signed Conor Jackson if necessary; with Taylor or Carter (and Doolittle) in their second season on the 40-man roster and providing injury insurance in AAA.
Backup IF:  Rosales, loser of Cardenas/Sogard battle; Weeks in his first season on the 40-man as injury insurance in Sac.

I feel that roster acknowledges and fixes the concerns that were addressed in the last post - that the projection was too reliant on three different prospects bursting onto the scene and providing at least 2 WAR.  By letting DeJesus and Willingham walk, and instead signing free agents who won't garner compensation - Coco Crisp, Magglio Ordonez, Matsui, and perhaps even Conor Jackson - the team potentially enjoys the same benefits that the Red Sox and Rays did by employing the same off-season strategy:  It enables the A's to put a playoff contender on the field for 2012, while also replenishing the farm system with 6-7 top 100 picks in the 2012 draft. 

I believe the A's need to make decisions like this in order to be a perpetual 85 win team on paper, which I think is one of the organization's goals.  I disagree with PT and other ANers who believe "might as well push all the chips to the middle, because the A's will be terrible in 2015-2016 anyway" - I think that by making decisions that replenish the system with multiple high draft picks, the team can draft the next wave of talent that will help replace Anderson/Cahill/Gonzales when they are too expensive to retain in free agency. 

The Next CBA

I don't think the next CBA will do away with draft pick compensation, as PT suggested in the previous post.  I agree that it should and will be revised, (and have written at length on the subject before), but I don't think it will be done away with.   I disagree with the logic that it benefits none of the parties involved.

1.  On a surface level, draft pick compensation obviously benefits owners/management, by creating a deterrent to signing players who qualify for Type A status.  Management won't simply do away with that provision out of the goodness of their heart; they will expect the Player's Union to make an appropriate concession of their own.  Some examples of this would be hard slotting for draft picks; a worldwide draft, which would reduce the size of bonuses that international players sign; etc.  Other, far more extreme examples of Union concessions would be things like, in order of increasing severity, abolishing Super Two status and merely having all players reach arbitration for the first time after accruing 3.000 days of service time; reducing the Luxury Tax threshold to $150M so as to deter the spending of the non-Yankee big market teams; creating a "Super Tax," a dollar-for-dollar tax threshold at $178M that effectively neutralizes the Yankees' ability to spend above and beyond the current luxury tax line, as they have done for nearly a decade; or (the most extreme and implausible, obviously) the contraction of the A's and Rays, costing 50-80 MLBPA jobs. 

Examples of owner concessions would be things like raising the minimum wage from $410K to somewhere between $500K-$1M; allowing all players to reach arbitration at 2.000 years of service (thereby eliminating the Super Two provision); allowing all players to reach free agency for the first time at age 29, regardless of service years, NHL style (this eliminates the desire for teams to keep their own star prospects in the Triple A holding tank, which I like); granting free agency after five years of cost control, rather than the current six; or (the most extreme and implausible, obviously) guaranteeing players a specific percentage of income, as the other three major North American sports leagues with salary caps all do.  This last provision is the least likely because MLB owners have a sweetheart deal - they pay the players about 42-43%(?) of the total income, whereas the NFL and NBA are currently in nasty labor disputes over figures that currently pay the players a percentage in the high 50s.  (Note: those figures are from memory, but someone brilliant like vertigO/marinelayer will hopefully clean that up for me if my numbers are off).

2.  On a deeper level, here is why I think draft pick compensation will and should remain:  look no further than the six months in the NBA, and especially the last three days.

Granted, I begin this argument with the caveat that a single great NBA player is far more important to his team than an MLB star.  However, we can still make this connection:  the NBA offers no compensation to its teams when they lose a star player, and that creates a public relations nightmare with its casual fan base, regardless of how each individual situation plays out.  The Cavaliers and Raptors don't trade Lebron James and Chris Bosh, and they end up two of the worst teams in basketball the following year.  The Jazz and Nuggets do trade their stars, and inevitably their (casual) fan base is extremely disappointed with the loss of a star player and the poor return. 

MLB somewhat mitigates this situation with draft-pick compensation, by creating a situation in which the original team is left with something tangible if they do indeed carry their star player until free agency.  It is less of public relations quagmire to lose your star player in free agency than to trade him away.  Teams shouldn't be incentivized to trade their star players away, and draft pick compensation helps avoid that.  If anything, the compensation system in MLB should be improved and strengthened, such that truly elite players garner multiple (3, or even 4) sandwich round picks, without costing the signing team any of their own picks. 

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