Long-Term Outlook

I wrote Lew Wolff a short note Sunday morning and dropped it in a box, but did not hear back. Here was my comment/question, paraphrased:

"Do you plan to keep payroll at $40-50M over the next four seasons, and then splurge with a major-free agent acquisition right as a new stadium opens, pushing payroll to $80M+? If so, I'm very excited about the team's vision and future. Thank you for your contributions to this franchise."

This is probably a different comment than Wolff is used to hearing from fans, and that's part of why I made the drive over the bridge and hoped that it would find it's way to him. The loudest voices are the ones in opposition, and perhaps rightfully so. But they aren't the only voices.

(To Wolff's credit, he probably focused his one-on-one Q and A's with Oakland partisans, not people who wanted to pat him on the back).

Here are some of my thoughts on recent developments and future developments, in bullet-point/quick hits style:

#1 The A's received about $32M in revenue sharing in 2011. The new provision in the CBA requires teams to spend 25% above what they receive in revenue sharing, which means that we can expect the A's to operate with above a $40M payroll from this point forward (since we can assume the game will remain quite healthy and revenue sharing money will remain robust).

#2 I think that first point plays at least a small role in the A's decisions to bring back Coco Crisp for $7M+, trade for Seth Smith ($2.4M), sign Bartolo Colon ($2M) and Jonny Gomes ($1M).

#3 The rebuttal would be, "Then why did they trade three of their best millionaires and most recognizable faces, if they face pressure to keep up a minimum salary?" Because Bailey, Cahill, and Gonzalez were all assets that were going to rapidly depreciate over the next two seasons, and the A's had to get something of value for them before they did.

#4 I don't think the age of the prospects acquired in the Bailey/Cahill/Gonzalez trades really matters. Ultimately, those three guys simply needed to yield future assets - not necessarily assets that all coalesce right around 2015-2016. Millone will pitch well for 2-3 years, hit arbitration, and then be traded for his minor-league, league-minimum salary clone.

#5 Related to point #3: If you're on board with this plan as much as I am, the position player you might want to root the hardest for this season is Kurt Suzuki. He's the only offensive player locked up long-term, and perhaps the best candidate to be traded in the next 12 months. Because the A's are not a playoff contender, and are building for a playoff season years away, their best-case scenario is that Suzuki has a breakout season that makes his contract a very attractive asset to the rest of the league. If Suzuki re-establishes the defensive rep of before and hits 20 bombs, he is suddenly a very attractive alternative to teams that don't want to face the sticker shock of Yadi Molina in free agency next offseason. I think Molina will get a very large free agent contract that ends up making Suzuki look like a comparably attractive alternative to several teams. And I think Zooks will be dealt.

#6 So, that's how you perpetually keep payroll at $40-50M the next few years. Trade Suzuki, then eventually Seth Smith and Grant Balfour, replacing their salary with low-cost FA's and the wave of young guys who hit arbitration.

#7 Could Brandon McCarthy actually yield a draft pick? The new CBA has a provision that guarantees any player offered arbitration a salary that is the average of the top 125 players if he accepts. This will come out to about $12.5M. Think about how well Brandon McCarthy pitched last year. Let's say puts up another terrific season, and, since he's the opening-day starter lined up for 34-35 starts, he actually throws 200 innings of top-10-in-the-league FIP and xFIP numbers again. He has to get a three year, $30M offer at that point, right? Given his injury history, I say that he would turn down an arbitration offer from the A's if he has another great season next year. He would want to enter free agency and get multi-year security, knowing that Edwin Jackson is a worse pitcher than he is and Jackson had a three-year, $30M offer in hand. Brandon McCarthy having an outstanding season and turning down an arbitration offer is another scenario you are rooting for if you have this 2016 A's vision, because it would yield two high draft picks for the A's in the 2013 draft. And those high draft picks may indeed contribute to the next A's playoff team.

#8 Wolff recently said that a more realistic target for a San Jose stadium opening is the 2016 season. This coincides with two other key pieces of info: a.) The new CBA has a provision that states that the A's and 14 other large-market teams will no longer be eligible to receive revenue sharing...with the special asterisk that the A's are exempt from this if they don't have a new stadium in place by 2016. I think that target season is significant, and I think the rest of the league is desirous to get the A's off the $32M-per-season revenue sharing teat permanently. b.) The Giants are done servicing their stadium debt after 2017. MLB has delayed this process long enough that the Giants will be practically done paying off their "new" stadium by the time the A's have one of their own to pay for.

#9 I would like the A's, right now, to start thinking and planning long-term about the players they'd like to acquire once they finally are a desirable destination. Let's say Bryce Harper does indeed win the right field job in Washington this season, and sticks in the big leagues. That would put him on pace to be a 25-year-old free agent after 2017, if he isn't extended (which is perhaps unlikely, as a Scott Boras client). It's easy for me to dream about the left-handed hitting Harper hitting tape-measure shots over the collonnade, out of the ballpark and onto Autumn Parkway. But a gorgeous new stadium that Harper has had a chance to view firsthand during the 2016-2017 seasons, and a San Jose A's perennial playoff contender with newly deep pockets, would make that dream more feasible than it is today.

#10 If Harper isn't your fancy, you could attach that same vision to Jason Heyward, or Mike Stanton, or Mike Trout - pick your favorite slugger that's 5-6 years away from free agency. That's the first time that we can hope that our favorite team will be a viable candidate to sign a true star, as the Giants did when the signed Bonds and transformed their franchise in '93. I would like for the A's to do the same, and they can start budgeting for it now, if they have the discipline to simply keep payroll in the $40-$50M range now, and make a dramatic jump in payroll to sign one of the game's best players after the stadium has opened. Personally, I think the West Coast-bred Harper is the perfect guy to patrol right field in front of the expensive collonnade seats, sandwiched in the lineup by righties Grant Green, Michael Choice, Norris, and Michael Taylor or Chris Carter. It will probably require a $25M-per-year, $200M-plus investment by that point, but again, if the team perpetually trades off it's best arbitration talent for prospects as it has done for years, it will be able to afford that type of commitment once a new stadium opens.

[Note: That's the type of conversation I would've loved to have had with Wolff if I'd had the chance, so I thought I'd write it here instead. Please bear with and go easy on me for the lack of links and citation of sources. I love the discussions but have little time to write these days (and you guys know the fact-checking and links take the most time). Hope these bullet points are fodder for conversation here; your feedback is my favorite part of the writing].

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