Warning - this will be a long post. Popcorn or any other reading snack is recommended.
Jed Lowrie was good last year. Like, really good. Among eligible shortstops, Lowrie was 5th in Fangraphs' WAR (3.6), 2nd in wOBA (.345), 2nd in wRC+ (121), and even 5th in ISO (.156). And if you care about less meaningful stats, he was second among shortstops in runs with 80, behind only Elvis Andrus. So Jed Lowrie was good. He also set personal bests in games played (156), plate appearances (662) and batting average (.290), which he maintained with only a .319 BABIP. So, yeah. Offensively, he was a top 5 shortstop.
Jed is gonna stick with the A’s for 2014 for sure, and then he’ll be lost to the free agent market, where if he produces and stays healthy like he did in 2013, he’ll earn way more than the organization can pay him, especially if Hanley Ramirez is extended and the market is thinned. The A's, in return, should receive a draft pick, as he will probably decline the qualifying offer they will probably offer to him. And this is all okay, because Oakland has top shortstop prospect Addison Russell waiting in the wings. Or…is it?
Addison Russell is indisputably the A’s top prospect. He is a legitimate 4-tool player and usually ranks in the top 15 prospects in all of baseball, being our only top 100 prospect. Last season, in High-A ball as a 19-year old, Russell batted .275, with 17 home runs, 21 stolen bases, 85 runs, and 60 RBIs in only 105 games (504 PAs). These numbers are good – maybe not Mike Trout, but pretty darn good. (We won’t mention his AAA cup of coffee). He will most likely start 2014 in AA, and if he continues the way he was in High-A, will finish the season in AAA. This, of course, is barring any injuries to Jed Lowrie/other middle infielders, and barring Russell absolutely crushing in AA.
Why am I telling you things you already know? Well, I’m setting the stage for a very possible outcome. Here we go…
Jed Lowrie performs well in 2014, as do the A’s. He leaves in free agency, as the A's cannot afford him. The A’s are set to contend again in 2015. Every position is solid, save for a little bullpen help, except….hold up. Addison Russell is injured, or isn’t ready for the majors, or (god forbid) sucked his way through 2014. So what do the AL West contending A’s do?
Let’s start with internal options. Nick Punto, at the major league level, has a 2.75M club/vesting option, but he’ll be 37. Not your ideal World Series shortstop. (#FaceofMLB) Eric Sogard prefers second base, and isn’t quite amazing at the plate. That also opens up a hole at second base as Alberto Callaspo will be a free agent following 2014. In the minors…Grant Green is gone. Adam Rosales is gone. Jemile Weeks is gone. Even Andy Parrino was DFA’d for super-utility man Jake Elmore. Elmore could develop into a decent shortstop in AAA, but Russell is more likely to develop. And there’s some Asian guy that didn’t work out down there that Beane could pay 5.5M if we want. I don’t see that happening.
So, in the middle infield, after 2014 the A's are dry. So, how about free agents? Let’s see…Hanley Ramirez? Hah. Not unless the Yankees give the A's 300M for Alberto Callaspo. J.J. Hardy? Maybe, if he struggles through 2014 and could come in at a nice price. Asdrubal Cabrera? Maybe, good defense and a potentially above-average bat. After that, everyone is old, bad, or has an option that will most likely be accepted. For interesting guys with options listed as second basemen, there’s Rickie Weeks with a vesting option and Ben Zobrist (who I’m not too high on) with a club option.
Now let’s look at shortstops on the trade market. I’m going to start with guys that will be free agents in 2016. Teams might trade these guys since they would only have one year left. For starters, Yunel Escobar isn’t super interesting, but he is very solid. He could be a 2015 free agent if the Rays decline his relatively cheap option. How about Ian Desmond? Desmond is good, so unless he sucks in 2014 he’d cost a lot in a trade, plus he’s owed 11M in 2015.. Our old friend Marco Scutaro will be out there. But he’s owed 6M and will be 37, so who knows how he’ll age. After that, 2016 free agent shortstops that teams might trade are very few.
So, what have we come up with so far? After Lowrie leaves, the organization is very thin at shortstop. The FA market for shortstops in 2015, while not thin at all, will be very expensive if the A's want anyone good. And the trade market is thin of viable options as well.
So, what is Beane doing? Why isn't he stocking up on shortstop depth, just in case? Wouldn’t that be the best option?
I have two words – Aledmys Diaz.
Billy Beane knows that once Lowrie leaves, all the A's have is Addison Russell. That’s why he’s interesting in Aledmys Diaz. Diaz gives the Athletics a backup plan in case Russell flops or isn’t ready. If we sign him now to, say, 3 years, 18 mil, he can work in AAA to start 2014. If he is producing and Lowrie is injured or our second base platoon is struggling, they call him up. If Lowrie leaves and Russell struggles/isn’t ready, Diaz takes over at shortstop. If Russell is fine, Diaz can platoon at second with Eric Sogard. If Aledmys Diaz is any good, he would be the perfect guy for the A’s to have.
This may all be irrelevant. They A'smay extend Lowrie, and Russell may be fine. But, at the moment, if things continue the way they are and Addison Russell isn’t ready for The Show, the A's will be in some serious trouble.