If not Kyle Blanks, then who's on first base?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Replacing Daric Barton with anyone has roster implications beyond 2014. Is a trade for Kyle Blanks a good move? Should Nate Freiman get his sophomore season underway? Why not Stephen Vogt?

Let's assume, for the moment, Daric Barton is a player you would like to designate for assignment. Based on current trade rumors, you have three choices for his replacement on the active roster:

  1. Recall Nate Freiman to play the right-handed bat portion of the first base platoon, like in 2013.
  2. Recall Stephen Vogt to play third catcher, so that Derek Norris and John Jaso can be in the same lineup more frequently, allowing Callaspo to play first base against left-handed pitching.
  3. Trade for Kyle Blanks and hope he becomes the mirror version of Brandon Moss, or at the least hits left-handed pitching better than Daric Barton and fields first base better than Alberto Callaspo.

Alex Hall has made his argument about the near-term merits of such a move, but how would a move this year require the A's to make potentially more expensive moves in future years?

Alberto Callaspo is a free agent after this season, and the only player on the active roster currently capable of playing first base while batting right-handed. The A's have team control over Brandon Moss through 2016, his age-32 season.

Nate Freiman

Nate Freiman is with the Sacramento River Cats on optional assignment after spending the 2013 season on the active roster as a Rule 5 draftee. The Houston Astros had selected him in the Rule 5 draft from the San Diego Padres, and the Athletics claimed Freiman off waivers from Houston. As a result, he has exactly one season of MLB service time, and 2014 is his first option year.

Freiman is currently 27 years old. Freiman has options through 2016, his age-29 season, and the maximum period of team control assuming only September call-ups is through his 2021 season, at age-34.

Super Two arbitration

Do you want to call up Nate Freiman this year? See what happens if you do:

  • Friday, May 16: Freiman would attain 136 days of service time. If kept on the roster for all of 2015, he would reach 2.136 years of service time, and likely become eligible for Super Two arbitration. If kept on the roster until he reaches free agency, his last year of team control would be 2018, his age-31 season.
  • July 1: Freiman would attain 100 days of service time. If kept on the roster for all of 2015, he would reach 2.100 years of service time, and would likely not be eligible for Super Two arbitration. If kept on the roster until he reaches free agency, his last year of team control would be 2018, his age-31 season.

Why is Super Two arbitration so important? Look at the guaranteed terms of Sean Doolittle's contract extension.

  • If he is not Super Two arbitration eligible, he will earn $10.5 million guaranteed.
  • If he is Super Two arbitration eligible, he will earn $13.75 million guaranteed.

What a difference an extra week or two in MLB makes! $3.25 million dollars is not chump change. Which would you rather have, an extra month of Sean Doolittle or $3.25 million to spend on other players?

Granted, Nate Freiman is not Sean Doollittle, so it is hard to predict what he would earn in arbitration because we don't know what sort of player he will become. Every dollar counts in the A's payroll, however.

Future years if Freiman is recalled for good this year

In 2015 and 2016, Callaspo is gone but Moss is still here. Freiman and Moss are your first basemen.

2017-18, Freiman is your last first baseman on the current 40-man roster. The A's will need a first baseman that can hit right-handed pitching by 2017 regardless of what happens with Nate Freiman, but they will need someone that can hit left-handed pitching by 2019 under this scenario.

Bottom Line

Absent further roster moves, it appears the Athletics would like Nate Freiman to take over his half of the platoon if Alberto Callaspo departs after this season. If he is ready baseball-wise by July, there is nothing transaction-wise holding him back from the active roster this season. An earlier call-up, however, risks adding some payroll costs due to Super Two arbitration that can be avoided by using Alberto Callaspo or another first baseman against left-handed pitching for now. If the Athletics wanted to hold Freiman back further, they would need someone else to hit left-handed pitching in 2015.

Stephen Vogt

Stephen Vogt is with the Sacramento River Cats on optional assignment after the Athletics acquired him in trade from the Tampa Bay Rays at the start of 2013 after the Rays designed Vogt for assignment. Vogt appeared on the Athletics' active roster in June and then from July on after John Jaso and then Derek Norris suffered injuries. Vogt has 136 days of service time, 36 days short of a full season.

2014 is Vogt's age-29 season. This is his final option year, and if held back from the roster until September, the A's can retain team control through 2020, his age-35 season. An early call-up eliminates a season of team control.

In most discussions of Vogt, his primary role appears to be one that allows Bob Melvin to play both John Jaso and Derek Norris in games without worrying about losing the designated hitter or using an emergency catcher in case of an in-game injury. In future years, what will his role be?

Service time considerations

Do you want to call up Stephen Vogt this year? See what happens if you do:

  • Friday, May 16: Vogt attains 136 days of service time, and reaches 1.100 service time years this year. He is unlikely to be Super Two eligible after 2015, and the A's retain team control through 2019.
  • August 31: Vogt attains 29 days of service time and reaches 165 service time days. He is playoff roster eligible without having to perform any disabled list machinations, though Barton would have to be waived. The A's retain team control through 2020.
  • September 1: Vogt attains 28 days of service time and reaches 164 service time days. He is not playoff roster eligible absent machinations with the disabled list, and there is no need to waive Barton.

In the late-August/early-September scenarios, Vogt would be Super Two eligible, but his limited playing time will probably limit his salary in arbitration.

Future years if Vogt is recalled for good this year

Derek Norris is under team control through 2018. John Jaso is under team control through next season, 2015.

For 2014-15, Vogt's role is to allow the team to comfortably use Norris and Jaso in the same lineup.

After 2015, if the #freedereknorris camp continues to have its way, Vogt's likely role is purely as backup catcher in an Adam Melhuse or Landon Powell role. To demote Vogt would require waiving him, and who else could cheaply play the backup catcher role here?

Bottom Line

Stephen Vogt needs to be the third catcher anyway in 2015 given his lack of options. The only transaction issue holding him back is his team control. Vogt has a decent chance at becoming the new Adam Melhuse or Landon Powell. Melhuse stuck around for five seasons behind Ramon Hernandez, Damian Miller, and Jason Kendall. Landon Powell managed three seasons as backup to Kurt Suzuki.

For this year, Bob Melvin has begun to show greater willingness to use both Norris and Jaso in the same lineup, knowing that Stephen Vogt is a short drive or flight away. Vogt is so close to getting to a year of service time anyway, and it would just take a single catching injury to make the A's lose that chance at Vogt's 2020 season, when he'll be 35 years old.  It would be a great year if the A's get through 2014 without a catching injury that requires Vogt's presence on the active roster.

Kyle Blanks

In the worst case, the groundhog sees its shadow (Blanks bats at Daric Barton's level for six weeks) and then summer arrives in July and Nate Freiman saves the day.

The San Diego Padres optioned Kyle Blanks to the El Paso Chihuahuas in order to reinstate Carlos Quentin from the disabled list. Blanks has bounced up-and-down between San Diego and their AAA team over six seasons. Blanks started 2014 with 4.032 years of service time.

2014 is Blanks' age-27 season. This is his final option year, but he will remain under team control through 2015. Serendipitously, Nate Freiman's last option year is 2015.

Kyle Blanks potentially allows the A's to keep Nate Freiman in Sacramento to get better against both sides of the plate through 2015 if they want. Or if Blanks falters, Freiman finds himself in Oakland sooner. In the worst case, the groundhog sees its shadow (Blanks bats at Daric Barton's level for six weeks) and then summer arrives in July and Nate Freiman saves the day. In the best case, the groundhog turns into mirror-Moss (destroys left-handed pitching), and Nate Freiman can be the everyday first baseman in 2016 (with Moss in the outfield against right-handed pitching).

Putting it all together

Blanks allows Alberto Callaspo to become an attractive rental piece for the Athletics to trade by the deadline for its stretch run for the 2014 World Championship.

Nate Freiman's potential for Super Two arbitration eligibility looms huge. I don't see the need to incur the additional potential expense of an extra arbitration year when alternatives exist to let Freiman continue to develop in Sacramento. I think the club wants to give Freiman every opportunity to develop his swing against right-handed pitching in hopes of replacing Brandon Moss at first base in 2016 or 2017. Limiting Freiman to the platoon against lefties in MLB abandons any chance of his development against righties without affecting the MLB club, and means the A's will need to find an external and probably more expensive replacement for Moss in 2017.

Stephen Vogt's team control is a minor issue if he is only going to be a backup for the next six or seven years. Backup catchers have historically had a way of sticking around under Billy Beane's management.

If you want to avoid seeing Nate Freiman until July but you still want to improve the first base platoon, Kyle Blanks seems a low-risk low-cost shot to at least try him for six weeks against left-handed pitching. His hitting can't be worse than Barton, and his defense can't be worse than Callaspo's. If the choice is Freiman now or Blanks now, spending high six-figures on Blanks now saves the extra money Freiman would get with an extra arbitration year.

Blanks works out as a neat solution to at worst bridge a six-week gap to get Freiman past his Super Two arbitration eligibility and at best turn into a right-handed hitting Brandon Moss. Either way, Blanks allows Alberto Callaspo to become an attractive rental piece for the Athletics to trade by the deadline for its stretch run for the 2014 World Championship. But who would back up third base, you ask? Jake Elmore's last rehab start on April 26 in Sacramento was at third base.

I say go for it.

Information on service time and contract status courtesy of Cot's Baseball ContractsBaseball Reference, and TSN Canada's player pages.

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