Drawing inspiration from my buddy Taj, who has come around on a few thoughts of his own...
Three weeks ago, I posted a projection of the A's offseason plans; this post is an update and hopefully an improvement upon that one.
Just like my last one, this post will be broken up into three sections:
I. Roster Moves/Analysis II. 25-Man Opening Day Roster III. Wrap-Up
This is not typical AN style, but I think it will make it easier to navigate. I'm also going to mostly avoid using full player names and team names, because AN 3.0 automatically creates a hyperlink for each player or team name, and I find that detracts from the actual hyperlinks that I want readers to click on.
I. Roster Moves
A. Let Garciaparra, Kennedy, Crosby, Tomko, and Duke all leave in free agency.
No change from the previous post, and I still think none of these guys will be back.
Casilla, Denorfia, and Marshall.
I was wrong here. I think that if Marshall was going to be taken off the 40-man, it would've already happened, as it did with Denorfia. He has options remaining and will clearly be sent to Sac next spring if he remains with the club. Casilla is a different story, since his options are exhausted and he's in arbitration. But he only made $420K this year, and might be willing to come back for a similar price. If so, I think there's a decent chance he stays. I'm going to go forward with this exercise assuming that he'll be with the team at least until training camp, at which point the team could trade relievers if the opportunity arises.
C. Protect FDLS, Carter,
Lansford, Recker, Figuroa, and Wimberly from the Rule 5 draft by adding all six players to the 40-man roster prior to the November 20th deadline.
Souza was added as well, which we hadn't accounted for. After poring over this incredibly useful thread made by fellow ANer athleticsBB4life, I think Recker is probably the best available catcher in the Rule 5 draft, which concerns me some. Then again, there are a slew of journeyman catchers available in free agency, and catchers rarely stick as Rule 5 picks, so even if Recker's selected there's a good chance he'll be returned anyway. Protecting Lanford never made sense, in hindsight. If he was added to the 40-man he'd burn through 3 options before he was ever even ready to contribute at the major league level. Wimberly could be picked by an NL team to be a super-utility/25th guy, but he probably hasn't hit well enough yet to justify receiving any ML at-bats.
After several hours of looking guys up, these are my two favorite players available in the Rule 5 Draft, with the obvious caveat that my opinion means nothing and that I haven't watched any of them play. :) Statistically, though, there's a lot to like about these two guys. Let me try to sell you on their merits.
Pino hails from Cleveland's farm system, which is about to get raided in the Rule 5 Draft. Amazingly, the Tribe has roughly seven players who are legitimate candidates to be selected by other teams, even though they already added seven prospects to the 40-man roster on the November 20th deadline. (Brief tangent: this is the downside to selling off all your major-league assets and going into a full rebuild all at once. One could argue that "consolidation" trades like the Holliday and Hairston deals are occasionally necessary, in order to free up roster space to protect lottery tickets like FDLS and Figuroa). Pino's appeal stems from his sparkling 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 563 minor-league innings over five seasons, including similar ratios last season in AAA. He'll turn 26 this offseason.
Rodriguez is a bit further away, but also much younger, turning 22 this offseason. Tampa Bay traded away Hammel to Colorado for him last March, after Hammel and Niemann's successful spring training performances left Tampa Bay with a glut of major-league ready starting pitchers. Surprisingly, the Rays opted not to protect that investment this year, clearly gambling that Rodriguez is far enough away that no team will pick him. I'm afraid their gamble won't pay off. As a 21-year-old in the AA Southern League, Rodriguez allowed 122 hits in 142 innings with a K-to-walk ratio of 111-to-59. In 588 minor-league innings, Rodriguez has struck out nearly a batter per inning with a k-to-walk ratio of 8-to-3.1.
What Pino and Rodriguez have in common: Quite a bit, actually. Both are Latin-American born, six foot-three inch, skinny, right handed starting pitching prospects with good control, good strikeout-to-walk ratios, and years of healthy full-season pitching in their pasts. The main difference is the four years of age that separates them, and Pino being more ready for the leap to the big leagues than Rodriguez. But I'm inferring from Rodriguez's success at younger ages that his upside is probably higher.
My prediction is that one of those two guys is picked before the A's selection comes up in the Rule 5 draft. I want the A's to pick the other one, and give him a shot to compete for the 5th starter slot in camp. I do NOT want the A's to go their typical route and select a Rule 5er whose "upside" is LOOGY or platoon bat. Simply not enough upside there to make it attractive, and they haven't been very successful at those types of picks anyway.
E. Sign Shelley Duncan to a minor-league deal for ~$400K with an invite to Spring Training.
I'm already ecstatic about the A's first minor-league signing of the hot stove season, Dallas McPherson. I've pored over this entire list - over 500 names of minor-league free agents - and I can't find one player I'd be more excited to have than McPherson. But Duncan wasn't eligible for that list at the time; the Yanks outrighted him to AAA this week and he declared his free agency instead.
If Duncan, a right-handed hitting DH/1b/RF, were on that list of 500+ neglected minor leaguers, he would be my second-favorite name, right behind McPherson. Like Cust three years ago, these are two players who have tremendous power and might be ready to finally put it together if they are given another opportunity at the major league level. Here's the thing I love about rebuilding, low-budget teams acquiring guys like Duncan, Cust, and McPherson, rather than major-league free agents: if they work out, as Cust did, the team has control over them at a league-minimum salary the following season, and through their arbitration years. After Cust's breakout '07, he would've commanded a few million on the open market, and perhaps even a multi-year deal. Instead the A's were able to bring him back at a league-minimum salary in '08, because Cust had only two years of service time after his breakout '07. Contrast that with Branyan's success in Seattle this year. Yes, he was terrific...but ultimately, he will either leave in free agency this offseason or cost them market value to bring back next year, and probably on a two-year deal. The upside of acquiring Duncan or McPherson is that they might provide breakout, league-average performance at near the league minimum for multiple years of team control.
F. Sign Cuban 19-year-old left-handed pitcher Noel Arguelles to a minor-league contract with a ~$10M bonus and/or deferred payments.
A few weeks ago, this bullet point was devoted to signing Aroldis Chapman, the biggest remaining fish on the international scene. But seemingly everything I read about Chapman, outside of his raw potential, could be interpreted as negative: the recent firing of his agent, the maturity issues that are mentioned by multiple sources in any post about him, arguing with umpires at the WBC, the fact that he plays video games late into the night and wakes up at noon, and that he's never seen his newborn son that he had with his girlfriend, due to the timing of his defection.
Throwing $40-60M at him scares me, despite the tantalizing talent.
Making a smaller commitment to Arguelles, however, is attractive for all the same reasons that Chapman offers. Arguelles is 19, and projects as the second-best international free agent behind only Chapman. He's been clocked at 94 and sits in the low-90s, while throwing four pitches with decent command. He figures to be ready to contribute just as the A's are in the middle of their next contending wheel. You can read up on Arguelles, including watching some video, here, here, and here. The A's are apparently one of his top four prospective employers at this point.
I like that Arguelles is lower-profile than Chapman. I like that he'll be able to struggle in the minor leagues like a normal minor leaguer, without having a major-league deal and major-league-level national scrutiny attached to him. I also like that his price tag will be less than half of Chapman's, and that I've read none of the same maturity concerns.
G. Use one of the team's soon-to-expire (two years of service time remaining) major league league assets - Cust, Hairston, or Wuertz - and explore a trade with Chicago-AL for Brent Morel.
I am paying homage to Taj here with Morel, as he was the first guy to mention the Sox 3b prospect in his fanpost a few weeks ago. After looking through the top 20-25 prospects in every team's system, you realize just how unique Morel is. He's a three-star third-base prospect with average tools across the board coming off a very good season in high-A, playing in an organization that is in "win-now" mode. He doesn't have the tools or skills yet to make him completely off-limits to other teams, and yet, he's got enough of a track record of success that we can squint into the future and see 2-3 more years of minor league success from him and an eventual league-average third-baseman.
I only found one guy in the entire minor leagues who fit the criteria of that entire last paragraph, and it was Morel, who made 11 errors in a full season at third this year.
H. Promote Petit to be the backup middle infielder, opening up a starting shortstop slot for the four legitimate shortstop prospects in the A's minor league system: Leyja (A), Green/Coleman (A+/AA), and Horton (AAA). Leave Wallace, Carter, Cahill, Mazzaro, Buck, Cunningham, Cardenas, and 3 or 4 pretty good relievers in AAA to open the season, assuming the health of the soon-to-be-listed 25-man roster (below).
I'd like to see Cunningham put up a full season of .900 OPS in AAA. I'd like for Buck to prove that he's better than what he did in AAA last year before handing him a job again. Same with Cahill and Mazarro. None of them will like it, but perhaps the talent they'll be surrounded by will make it easier to swallow. It's not the like the organization is "shafting" any one guy in the above scenario; it's simply an outstanding AAA team all around the diamond. Probably one of the best AAA teams in history. And they'll be playing in the best minor league park in baseball, with really good teammates, in front of 10K fans a night. I don't really feel that sorry for these guys.
II. 25-Man Opening-Day Roster
McPhavez 3b (added to the 40-man/active roster after Chavez goes down)
Duncan 1b-RF (added to the 40-man roster after Outman moves back to the 60-day DL
SPs: Braden, Anderson, Gonzalez, Pino/Rodriguez, Eveland (if they can beat out Mazzaro, Cahill, Mortensen, Simmons).
7 relievers: Devine, Bailey, Ziegler, Wuertz, Meloan, Casilla(?) Kilby, Gray, Breslow, Blevins (in the rare chance that all ten are healthy, not traded away, and effective in spring, option three of them, and they'll inevitably shuttle up and down all year due to other injuries anyway).
I wrote about two pages worth of wrap-up in my first offseason projection here. Much of the logic from that post remains the same in this one so I'm going to skip the philosophical stuff behind the decision to punt on the major league free agent class, giving opportunities for unheralded guys to establish themselves, etc.
The projected payroll of the above group, even with Arguelles' big bonus, is slightly less than $50M.
Despite its bargain-basement price, I like that offense. Lots of L/R flexibility, with the ability to create lineups with eight opposite-sided hitters against either a lefty or a righty. Duncan takes on the role Cunningham would've had, facing LHPs, but he's more attractive, because he can also play first base. That means that Duncan can spell Cust, Sweeney, or Barton if any of that trio struggles to hit lefties consistently. He's also 30 years old, so unlike Cunningham, there's no concern whatsoever about putting him into a platoon role and stunting his future development. I've liked Duncan for years. I think if he is given 450 at-bats in the AL he'll hit .250/.300/.500, with -5 defense at either first or right.
Petit plays a very competent shortstop, which a true utility infielder must be able to do. (I'm just getting that obligatory sentence out of the way, since it's mentioned in every thread). :) The most obvious hole amongst the hitters is the lack of right-handed hitting third baseman to caddy for the injury-prone McPhavez. I'm assuming Petit will get some at-bats there against left-handers, while providing plus defense at the position on the days he plays it.
The biggest woe of this team is the 4th and 5th starters. I'm probably wishcasting to put Eveland and a Rule 5 pick (Rodriguez or Pino) in the last two slots of this team's rotation. On the flip side, they play in a pitcher's park with a good defense behind them, particularly in the outfield, where the starting defense is outstanding. They'll also be supported by the only group of seven above-average relievers in the league behind them. There will definitely be days when the back-end SPs are pulled in the 4th or 5th innings, but hopefully the RPs can put out those early fires. If the bullpen gets taxed in April/May, that's where the asset of having 10-11 major-league quality relievers comes in. The A's could underutilize the top four relievers in Sacramento in April, knowing that they'll have healthy workloads in front of them in Oakland later in the year.
I think that's a .500ish team, banking on some healthy internal improvement. Most of the guys on this team are young enough that you'd expect an extra year to help their stats, rather than contribute to age-related decline. If they fall out of contention early, which is very possible, they look to deal Wuertz, Hairston, and/or Cust. If they surprise everyone and jump out of the gate in first place, they have some wonderful AAA pieces to eventually replace the probable weak links like McPherson, Duncan, Eveland, and the Rule 5 pick later in the season.