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Going Free Agent Shopping?

Correct or not, the A's have a national reputation for basically only three things: creating ungodly talented young ballplayers, selling them off when they get expensive, and topping off the team with old, cheap, 30-something over-the-hill veterans. On the topic of that last one—Jason Giambi, Mike Sweeney, Frank Thomas (twice), Mike Piazza, and even David Justice can claim the role of the bargain-bin Oakland veteran. For years, the A's haven't had the money to snag a world-class talent in his prime years, so we've had to settle for an older model that's running on fumes. But what if I told you that we may not be forced to settle in the near future?

A quick review of contract rules before I dive in—there are many, many quirks and oddities in the system, but basically and very generally, a player, from the time he is brought up to the majors, has six full years under team control. After his six years, he is a free agent, and he is free to sign a contract wherever he would like. Before then, however, he has to play for the team that owns the rights to him. For the first three of those six years, he will likely make something close to the major league minimum, which is $400,000. The last three of those six team-controlled years are called arbitration years, where if the player and the team cannot agree to a contract, a neutral panel of professional arbitrators will make a decision. Typically, players receive hefty raises during these arbitration years. And lastly, if the team feels it necessary to do so, the team can bypass the entire yearly process by signing a player to a multi-year contract, which is what the A's recently did with Brett Anderson and Kurt Suzuki. Many of these multi-year contracts have "club option" years built in, which state that the team may decide whether or not to activate an extra year as specified in the contract. If this extra year is not activated, the player is paid a smaller amount of money as a buyout, and the contract is over.

Now let me reference the always-reliable Cot's Baseball Contracts. According to Cot's, we only have six players that are under contract and are guaranteed money next year. Just six! These are, in order of major league service time, Eric Chavez (who is owed $3MM as a 2011 buyout, or $12.5MM if the team decides that a glass spine makes a good office showpiece), Mark Ellis (a $500K buyout or a $6MM 2011 option), Coco Crisp (a $500K buyout or a $5.75MM 2011 option), Michael Wuertz ($2.8MM), Brett Anderson ($1.25MM), and Kurt Suzuki ($3.438MM). That's it. Additionally, we've got ten players eligible for arbitration (Kouzmanoff, Jackson, Cust, Davis, Gross, Devine, Breslow, Braden, Sweeney, and Buck). If we assume a $2MM average for all of our arbitration eligibles, that's another $20MM. Throw in the remaining players at the minimum salary, and we're looking at a total payroll of somewhere around $40MM to $45MM. The A's have shown a willingness in the recent past to go into the $60MM-$70MM range, so we've got some money to play with, as we build the offense to complement our strong pitching for a playoff run.

Here's a list of the upcoming free agent class. It has some interesting names on it, like Adam Dunn, Carl Crawford, and Jayson Werth. Who should we pursue, if any?


All figures come from Cot's Baseball Contracts. A Cot's-created Google Spreadsheet can be found here, and it contains all of the latest updated information for future payroll obligations.

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