The MLB free agent period begins today, which means that teams can start signing players for 2015. The Oakland Athletics are not known for landing the biggest free agents, or even the mid-level ones, although Billy Beane did make a splash last year by signing the somewhat-coveted Scott Kazmir. Nevertheless, though, there's no better place to start than at the top, so let's begin our look at the process with an overview of the most prominent names on the market.
Last week, SB Nation's Grant Brisbee ranked the 36 best free agents of this winter. They are listed in the following table, and the 12 who received qualifying offers are noted in bold type:
Let's go through the list and see what's out there.
Lester, Scherzer, Shields, Hanley, Sandoval, Tomas, Maeda
Lester, Scherzer, and Shields are each going to get 5-6 years for $20-25 million annually, if not more. That's more years and money than Beane will sink into one player. Ramirez would be a great fit in Oakland, but I just don't see why the Dodgers would let him go and there is no way the A's would ever be able to outbid them. Sandoval is looking for a nine-figure contract, which the A's won't give him. Tomas and Maeda are international imports, and now that everyone has seen how much success Cuban and Japanese players can have in the Majors they are no longer the bargains they once were. Jose Abreu made his $68 million deal look like a steal, so both of these guys could approach or even exceed $100 million. Forget about these seven free agents and move on. We aren't allowed to have nice things unless we make them ourselves.
Relievers? Fool me once
Robertson, Miller, Neshek, Romo, Uehara
Last year, with seemingly nowhere else to spend his extra cash, Billy Beane bought himself a couple high-priced relievers to bolster his bullpen. The pen still ended up being a key weakness at the most crucial moments and the most expensive guys were a couple of the biggest offenders -- Jim Johnson was so bad that he was released, and Luke Gregerson was among the league leaders in blown saves and let a pair of inherited runners score in the Wild Card game. Given that lesson, I'm not in a hurry to spend lavishly like that again. Each of these guys will come at premium prices, and this is not the area of the team in which to overpay. There will be cheaper free agent options or trade targets available, and the A's already have five spots covered with Doolittle, Cook, Otero, Abad, and O'Flaherty -- with Fernando Rodriguez an option for one of the last two spots.
Martin, Aramis, Headley, Melky, Rasmus, Markakis, Aoki
These are the guys who play positions at which the A's just don't need help. Martin is a good catcher, but Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt can handle things even if John Jaso isn't an option to help out. Aramis Ramirez and Chase Headley play Josh Donaldson's position. Aoki is in the same mold as Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld, so he's unnecessary. I'll take Josh Reddick over Markakis for the next few years. Melky is good, but he's proven to be a sketchy bet over his career and he'll cost his new team a draft pick. I might have had interest in Rasmus as a platoon player if he was right-handed, but as it is the A's already have better options.
No country for DHs
Morse, Morales, Cuddyer
Morse proved he has pop in the first half and then disappeared in the second half with only two homers after July 5, but he still won a World Series ring because Giants. Cuddyer can hit, but Morales can't. None of them can play defense, and I'm not sure there's room for a player like that on this roster. The DH spot will be needed for guys like Coco and Jaso, to get their bats in the lineup while superior (and healthier) defenders cover the other side of the ball.
Keep away from my draft picks
Santana, Liriano, Martinez, Cruz
Martinez and Cruz are both intriguing, but the costs would outweigh the benefits. Cruz's right-handed bat would look great in the lineup, but he won't hit 40 homers in the Coliseum, he's always an injury risk (among his other baggage), and he's best suited as a DH these days (see previous section). Martinez is similar; he can hit like crazy, and his age will limit the length of his next deal (which is good), but he's two years removed from missing an entire season and the A's have other uses for their DH spot. It's not that I'm completely opposed to bringing in a hitter who has no glove -- perhaps there's a misfit toy out there who Billy can take a chance on for cheap. But for $15 million (or more) per year and a first-round pick? That tips the pro/con scale too far in the wrong direction. As for Santana and Liriano, I'd rather take my chances with Pomeranz, Chavez and Griffin in the rotation behind Sonny, Shark and Kazmir, even before the draft pick is considered.
Simply not interested
Kuroda, Peavy, Volquez, Young, Masterson
Kuroda is good, but he'll be 40 next year and the Internet seems to agree he'll either stay with the Yankees, go back to Japan, or retire. Young is good, but his age and injury history make him a big risk and he's probably not worth it for Oakland. Masterson could be an interesting buy-low bounce-back candidate, but he's been bad in two of the last three years and I'd rather let someone else take that flyer. Peavy and Volquez aren't improvements over what the A's already have, and Volquez's high walk rate would send me through the roof anyway.
The Feasible Five
Hammel, McCarthy, LaRoche, Asdrubal, Drew
These are the five guys I would at least be interested in discussing. I'm sure we'll go into each of them in depth in the near future, so I'll be brief here.
The first priority has to be getting help in the middle infield. Since I think Hanley is an unrealistic target, that leaves Asdrubal Cabrera and Stephen Drew. Cabrera might be highly sought-after given his positional scarcity, but he could be worth a four-year investment. Drew should be dirt-cheap, and I think he's a great bounce-back candidate. Either one would be better than the current options at shortstop, which are Nick Punto or Mike Gallego.
I'm not actively interested in LaRoche, but he could be a good fit. He tends to sign short contracts, he's got legitimate home run power, and he's sure-handed at first base. Somehow, first base has become a scarce position, and the 2014 A's mix-and-match committee is evidence of that; adding LaRoche would shore it up with solid production. On the other hand, he's about to turn 36 and he's left-handed -- Oakland's lineup is already crowded with lefties. Those aren't the worst drawbacks in the world. He's probably not the best use of money, but he tends to still be available in January when he's a free agent so he could be an interesting fallback plan.
Billy went hard after starting pitching all year, and I don't see why he'd stop building that depth now. Maybe that'll just mean stocking up on Quadruple-A lottery tickets, but these are two familiar faces I wouldn't mind seeing back. Most of us wanted the A's to re-acquire McCarthy this summer, and then he went to the Yankees and had the exact renaissance that we all thought he would while also somehow staying healthy for a full season. I'd take him back in a heartbeat. It's no secret that I really like Hammel, and if he could be had on a Kazmir-like deal (two years, $10-12 million per) then I'd consider it. If you remove his four starts after the trade, the ones in which his mechanics were out of whack and he got utterly hammered, his season ERA would be 2.82. If the A's strike out on the expensive hitters and decide to invest in free agent pitching, these are the two biggest names I would be realistically interested in.
Here are a few other notable free agents who didn't make Grant's list:
Jim Johnson (lol)
Hunter is still a good hitter, but his defense is completely gone. Lowrie would make sense if he wanted a short-term deal to rebuild his value after an off-year in 2014. That's about it from that list, though. Vogelsong has fallen off, Beckett is a major health risk, Weeks and Butler can't play defense, Rios' career is a grab-bag of good years and awful ones, and everybody hates Pierzynski and Johnson.
Which free agents do you want the A's to pursue, if any? Share your thoughts in the comments!