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Bernie, grover, and Nate’s Oakland A's Offseason Plan: Simulated

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Oakland's effort during the SB Nation Offseason Simulation.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Bernie, grover, and Nate's Offseason Plan: Simulated

For the past few years Max Rieper has put together the SB Nation Offseason GM Simulation over at Royals Review. 30 teams, 30 GMs and the rosters reset to the last day of the 2015 season... a clear path for someone to reshape their favorite team in the way they see fit. The call went out three weeks ago to find folks willing to commit to the scheduled four day thought experiment; I teamed up with bernie_till_i_die and NateHST to rebuild and hopefully re-direct the fortunes of your Oakland A's.

We had a plan. A very, very good plan. I think this quote from NateHST adequately explains the core tenant of our plan:

"I'd give all the money to Heyward. Like seriously all of it."

The Oakland A's were going to pursue Jason Heyward and with a $95 million budget we had the means to pull off the surprise signing. But we knew it would take more than one free agent addition to turn the A's around and so we spent the better part of two weeks throwing ideas back and forth and scouring the rosters of the other 29 teams and their farm systems to identify what we needed and who we wanted to pursue. We decided on the following:

We needed to add one durable SP, most likely through free agency.

We needed to improve our up the middle defense; whether that meant we found a plus defensive SS to facilitate moving Semien to 2B or to find a better option than Sogard/Wendle... we weren't sure. But we targeted players that we thought could be available via trade and would be able to fill either of those roles.

We needed to improve the bullpen and since the bulk of our cash was earmarked towards signing Heyward and a SP we would try to deal prospects for high-quality relief arms that would be under team control for 3-4 years.

We wanted to create a 4 year window of contention. That's how long we'd have Sonny Gray and we figured Heyward's contract would include an opt-out clause sometime after the 4th season; therefore our moves but most especially our trades would aim at acquiring assets that would be able to help us win a World Series in that 4 year time frame.

Oh yeah... and make sure Billy Butler never played another game in the Green & Gold.

So we had a plan. A good plan. The Sim was going to run Nov. 15 -18. Nate had work commitments that would limit his availability to the evenings and I had a family matter that was scheduled smack in the middle of the Sim timeline so Bernie was going to run point and handle the bulk of the conversation with our counterparts. We knew which free agents we wanted to bid on and we knew which teams we were going to reach out to for trades; we just needed Max to send out the GM contact sheet so discussions could begin. Max sent out the email list on Saturday the 14th... Bernie had a competition that was going to keep him offline for most of the day. Nate already had a commitment. Fortunately I was at work with a light day planned of mostly paperwork, so I would be able to get things up and running for our team and be able to check in frequently. About 10 minutes after I saw the email list from Max my wife called to let me know her water broke.

Yes, you read that right.

Plans... they only last so long. Then things start to happen and you do the best you can. Here are NateHST and bernie_till_i_die to talk about what happened on the trade front and the free agent market (respectively) once the Sim began.

Trades

Oakland trades Jesse Chavez and Skye Bolt to Seattle for Chris Taylor and Mayckol Guaipe

This came together rather early on. We were in the market for some middle infield depth, while Seattle was looking for a back-end starter. Brad Miller was our initial target, but the M's sim GM was more attached to him than Servais was (Miller, among others, was recently traded to Tampa for Nate Karns, among others). Taylor's an interesting player in that he owns a career .239/.296/.296 slash in the majors yet he's hit .315/.403/.455 with good patience, speed and doubles power in the minors. Seattle's affiliates are generally hitter-friendly, but that's excellent production.

His calling card is defense. He owns a +12.7 UZR/150 at shortstop. That's in about 600 innings of sample size, which isn't much, but it certainly matches the scouting reports. We acquired him with the intention of making him the team's backup infielder—spelling Semien late in games with a plus defender is a luxury we didn't have last year.

We felt that six years of control over Taylor was worth more than one year of Jesse Chavez, who is projected to earn $4.7MM in 2016. We also gave up Skye Bolt and received Maychol Guaipe (we thought Guaipe's name could offset the loss of a true 80-grade name in Bolt's, only to find out later that it's pronounced "Michael"). Bolt had an up and down season for UNC before being drafted in the 4th round and sent to the New York-Penn league, where he had more ups and downs. Guiape projects as a middle reliever, but has two option years remaining and six years of team control.

Oakland trades Mark Canha to Cleveland for Jose Ramirez and Adam Plutko

This is the second year in a row that we've acquired Cleveland's Jose Ramirez. We haggled over a few different ideas with Cleveland; including a package deal of Canha and Valencia for Ramirez, Tyler Naquin, and relieverShawn Armstrong but Cleveland balked at including the relief arm. We considered Ramirez a target for many of the same reasons Taylor was a target—good defense, good track record in the minors, and redundant with his original team.

Ramirez owns a career .239/.298/.346 slash in the majors with 38 extra base hits and 20 steals over 635 PA (a full season of playing time). What made his track record even more attractive to us is that he's been bogged down by a poor .262 BABIP. For a switch-hitter that hits a good amount of ground balls and has good speed, that figure should rise—and as it rises so will his overall production. He's posted a career +12.4 UZR/150 at second base. He would be our primary second baseman but would probably sit against LHP to get Taylor's defense at SS and Semien's bat to 2B.

We gave up Canha, which I know will be upsetting to some of you. We felt that while Canha showed solid potential, he was ultimately limited by what he could do defensively, or more appropriately what he couldn't do. As someone who's limited to an OF corner or 1B, a 107 wRC+ won't cut it. While we all agreed that there was some upside in his bat, we felt there was upside in Ramirez's too.

Adam Plutko projects as a back-end starter with an average fastball, good change-up, and excellent command. He has a solid 3.16 ERA in the minors, including a 2.39 ERA over 166 innings in High-A and Double-A in 2015. He fits a type of pitcher that I wanted to target in the sim—guys who don't walk anyone that generate fly-balls. He does that well. He's the type of guy that would get eaten alive in Colorado but could succeed in the Coliseum. In 2016, we'd expect him to provide some rotation depth in AAA.

Oakland trades Billy Butler, Chad Pinder, and Joe Wendle to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Andre Ethier and $10MM ($5MM in 2016 and $5MM in 2017)

Let's start with our side first: Butler is a sunk cost, owed $20MM over the next two seasons. He provided barely league average offense while grounding into an aneurysm-inducing amount of double plays. We searched high and low to find a taker for his salary and only the Dodgers were willing to bite. For this, we paid the price of Chad Pinder and Joe Wendle, two solid if unspectacular middle infield prospects. Both lack plate discipline but could contribute as soon as 2016. However the acquisitions of Taylor, Ramirez, and the presence of Semien (not to mention Barreto) allowed us to make them both available. Ramirez and Semien won't be free agents until 2020, Taylor not until 2021.

In return we got Andre Ethier and $10MM, split evenly across the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Ethier is coming off a bounce-back season in which he hit a healthy .294/.366/.486 (and an even more robust .306/.383/.517 against RHP). He is owed $18MM in 2016 and $17.5MM in 2017, with a club option for $17.5MM in 2018 (buyout of $2.5MM). We viewed Butler as a true sunk cost with a good chance of actively hurting the team if we kept him. The first thing grover, Bernie, and I agreed on was to cut Butler one way or another. Taking on Ethier's contract (minus the $10MM over 2016 and 2017) allowed us to do that.

To put it another way, we moved an immovable contract. We would have had to pay Butler's salary regardless. We felt that with our infield depth, paying an extra $3MM in 2016 and $2.5MM in 2017 (plus the $2.5MM buyout in 2018) for Ethier instead Butler was well worth the cost in prospects.

Guys, seriously... we traded Billy Butler.

Oakland trades Arnold Leon to Pittsburgh for Andrew Lambo

You should be somewhat familiar with Andrew Lambo now that he's actually in our organization in real life. He'll provide some OF depth and assuming he comes back healthy from plantar fasciitis (easier said than done--I've dealt with it before) represents some upside. Leon was expendable since he was out of options and we were already looking at Sean Nolin or possibly Jeremy Hellickson as our long relief arm.

Oakland trades Eric Sogard for to Arizona for Silvino Bracho, Aaron Hill, and $4MM

This idea was grover's baby. After whiffing on all our of pricey free agent targets we had the payroll flexibility to do basically whatever we wanted, so we decided to buy a prospect. Aaron Hill, whom we immediately released, is owed $12MM next year (a cost of $8MM to us this year with the money Arizona chipped in). Sogard can follow in Pennington's shoes.

For that we got Silvino Bracho, a 5'11" reliever with six years of control and a tremendous track record. Here are his career minor league numbers: 12.8 strikeouts per 9 innings, 1.6 walks per 9 innings, 0.49 HR per 9 innings. Those are... good. He's another guy that generates a ton of fly-balls and never walks anybody. Those guys make my heart warm. Here's a good article from a contributor at minorleagueball:http://www.minorleagueball.com/2015/9/2/9232207/who-is-arizona-diamondbacks-rookie-silvino-bracho-scouting-report

If you're skeptical about taking on that much of Hill's contract, think of it this way: Bracho will earn the league minimum for the next three seasons. Bracho at $9.5MM ($8MM of Hill's salary plus three seasons of the league minimum) was a significantly more attractive option than most of the relievers on the FA market - we paid $6MM for one year Trevor Cahill, who's about as unproven as Bracho. Shawn Kelley and Mark Lowe, two popular "under-the-radar" RP options, received 3 year/$14 MMand 2 year/$11 MM with a vesting option contracts during the Sim.

Oakland trades Fernando Abad to Toronto for Justin Smoak and $1MM

After trading Canha, we were flying without a first baseman for a while. Our run at Chris Davis fell through and we weren't comfortable offering the gig to Matt Olson just yet. In our state of limbo we picked up Smoak and $1MM to help cover his salary for Abad. We figured Smoak had comparable numbers to Canha last year (Canha posted a wRC+ of 106 versus Smoak's 107) and would be an adequate replacement if we couldn't find anyone better. We eventually non-tendered him after signing Pedro Alvarez. In the end we basically traded Fernando Abad for $1 million in cash.

Oakland trades Evan Scribner to Toronto for Shane Dawson

We were going to non-tender Scribner but Toronto expressed interest in him. We gave them a list of names that we'd barely ever heard of. They gave us the green light for one of Roemon Fields or Shane Dawson. We went with Shane Dawson, who we later found out is missing his infraspinatus muscle (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/49/Infraspinatus_muscle_back2.png) in his shoulder. Oh well! Dawson posted a 120 in 127.2 innings across the Midwest and Florida State Leagues en route to a 15-6 record with 3.03 ERA. He's a flier arm at a level where we don't have a whole lot of arms, period.

Oakland trades Renato NunezRaul Alcantara, and RJ Alvarez to Miami for Marcell Ozuna

We knew going into the sim that we really didn't have the OF depth to make it through a full season. Marcell Ozuna is an intriguing case to watch this year in real life as Miami ownership seems hellbent on trading him. Ozuna is just a year removed from a 4 fWAR season and still has four years of team control. We felt that Ozuna's steamer projection (2.3 fWAR in 523 PA) was a pretty reasonable floor. Throughout his career, he's provided league average offense with solid defense in CF. That said, he has plus raw power and as a 25-year old right-handed hitter there could be a lot more in the tank. If he's an average outfielder, this is a fair deal all around. If he returns to 2014 form, it's a Fucking-A trade for us.

Parting with Renato Nunez wasn't the most difficult decision for us. Even though he carries a plus raw power, he also has questions about his defense at third base and may not have the bat for first base. Raul Alcantara threw a solid 50 innings in his return from TJS, but he still doesn't strike guys out and that's concerning. We traded RJ Alvarez so that you guys wouldn't be tempted to throw your TV remotes through any windows. We were prepared to offer a decent amount more for Ozuna but the Marlins GM noted in his simulation summary that the market he expected for Ozuna never really materialized. Our initial offer turned out to be good enough.

Non-Tenders

Our non-tender decisions were fairly simple. Felix Doubront, Sam Fuld, Craig Gentry, and Ike Davis were set to make nearly $10MM combined in 2016, and the quartet combined for -1.0 fWAR in 2015. We were able to turn Sogard, Abad, Leon and Scribner into trade chips that netted us some complimentary-type assets for 2016 and beyond.

Free Agents

We initially had very high hopes in free agency. After the non-tenders above and the trades of some expensive veterans we had roughly $40 MM in salary space available. We first set our sights on Jason Heyward but his market became very pricey very quickly. (He would ultimately re-sign with St. Louis for an 11 year/$310 MM guaranteed contract. Yes, you read that right. No, that wasn't a typo.) We also showed interest in John JasoJoe Blanton, Shawn Kelley and Mark Lowe but each accepted two-year guaranteed deals when we were only comfortable offering one year contracts with club options. After some early frustration, we finally hit on some of our first targets.

JA Happ - 3 years/$30 MM

We decided early on that we really needed to add a veteran to the rotation, preferably a lefty. However, we were not comfortable giving Scott Kazmir the years and money he ended up receiving (4 years/$64 MM) and were intent on not giving up a draft pick unless it was for an elite free agent. So we settled on JA Happ.

Happ was never much of anything special. The 33 year-old debuted back in 2007 with the Phillies and the lefty's average fastball velocity for most of his career was below 90 MPH. He never posted great peripherals, struggling to notch strikeouts and not having the greatest control, and was basically a fifth starter at best, never eclipsing 2.0 fWAR in a season between stints with the Phillies, Astros and Blue Jays.

However, prior to the 2015 season, Happ was dealt to the Mariners. Happ wasn't anything special despite pitching in a fantastic pitchers' part in Seattle, and was dealt to the Pirates at the deadline. In Pittsburgh, Happ took off. His average fastball velocity bumped up to 92.1 MPH. He posted a 1.85 ERA over 11 starts, supported by a 2.19 FIP, 9.81 K/9, and 1.85 BB/9. In just those 11 starts (63.1 innings), Happ was worth 2.1 fWAR.

Happ will be a reliable veteran presence for the rotation. Realistically, he probably settles in as a consistent back-end arm, which isn't an amazing addition but is well worth the $10MM/year. However, if he can maintain the adjustments he made in the second-half of 2015 and his success in Pittsburgh is for real, then this signing becomes a steal.

Trevor Cahill - 1 year/$4.5 MM with a $6 MM club option ($1.5 MM opt-out)

Cahill will provide much-needed bullpen help from the right side. While Cahill's 2015 season doesn't look too promising on the surface, he was dominant in late innings for the Cubs down the stretch. In 17 regular season innings for Chicago, he posted a 2.12 ERA (3.13 FIP) along with 11.65 K/9 and 2.65 BB/9. Cahill was hurling high-velocity sinkers out of the bullpen, and could be the dominant arm Oakland really needs. Still only 27, Cahill has shown very real upside and was willing to sign a contract that protects Oakland in the event his innings out of the Cubs' bullpen are a mirage.

***

At this point, we became priced out of the market for Jason Heyward. Our plans had been banking on snagging him so we were left scrambling a bit for a bat to add to the lineup. In the meantime, we snagged a couple of veteran arms on minor league deals.

Craig Breslow and Kyle Kendrick - minor league deals

Not a whole lot to say here. Breslow has shown interest in returning to rotation full time in 2016 and we were willing to give him the opportunity to do so...in the minors. The deal includes a $500K signing bonus and a $1.5MM salary if Breslow were to be called up to Oakland. He can stretch his arm out in Nashville while mentoring young arms like Dillon Overton and Sean Manaea. There's also the chance he becomes the next Rich Hill, thus offering excellent starting pitching depth for Oakland and providing another possible trade chip come July.

Kendrick, on the other hand, accepted a straight minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. He's always had good control and has a little bit of upside but in reality is just a depth option.

***

Needing a left-handed bat (preferably at first base) we dabbled in the Chris Davis market. We ended up pursuing him pretty heavily but ended up priced out yet again. So we settled for another left-handed "first baseman".

Pedro Alvarez - 1 year/$5 MM

Alvarez was traded twice (Pittsburgh to Minnesota, then Minnesota to Washington) before being non-tendered. Alvarez is not a good first baseman but has been an above average hitter for his career, especially against righties (career 118 wRC+). Alvarez is still only 28 and was once a decent defender at third base; so there's a very real chance that he can improve at first base with some help from infield coach Ron Washington.

We didn't plan on relying on Alvarez at first base and definitely aren't quite comfortable in him. But he was the most viable option available to us and if he's truly terrible than prospects Matt Olson and/or Rangel Ravelo can be pushed to the big leagues to take his place.

***

Next, we flirted with the idea of adding Ben Zobrist but decided not to. (He ended up signing a 5 year/$108 MM contract with San Diego.) Then came our final signings as things wound down.

Jeremy Hellickson - 1 year/$3 MM ($500K bonus for 150 IP)

Hellickson is, at worst, a viable back-end piece. He has considerable upside, however, and is still only 28. This isn't an earth-shattering addition. However, he adds another solid veteran presence to the rotation and is the perfect kind of pitcher to succeed at O.co (only 39.2% career ground ball rate). Hellickson could also be used in relief or even cut if he performs poorly early on.

Josh Thole, Travis Snider, Casey Fien and Jeanmar Gomez - minor league deals

Just some depth. A LH-hitting catcher, a former top outfield prospect and a pair of relievers. Fien has been good for just under 1 fWAR each of the last three years; oversights happen during a sim as hectic as this and in this case landing Fien on a minor league deal was a boon for the Oakland A's.

***

We looked into the idea of adding Marco Estrada but decided our pitching staff was solid and our team was complete.

Payroll

Recommended Sim Budget: $95 MM

Total Payroll (Actual): $80.63 MM

(Italicized numbers are estimated arbitration salaries. 2016 figures are from MLBTR; 2017 & 2018 figures have been "borrowed" from a Jeremy F. Koo post.)

Name/Position 2016 Salary 2017 Salary 2018 Salary 2019 Salary
25 Man Roster
Andre Either/DH $       18,000,000.00 $       17,500,000.00 $          2,500,000.00
Coco Crisp/OF $       11,000,000.00 $             750,000.00
JA Happ/SP $       10,000,000.00 $       10,000,000.00 $       10,000,000.00 FA
Josh Reddick/OF $         7,000,000.00 FA
Pedro Alvarez/1B $         5,000,000.00 FA
Trevor Cahill/RP $         4,500,000.00 $         1,500,000.00
Brett Lawrie/3B $         3,900,000.00 $        6,000,000.00 FA
Danny Valencia/3B $         3,400,000.00 $        6,000,000.00 FA
Jeremy Hellickson/SP $         3,000,000.00 FA
Sean Doolittle/CL $         1,600,000.00 $         2,600,000.00 $          4,400,000.00 $500K/$6 MM
Drew Pomeranz/RP $         1,300,000.00 $        2,000,000.00 $         3,000,000.00 FA
Fernando Rodriguez/RP $         1,300,000.00 $        2,000,000.00 FA
Sonny Gray/SP $             520,000.00 $        5,000,000.00 $       10,000,000.00 FA after 2019
Chris Bassitt/SP $             520,000.00 $             525,000.00 $         2,000,000.00 FA after 2020
Jesse Hahn/SP $             520,000.00 $             525,000.00 $         2,000,000.00 FA after 2020
Sean Nolin/RP $             520,000.00 $             525,000.00 $             530,000.00 Arb1
Silvino Bracho/RP $             520,000.00 $             525,000.00 $             530,000.00 Arb1
Mayckol Guaipe/RP $             520,000.00 $             525,000.00 $             530,000.00 Arb1
Stephen Vogt/C $             520,000.00 $        3,000,000.00 $         6,000,000.00 FA after 2019
Josh Phegley/C $             520,000.00 $             525,000.00 $         3,000,000.00 FA after 2020
Marcus Semien/SS $             520,000.00 $             525,000.00 $         3,000,000.00 FA after 2020
Jose Ramirez/2B $             520,000.00 $             525,000.00 $         3,000,000.00 FA after 2020
Chris Taylor/SS $             520,000.00 $             525,000.00 $             530,000.00 FA after 2021
Billy Burns/LF $             520,000.00 $             525,000.00 $         3,000,000.00 FA after 2020
Marcell Ozuna/CF $             520,000.00 $        3,000,000.00 $         6,000,000.00 FA after 2019
40 Man Roster (13)
Jarrod Parker/SP $            850,000.00 $        2,000,000.00 FA
AJ Griffin/SP $            520,000.00 $            525,000.00 $             530,000.00
Kendall Graveman/SP
Aaron Brooks/SP
Ryan Dull/RP
David Coulombe/RP
Pat Venditte/RP
Dan Otero/RP
Max Muncy/1B
Tyler Ladendorf/UT
Rangel Ravelo/1B
Andrew Lambo/OF
Jake Smolinski/OF
Miscellaneous
Aaron Hill/Released $       12,000,000.00
Craig Breslow $             500,000.00
Cash from LAD $       (5,000,000.00) $       (5,000,000.00)
Cash from AZ $       (4,000,000.00)
Cash from WAS $       (1,000,000.00)
Totals: $       80,630,000.00 $       62,125,000.00 $       60,550,000.00

Summary:

We didn't land Jason Heyward but we went a long way towards creating our 4 year window of contention and we've maintained financial flexibility.There's enough money remaining in the budget, for example, to sign Josh Reddick to an extension through the 2019 season. (For reasons tied largely to maintaining Max's sanity during the Sim teams are not allowed to sign their own players to contract extensions.) But if we had been allowed to do that we'd have Oakland's starting outfield, middle infield, and at least 3 rotation spots and 4 roles in the bullpen pencilled in for the next 4 years. We kept our Top 5 prospects (Barreto, Olson, Manaea, Martin and Chapman per MLB.com) and our best Catching prospect (Nottingham, #8). This should allow us to replace Alvarez, Lawrie and Vogt internally when it comes time to move on.

It wasn't necessary as part of the Sim to create a team that "fit" a 25 and 40 man roster but we tasked ourselves to take that extra step. Our 25 man roster makes sense and the 40 man sits at 38, ready to accommodate young talent already in the organization needing protection from the Rule 5 draft. We focused our trade targets on players with options remaining, allowing the team to shuffle as necessary. Did we do enough to build a future championship team?

We had fun trying.