Sure, since it's all the rage this week I'll take my shot at an off-season plan, and some of it may surprise readers who have read my comments over the past few weeks. It's not that I'm taking a left turn so much as I am aiming to be as realistic as possible.
I have been saying, and I am not changing my stance on this, that I hope the A's make a run at Ben Zobrist and Alex Gordon. Oakland has some payroll flexibility right now and will be nicely set up for the next few years if they land a plus LFer to join the existing and up-and-coming crew.
However, I know that big name free agents tend to get overpaid for past performance and the realist in me says Zobrist and Gordon will probably wind up getting offers in the $20M/year range and at that point the A's are wise if they back off. So while I would love to see Oakland snag a truly excellent LFer, I also know that most likely they will have to leave the bidding at some point even if they are serious about taking their best shot.
And I don't really want the A's to settle for yet another "nice complementary piece" in LF, devoting precious free agent dollars to guys like Gerardo Parra or Dexter Fowler or Colby Rasmus -- all of whom would be real upgrades to what the A's have been putting out there, but none of whom is likely to be more than "another nice complementary piece, just more expensive".
So for my off-season plan, I let the big market teams pay Gordon and Zobrist to be 27 even thought they aren't, fight over the right to overpay Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, Zack Greinke and David Price, and instead I bolster the team as follows:
Wei-Yin Chen (4/$60M?)
I think the best A's target in their realistic price range is Wei-Yin Chen. Chen is a legitimate #2 SP who is 30 and who, like fellow lefty Scott Kazmir, can touch 93MPH but is also equipped with a good enough assortment of secondary pitches, command, and guile, that he will still be effective when his fastball loses 1-2 MPH. He's a pretty good bet for a 3-4 year deal. I don't know exactly what the market for Chen will be, but if it's something like 4 years/$60M I would be happy to see the A's allocate their available money towards adding Chen to the rotation for the next several seasons.
Now in 2016, you're looking at a starting rotation led by Gray-Chen-Hahn-Bassitt-Graveman with depth of Nolin-Brooks-Griffin and Sean Manaea on the way (quite possibly mid-season). More importantly, as you look at the 2017-19 window you are potentially anchored by a "big 3" of Gray-Chen-Manaea with the luxury of having Hahn-Bassitt-Graveman at the back of a stacked rotation. You are now well on your way to fielding a legitimate contender.
Reddick Extension (4/$50?)
The other place to spend "real money" is for a Josh Reddick extension. Would I rather have Reddick or Donaldson for 4 years and about $50M? Well, I think you know the answer to that but I think we also know that the ship has sailed on one but not the other. Oakland simply has no organizational depth at COFer, and extending Reddick is essentially replacing having to sign someone like him because there is nothing in the pipeline anytime soon. So perhaps there isn't payroll available to extend Reddick and sign a really good LFer and sign Chen, but two out of three ain't bad.
Maybe add Trevor Cahill to the bullpen and go into 2016 with a bullpen that is refreshingly distinct from the 2015 debaclers. Doolittle and Dull flanked by Parker and Cahill, with Francisco Rodriguez and Sean Nolin at the back of the pen? That's a more encouraging starting point than the dreck we endured this past season. In fact it could be quite good.
As for trades, I don't like to suggest specific deals because I don't even know exactly what other teams are looking for and who they are shopping. So I don't like to say, "Here's a solution: Trade X and Y for A, B, and C!" How the heck do I know if that could ever happen?
Chavez and Valencia to the
What I will suggest, though, is that the combination of Jesse Chavez and Danny Valencia seems like a great fit for a Los Angeles Dodgers team in need of starting pitching (and supposedly enamored of Chavez) and which has trying to convince themselves that Justin Turner is a third baseman (the metrics don't seem to hate him, but boy my eyeballs sure do). And they may be losing Howie Kendrick to free agency.
From the much discussed LFer Scott Schebler to high upside 19 year old SP Grant Holmes to 2B-C prospect Austin Barnes, the Dodgers have a piece or pieces that might fit into a deal that sent Chavez and Valencia to LAD. Hopefully Andrew Lambo, the yin to Jake Smolinski's yang, pulls a Brandon Moss and turns an excellent minor league career and failed big league cups of coffee into sudden stardom. If so perhaps Barnes, as the centerpiece to a deal, serves the A's needs better than Schebler anyway.
Release Billy Butler (Please?)
Just do it. Also moving on would be Fernando Abad, Drew Pomeranz, Felix Doubront, and Sam Fuld, with Craig Gentry and Evan Scribner tendered contracts. Eric Sogard is tendered a contract if the A's don't acquire Barnes but perhaps not if Oakland already has Barnes and Wendle, in which case Tyler Ladendorf can serve as the back-up infielder and perhaps there is no place for Sogard.
So imagine subtracting Chavez, Valencia, and Butler, adding Chen, Cahill, and perhaps Barnes, and setting up your 2016 team to look roughly like this:
Vogt/Phegley - C
Canha/Ravelo - 1B
Barnes/Wendle - 2B
Semien - SS
Lawrie - 3B
Lambo/Smolinski - LF
Burns - CF
Reddick - RF
Crisp/Ravelo - DH
Most of that team is under contract control until 2019, as Manaea, Olson, Pinder, Nuñez, Overton, and soon Chapman, Muñoz, Mengden, Nottingham, Meisner try to make their way to the big leagues. I can see that 2016 team being around .500 on paper but with the potential to win 90 games if things roll "as right as they did wrong" in 2015. And I like the way that team is set up going forward, even though I would love to have a definite stud in LF -- but this plan is one that feels realistic to me.
Care to Wei-Yin?