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What's next for Oakland A's after trading Brett Lawrie and signing all the relievers

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Despite popular belief, it's only December, and there is still time for the Oakland Athletics to make some more moves for a competitive 2016, if you thought there was a chance in the first place.

A's manager Bob Melvin meets with reporters at the 2015 Winter Meetings.
A's manager Bob Melvin meets with reporters at the 2015 Winter Meetings.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Athletics have wrapped up their apparent campaign to sign and trade for all the relievers ever and make no moves to bolster the club on the offensive side of the ball, save swapping out Ike Davis with Yonder Alonso and Brett Lawrie with Jed Lowrie. Sources tell me, however, that there are more than three months until the first games of the 2016 regular season, and therefore there is still time for the A's to make more moves. So take it easy.

First, the A's are probably going to take someone in the Rule 5 Draft Thursday morning with their sixth pick, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, but it will be the player to be named to complete the trade of Yonder Alonso and Marc Rzepczynski from the San Diego Padres. The A's have 38 players on the 40-man roster, so they could make another selection in the second round, but the inability to move Coco Crisp or Billy Butler to another team makes carrying a Rule 5 player on the roster difficult.

Is there money to make more moves on the free agent market? Oakland Athletics executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane says payroll will go up next year, but he also says "we're starting to become a little bit limited in terms of payroll."

So let's take a look at where the payroll stands after the A's completed the Brett Lawrie trade (arbitration estimates from MLB Trade Rumors):

Oakland A's 25-man and contracted players payroll projection
Player 2016 2017 2018 Type
Position Players Coco Crisp $11,000,000 Buyout Contract
Josh Reddick $7,000,000 FA Arb. Estimate
Sam Fuld $1,925,000 FA Arb. Settlement
Billy Butler $10,000,000 $10,000,000 FA Contract
Jed Lowrie $7,500,000 $6,500,000 Buyout Contract
Danny Valencia $3,400,000 $6,000,000 FA Arb. Estimate
Yonder Alonso $2,500,000 $4,000,000 FA Arb. Estimate
Eric Sogard $1,500,000 $2,500,000 FA Arb. Settlement
Stephen Vogt $507,500 $3,000,000 $6,000,000 Arb. Estimate
Billy Burns $507,500 $515,000 $3,000,000 Arb. Estimate
Mark Canha $507,500 $515,000 $3,000,000 Arb. Estimate
Marcus Semien $507,500 $515,000 $3,000,000 Arb. Estimate
Josh Phegley $507,500 $515,000 $3,000,000 Arb. Estimate
Pre-arb Position Player 1 $515,000 $522,500 Minimum
Pre-arb Position Player 2 $515,000 $522,500 Minimum
Pre-arb Position Player 3 $515,000 $522,500 Minimum
Pre-arb Position Player 4 $522,500 Minimum
Pre-arb Position Player 5 $522,500 Minimum
Pre-arb Position Player 6 $522,500 Minimum
Pre-arb Position Player 7 $522,500 Minimum
Pre-arb Position Player 8 $522,500 Minimum
Starting Pitchers Rich Hill $6,000,000 FA Contract
Jarrod Parker $850,000 $2,000,000 FA Arb. Estimate
Sonny Gray $507,500 $5,000,000 $10,000,000 Arb. Estimate
Jesse Hahn $507,500 $515,000 $2,000,000 Arb. Estimate
Kendall Graveman $507,500 $515,000 $2,000,000 Arb. Estimate
Chris Bassitt $507,500 $515,000 $2,000,000 Arb. Estimate
Pre-arb Starting PItcher 1 $522,500 Minimum
Relief Pitchers Marc Rzepczynski $2,950,000 FA Arb. Settlement
John Axford $5,000,000 $5,000,000 FA Contract
Fernando Rodriguez $1,300,000 $2,000,000 FA Arb. Estimate
Ryan Madson $7,000,000 $7,500,000 $7,500,000 Contract
Sean Doolittle $1,580,000 $2,630,000 $4,350,000 Arb. Estimate
Liam Hendriks $507,500 $1,500,000 $2,500,000 Arb. Estimate
Sean Nolin $507,500 $515,000 $522,500 Minimum
Pre-arb Relief Pitcher 1 $515,000 $522,500 Minimum
Pre-arb Relief Pitcher 2 $522,500 Minimum
Pre-arb Relief Pitcher 3 $522,500
Misc. Coco Crisp (Buyout) $750,000
Jed Lowrie (Buyout) $1,000,000
Felix Doubront (Cut) $500,000
September callups $1,100,000 $1,200,000 $1,200,000
GRAND TOTAL $76,687,500 $65,760,000 $57,342,500

Payroll at the start of 2015 was a hair over $87 million by the Cot's Contracts estimate, adjusted to place the entirety of Billy Butler's $5 million signing bonus in the 2015 campaign instead of prorating it. So push payroll to $90-95 million and there's still some ability to make moves to add another starting pitcher to the rotation or an outfielder to improve what is currently some combination of Coco Crisp, Sam Fuld, and Mark Canha.

The A's continued to say they were looking at veteran starting pitchers, and probably on a shorter term deal, according to CSN California's Joe Stiglich on Tuesday. On Wednesday, A's general manager David Forst remained uncertain about whether the A's would add anyone else for the rotation:

And there have been no rumblings about acquiring an outfielder since the report by Yonhap News Agency about the A's taking a long look at Korean outfielder Hyun-Soo Kim. CSN California's Joe Stiglich said that Oakland's international efforts in Asia implied "heavy interest in Kim," but couldn't lock down anything concrete. If the A's do make a move to upgrade in left field, the A's could try to trade or simply release Sam Fuld, but that would leave the A's without a backup in center field.

But you don't really want the A's to make long term free agent commitments

As Alex Hall pointed out yesterday, the A's are at a stage where they will soon finally bring up infielders they've drafted or signed on the international market on their own. Signing free agent position players worth a damn require long-term commitments, as FanGraphs' Eno Sarris points out in talking to Billy Beane as to why the A's have focused their free agent dollars on bullpen help:

[Ryan Madson, Liam Hendriks, and John Axford] will cost the team around $12 million next year, and none is under contract for more than three years. When starting pitchers are getting six and seven years, and 35-year-old second basemen are getting four years and $56 million, this is what it looks like to shop in the bargain aisle these days.

The A's could trade prospects for improvements to the major league squad, but then we're back to the same old problem with the A's always trading away their position player prospects just as they're about to turn into gold, and it runs counter to what the A's have been saying pretty much since the trade deadline, "What we probably won't do is use prospects for acquisitions."

So instead we will wait because there's an entire infield getting primed to be promoted in the next year or two between Rangel Ravelo, Renato Nunez, Joey Wendle, Chad Pinder, and Matt Olson.

If you believe one version of the 2015 narrative, that the A's were a .500 skilled team that instead (1) caught horrible breaks out of a horrifically unclutch bullpen, (2) spiraled because of the worst team chemistry longtime team employees have ever seen, and (3) were beset by an impossible set of injuries to key contributors such that they were starting literally Barry Zito at the end of the year, then the A's will have addressed at least two of the parts that are the most within their control by adding four new relievers and trading away Brett Lawrie. They just need a little bit of luck to turn in the other direction (because oh my goodness they deserve it) to return to the postseason, and there's a little bit of money left to make another addition.

If you believe another version of the 2015 narrative, that the A's were just 68-win load of terribleness independent of those reasons, then this is a rebuilding year for you as you wait for the prospects in Triple-A to be ready, because the A's won't pay to just buy the 20-win improvement you want in one year no matter how much you kick and scream and demand John Fisher throw his fortune into the team or sell. There was nothing to be done because anything else would have blocked homegrown prospects from promotions.

And that's really it. You either felt like the club just got some of the worst luck of all time or they were so far away from contention that they should gear up for 2017, instead. The "rebuild" or "reload" or "retool" or whatever you want to call it looks the same, either way.