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|
|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|
|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|
|Fernando Rodriguez||$1,300,000||$2,000,000||FA||Arb. Estimate|
|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|
|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|
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:
Forst on search for a starter: "We continue to check in ... but I can’t say for sure something’s going to fall to where it’s doable for us."— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) December 9, 2015
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.