In looking ahead to 2016, one thing about the likely make-up of the roster really concerns me: the lack of a reliable RH power bat that doesn't have to be platooned!
As things stand now, here is how I would project the 2016 lineups against RHP and LHP:
1. Burns - CF
2. Coco - LF
3. Vogt - C
4. Reddick - RF
5. Lawrie - 3B
6. Davis - 1B
7. Butler - DH
8. Sogard/Wendle - 2B
9. Semien - SS
1. Burns - CF
2. Coco - LF
3. Valencia - 3B
4. Butler - DH
5. Lawrie - 2B
6. Phegley - C
7. Smolinski - RF
8. Canha - 1B
9. Semien - SS
It's not terrible either way, but it's not really all that competitive either.
What could change that real quick in my opinion is getting a veteran, middle-order bat from the right-side who could slot into the cleanup spot against both lefties and righties. There are a few possible FA targets for this role, but the most ideal of which I would consider out of the realm of realistic for the A's (Justin Upton, Cespedes) not impactful enough to make much of a difference (Steve Pearce, Mike Napoli) or enigmatic with possible draft-pick penalties involved (Desmond, Fowler).
Setting aside the FA route, and in honor of the recent Jewish heritage night, I'd like to turn my attention to possibly filling this gaping hole via trade for Ryan Braun.
Granted, Braun comes with a few flaws, both of the character and performance varieties. However, he's still reasonably productive against both righties and lefties, can hit for a bit of power and average and can even steal a few bases.
His 5-year,$105 million contract extension kicks-in next season, and for a Brewers team in the midst of a complete rebuild, he seems imminently dispensable to them.
The contract itself is interesting: $19 million a year from 2016-2018, $18 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020 and a $15 million mutual option for 2021 - however, $4 million from each of his salaries in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and $3 million per season in 2019 and 2020, is deferred without interest until payoff sometime between 2022 and 2031. This arrangement makes his effective salaries for those seasons:
2016: $15 million
2017: $15 million
2018: $15 million
2019: $15 million
2020: $13 million
That really doesn't seem that onerous to me in this age of ridiculously escalating salaries.
Despite viewing this contract in rose colored glasses, it still doesn't come across as a very tradeable asset and the Brewers really have little to no leverage in terms of negotiating his trade (his contract also comes with a NTC to all teams except for LAA, LAD, Tampa, Washington and Miami).
However, given that Braun is West Coast born and bred and might see better opportunities to compete outside of a rebuilding Brewer club, I could envision him accepting a trade to the A's (where he could also DH frequently to keep fresh).
Butler is of little to no use to Milwaukee as a DH, but accepting his contract for Braun would reduce the cash they would need to send to cover Braun, would prompt the A's to include someone like Nunez and would allow them to possibly play him at 1st for a few months in a total down year to see if they can recoup some value for him with a mid-season trade.
With that framework in mind, Milwaukee would not send any cash over for 2016 and 2017 - that would be covered by taking on Butler's contract. From 2018 to 2020, Milwaukee would send over a total of $23 million to offset Braun's contract.
With all that said and done, Braun's actual hit to the yearly payroll of the A's would be:
2016 - $5 million
2017 - $5 million
2018 - $5 million
2019 - $5 million
2020 - $5 million
2021 - $4 million (buyout of mutual option)
The Brewers save about $42 million in the process and add some decent prospects - the A's get a middle of the order hitter on a 5-year, $29 million deal (cheaper than the Butler deal, mind you), with additional liabilities of $2 million a year in deferred payments from 2022 through 2031.
Braun is no defensive whiz, but he can fake it in LF and/or 1B for half his games, and DH the other half.
When all is said and done, Braun would essentially replace Butler's role on the roster. This switch would result in about a 3-win upgrade if basing future contributions on current/2015 stats.
Combine that with the additional flexibility/skills that Braun offers (he can actually score from 2nd on a single, steal a bag every now and then and play a position or two in the field without completely embarrassing himself) and the idea of adding Braun really intrigues me.
All in all, this idea, admittedly, is complicated and unlikely to happen. But I do like the idea of adding Braun, with all of his flaws, for a relatively small marginal cost to get his bat into the lineup on a daily basis and add some stability to the batting order.
If a deal like this went down, it would also preserve a lot of the spending flexibility the A's have in the coming seasons - for instance, the team could still grab a starter like Fister, Leake or Chen to augment their current group for 2016, or use additional funds as signing bonuses for Reddick/Gray extensions.
At around $24 million for 5 years, the A's could even cut Braun at some point and not be out much. Plus, by bouncing around LF, 1B and DH, he wouldn't really be blocking anyone in the system from developing or breaking through.
Am I crazy?