Taj's FINAL Offseason Plan

Melvin in deep contemplation about Taj's myriad off-season rosterbation threads. - Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

This will likely be my final long-form post of the off-season, given that I’ll be going on a long vacation next week and will be starting a demanding new job once I get back. However, I’m satisfied that this post accurately summarizes the direction I think the A’s should go over the next 4 months...

In my initial draft offseason plan from a few weeks ago I posited some moves the A’s could make to put a "budget" roster together that could move the team towards contention without trading premium prospects or signing anyone to big dollar deals. In this iteration, I’m going to take a different tack and go in a more high risk/high reward direction. I’m still very interested in a few deals from that iteration, but I’m also going to throw a few different ideas out there in a few others places (in RF most notably, sparing you all the indignity of hearing more reasons why I think Nick Markakis is the perfect fit for the what ails this team).

A few days ago, I ran down a quick and dirty assessment of what I think the other teams in the AL West might do this offseason. My conclusion from that thought exercise was that I think the Mariners and Astros in particular are poised to have really productive offseasons owing to their mutual combination of having nice established cores already in place and tons of payroll space to make key additions. Both teams actually outplayed the Rangers in pure Pythag record terms in 2016; with a full offseason to make additions, I foresee both teams coming into 2017 with squads that will improve on their records from 2016, with both poised to meet or exceed 90 wins in 2017.

With that possibility certainly plausible, it will probably take a lot more of an impactful talent infusion on the A’s end (along with some luck) to truly compete in 2017 (and maybe 2018 too).

Some of the moves bandied about on here (with myself included in that dialogue) are just not going to get the job done - viewed in that prism, additions like Brett Anderson for the rotation, Brandon Moss for 1B/OF/DH, Nick Markakis for RF, Josh Reddick for RF, and Jarrod Dyson or Jon Jay for CF are not going to move the needle in any meaningful way. What this team truly needs then is an infusion of higher-impact, ready-now talent.

Here’s a stab at that sort of high-risk/high-reward offseason:

Deal 1

To WAS: Vogt, Axford, Eibner

To OAK: Michael Taylor, Austin Voth, Andrew Stevenson

I’m sticking to the framework of this deal from my previous posts and think it’s a good match of needs for both sides.

For WAS: Vogt is one of the best catchers available in either FA or trade (at least with the bat), who gives the Nationals a cost-controlled, mature field leader with lefty pop. Axford is a durable, versatile bullpen arm who has had a lot of success pitching late in games in the NL, still brings nice velocity and is on a palatable 1-year $5.5 million deal. Eibner is thrown in here because, unlike Taylor, he has options left and can be a nice rotation guy for the Nats for cheap at all three OF positions (if they want to move Turner to SS sooner rather than later and platoon Goodwin or Revere in CF with a righty) while waiting for Victor Robles to mature. This deal spares anyone from their current core and adds less than $10 million to their payroll ledger while still plugging a few holes, allowing them to throw the rest of their available resources at a reunion with Mark Melancon, who is going to be highly sought-after in free agency.

For OAK: It will hurt giving up Vogt, but that loss can be mitigated (see more below). Stevenson remains the big long-term prize, but I believe in the "change of scenery" upside with Taylor as well. And I’m all about upside in this scenario. Voth gives the A’s one more SP asset to use in another trade in the middle of a market bereft of available pitching talent (see below for more on that).

Deal 2

A’s sign CFer Reymond Fuentes to a 1-year deal for the league minimum

Sticking to this one as well. We are all debating the merits of older options like Jarrod Dyson and Jon Jay, when I believe Fuentes can do exactly what those guys can do, only for like one-tenth the cost and more upside as a 25-year old with 5 years of team control remaining. He’s a plus defensive centerfielder with speed, and a lefty bat with 1st round pedigree.

Deal 3

To PIT: Grant Holmes, Jesse Hahn, Dillon Overton & Chad Pinder

To OAK: Andrew McCutchen & John Jaso

I feel like taking a chance on McCutchen might be one of the savvier ways the A’s could go this off-season. He had a terrible year (by his standards) in 2016, but prior to that he was a perennial MVP/5+ WAR talent. He’s not especially young (will be 31 most of next season), nor cheap ($14 million for 2017), needs to be moved off of CF and he bats right-handed...but he’s one of the best players in the game when he’s "right" and the opportunity to get guys like that for a discount just doesn’t present itself that often to the A’s.

For PIT: Of all the theoretical OF trade targets we’ve focused-on so far the past few weeks/months, McCutchen is the only one where his General Manager has indicated a willingness to actually trade him. PIT is shedding salary (hello, Liriano heist!) and Neil Huntington is coyly signaling that he’s planning on retooling a bit around "run-prevention" - most likely a veiled reference to moving on from McCutchen at least from CF and adding some pitching reinforcements.

Despite his pedigree, McCutchen might not actually have that robust of a market this winter. He’s clearly not a CFer anymore, and the corner OF free agent market actually has a bit of depth to it, so sure-fire contenders might just want to pay comparable dollars in FA to someone coming off a better year, rather than sacrifice talent to strike a high-risk deal with PIT.

So, I think the stars could align to make OAK a nice trading partner for them. In Holmes, PIT would get the cost-controlled, emerging top-of-the-rotation arm they currently lack, while Hahn represents exactly the kind of naturally GB-inducing, perceived "broken" asset that they have turned into gold over their the past few years (a la Liriano, Happ and Nova), except in Hahn’s case, they could control him relatively cheaply for 4 seasons of his prime. Overton is another project who PIT could probably make the most of. Pinder provides them with an upside option at any non-1B IF position for the long-term. Shedding Jaso removes some salary and a positional logjam from their roster.

They shed almost $20 million for 2017 in this deal, allowing them to re-sign Ivan Nova to the deal he is seeking and maybe add a few other lower-level pieces that they are good at identifying. They move Starling Marte to CF and gain a bunch on up-the-middle defense and cycle exciting prospect Austin Meadows into the OF mix and, while they might not compete head-to-head with the Cubs for the NL Central, they have enough positional talent, rotation depth and payroll flexibility to remain competitive for several years.

For OAK: This would be a risky bet, no doubt about it. However, IMHO, it’s a risk worth taking, especially if you’re able to pull it off without moving any of the top 6-7 current rotation options or Barreto/Chapman. McCutchen takes the everyday RF job - he might still be below average out there, but he won’t be nearly as bad as he has been in CF recently. He can hit righties and lefties well and is a rare power/speed/AVG/OBP run producer. Despite the fact that it is a little expensive, I actually really like his contract too. It’s $14 million guaranteed in 2017, with a $14.5 million club option for 2018 ($1 million buyout). That construction provides the A’s some nice flexibility:

  1. If he gets back to the Cutch of old and the A’s are winning, he’d easily be worth the $14.5 million to a competitive 2018 team

  2. If he gets back to the Cutch of old and the A’s are losing, you can easily mover him at the deadline, or pick up the option and move him for better prospects in the off-season

  3. If he continues his struggles from 2016 and the A’s are winning in the 1st half, you could probably still flip him to another team with similar "buy low" intentions for something decent

  4. If all else fails, the whole thing blows up spectacularly and you can get nothing for him at the deadline, then you just decline the option in the offseason and move on without any Butlerian albatross hanging over the squad…

Jaso is not just a worthless throw-in. He acquitted himself well enough at 1st to be an option there and still does well against RHP - all in all, a slight improvement over Alonso (who, in my estimation, should be non-tendered).

Deal 4

To TEX: Austin Voth, Danny Valencia

To OAK: Derek Holland

This deal would very much be in a similar vein to the McCutchen trade. Holland is another 31 year old, relatively pricey addition; but another guy with demonstrated 3+ WAR upside. He battled injuries much of the past few years, but managed 100+ innings last season with decent results. The potential payoff here, while not as large as McCutchen, is still pretty big.

For TEX: As I mentioned in that AL West prospectus post, the Rangers have a lot of holes to fill without a lot of budget room or prospects. They’re currently on the fence with exercising Holland’s $11 million option for 2017, and in this scenario they get something for their investment without having to swallow the $11 million price-tag. Their current lineup skews lefty and they could really use a stop-gap, affordable platoon option at 1B and the corner OF. Valencia provides that and could probably put up some big numbers in Arlington. Voth is a nice, MLB-ready cost-controlled back-end guy to slot behind their top 3 of Hamels-Darvish-Perez.

For OAK: The A’s aren’t going to be able to bring back Rich Hill. Sorry, it’s just not going to happen. He’s the top FA SP in a historically thin market, and prefers the East Coast. Virtually every mid-market and above team will have interest in him. Holland would be a nice consolation prize, IMHO. His deal is very much similar to McCutchen’s: $11 million option in 2017 and another $11 million option for 2018. He does well and the team wins? Bring him back...if he does well and the team loses, you cash him in for something more than you gave up. If all goes to hell, you decline the 2018 option and move on. His presence would extend the A’s rotation options with lefty-upside, which they currently lack.

Deal 5

Sign C Chris Ianetta to a 1-year deal for $3 million and a second year $3 million option, with a $500 K buyout

The concerns about Vogt departing could be alleviated by bringing in a savvy, defensively-minded backup to mentor Maxwell and to take the lighter side of the platoon. Ianetta had a bad overall year in 2016 at the plate, but performed well defensively and put up a 110 wRC+ against lefties.

Deal 6

Sign OF/1B Eric Thames to a 1-year, $5 million deal, with a $7 million option for 2018

I’ve covered Thames in other posts. Long-story short: he’s murdered Korean pitching the past three years and the MLE metrics from Fangraphs indicate he could put up something like a .260/.340/.490 line in MLB right now with 20+ homers. Another high-risk/upside play on a lefty bat at a discount.

Deal 7

A’s sign LHP Patrick Schuster to a 1-year, league-minimum deal

Schuster started 2016 with the A’s in Nashville, came up to the big team for a minute and was DFA’d when the team needed fresh arms. He was claimed by the Phillies, who DFA’d him recently and he has elected free agency. With Nashville, he was murderous against lefties (held them to a .171/.278/.232 slash line, with 30 K’s and 10 walks) and one thing the A’s are very light-on from the pitching side is lefty relief. Schuster fits the bill, is still young, would come with 5 years of control and two option years. He would come into ST in a battle with Coulumbe for that last slot in the bullpen - the loser of which heads to Nashville but still on the 40-man for readily-available depth.


This team would cost about $87-88 million total (around what the A’s started 2016 at):


1 - Fuentes (CF), 2 - McCutchen (RF), 3 - Jaso (1B), 4 - Healy (3B), 5 - Davis (DH), 6 - Thames (LF), 7 - Semien (SS), 8 - Maxwell (catcher), 9 - Wendle (2B)

Bench: Smolinski, Taylor, Lowrie*, Ianetta


1 - Semien (SS), 2 - McCutchen (RF), 3 - Healy (1B), 4 - Smolinski (LF), 5 - Davis (DH), 6 - Lowrie* (3B), 7 - Ianetta (catcher), 8 - Wendle (2B), 9 - Taylor (CF)

*I’m keeping Lowrie on the team because he has no trade value right now, has hit lefties fairly well for his career (113 wRC+) and the metrics say he’s a halfway decent 3rd baseman.

SP: Gray-Manaea-Graveman-Cotton-Holland

RP: Doolittle-Dull-Hendriks-Madson-Alcantara-Triggs-Schuster/Coulombe

That’s a team that is, admittedly, not as sure-fire of a contender as one that would feature two of Kiermaier, Eaton, Inciarte or Calhoun. However, it is one that comes close to that, and one that would cost less in prospect capital, IMHO. With the highest-tier prospects kept in the fold, you’re looking at a super deep AAA squad, loaded with near-ready reinforcements to get through the inevitable injuries, to build off of moving forward or even to use in additional opportunistic trades: on the positional side, you’d still have Chapman, Barreto, Canha, Olson, Phegley and Brugman. On the rotation side, you could turn to either Triggs or Alcantara already on the 25-man for a fill-in, and you still have Mengden, Montas, Gossett, Neal and Fillmyer at AAA, along with Coulumbe/Schuster, Tucker Healy, Bobby Wahl and sleeper Jake Sanchez in the Nashville pen.

Looking around the diamond, I’d project at least 2 WAR out of every position, and the potential for 3+ in a couple of spots. That’s the type of upside needed to push this team into the 90-win range and actual contention.

That’s a team that would likely out-pitch the Angels, Astros and Rangers, outhit the Angels and Rangers and hang-in there defensively against every competitor, while potentially outlasting everyone by virtue of having superior depth across the board.

In addition: say that team takes a major step forward and gets into the mid-80’s in wins, but gets squeezed out of the playoffs. Every key player is under control for 2018 and you add Chapman, Barreto and Stevenson to that, you’re looking at a seriously good 2018 squad for roughly the same amount of payroll you have committed for 2017.