Before I start, it must be said: the Oakland A's are a truly storied franchise. Since arriving in Oakland for the 1968 season, the A's have won 4 World Series championships and have been to the playoffs 18 times in 49 years. They certainly stand within the top dozen franchises in the MLB with those figures, if not higher. In short, this is a franchise that has proven the ability to be magical while in Oakland. The expectation round these parts is that the team must build on the tradition with the next chapter of greatness.
After three playoff seasons from 2012 through 2014 - which unfortunately all ended prior to the ALCS but were very exciting seasons, no question - the A's hit a big roadblock in 2015 and 2016. We will not go into the various moves and circumstances that led to the worst two year stretch in Oakland Athletics history - that's a post in itself. Rather, this post is about taking things from where we stand today and making both 2017, and the future, much better for the A's and their fans. You can also check out the offseason plans of some other AN members:
So as we head into the 50th season of Oakland A's baseball (aside: the franchise is commemorating this special anniversary for the upcoming year I hope??) here is a multi-point offseason plan that will make 2017 a much better brand of baseball while maintaining a major focus on developing a long-term championship core - which I truly believe is possible - for the coming years.
1. Trade INF Chad Pinder or INF/DH Renato Nunez to the Royals for OF Jarrod Dyson
The 2016 A's had an extreme issue with defense being a liability. Notable, CF was a MAJOR problem, as the A's were dead last in fWAR in the MLB for the CF position (-1.4, yes, negative WAR...)
Jarrod Dyson is not known for his bat (career 85 OPS+), but he is a wizard in the field and on the basepaths, two areas the A's were HORROCIOUS (mix of horrible and atrocious...) in 2016. Dyson put up a 94 OPS+ in 2016 in 337 plate appearances as a left handed batter. Despite the slightly below league average batting, Dyson put up a 3 WAR season due to his defensive ability and base running. Seeing this makes me feel like a man in the desert finding a huge glass of water! The A's getting an ace CF defender and elite baserunner? Without having to break the bank? Yes please!
The reason Dyson would come fairly cheap is that the Royals are overloaded with OFs, Dyson has just one year before free agency, and the Royals badly need cheap controllable INF assets. They have a gaping hole at 2B and likely will be losing DH Kendrys Morales. They washed away their farm going for their World Series and they are way over budget. Their hope for getting MLB-ready fringe-top-100 prospects is very limited. I believe giving them the option of Nunez or Pinder would secure Dyson. If it took a little more, I would still do it, but I don't believe it should. The Royals need near-MLB prospects badly.
If the A's can make this trade, I would immediately offer Dyson a two year $12 million deal. MLB Trade Rumors projects him to be getting $2.5 million in his last year of arbitration this year (what a value) - he just turned 32 and may jump at the chance to lock in $12 mil. This is a win-win deal.
2. Trade RHP Kendall Graveman and RHP Dylan Covey to the Yankees for OF Brett Gardner and OF Blake Rutherford
While the first one is a no brainer in my mind, this one may raise a few eyebrows. That said, it makes complete sense. The Yankees need MLB pitching badly, they play in a park that is best for a groundball pitcher like Graveman, and Graveman would slot right in the middle of their rotation with upside at age 25. I think the Yankees would be all over Graveman. Adding Covey helps bolster their farm pitching depth, which is just OK in their system.
Conversely, the A's pick up ANOTHER top notch OF defender with quality base running in Gardner, who has two years left on a reasonable deal at $12.5 mil in 2017 and $11.5 mil in 2018, with a team option in 2019 ($12.5 mil with a $2.0 mil buyout). And more importantly for the long term, the A's get the well-rounded prospect Rutherford, who is still several years away from the bigs, but would immediately become the top OF prospect in the A's system.
The Yankees can afford to trade both of these OFs as they are sitting well at OF. Jacoby Ellsbury is signed forever and they have TOP prospects Clint Frazier and Aaron Judge ready to step in. They also have pockets to pick up a bridge COF in a free agent market that is stacked with them, if they think Frazier needs a little bit more time or just want more depth.
While Graveman - who was the only pitcher who did not miss a start for the A's in 2016 - would be a loss, and a relative coup for the Yankees, the A's would be getting some serious OF help both now and in the future. And the A's pitching depth is actually well-positioned to absorb moving Graveman.
This move trades from areas that are more easy to replace on either side and swaps for areas the other have had trouble filling. Again, I believe this is a win-win.
3. Sign Josh Reddick for 3 years $39 million
When you have good pitching and a promising young infield, and you are going for an upgrade in the OF, you go ALL THE WAY.
Reddick was on pace for a huge deal prior to his thumb injury and his scuffles in LA. This is a slight tick up from what the A's were reported to offer in extension talks prior to his trade. But this is a fine deal for a well-rounded player who is the perfect fit for a young team. He bonded with various A's rookies last year before the deal and even had two living at his house (Ryon Healy and Daniel Mengden). With some of the below moves, his proven leadership will be shown to be very important.
If you slot in Gardner-Dyson-Reddick in the OF against all RHPs (with some rotating days off vs. LHPs), you go from a piss poor OF defense to one that is all of a sudden top tier. Even with Reddick's metrics coming down vs. his former elite status in RF, he is still a good defender who takes great routes and plays with very good OF intelligence. Playing next to a wiz like Dyson will make him that much better, as he will not need to cover RCF gaps. I am extremely confident the OF defense would be very good with this trio manning the grass.
In addition to defense, this OF is a huge upgrade in terms of base running, speed and on base ability (A's were dead last in OBP in 2016). Dyson had a .340 OBP last year, Gardner .351, Reddick .345 (and it was .368 in Oakland prior to the trade). These are players who can get on base for some of the power bats in the lineup, such as 42 HR man Khris Davis. Three run homers are good.
IF, for some reason Reddick's market is much larger than this, you can go towards the value bin with a guy like Colby Rasmus or KBO star Eric Thames (I wouldn't mind signing Thames AS WELL as the above, in fact, let's do that.)
All in all, I believe Reddick is the type of leader and versatile player who brings this all together, especially considering this:
4a. Trade C Stephen Vogt and OF Brett Eibner to the Nationals for OF Andrew Stevenson and RHP Austin Voth
(Hat tip to Taj for this one, I left out Axford and Taylor due to the above moves)
4b. Sign RHH C Kurt Suzuki or Chris Iannetta
4a is one of the harder ones for me to advise because I love Vogt and I think he is a true leader and value to the team. But if we get Reddick back, I am on board with trading Vogt for a package that helps address the young pitching depth (to help replace the Graveman loss) and also provides a potential future CF for once Dyson is gone, in Stevenson. By this point, we should be sensing a theme (hint: make the OF very good now AND later).
Vogt has been a cherished player here, but can be replaced in the heavy side of the platoon by 2016 breakout C Bruce Maxwell, who had a monster year at AAA and did very well upon his move to the bigs. Maxwell is the future for sure, and, arguably, the now as well.
The signing of RHH C Suzuki or Iannetta helps replace some of what is lost with Vogt, in terms of working with the staff and being a veteran catcher. And they are on the short side of the platoon. I am wary of Josh Phegley as the only other catcher aside from Maxwell. Phegley is coming off knee surgery and has an option year left, so you can have him work with the overflow of young SPs in Nashville and be ready to return to Oakland if there is injury and/or as the calendar turns to 2018.
I think the combo of these moves puts the A's in a good position at catcher, despite moving Vogt for value.
5. Sign an "A's Special" veteran starting pitcher
If you want to go for more upside, but probably more cost, Andrew Cashner is one to look at. If the market gets too zany for mid-tier pitchers like Cashner, one target I like is Colby Lewis. Lewis has ALWAYS pitched well in Oakland. His flyball tendencies are helped by the park and the marine layer. And if we have the above OF, the defense out there will be epic. I think Lewis on a 1 year ~$5 mil deal may be possible. And I think he would do well in Oakland. I would like Cashner more, but he probably costs more. I would LOVE to bring back Rich Hill, but he will cost a ton.
Cashner may be a legit target. He had an off year and has a spotty history. He has talent though and could use that "A's veteran magic". He also cited he wanted to go to a place that allows a burly beard (the Marlins did not allow it) - what better place than Oakland for that?
Moral of the story, the A's are GOOD at that vet SP signing thing (aside from a random Ben Sheets). Use $5-12 million for 1-2 years on one of these guys (to $18-20 mil for a Hill if he is interested cause why the hell not?).
This signing helps cover the gap from the Graveman deal. While we still have that bevy of AAA guys waiting to fill in from below.
Miscellaneous Other Moves
- Market Valencia to teams who need a versatile RH hitter who mashes LHP: Colorado, Tampa Bay are a couple who have come up. You can include a guy like Munoz to sweeten the return. How about Valencia and Munoz to the Rays for RHP prospect Chih-Wei Hu?
- Non-tender Alonso. Love you man, but we are moving Healy to 1B and we have Olson waiting in the wings from the LH side. I am also going with the Thames signing as a LHH DH-1B-COF bat, so Yonder it has been fun...
- Sign a cheap glove-first infielder to a cheap one-year deal. This may even be a place to bring Eric Sogard or Tyler Ladendorf back cheap, just as infield defense backup and non-blocking bridge to the big prospects.
- With Lowrie and Wendle as the lightly penciled in 3B and 2B to open the year (Lowrie especially light pencil), you signal to Chapman and Barreto that their door is open as soon as they push it open whatsoever. Those are their roles as soon as they show they are ready. Hello future upside!
- DFA Muncy and/or Ravelo. I mean, it is what it is.
Using MLB Trade Rumors projections for Arb guys Khris Davis, Sonny Gray, Liam Hendriks and Jarrod Dyson, and projecting 2017 cost of $13 mil for Reddick, $10 mil for Cashner, $5.5 mil for Suzuki, $4 mil for Thames and $1.5 mil for Sogard, as well as taking on the full contract of Gardner, results in a total 2017 payroll of about $86 million, which is right in the A's recent wheelhouse. There would be room to add payroll mid-year if the A's catch fire and are running for the playoffs.
Depth Chart / Lineup Summary
C Maxwell, Suzuki, Phegley (AAA)
1B Healy, Thames, Olson (AAA)
2B Wendle, Sogard, Lowrie, BARRETO (AAA unless he is on fire in ST, but MLB boost as soon as he is ready, and long term hope)
SS Semien, Sogard, Barreto (see above)
3B Lowrie, Sogard, CHAPMAN (AAA and see note on Barreto, if Chapman plays like he did last year in ST, he starts the year in the bigs) (Healy can also slide over if you want more offense in the lineup early in the year)
RF Reddick, Smolinski/Canha (one up, one in AAA), Thames, Brugman (AAA), Olson (AAA)
CF Dyson, Gardner, Smolinski/Canha, Brugman (AAA)
LF Gardner, Davis, Smolinski/Canha, Brugman (AAA)
DH Davis, Thames
SP Gray, Manaea, Cashner, Cotton, Alcantara/Triggs/Mengden/Montas/Voth/Hahn/Hu (high minors depth would be STACKED, 1-2 can be in pen, all these guys have options except Alcantara who can be long man if he doesn't take the #5 spot)
RP Doolittle, Madson, Dull, Hendriks, Axford, Coulombe, long man (one of the above SPs, likely Alcantara due to no options and heavy competition for the #5 SP spot)
All of the pitching would benefit GREATLY from the much-improved defense. I believe there would be not just ball-in-play benefits, but also mental/confidence benefits to the pitchers knowing the defense is much better behind them.
Lineup vs. RHP
Gardner LF - Dyson CF - Reddick RF - Davis DH - Healy 1B/3B - Lowrie 3B or Thames 1B - Semien SS - Maxwell C - Wendle 2B
Bench: Lowrie/Thames, Sogard, Suzuki, Smolinski/Canha
Lineup vs. LHP
Semien SS - Dyson CF - Healy 1B - Davis DH - Smolinski/Canha LF/RF - Reddick/Gardner RF/LF - Lowrie 3B - C Suzuki - 2B Wendle
Bench: Thames, Sogard, Maxwell, Reddick/Gardner/Dyson (can rotate between all three with regards to who gets each day off vs. LHP - they stay active, but also stay fresh)
These lineups are good, balanced, improved at getting on base, and much improved at running the bases and on defense. Most/all of these elements will only improve further once Chapman and Barreto force their way in.
The above scenario moves upgrades and resources to the outfield and allows the 3B/2B spot to be held by placeholders who are easily ready to give way to the youngsters. Fans and the franchise will be able to anticipate exciting call ups - but meanwhile we will have some competent players who have playoff experience to handle defined short-term roles on the roster.
The hardest part emotionally is moving Vogt. But I really believe the package of moves actually improves the leadership and mojo of the team, despite this loss, while making the now and the later better.
The pitching staff loses Graveman, which is a legit loss, but replaces him with a veteran "A's special" and our high minors SP depth actually improves significantly from an already very strong position. That high minors SP depth chart is stacked.
The other beauty of it all is that once the veteran OFs time starts to tick, we have added Stevenson and Rutherford to the prospect pipeline, significantly upgrading the future OF potential. The A's future then looks bright in the pitching staff, the infield, AND the outfield, all while the current roster is much more fun to watch than the past iteration, with definite potential to break through right away. (Also, note to the top-top levels, please get that STADIUM done, so we can keep this group together for a LONG TIME - thanks).
In summary here, you're looking at a much more fun to watch style of play, a much improved defense, and a product whose future is only set to get brighter and brighter, while being poised to compete right away. What more could you ask?
The A's have a championship history in Oakland and are one of the most successful franchises in the past 50 years in the MLB. It is time to see this franchise get back to the top ASAP. Let's go hang more banners! Go A's!
Be sure to tell me how crazy (like a fox?) this all is in the comments. Let's discuss!
- Kemp Moyer