Free agency is upon us, and the Oakland A’s are in a position be active on the market. We’ve had a look at some typical under-the-radar options, but the A’s could have $20-30 million of space on the payroll so there’s room for a bigger splash. Let’s make the case that the splash should be the return of outfielder Josh Reddick.
This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed a long-term contract for Reddick. The A’s showed interest in an extension last summer, but negotiations stalled over the inclusion of a fourth year and Oakland instead chose to trade him at the deadline. Three months later, would a reunion make sense?
Reddick’s situation has changed since we last saw him. When he arrived in Los Angeles in early August, he looked in line for the kind of four- or five-year contract that had priced the A’s out in the first place. He was one of few quality options in what was shaping up to be a thin class of free agent outfielders, and he no longer had to worry about a qualifying offer sapping his leverage. However, he was downright awful for the Dodgers, in his big chance to shine on the national stage, and that unfortunate performance might cost him some money. He’s now being discussed as a possible platoon player, and that’s on top of his consistent injury history.
Even in this shallow outfield market, could Reddick’s star have fallen enough for the A’s to be able to afford him after all? Joe Stiglich of CSN suggests he might have to settle for a three-year deal, and if that’s the case then the A’s can at least be in the theoretical conversation. Stiglich also notes that Reddick and manager Bob Melvin stayed in touch after the trade, and all indications throughout the summer were that there is mutual respect between team and player, so there are no apparent personal off-field obstacles that rule out a reunion. The fans would surely love to get back one of their recent favorites.
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It would make sense on the field, too. The A’s primary need is in center field, but there is also a hole in right that is currently penciled in with role players, raw prospects, and other question marks — guys like Jake Smolinski, Brett Eibner, Mark Canha, Matt Olson, and Jaycob Brugman, who might eventually turn out to be part of the solution but aren’t what you want as your first plan of attack entering the spring. Trade for a new defensive CF and sign Reddick for RF, to go along with Khris Davis in LF, and suddenly the outfield riddle is solved long-term. And if Reddick does need a platoon partner, then you’ve already got the aforementioned Smolinski, Eibner, and Canha in line to try out for the job.
Signing Reddick would sink a large percentage of the team’s available resources into not adding a CF. However, he still addresses that secondary need in RF while also adding the left-handed bat the lineup so desperately needs, not to mention a boost in power and defense. He’ll be 30 years old next season so his age isn’t a big concern yet, and over the last five years he’s averaged 3.4 bWAR or 2.8 fWAR.
Even better, that production level already accounts for the injury/platoon penalty (only played 129 games per season during that span) as well as any concerns about eroding defensive metrics (2015-16 already saw him slip to a more modest but still sustainable level). He’s a good player who figures to keep playing well for at least a few more years, who fits a team need in a particularly fun way, and whose price might be suppressed by an unfortunately timed small-sample slump. The fit is there.
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So what would it take to get him? If he settles for three years, will it require $12-15 million per, or even slightly more? I won’t pretend to know the answer to that question, but let’s assume the worst, that it would require an overpay on the annual salary ($15-18M?) to get him to drop the fourth year. I’m willing to pony up that extra, because I think there’s an obvious way to pay for it: non-tender Danny Valencia and Yonder Alonso.
Note: From this point forward, you could use the rest of this logic for any starting-caliber, lefty-hitting corner outfielder on the market. It’s just that there aren’t many others. This post is about Reddick, but you could use the same framework to argue for, say, Brandon Moss or even Dexter Fowler.
The Hurricane Duo is looking at something like $9 million combined in arbitration, but if the A’s just add a legit RF then there isn’t really a need for either of them. Valencia is a role player scrambling for a role, and it’s clear that he doesn’t have any noteworthy trade value. Alonso has value but will soon be pushed by some serious prospects, most notably Olson (who can also emulate Alonso’s defensive strength) and Ryon Healy (who could get pushed over if Matt Chapman seizes 3B from him).
That $9 million is a lot to spend on what amounts to a couple veteran contingency plans, and perhaps the A’s would be wise to re-invest it in something more impactful. Even at the most liberal estimates, that sum would account for more than half of Reddick’s 2017 salary, and after that Billy Butler’s $10 million comes off the books to help offset the rest of the contract. If the A’s are willing to commit now to cleaning up their books by cutting a couple non-essential vets, then they can easily afford a game-changing outfield addition, with Reddick conveniently topping the list of sensible and realistic options. Furthermore, they can do it without compromising their ability to spend on pitching upgrades. That sounds like a better plan than paying the Hurricanes plus a cheaper RF stopgap, and ending up with a whole bunch of overpriced mediocrity.
And then there’s the green and gold elephant in the room. The A’s are about as unpopular as a team can be right now, as even much of the diehard fan base is yearning for anything at all to get excited about, and any possible way to reconnect with the club. Bringing back one of their favorites, especially this quickly after his departure, before his seat in the locker room has even fully cooled, would have to be a big step in the right direction. This almost feels like a tired argument now, since we bring it up every winter for one former Athletic or another, but one reason it perpetuates is that it never actually happens and I think that only further validates it. The fans could use a win, and it might have to be an emotional one even more than it needs to be a smart baseball one. Fortunately, bringing back Reddick would put a check in both columns.
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Beyond wanting him for legitimate baseball reasons, those are the two messages I would really like the A’s to send with this move. One that they’ll take the chance to refocus their limited resources rather than fritter them away on a Representative Product, and another that they hear their fans’ displeasure and want to extend a significant olive branch.
Josh Reddick fits the bill, he’s a safe investment, he might come at a relatively deflated price, and he’s particularly meaningful to the Oakland A’s. Let’s bring him home.