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Guessing the Oakland A’s Surprise Move

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MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Athletics Nation Offseason Plan project proved one thing: A’s fans generally have an idea of what the team tries to do each year. It’s to the point where we can almost know what is coming. That’s why the mystery of the Oakland front office is beautiful. We can “almost” know what is coming without actually guessing correctly.

To quote Nico’s comment, “I'll be extremely surprised if the A’s offseason moves don’t leave me extremely surprised.”

We know the Oakland A’s are not shy when it comes to making trades. We know that they like to seek out players who are cheap, have one or two tools, and who are overlooked by everybody else (Matt Joyce, anyone?). They’re good at finding starting pitching and they have a habit of reuniting with former players.

One key piece of information that is unique to this offseason is that the A’s have money to spend and they have vocalized that. It isn’t often that this team makes those intentions clear. This very well may be a smokescreen intended to excite fans before they punt the upcoming 2017 season, but that isn’t really the A’s MO.

With that knowledge in mind, let’s try to spoil the surprise move of the 2016-2017 offseason.

Shopping Spree

Yoenis Cespedes - Projected contract: 5/$120 million

It could happen: General manager David Forst connected the dots leading us to believe the A’s were going to spend money to improve the outfield. Signing Cespedes does exactly that. Believe it or now Cespedes’ best season came in his rookie year for the Athletics and in 2016 he matched the plate discipline numbers that made his rookie season so sensational. A Cespedes signing could mean moving Khris Davis to DH regularly. With positive marks in both UZR and DRS as a left fielder plus a much better arm than Davis Cespedes would not only bolster the Oakland lineup but he’d do his part to put out the dumpster fire which was the A’s 2016 team defense.

It will never happen: The A’s don’t hand out contracts in excess of $100mm nor do they sign players for more than three seasons. That makes a Cespedes sighting in Oakland unlikely, except for when he returns as a visitor.

Ian Desmond - Projected contract: 4/$60 million

It could happen: Similar to Cespedes, Desmond’s plate discipline returned to the levels at which it was in 2012 and 2013. He is an above average hitter and plays fine enough defense at the position the A’s most need help: centerfield. Due to his age and any doubts about his production that may linger his projected contract won’t break the A’s budget.

It will never happen: Free agents that aren’t unwanted or late-career starting pitchers tend to avoid playing for Oakland (See Chase Headley, Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro). While the A’s can pay what Desmond would most likely ask for his skills don’t appear to be the type that would carry over when he plays half of his games in the Coliseum. Oh yeah, and he was awful in the second half of 2016 to the tune of 65 wRC+.

Michael Saunders - Projected contract: 2/$20 million.

It could happen: “If Ian Desmond’s consistency and Rich Hill’s durability had a baby, they’d name it Michael Saunders.”- Dave Cameron of Fangraphs. Saunders sounds like an A already (yes, I included that joke before I read Duncan’s latest piece). A common trait among many of Oakland’s free agent pursuits is that there is a somewhat high level of uncertainty (see Yoenis Cespedes, Rich Hill, Ben Sheets, Billy Butler, Bartolo Colon, Scott Kazmir). The fact that Saunders doesn’t have the greatest track record of health increases the risk and lowers his cost. In four out of the five season in which Saunders recorded at least 200 PAs he posted a wRC+ north of 100. I could actually see this happen.

It will never happen: Saunders doesn’t address the biggest need the A’s have in their outfield and that is defense. His defensive ratings have jumped around throughout his career before hitting career-worst marks in 2016. He’s not exactly youthful and given his injury history the A’s are just walking into a trap if they sign him. Lastly, a two-year deal doesn’t exactly fit an ideal timeline for the A’s rebuild.

Trades, Trades, and More Trades

Without listing any specific proposals here are a few out-of-the-box targets whom I wouldn’t be surprised if the A’s surprise everyone and acquire.

Justin Upton, Detroit Tigers

It could happen: There are rumors that the Tigers are shopping some of their older, higher-priced players and after the big commitment they made to Upton last offseason and the down year that followed I don’t see why he isn’t available. After a dreadful start to 2016 Upton warmed up in June and posted a 128 wRC+ through the rest of the season. He’s already signed to a contract similar to what Cespedes will get this winter so the financial commitment of $22 million a year isn’t too rich for the A’s if they were inclined to bring in a star. Tigers starting pitchers ranked in the bottom half of the league in ERA in 2016. Could a trade to bring in Upton be the reason the A’s are stockpiling young arms?

It will never happen: Upton has a no-trade clause that most likely includes Oakland as well as an opt-out following the 2017 season. If he dared to approve a trade to the A’s there’s no guarantee that he would stay long. Additionally Upton isn’t the defensive stalwart the A’s could use right now. He isn’t a bad defensive player, he just isn’t a particularly good one. There would also be anon-financial cost associated with acquiring Upton that would temper any excitement surrounding him and that is the players the A’s would have to surrender to get him.

Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

It could happen: This breaks my trend of highlighting outfielders the A’s could be in on. That doesn’t make acquiring Longoria any less likely. One of baseball’s biggest stars for the last decade, Longoria would not only add some thump to the A’s infield but he’d shore up a position of weakness that pas two seasons: third base. He no longer has claim to the crown of best defensive third baseman but he is a good defender nonetheless. He is under contract for the next five years with a team-option in the sixth ranging from $13 million to $19.5 million a year. A move to get Longoria would also solve the A’s problem of Jed Lowrie.

It will never happen: Trading for Evan Longoria would be costly. He’s a very good player on a relatively team-friendly contract and has star appeal. The price in terms of prospects would likely be too much for the A’s to swallow and therefore isn’t advised as he doesn’t fulfill the A’s biggest need.

Cesar Hernandez, Philadelphia Phillies

It could happen: There’s a good chance you don’t know who Cesar Hernandez is or you just haven’t really thought about him much, and for good reason. He plays for a bad NL East team, he’s a middle infielder with almost zero power, and he’s barely played two full seasons. Surprisingly Hernandez tied with David Ortiz for 36th in baseball in fWAR thanks to a batting profile that resembles that of Athletics Nation darling Ender Inciarte (seriously, the two are nearly identical in skillset). He’s primarily a second baseman and a terrific defender there, but he’s logged major league innings at third base, shortstop, and center field and can hold his own at each. He’s only 26-years old, is a switch hitter and posted a .370 on-base percentage in 2016. The Phillies need major-league ready starting pitching and as stated above the A’s have some depth in that department. Plus, the Phillies just acquired a veteran who can play second base full-time in Howie Kendrick rendering Hernandez expandable.

It will never happen: The A’s have two in house options to play second base: Jed Lowrie and a Chad Pinder/Joey Wendle platoon, making acquiring a second baseman unnecessary. Philadelphia's asking price could also be far too high for the A’s to match given Hernandez’s fantastic 2016 season and the fact that’s he’s not a free agent until 2021.

Conclusion

There you have it. Those six players that are available this offseason might just be the surprise the Oakland front office has in store. Each addresses a need the team has, to a degree and if you squint each is within Oakland’s price range. Now I want to know what you think.

What are the reasons these targets are unlikely, unnecessary, or just straight up bonkers? Which one do you think I got right?