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The Art Of Zagging When You’re Expected To Zig

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Washington Nationals v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

I rarely predict, with any accuracy, what the heck the Oakland A’s are going to do in the off-season. Partly that’s because off-season maneuvers are difficult to predict, period, and partly it’s because the A’s are masters at zagging while everyone is talking about zig.

How exactly do you try to turn a team competitive, on a paltry budget, as Oakland will presumably endeavor to do once again this winter? We know the team lacks a CFer and a RFer, arguably all the way down from the MLB team to the minors. That does not mean they will land a well-known free agent target such as Dexter Fowler or deal for an established slugger whose price tag would be "start with Barreto or Chapman and let’s talk from there..."

I would say the A’s zagged admirably when they quietly brought in a smallish guy with an arm even the noodles are distancing themselves from as the election nears (noodles run for office too, you know), who bombed 42 HRs and provided one of the few good stories in a lost season. With 4 years of contract control and an affordable salary, Khris Davis was a great get few saw coming.

How do you successfully zag and pick up players who can significantly help you even though no one was much talking about them? It seems to me that the players you target need to share some qualities:

- They need to have appreciable talent, so that if they perform they can actually be substantial contributors.

- They need to be affordable, which usually means they have yet to reach arbitration, or at least free agency, in their career.

- They need to have some question marks surrounding them which makes them available at less than a king’s ransom.

- They need to be poised to have a season in which my first point prevails over my third one.

High risk, high reward, low salary — players with a track record of success, a current record of failure, and are at a point in their career where they might find success again now.

Sometimes these guys show up as failed prospects who have yet to be given the chance they need at the time they are ready to blossom. Brandon Moss was an example on one side of the ledger, Andrew Lambo an example on the other side.

Sometimes they are "buy low" candidates whose recent failures make you shake your head and go "Baseball. Try to figure this game out." Like, I dunno, Sonny Gray and Jesse Hahn.

Sometimes they are players who have been derailed by injuries, which is tricky when the injuries are the kind that some players bounce back from 100% and others just don’t. For starting pitchers this is often a Tommy John surgery or a shoulder problem, for a position player often a wrist or a knee. Do you take a chance on a player who was good until the knee blew out? Who showed a lot of power until that wrist injury?

What the A’s need, most urgently, right now is clearly an OFer with a plus LH bat but who also plays good defense. I just described someone expensive, either in terms of money or the talent needed to pry them loose. However, while the "sure things" get all the zigging attention, is there the potential for Oakland to roll the dice on a really good player who might have just enough warts to be attainable?

I wonder if the A’s might quietly pursue someone like David Peralta (Diamondbacks), someone they probably could not have acquired a year ago. Like Gray, Peralta had a sensational 2015 but then endured a "lost season" in 2016 that ended with a wrist injury. As we saw first-hand with Josh Reddick, a wrist injury can sap power for a while and there is no guarantee how quickly, or fully, a hitter will bounce back.

Does Peralta fit the criteria I set forth above?

- The talent is there, very much so. In 2015, the left-handed batting Peralta broke out to hit .312/.371/.522 and sports a career line of .292/.341/.481. Perhaps more importantly, he has been a true masher against RH pitching, to the tune of a career .310/.356/.517 line. Fangraphs likes his RF defense (8.6 career UZR/150), making Peralta the kind of all-around player the A’s need but can rarely get.

- Despite being 29 years old, Peralta had accumulated only 2.12 years of big league service coming into the 2016 season. Peralta is under contract control through 2020, and his 2016 salary was a bargain at $529,600.

- Peralta has question marks surrounding him that are somewhat similar to the ones which plagued Reddick from 2013-15: recurring wrist issues. Peralta first hurt his wrist at the end of 2015, then suffered two setbacks in 2016, a season in which he put up a meager slash line of .251/.295/.433 with 4 HRs and only 171 ABs. What 2017 holds in store is anyone’s guess.

- Health appears to be the only force standing between Peralta and excellence, as his 2015 season suggested that he is "all that" — his player profile kind of reminds me of a LH batting J.D. Martinez, right down to the late emergence into greatness. If Peralta bounces back into form he makes the A’s lineup far better while allowing them to continue solidifying their defense; the fact that he had such a bad season and enters spring training with question marks hanging over his head could potentially make him attainable from a Diamondbacks team with a new front office and many holes to fill.

Are the A’s and D-backs compatible trade partners? That depends on what the new Arizona front office is seeking (in contrast to the old one whose strategy seemed to be, "Um....sign Greinke for way too much!!! Um...other stupid stuff!!!!"). The A’s do have a wealth of promising young starting pitchers and the Diamondbacks do have a need to bolster their pitching. If they acquired a RFer, Jaycob Brugman and Matt Olson would join Grant Holmes, Raul Alcantara, and Chad Pinder as players the A's could part with and still have sufficient depth at those positions at the end of the day.

I’m curious what you think the price tag might be if the A’s pursued acquiring Peralta. They won’t, because I thought of it and therefore it won’t happen, but that’s the kind of player I can see Oakland discussing while we’re yapping about everyone else. Zag.