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OK Fine ... Nico’s Off-Season Plan

Oakland Athletics Introduce Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes
“I wish we had the money to buy just one more photo of me.”
Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

I mean everyone else is doing it, so that’s a compelling reason, right? I’m pretty sure that’s what our mothers taught us, though honestly who has time to listen to all that "blah-blah-blah don’t drink yourself into oblivion on chocolate martinis every night" lecturing?

My plan differs from others in a few ways. One way is that I have never been inclined to construct plans that say "Sign So-and-so to a free agent contract, and trade these three guys for these two guys." Even if a trade is objectively reasonable on its face, I can’t know whether the two teams both want to do it, nor can you compel a free agent to choose you even if you’re willing to make a competitive offer.

So I stick with concepts (e.g., "rebuild?" "pursue big name free agents?" "make Gray available?" "acquire one-year rentals?"), identify targets to pursue and/or target to deal, and from that create a framework for how an off-season might be approached.

The theme of my preferred 2016 off-season plan is that the A’s need to distinguish, from amongst their players, who is "off limits" because they will be a big part of an A’s team that competes, increasingly, from 2017 on (wheat like Chapman, Barreto), who simply isn’t appealing enough to bring enough back in trade (chaff like Overton, Eibner), and who falls in between: the A’s can spare them but someone else might part with some talent in order to acquire them.

Even if not all of these guys are ready in April, 2017, a strong core is emerging for the very near future. I see the A’s working towards the following:

Catchers: Maxwell/Phegley

Infield: Chapman-Semien-Barreto-Healy, with Wendle holding down 2B for the immediate future.

Outfield: Davis, in need of two better colleagues.

SP: Gray-Manaea-Graveman-Cotton-Triggs-Mengden, with Gossett on the way soon followed by the "next wave" (e.g., Frankie Montas, Logan Shore, A.J. Puk).

I am presuming that Danny Valencia will be gone, either non-tendered or traded, simply because it has been hinted at numerous times by insiders. If he’s back, however, it won’t change my plan because he slots into the DH spot nicely.

Mark Canha likely begins the season at AAA, but also becomes among the options to hold down 1B (with Healy still at 3B) until Matt Chapman is ready. Another more direct option is Jed Lowrie at 3B, which nauseates me slightly but makes some sense.

Yonder Alonso: non-tender, freeing up some additional payroll. Healy at 1B is coming soon anyway.

Who does that leave in the quest to add two good outfielders -- ideally a LH batting CFer and RFer -- who has trade value but can be spared? It’s actually not a bad list:

- Chad Pinder (the infield has depth without him)

- Renato Nuñez (no room for him anywhere but DH)

- Raul Alcantara (out of options but ready to join a big league rotation)

- Jesse Hahn (has talent, needs a change of scenery)

- Grant Holmes (high upside, strong trade value, but also high risk given that he’s only 20 and hasn’t really put it all together yet in the minors)

- Jaycob Brugman (made obsolete if the A’s acquire a RFer and CFer)

- Matt Olson (not needed if the A’s acquire a long-term solution in RF and move Healy to 1B)

Finally, I am going to flip-flop on Stephen Vogt, allowing for him to be dealt if it enables the A’s to get the right player, such as a plus CFer like Inciarte or Kiermeier, without trading Barreto or Chapman. Vogt is the clubhouse leader, but at the same time he is a leader for an older guard that is increasingly "no longer here," and Bruce Maxwell is in fact the one who has caught the "new guard" that includes pitchers like Manaea Cotton, and Mengden, and who has played along side Healy, Chapman, Barreto, Olson...

So perhaps the leadership issue is not such a huge one, and Vogt’s age (32), steadily declining batting skills, and the toll catching has taken on his body, all make me increasingly nervous about each upcoming season. If he’s back, give him a lot of DH time, but if he can help land you a really good outfielder then you go ahead and pull the trigger. Nabbing Inciarte or Kiermeier instead of Dyson not only makes your team better, it gives you a CFer under contract control longer.

Now I’m not suggesting that the A’s trade all the guys listed above. Trade the ones needed in order to spruce up CF and RF enough to make the team competitive in 2017 and possibly excellent thereafter.

For example, what would it take to acquire David Peralta from the Diamondbacks and Jarrod Dyson from the Royals? If it took Holmes, Alcantara, and Brugman to get Peralta, and it took Pinder to nab Dyson, you would still have Hahn, Olson, and Nuñez — and you would have the framework of a pretty complete team, most of which was under contract control for several years. If Vogt, Pinder, and Hahn can help you get Inciarte, then you might lose more of the group but you will also have a better team now and a better team in 2018-19.

This approach also leaves the team ample payroll flexibility to add a FA starting pitcher, a plus reliever, or to offer strategic extensions/arbitration buyouts to players approaching free agency or arbitration.

Using sample names, let’s say it’s Peralta and Dyson the A’s can get by making players from this group available. The lineup, and depth chart, for the team I am envisioning, could soon look something like this, with Wendle, Canha, and Lowrie serving as possible placeholders until Chapman and Barreto arrive (after each name I have put the likely last season before free agency):

Barreto - 2B (2023)
Peralta - RF (2020)
Chapman - 3B (2023)
Healy - 1B (2023)
Vogt - DH (2019)
Davis - LF (2019)
Maxwell - C (2023)
Semien - SS (2019)
Dyson - CF (2017)

Also in the mix: Wendle, Phegley, Canha, and those not dealt from the above list

SP: Gray (2019)-Manaea (2022)-Graveman (2020)-Cotton (2023)-Triggs (2022)-Mengden (2023)-Gossett-Montas (Bassitt?)

RP: Madson-Hendriks-Dull-Doolittle...

The beauty is, it doesn’t have to be Peralta and Dyson — it can be any sufficiently good CFer and RFer who can be acquired for players in the group I have clustered above (plus Vogt).

I think it can be done. Do you?