So here the A’s are in a situation that is all too familiar: whiffing on a hitter who won’t come to Oakland despite the front office’s herculean efforts and landing a starting pitcher who could be a steal. What else is new?
There are, however, some new lessons beyond the usual "Oh I see we still can’t have nice things..."
Probably the most startling one was how much the A’s were willing to offer Edwin Encarnion — reportedly $25M/year for two years with an opt-out after 2017 and a club option for 2019 — when Encarnacion is not even the "two way player" Oakland was coveting when trying to splurge for Adrian Beltre, Chase Headley, or Rafael Furcal.
To put the A’s offer in perspective, danmerqury pointed out that the A’s have never paid a player so much as $12M annually so this would have represented an offer of more than twice the AAV Oakland has ever paid.
Now it’s a matter of debate whether this offer signals a shift in the A’s spending approach with the arrival of Dave Kaval and the prospect of a new stadium deal, whether it represents how much the A’s liked Encarnacion in particular, or whether it reflects the unusual payroll flexibility the A’s have this off-season. Whichever it might be, the offer to Encarnacion was so un-A’s-like that you have to wonder what Oakland plans to do with the money it was prepared to spend on this "mostly DH".
Then the A’s turned around and spent $4M on a SP from Cuba who projects to be a solid #3-#4 SP with an ETA as soon as mid-season 2017, though he will likely begin at AA until he forces his way up. Like any untested international signing, Norge Ruiz comes with no guarantees but he gives the A’s more depth at a position where they were already deep, and deep with quite a bit of legitimate talent.
You have to wonder if the Ruiz signing will open up a trade for the CFer the A’s need so desperately. Essentially Ruiz duplicates Daniel Mengden’s position on the depth chart as a prospect with a varied arsenal in need of better command and more minor league time, and the projected upside as a #3-#4 SP. Ahead of Ruiz is fellow "power sinker baller" Kendall Graveman, whose production both in quality and in innings Ruiz could potentially replace by 2018.
So while you can never have too much starting pitching, you can definitely have too few CFers and if Ruiz is indeed a quality arm for the middle of the rotation, ready for the big leagues between mid-2017 and April-2018, the door opens up only that much more for the A’s to consider parting with a Mengden or a Graveman or a Daniel Gossett (you can’t have my Cotton no you can’t!) in the quest to solve CF long term.
Or perhaps it’s Gray who isn’t long for the team, although I suspect any trade with Sonny would occur at the trading deadline, not when teams are currently trying to buy low. Also, Ruiz doesn’t seem to directly impact the front of the rotation where the A’s always need to pack as many "aces" as they can. Current candidates for a #1-#2 spot, besides Gray, would be Sean Manaea, possibly Cotton if you’re bullish enough on him, Frankie Montas, Grant Holmes, and A.J. Puk. Those guys have potential upside that hasn’t been ascribed to Ruiz, so their place on the depth chart is somewhat unchanged by Ruiz’ addition.
In sum, the last 24 hours have shown that the A’s are at least willing, under some circumstances, to offer "real money" like they have never come close to offering before. And their starting pitching depth is now at a point where the pain of losing a #3 SP prospect like Mengden or Gossett, or a valuable cog like Graveman, could be relatively mild.
So keep your seat belts fastened, because the EE-train may have broken down but all signs point to an organization with money to spend, assets to dangle, and a willingness to jump into the fray in order to execute a plan. And as usual, it’s not clear to us what the plan is — but there is one and we’re along for the ride. So buckle up.