We've reached December, and the Oakland A's are yet to make an exciting move. In an outfield market featuring names like Dexter Fowler and Josh Reddick, they’ve picked up role player Matt Joyce on a small deal. With a slew of infield prospects in Triple-A knocking on the door, they’ve brought back light-hitting veteran Yonder Alonso to take at-bats at first base.
The roster is already starting to fill up with Representative Product, like we’ve seen the last two seasons. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of offseason left and we could yet be in for a wild ride. But so far it’s been quiet.
Is that such a bad thing, though? Let’s be realistic here. The A’s do not have enough at this moment to turn themselves into outright contenders in 2017. All their available money and trade chips would not yield a roster that makes you say, yeah, they’re definitely going to the playoffs. The best they can do is put themselves into that gray area of “competing if everything goes perfectly,” but even then, events haven’t been in the habit of going perfectly for Oakland lately. How much future do you mortgage for that lotto ticket?
We must consider the possibility that this will be a bridge year toward a brighter future, which is one of the most frustrating things possible for a sports fan. The key, though, is that it in this case it isn’t a bridge to nowhere. There are real reasons why playing it safe this winter would be totally fine for the A’s, if that is indeed what happens. Here are three reasons not to be discouraged yet.
1. December just started
Let’s begin by remembering that today is Dec. 4. The Winter Meetings haven’t even started yet, and until a few days ago everyone was still waiting to see how the new CBA would turn out. The A’s haven’t made a big move because almost nobody has made a big move.
We could yet see some fireworks that destroy the rest of the ideas in this post. There are a couple star free agents left, there are plenty of trade options, and the A’s have some solid chips to dangle. The first reason not to be bummed about minor moves like Joyce and Alonso is that we are only one-quarter of the way into the offseason and it was a universally quiet quarter, and those relatively small expenditures don’t preclude something bigger happening. After all, you’ve gotta fill 25 spots on the roster.
2. Prospects are arriving in 2017
But what if the big move doesn’t come? What if there is no Fowler, no Kiermaier, no Hamilton? What if the new starter is Trevor Cahill on a show-me deal? It won’t be the end of the world, because the A’s farm system is loaded with prospects who are on the cusp of reaching MLB.
I know, prospects are no guarantee, and most of these ones aren’t elite. But the A’s have spent a couple years racking up quite a collection that has now reached Triple-A, and even if just a few of them pan out it will go a long way toward building the next good team on an Oakland budget. Between all their young hitters (Chapman, Barreto, Olson, Pinder, Nunez, Wendle, Maxwell, Brugman, plus Healy) and starters (Cotton, Mengden, Montas, Gossett, Alcantara, Overton, plus Manaea), there are a lot of questions yet unanswered.
It only takes a couple of those names panning out to alter the direction of the decision-making. The thing is, no one knows which ones it’ll be. We just saw Healy defy all expectations and flip the depth chart on its head, and right now we expect Chapman to be the next star at 3B – but what if it’s, say, Pinder who pans out from that group, and it’s at 2B? And Chapman flops, leaving them without a long-term option at the hot corner? Or it’s Nunez who makes it, but in LF? Or all those starters instead turn into a dominant bullpen? These kinds of twists happen, and it’s nice to know about them before you make other big (and expensive) star decisions.
That’s not to say they should go full Astros and just put nine rookies in the lineup. That’s the point of adding in some experienced role players like Alonso and Joyce. When your lineup is full of Alonsos and Lowries because your team didn’t feel like springing for upgrades, that sucks and you should complain. When your lineup is full of Alonsos and Lowries because Chapman and Pinder hopefully just need a few more months before they’re ready, that’s more acceptable.
I believe in this current Nashville group, and the team’s actions over the last year suggest they do too. I think they’re worth a shot, and that shot is worth waiting one more year for. If the A’s are going to compete in the next couple years, it will be because at least a few of these guys stepped up and became contributors. And if the whole group flops, then guess what? Adding a shiny CF wasn’t going to save the 2017 season, or probably 2018 either.
That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t make a big long-term addition if it presents itself, and it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t trade any of these MLB-ready prospects in the right deal. It just means they shouldn’t feel pressured to make a move they don’t love, because the fallback option is turning the reins over to a group of rookies who have done nothing but win together for years at every level of the minors.
The A’s route to the 2017 postseason rests far heavier in the fortunes of their current prospects than in any external moves they can make, even though both would be helpful. If the big move doesn’t come this winter, that just means we’ll have to wait until next winter when we have a much clearer idea of what the A’s need and how thin they have to ration their resources their get it.
3. Don’t overpay in a weak market
There’s another reason why it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the big move(s) waited until next year. This market is absolutely awful, and all the things the A’s currently appear to need cost far more than they should be worth.
The biggest need is in the outfield. The market for those players is through the roof because there coincidentally aren’t many available right now. If you want to pay as much as possible for things (or need to win right now because your window is closing), then you should go for an outfielder this winter. If not, you should go for buy-lows with breakout potential like Matt Joyce, and give some time to any intriguing in-house prospects you might have like Jaycob Brugman.
The rotation is shaky, with at least two open spots. You can pay $11 million for 33-year-old Edinson Volquez and his career ERA+ of 90, or $7 million for 33-year-old Charlie Morton and his career mark of 84. Or, you can spend those innings running through your half-dozen MLB-ready prospects until one of them sticks, and maybe take a cheap flyer on a veteran with actual breakout potential (like Rich Hill or Bartolo Colon in past winters).
If there’s a global umbrella shortage that’s hiked prices sky-high but it’s not raining where you live, then maybe don’t buy an umbrella today. They’ll probably be cheaper later on when you actually need to have one.
I’m not saying I want to give up on 2017. I hope the A’s do find a good CF, and I’ll be rooting for a breakout year whether it’s a building block like 1999 or a surprise October like 2012. But there’s only so much I’m willing to pay for upgrades this winter, especially if they’re only one- or two-year rentals. If the right deal doesn’t come along, I’m happy to add some bargains, really see what the kids can do this year, and put off the big decisions until next year -- hopefully with a better market to shop in and a stadium deal in the rear-view mirror.