There are benchmarks, like the Winter Meetings and the Rule 5 draft, but no two off-seasons are exactly alike. One day you’re throwing up your Thanksgiving dinner on news that Josh Donaldson has been unexpectedly traded for two wings and a thigh, another day you’re minding your own business looking at Valentine’s Day cards for your sweetie when the A’s acquire 42 HRs without giving up a whole lot.
So now it’s 2016, the Winter Meetings are ending, you’re restless, the outfield is still a mess, and you’re wondering where all this is headed. If you’re looking for an interesting, maybe even competitive, 2017 team, there are reasons to be sanguine and reasons to be concerned.
The reasons to be concerned come mostly from reading between the lines — and occasionally just reading the lines — when Billy Beane, David Forst, or other front office representatives, speak. Beane recognizes that the team is not one player away from competing, Forst talks about the need for a CFer without overtly setting the bar higher than a one-year stopgap or the free agent scraps, Dave Kaval doesn’t commit to increasing payroll any time soon.
It starts to sound like the front office is strongly committed to the young core coming up in 2018 and beyond, ideally aligning with the breaking ground on a new stadium, but perhaps just hoping to buy enough glue and tape to patch together a team of "some guys" in 2017.
The reasons to be sanguine, though, start with the fact that little has actually happened — or perhaps more importantly, little has yet to "not happen". Gone from the free agent market are Jon Jay (mediocre), Carlos Gomez (RH and inconsistent), and Ian Desmond (way overpaid), none of whom represented anything close to the ideal acquisition for CF. Most of December, all of January and February still lie ahead.
So what have the A’s done? Sure, they have signed Matt Joyce, tendered Yonder Alonso, forsaken the Rule 5 draft, but what might be most important is what they haven’t done. Some of the best deals are always the ones you don’t make.
The first thing the A’s haven’t done is to meet teams halfway on Sonny Gray. Reportedly Atlanta showed some interest but the A’s did not accept what was likely a "buy low" offer. Insisting on full value for Gray, as if he were coming off of his 2015 season, and refusing to budge, is what A’s fans should want from the front office.
Whether or not Gray will be traded between now and spring training is an unknown. What appears to have been established is that Oakland will keep Gray before they settle for just an ok offer. That should make A’s fans happy.
The second thing the A’s haven’t done is the flip side of settling: they haven’t met Kansas City’s asking price for Jarrod Dyson. So despite the A’s confirmed interest in Dyson, it appears Oakland is committed to risk losing out on Dyson in order to avoid over-paying.
So at the Winter Meetings, the A’s didn’t trade Gray for too little and they didn’t trade too much for Dyson. That’s a good week. Their report card for the off-season? Well, that has yet to be written.
Still ahead are many discussions undoubtedly leading to several transactions, one of which could still involve dealing Gray or adding Dyson as the landscape changes and with it the accompanying offers. Certainly ahead is at least one move no one really saw coming (despite our collective attempt to theorize about every single man who has ever signed a professional baseball contract). I fully expect this move to be somewhere between utterly brilliant and gut-wrenchingly awful. I also expect us not all to agree on which one it is closer to being.
An ‘A’ right now would look like a CFer and RFer we were excited about adding, at costs we agreed were appropriate to offer. An ‘F’ right now would look like Gray sold low and too much given up just to add Dyson for a year. The stage in the game we have reached, though, is neither scenario. We have heard only the overture, it was pleasant at times, not so much at others, it wasn’t great but nothing terrible happened, we shrugged our shoulders, sat back, and waited for the full show to begin. And that’s where we are right now.