Josh Reddick reported to A's camp today, two days before position players are due to report, and beat reporters were asking him about contract extension negotiations. From the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, " 'Nothing yet,' [Reddick] said. 'Still waiting. Me and my agents talked and were told as soon as we got the one-year deal done, we were going to focus on that and here we are, still no numbers being thrown around.' "
General manager David Forst attributed the delay with speaking to Reddick's agents, Sam and Seth Levinson of the ACES Baseball Agency, to "playing phone tag due to travel and various issues," tweeted Comcast Sportsnet's Joe Stiglich.
Reddick has stated his preference to complete a deal by the start of the regular season, and asked if the A's could meet that deadline, Forst said, "It's impossible to say," Stiglich also tweeted.
Forst on Reddick extension: "You have to match up, and the numbers are important. We have not gotten to that part of the conversation."— Joe Stiglich (@JoeStiglichCSN) February 23, 2016
Forst: "You’re thrilled to have a guy who wants to stay here. We’d like to make every effort to make that happen."— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) February 23, 2016
It sounds like both sides want to get things done, so why have we only just gotten to the "phone tag" stage?
The A's might extend Reddick before the start of the season, but they had good reasons to wait to negotiate
If the A's really do want to extend Josh Reddick but haven't talked beyond expressions of mutual interest in the press and during Reddick's arbitration settlement negotiations, there a few reasons that, if I were in charge of negotiating a deal with Josh Reddick, might cause me to wait until now to open negotiations.
Waiting for the outfield market to wrap up
Dexter Fowler and Austin Jackson are still unsigned, and I believe each represents a really good comparative player for Reddick, both of them having settled into the 1.5-3.5 fWAR per season range. Fowler represents Reddick having a good walk year (Fowler put up an offensively-favored 3.2 fWAR in 2015 with a 110 wRC+) while Jackson represents only an okay one (Jackson put up a defensively-favored 2.3 fWAR in 2015 with a 94 wRC+). The A's may have been hoping to have more information from the contracts those two sign before making an offer to Reddick.
Fowler, who is encumbered by a qualifying offer, was looking at a two-year, $24 million contract with an option from the Orioles as of February 20, according to MASN's Roch Kubatko. There have not been any specific contract details mentioned in any Austin Jackson rumors. Two weeks ago I noted the Angels, Rangers, and Brewers were rumored to be interested in Jackson, and the Indians have since been rumored to be interested in signing him as well, according to MLB Network's Jon Heyman.
Waiting to see if Reddick's shoulder has improved
Josh Reddick mentioned at FanFest that he had a shoulder issue that affected his defense, and repeated that today with beat reporters, including Susan Slusser, saying, "I started my throwing program a little earlier this year ... it's good, I'm able to let loose and not have any issues."
That does show up in his outfield statistics, both sabermetric and standard:
|Josh Reddick outfield statistics by season (statistics from FanGraphs)|
|Season||Team||Pos||Inn||Def. Runs Saved||Ultimate Zone Rating||Assists|
If Reddick thinks more highly of his arm, having lived with it, than the A's do having not seen it in action since October, there could be a mismatch that the club might not want to reveal until Reddick arrives for spring training. Reddick just arrived in Arizona today (position players are not due to report until February 25); games start March 3.
More pressing matters to attend to until now
This is the weakest reason, and one where one might say the A's need a bigger front office to do more things at once, but the club spent the early part of the offseason reconstructing the bullpen, reloading the infield, and trading Brett Lawrie. Between the Winter Meetings and today we had the Henderson Alvarez signing, completing remaining arbitration settlements before figures were exchanged, and months apparently monitoring the outfield market to solidify left field, culminating in the Khris Davis acquisition.
Before the A's acquired Khris Davis, they were reportedly involved in three-team trade talks with the Blue Jays and Reds that would have involved acquiring Michael Saunders from the Jays and sending a "B-level" prospect to the Reds, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. The number of proposals and "just touching bases" calls that aren't reported should far exceed those that are, so it's not like silence from the A's rumor mill means David Forst and Billy Beane are sitting on their hands.
And it's not like there's a particular rush beyond Josh Reddick's self-imposed start of the season deadline. It's common for players to not want extension talks to distract them during the regular season, but once negotiations get going with everybody having all the information they want, I can't imagine it will take too long to exchange figures and either come to an agreement or else realize that the sides are too far apart.
The A's might not extend Reddick before next offseason
There are a few reasons why I, as fantasy A's general manager, might not want to sign Reddick before the season even begins, unless I got a very good deal.
Waiting to see if Matt Olson can play right field
Prospect Matt Olson, who has shown up in the bottom half of a few Top 100 overall prospect lists, played 59 games in right field in Double-A last season. Rating minor league defense in the minor leagues is always a little tricky because all we have are scouting reports and standard statistics, but Billy Owens, A's assistant general manager and director of player personnel, said in June, "I don't think there's a better defensive first baseman in all of professional baseball. With his strong throwing arm, it translates well to the outfield - and it increases his versatility."
For a more neutral point of view, MLB.com's Bernie Pleskoff said after the end of the minor league season, "[Olson's] versatility and arm strength are assets to his game. He plays very capable defense and is a tad above average."
If Matt Olson can play just as well in right field as Josh Reddick, or at the least let his power and plate discipline make up for any deficiencies, why pay Reddick eight figures annually for what the club could spend the minimum on next year? The A's would have money to spend on a fourth outfielder that can play center field and hit a little bit, instead.
Not only that, if Olson is ready for a call up in July and if the A's aren't concerned about the chemistry implications (whether because they think the club can handle it or because the A's are out of it anyway), Reddick becomes a valuable player to trade away to reload the farm after making some promotions.
The A's intend to make a qualifying offer, no matter how Reddick performs
Even if Matt Olson proves himself unready or if there's an opening at first base for him, the A's might think they'll be in a better bargaining position at the end of the season when they make him a qualifying offer. Reddick's camp knows that he will be an obvious trade candidate, which means his negotiating position right now is one where if he does not sign, he'll be entering the free agent market as one of the top three or four outfielders, and one who won't be stuck with the weight of the qualifying offer.
I could see the A's wanting to wait to see if they are in a position to be competing for the postseason at the trade deadline before making a call on trading Josh Reddick. If they are competing, it probably means Reddick is having at least a Dexter Fowler-level good year. If they don't trade him, the A's have the advantage of negotiating with the qualifying offer tied to Reddick.
There's one wrinkle to next year's qualifying offer possibilities. The current qualifying offer system, which should be in place for the 2016-17 offseason, will be a central subject in the next Basic Agreement negotiations between MLB and the Players' Association. Reddick might prefer just accepting the one-year qualifying offer and entering the free agent market in 2017 if it appears the next agreement will have a less onerous penalty on players tagged with it. The A's might love a one-year deal with Reddick, too, if they think that's all the time they need to find another right fielder on the farm or otherwise.
Don't read too much into this
I wouldn't read too much into today's public statements. Josh Reddick arrived in camp and was asked the top question on everybody's mind, and his answer doesn't represent more than anything he's already said, and Forst's reply doesn't represent more than anything he and Billy Beane have already said. Neither side is engaging in hardball tactics here like José Bautista's public statements about not believing in hometown discounts or making what are effectively ultimatums:
Two weeks ago Jose Bautista told the Blue Jays front office the dollar amount and term is would take to re-sign him. Hasn't heard back since— Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling) February 22, 2016
Jose Bautista says he doesn't think there's a need for negotiations beyond that. #BlueJays— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) February 22, 2016
Is it discomforting to wait for resolution on a Reddick extension this offseason? Sure, but there are a lot of factors for both sides to consider before they even get to the negotiating table. Every offseason is different, and this is all just part of the process.