Coming into the season, dreams of a Josh Reddick extension fluttered like knuckleballs through our dreams. Both sides seemed interested in finding a middle ground and while most of us kept our excitement at bay, there seemed to be a real chance the two sides could come to a rare agreement.
Fast forward a few long and sad months, and the extension talks are absent. The lack of any media coverage whatsoever regarding a possible deal speaks volumes: it seems like something that's not going to happen.
What does that tell us? It's not exactly clear, but we can make some assumptions. We know, unless the A's never had any intention of extending Reddick at all, which would warrant a totally different conversation, that extensions are possible and there's money to be used in that capacity. We can also gather that the A's feel Reddick's side is asking for too much, provided talks have occurred at all. It gives us some insight into how they view Reddick, though it's admittedly a bit foggy. The money doesn't line up with how they project Reddick going forward.
Is Danny Valencia a good candidate to be extended in his place?
Fielding often ages poorly
How players age is one of baseball's biggest mysteries, but there are some generally accepted principles in aging research that pass the smell test. Running and fielding tend to peak earlier while hitting skills can last longer. David Ortiz and the empty spot on his mantle, reserved for the 2016 MVP award, wave hi.
That brings us to Reddick and Valencia. With the former, defense is a big part of the bet. Reddick has undergone a Semien-esque transformation in his career, turning himself from a whiffing machine to one of the smarter hitters in the game. During his times of slumps at the plate, his defense kept him afloat as a good ballplayer. Eventually, his offense came around and he became the complete player we know and love today, valuable on both sides of the ball.
Unfortunately, outfielders aren't all capable of playing great defense as they age. Last year, there was exactly one full time outfielder over the age of 30 who put up a positive UZR, and his name is Chris Coghlan. You know how that story goes.
That's not to say that being a cromulent fielder is impossible beyond your twenties. There are guys who are doing it now, and baseball players are all individuals. To my eye, Reddick seems like a guy whose glove should age reasonably well, as he's relied on excellent reads and first jumps his whole career which shouldn't abandon him anytime soon. He's a guy who could continue to improve with the bat too, he's clearly a cerebral player.
But his UZR has slipped over the past two years, and while the A's certainly don't rely on that metric for judging their fielders, the A's are apparently reluctant to extend Reddick. Defense is certainly a big part of that equation.
Power ages....less bad?
That brings us back to Valencia. There's little question that the current A's third-baseman will eventually shift across the diamond or maybe into the DH role as his defense further declines. If the A's didn't have the goal of being the worst defensive team of all time, it's possible Valencia would have already made that move. Whoever ends up with Valencia past 2017 is doing so for his bat.
Again, there's no hard science to aging. If there were, players like Billy Butler would be out of the league at the precise moment of their collapse, and instances of Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Pablo Sandoval, Coco Crip, and many more wouldn't exist. There are certainly glove first players who succeed through the years, and hitters who fall off cliffs.
For now, the role of designated hitter is owned by the old fogies of the league. David Ortiz is putting up his finest season in his (supposedly) last season, Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz, and Victor Martinez are all hitting the snot out of the ball. First base has a similarly old clientele populating the leaderboards. Miguel Cabrera can still mash, Chris Davis, Joey Votto, and Joe Mauer are all playing at a mark that Yonder Alonso and Billy Butler apparently find NSFW.
Of course, there are tons of young guys playing the first and and DH just fine, it's not exclusive to older players. And there's some self selection in the fact that there are more old guys playing the role competently than other spots, of course guys who lose their fielding skills will move to the easier spots.
All that is to say that Valencia might have the tools that inoculate himself from the decline in the field that seems to affect every player. If the A's are going to make a bet, it might be wise to do so on a guy who can survive just on his bat. Like other leg-kicking sluggers who found their careers in Toronto, Valencia's bat can carry him as a valuable player, presuming he ages gracefully.
We probably shouldn't worry too much about the depth chart
One persuasive argument for a Reddick extension is the lack of outfielders in the organization. Currently, Billy Burns and Coco Crisp are manning the left and center part of the outfield all too frequently with poor results. Max Muncy is putzing around in right, and there's nothing knocking at the door with any fervor in Nashville. The A's are effectively looking for at least two outfielders for next season.
That does make another season or five of Reddick, a rightfield stalwart sound appealing. But, if he doesn't age well, he could be just as bad as the alternatives. When we're considering an extension, we should look mostly at how we think the player will do, not so much about the depth chart around him.
If Valencia were extended, presumably as a first baseman or DH, there'd be a potential glut at that spot. However, none of the alternative options are proven commodities. Just this year, we came into the season unsure of how Mark Canha would find at bats. Two months later, Billy Butler's glove has gotten more work than any year of his career while the A's next in line options have fallen flat on their faces. Rangel Ravelo and Matt Olson have done nothing to suggest they can take over the role.
If they were to succeed, that'd be a good problem. And we don't get good problems.
Price is always the issue. It's really hard to get a gauge on what a Valencia extension would look like, as he's nearly unique. He's less than a season removed from being DFA'd, he's been a starter for less than a year, and he's not the springiest chicken. Through all that weirdness, he's been one of the best hitters in all of baseball for the past year.
He also reportedly likes Oakland which, can mean almost nothing, but it all adds up to a guy who could be a total bargain extension, or ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Opportunity cost and a reality check
Ultimately, Valencia being gone seems like a foregone conclusion. It's turned from light discussion to widely accepted by reporters and blogs around the game in just a matter of weeks. It's probably going to happen.
There was a comment around here recently, and I can't for the life of me find it, that said something along the lines of this: Valencia fell into the A's laps, they'd be fools not to cash in such a valuable chip. And it's true, Valencia's inconsistent history, his already beyond peak level age, and his contract status make trading him the safe move. If I were running the team, I'd probably end up dealing him in between stuffing myself with dollar dogs and forcing Khris Davis to take batting practice for my amusement all day long. Not moving him could cost the A's a top prospect or two.
But there are reasons to, at the very least, discuss the alternatives. And who knows, this isn't exactly a predictable front office. You never know what could happen.