The offseason market has taken an interesting turn, as DH-type sluggers are dropping in price and possibly becoming an undervalued commodity. Edwin Encarnacion has already settled for a smaller contract than expected, to the point that the Oakland A’s were able to become serious bidders, and others seem to be lowering their asking prices too. Meanwhile, the A’s are reportedly looking to add a right-handed bat even though they already have several of them, and they have since asked about Mark Trumbo and even Trevor Plouffe.
Just for fun, let’s run with this. The A’s are famous for exploiting undervalued skills, so let’s take it to the extreme.
Our goal is to build the ultimate 2017 Beer League A’s. The one and only focus is maximizing dingers, at the expense of OBP and defense and speed and probably winning in general. Players still have to make sense at their positions, though. The goal is to break the 1997 Mariners record of 264 dingers. (How weird does it seem now that the Mariners hold that record?)
Even though this is a ridiculous fantasy scenario, we’re still going to do it A’s style. That means keeping things generally cheap and eschewing the very best options. That means no Jose Bautista. I’m already going to max out the payroll even without him, and there just isn’t room.
What you must consider here is that you are not paying Bautista all that money because he’ll hit more homers than the guys I’ve chosen; you’re paying him because he’ll hit the same number while also getting on base and being not completely useless on defense. We don’t care about those last two things in this scenario, so we can’t be paying extra for them. We’re also not trading for Brian Dozier, because the point is to get cheap power and he will be expensive to acquire. Even Luis Valbuena is too well-rounded to be cost-effective.
Fortunately, the A’s already have a nice head start. Khris Davis, Marcus Semien, and Ryon Healy already fit the mold, and the Vogt/Phegley catching duo counts power as its top asset. Here are the moves that need to be made:
Sign Mark Trumbo, 3yr/$40M ($12M, $14M, $14M)
The big addition, but he’s worth it for the highest level of power. This is probably close to the most he’ll get in real life. AL home run leader, check.
Sign Colby Rasmus, 1yr/$8M
That’s what he signed for the last time he needed a bounce-back contract, and now he’s a couple years older and coming off a weird injury.
Sign Chris Carter, 1yr/$5M
Obviously. I’m offering him twice what he made last year, when he was also coming off a non-tender. NL home run leader, check.
Sign Trevor Plouffe, 1yr/$3M
Sure, why not. I don’t want him in real life, but we need him for this experiment. I tried calling Dan Uggla but he dropped the phone and broke it.
Acquire Jay Bruce from Mets, for John Axford and Jed Lowrie (and a prospect?)
This part is probably a bit silly. It’s also the least realistic, because the A’s are one of the teams on Bruce’s limited no-trade clause. But bear with me.
The Mets need to get rid of their $13 million Bruce boondoggle, and no one is biting yet because you can buy 30 homers for $5 million on the open market. In this mutual salary dump, the Mets add a veteran reliever to a bullpen light on experience. The A’s get rid of a singles hitter who has no place on their Beer League team. Bruce gets to start every day (and work toward his next contract) instead of sitting on the Mets’ bench or in some weird part-time role; playing for anyone is better than sitting for a contender. Everyone wins.
The Mets have a ton of middle infielders and so don’t need Lowrie, but whatever, they can cut him and eat the salary. At least they’ll end up with something useful out of the whole exchange by getting a capable reliever. Toss in a mid-level pitching prospect if you must; we aren’t too concerned with those in this scenario anyway. (Alcantara? Fillmyer? Shore? I don’t care, whatever it takes to not derail my larger plan.)
The money adds up to a wash, though $1M of it is Lowrie’s buyout for next year so technically the A’s add $1M to this year’s payroll.
If you think this trade is too over-the-top, then you could just sign Brandon Moss or Pedro Alvarez instead. But that costs more money, and my version of acquiring Bruce is basically free payroll-wise. It seems criminal to not include Moss in this, but there just isn’t space.
Release Yonder Alonso
Assuming no one will trade for him, which, yeah. He clearly does not fit this roster plan in any way at all, so he has to go even if it means eating his salary.
In total, we’ve added $28 million to the 2017 payroll, which brings it up to about $94 million. That’s a little high, but hey, maybe new leadership is down to make a splash for one year before a stampede of minimum-salary prospects takes over in 2018. You can see now why there’s no room for Bautista; even Trumbo barely fits financially, with a backloaded contract. If you want a more realistic payroll, then replace Trumbo with a cheaper deal for Moss or Alvarez to play 1B.
(A few other free agents I skipped over because their power just isn’t what it once was: Ryan Howard, Kelly Johnson, Adam Lind, Mark Reynolds. Whither Adam Dunn?)
Alright, here’s the lineup, with a reasonable HR projection for each:
Next men up from Triple-A: Matt Olson, Renato Nunez, Matt Chapman
We did it! 270 dingers! If you think any of those projections are a bit high, then just allow one of Trumbo, Khrush, or Carter to hit 40 again instead. If someone gets hurt, then let Olson, Nunez, or Chapman come up midseason and do some mashing. The only defensive stretches are Plouffe at 2B (but he was drafted as a SS!) and Rasmus in CF (but he only switched to LF two years ago!).
The starting lineup is righty-heavy, but the platoon splits aren’t bad for the most part. The bench isn’t ideal, since Joyce’s strength is OBP and Rajai’s is speed and defense, but we’re stuck with them and they’ll at least chip in a few long balls. There’s a certain fun irony in accidentally having the AL leader in stolen bases on this team. On the bright side, Pinder is the perfect Beer League utilityman.
As for the pitching staff, it would LOL just kidding who cares. This post is all about the dingers. It would be cool to add Yovani Gallardo (12 career HR) or Travis Wood (10), but this is the AL so they’ll almost never bat anyway. There’s no money to be wasted on that. Besides, none of this plan affects all the young MLB-ready pitching we’re so excited about, so maybe this team would have a strong staff behind them anyway.
The starting lineup listed there combined for 15.9 bWAR last year, which we can round up to the 18-20 range with the addition of the bench. That’s ... middle of the pack, surprisingly close to last year’s MLB average (19.7). It’s around what the playoff-bound Rangers, Nationals, and Orioles posted, and well above the Mets. With a good enough pitching staff, could this absurd roster actually contend? Or would all the skill set redundancy lead to diminishing returns from the one area of strength, with all the weaknesses adding up to be too much to make up for?
And that wraps up our experiment. What do you think of our new-age Moneyball team, with dingers as the exploited commodity? We can call it Powerball. Long live the Beer League A’s.