This past week the A’s have been linked to Mark Trumbo and Trevor Plouffe, causing much of the east bay to throw up in its collective mouths. It’s important to note that being linked to players, and actually pursuing those players, are not one and the same. The A’s were linked to Jarrod Dyson and confirmed their interest in him; then they ultimately signed Rajai Davis, to whom they were never linked.
"Why Trumbo? Why Plouffe?" agonizing A’s fans have bellowed to anyone who will listen. (Note: random people in line at the post office do not appear to appreciate these bellowings.) It’s not necessarily the idea that is faulty here so much as the choice of personnel.
While surprising many (beat writers included, evidently) in zagging moves such as their pursuit of Edwin Encarnacion, in one matter the A’s brass has been utterly consistent: they appear to be fully committed to the core of young players coming up, and have not been inclined either to trade or to rush them.
Certainly this group of talented-and-getting-close prospects includes Franklin Barreto, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Jharel Cotton, Daniel Gossett, Frankie Montas, and Grant Holmes, along with the more seasoned Ryon Healy, Sean Manaea, and Bruce Maxwell, and may or may not include Chad Pinder, Renato Nuñez, Jaycob Brugman — all still with the organization and not dealt to fill Oakland’s immediate needs.
With many of the young players needing part to all of another season to arrive unrushed and ready to contribute, 2017 shapes up as a potential "representative product" year — or partial year — awaiting a more talented group of players. Does that mean a season of watching dull and highly flawed players, and a 70-win team, keeping the bed warm for the real team? Or can it mean a competitive group built without sacrificing a future core the A’s believe in?
Add Trumbo and Plouffe, two free agents who would fit right in to the current team’s aversion to getting on base or mastering RHPs, and you have yourself a team a lot like 2016’s group, only with two Khris Davises and two Lowries instead of one. (Don’t get me wrong: a lineup with two Khris Davises is a lot of fun, but with Rajai Davis leading off and a Plouffe or two behind him, the team might set a league record for solo HRs.)
However, one can hope that the A’s are linked to Trumbo and Plouffe while actually negotiating more quietly with better stop-gap fits for 2017, and if they are then the outlook could be brighter.
Replace Trumbo and Plouffe with Jose Bautista, and his roughly $20M price tag, along with Luis Valbuena on a 1-2 year deal, and you still have a roster ready to yield to the young guns as they arrive — even if signed to more than a one-year deal, Valbuena simply takes over the role currently butchered by Jed Lowrie — but here is how the 2017 lineup looks, still on a payroll that does not push its limits, with Stephen Vogt slotting in at C/DH/1B/RF as rest and injury might allow:
R. Davis - CF
Joyce - RF
Healy - 1B
Bautista - DH
Valbuena - 3B
K. Davis - LF
Maxwell - C
Semien - SS
Wendle - 2B
Bench: Vogt, Smolinski, Lowrie, Phegley
R. Davis - CF
Smolinski - RF
Healy - 3B
Bautista - 1B
K. Davis - LF
Phegley - C
Lowrie - DH
Semien - SS
Wendle - 2B
Bench: Vogt, Joyce, Maxwell, Valbuena
My thinking is that these lineups are both league average offensively and defensively, likely to finish 7th-8th in runs scored and similarly middle-of-the-pack on defense. The chance to be better than a .500 team and to challenge for the wild card is reliant on excellent pitching and the emergence mid-season of more talented reinforcements. I think the A’s have a shot at both.
I believe that a rotation of Gray-Manaea-Cotton-Graveman-Triggs, with Mengden, Gossett and Montas at AAA backed by Hahn and Blackburn (and by the All-Star break presumably Bassitt) has legitimate upside and the depth to remain excellent, if it’s excellent at all, through a normal spate of injuries and owies. The bullpen, led by Madson-Hendriks-Doolittle-Dull, figures to be no worse than average and likely better.
As for reinforcements, the above lineups are pushed soonest by Mark Canha, then Matt Olson, and eventually Chapman and Barreto, giving rise at least to the potential for a 2012-type scenario where a pedestrian roster in April morphs into a far more talented one by July.
Do you agree that the above lineups look legitimately league average for run scoring and run prevention? That the starting pitching gives rise to hope for sustained excellence? That this combination gives hope for a team that can manage a winning record — and maybe compete for a wild card spot if a couple guys come up mid-season and go all Ryon Healy on the league?
It’s a "representative product" that fully preserves the future but has a shot to be both interesting and potentially competitive. Trumbo and Plouffe? It’s the right idea, just completely the wrong players. Bautista and Valbuena? Now we’re talking.