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Nico’s Off-Season Plan: Modest But Realistic?

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MLB: ALDS-New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians
“What HR on Yan swing breaks?”
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Fans’ off-season plans crack me up because they often look like OOTP drafting. Your team isn’t any good? Just turn over the entire roster and replace it with 25 better players! A fun exercise, to be sure, but not the direction the A’s are actually going.

My off-season plan begins with a keen ear towards what the A’s have indicated they will actually do. Regardless of what we want or dream about, Oakland has given no indication of pushing to bring Shohei Otani in to solve LF and SP at the same time, nor have they been linked to the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Lorenzo Cain, or Yu Darvish.

The A’s have made it clear that their focus is on strengthening the bullpen, a project already begun with the addition of Emilio Pagan, acquiring a RH batting outfielder, and improving their rotation. It’s hard to know what they are thinking about their catching corps, but it stands to reason that even if Bruce Maxwell is in the picture Oakland is on the lookout for a second catcher.

If that is the A’s winter shopping list, here is one way they could proceed in the quest to put together a competitive hitting, fielding, and pitching team without straining payroll or reversing the rebuild. It isn’t necessarily super-exciting, but it could produce a solid team.

I never like to propose trades of “exactly X and Y for Q and W,” partly because I have become really attached to Q but mostly because I have no way of knowing which particular players actually interest which exact teams and I don’t want a plan to be derailed just because I guessed wrong. So I will put the following players in the mix to be part of the packages I am proposing, and the GMs can sort it out from there: to make each of the two trades proposed, I am putting Liam Hendriks, Jesse Hahn, Frankie Montas, and Renato Nuñez out there as available pieces from which to negotiate each deal. If necessary, a prospect such as Yairo Muñoz (overshadowed now by the likes of Barreto, Mateo, Neuse, SCHROCK!!!, and Fowler) is not untouchable, but may not be needed to complete these relatively modest deals. Franklin Barreto, A.J. Puk, Jorge Mateo, Austin Beck? They’re not going anywhere as I am staying the course on a true rebuild.

Ready? OK, here we go...

Surprise Catching Addition: Trade for Yan Gomes

There are pros and cons to Gomes, to be sure:

Pros:

- Known to be an excellent defensive catcher, Gomes is not regarded as a great hitter but in fact he has significant platoon splits and can be very productive if leveraged against LHPs. Gomes’ career slash line against LHPs is .276/.323/.470 and until Sean Murphy’s arrival Gomes would be the best defensive catcher the A’s have had since, what, Kurt Suzuki?

- With the impending arrival of top prospect Francisco Mejia, and with Roberto Perez batting just as right-handed as Gomes, the Indians really have no need for the 30-year old Gomes going forward. As a result he should be attainable on the relatively cheap, especially given that 2016-17 were not his best seasons.

- Gomes’ contract is reasonable enough to take on but pricey enough for the Indians to prefer to shed, promising him $5.95M in 2018 and $7M in 2019 (with two $11M club option years in 2020 and 2021). Perhaps it’s more than you would ideally pay for a catcher expected to start less than half the time, but part of what you are paying for is insurance against Maxwell becoming a non-factor before Murphy is ready.

Cons:

- Gomes had a nightmarish 2016 season, suffering shoulder and leg injuries to cap a year in which he batted all of .167/.201/.367. Gomes bounced back in 2017 to hit .232/.309/.399 (.245/.339/.509 against LHPs), both in line with his career norms, but at age 30 one could ponder whether the catcher is on the precipice of a Stephen Vogt-like fall.

- In order to maximize his value, you need to protect Gomes somewhat from RHPs, which means you are getting the short side of a platoon. That’s not ideal if he has to take over as your primary catcher.

Ultimately his 2017 season was decent enough, and his age still young enough, that it is anybody’s guess how much Gomes has left in the tank. The A’s would be banking on him being solid in his age 31 and 32 seasons as a bridge to Murphy.

Bottom line: I don’t expect the cost to acquiring Gomes would be that high, probably only one of the aforementioned players, leaving the A’s plenty of ammunition to complete their other deal. Would a Hendriks for Gomes deal make sense?

COF Acquisition: Trade for Stephen Piscotty

I have mixed feelings about Piscotty, as he profiles a bit more like a ‘tweener’ than like an impact player, but the upside is there along with reason (legitimately distracted by his mom’s ALS diagnosis) to believe his 2017 season was the fluke — and nothing would more likely rejuvenate Piscotty than for the Pleasanton native and Stanford star to be traded close to home.

Pros:

- Even in his worst season, Piscotty leveraged his patience into a solid .342 OBP. A return to his .273/.343/.457 line of 2016 and he’s a steal, while his career line of .268/.346/.438 is not too shabby either…

- …Especially considering that what Piscotty brings to the table is above average defense in RF (+3.5 UZR/150, +12 DRS, in two seasons).

- Adding Piscotty improves the A’s OF defense in an indirect way too, by way of allowing the platoon of Joyce/Pinder to shift over to LF where Joyce’s mediocre arm plays better. Joyce’s career UZR/150 is -3.4 in RF but is actually +1.1 in LF. He has -8 DRS in RF but +7 DRS in LF.

- Like Gomes, Piscotty thrives against LHPs with a career mark to date of .287/.390/.483. That’s a big plus for an A’s team that really struggled against LHPs in 2017.

Cons:

- Piscotty is a ‘buy low’ candidate coming off a poor season (.235/.342/.367), meaning he has had as many poor big league seasons as he has had good ones. His upside is limited, given that he is not guaranteed to slug like a typical COFer (though he did hit 22 HRs in 2016). He has some Ryan Sweeney in his profile, to be sure, though his best comp might be “a RH Nick Markakis”.

- Piscotty is also not a league minimum bargain, even if his contract extension has a chance to be team friendly should he pick up where he left off in 2016. His oddly structured deal pays him just $1M in 2018, then $7M for two years and $7.25M for two more, before a 2023 club option for $15M ($1M buyout).

If he’s good, though, he’s a steal in 2018 and a very affordable player for 4 years following, making him potentially part of the true long-term core going forward. And with the Cardinals experiencing a glut in the outfield, with needs elsewhere, Piscotty should be available without mortgaging the farm. From amongst the players I mentioned, a deal should be doable – Nuñez might appeal to St. Louis as a 1B option and they tend to covet high 90s guys like Montas. Hahn is a good ‘change of scenery’ candidate with upside, who could be the next Tyson Ross/Drew Pomeranz to become a steal for their new team. Muñoz has upside and athleticism. I think there’s a deal there somewhere. Piscotty for Montas and Nuñez? Something like that. Hahn and Muñoz are also on the table as needed.

So with tradez, the A’s complete their position player needs and in the process slightly weaken the depth with their pitching. Enter free agency, where Oakland has a penchant for identifying solid front-to-mid-rotation SPs without breaking the bank. Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Rich Hill………..

Free Agent Signings: Miles Mikolas, Doug Fister

To me, Mikolas is the consummate A’s signing, going overseas to find a formerly unsuccessful pitcher whose resurrection is clouded with the uncertainty of thriving in a lesser league. If Mikolas is the next Colby Lewis he will be a steal, and the A’s can afford to gamble because his projected asking price is not exorbitant.

Who knows what the winning bid will be, but mlbtraderumors.com predicts a contract of 2/$10M.

With his velocity returning to 89.7MPH in 2017, Doug Fister has a chance to revert to being the underrated mid-rotation SP (2010-13 WAR of 2.9, 5.1, 3.4, 4.2) he has been each season his average fastball velocity has hit 89.0 or higher. Fangraphs predicts a contract of 1/$9M for Fister.

The beauty of Mikolas and Fister is that both have mid-rotation upside but have enough question marks surrounding them that they will be very affordable. Adding those two along with Gomes and Piscotty still leaves Oakland’s payroll with ample flexibility going forward. These 4 would (using FA projections because they are all we have at the moment) add all of $20M to the A’s payroll in 2018, with a similar commitment for 2019 when Piscotty’s increase partly offsets Fister coming off the books.

In fact there is so much flexibility that Oakland could take a shot at a LH reliever like Jake McGee (projected by Fangraphs to get 2/$16M, by mlbtraderumors to get 3/$18M), but McGee is not especially strong against LH batters and if I am going to spend money on a LH reliever I want one who dominates LH batters to complement my closer and set up men being a lot stronger against RH batters. Mike Minor is certainly intriguing but may be priced a bit high as a reliever.

An intriguing sleeper pick would be Brian Duensing, coming off a great year (2.74 ERA, 62.1 IP, 18 BB, 61 K), unlikely to command a big deal, and for his career holding LH batters to a .267/.319/.373 line. Duensing will be 35 next season. But if what the A’s are looking for is a good LOOGY they have one in Daniel Coulombe, who has held LH batters to a career line of just .214/.305/.291. Why pay more for less?

So I am going to be content with the 4 additions I have identified, knowing that it’s always good to have money available for later opportunities. After all, this team could be buyers at the deadline if everything rolls right. Don’t believe me? Let’s see…

vs. LHP

Piscotty – RF (career 287/.390/.483 vs. LHP)
Lowrie – 2B
Chapman – 3B
K. Davis – DH
Semien – SS (career 275/.323/.463 vs. LHP)
Olson – 1B
Pinder – LF
Gomes – C (career .276/.323/.470 vs. LHP)
Fowler – CF

vs. RHP

Joyce – LF
Lowrie – 2B
Olson – 1B
K. Davis – DH
Fowler – CF
Chapman – 3B
Piscotty – RF
Semien – SS
Maxwell – C

Those lineups have a chance to score more often than Kevin Spacey (Too soon? Eh, whatever), and is also quite solid defensively, especially against LHPs when you get Pinder and Gomes in there.

As for the starting pitching, excluding Hahn because he could be included in one of the deals and putting “swing man Andrew Triggs” in the bullpen along with Raul Alcantara, it looks like this:

Manaea
Graveman
Mikolas
Fister
Mengden

Cotton
Blackburn
Gossett

Certainly if the A’s gambles backfire, this rotation has the potential to be shaky. But at the same time, if their gambles are the right ones it has a chance to be quite good. Especially when your depth allows Jharel Cotton and Paul Blackburn to open the season at AAA, has Andrew Triggs as a swing man (I want him in the bullpen at least to start the season), has Raul Alcantara still in the mix, and when you hope to add A.J. Puk, and perhaps Grant Holmes, mid-year.

The bullpen, even without adding a LH reliever (and excluding both Montas and Hendriks possible casualties of the trades), should be solid. I am reluctantly tendering Chris Hatcher just for depth, allowing Ryan Dull to open at AAA and be the first reliever called up. I would rather have Dull but ultimately it’s probably wisest to have both, as you will probably cycle through over a dozen relievers throughout the season. However, I am biting the bullet and sending Santiago Casilla to the land of DFA, eating the $5.5M:

Treinen
Pagan
Triggs
Hatcher
Coulombe
Bassitt
Alcantara

Dull
S. Castro
Wahl

Conclusion:

This roster is certainly very affordable, even with room to “add on,” and the long-term rebuild (e.g., Barreto, Puk, Murphy, Beck, Schrock, Holmes, Luzardo, Neuse, Fowler, Pinder, etc.) is uncompromised – in fact you have added your RFer for 5 years if Piscotty thrives.

The question: is this roster also good? And are the frameworks for the trades realistic? You tell me.

Poll

What do you think of this off-season strategy?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    Nico wins the internet
    (95 votes)
  • 51%
    It’s realistic but not appealing
    (172 votes)
  • 7%
    It’s appealing but not realistic
    (26 votes)
  • 11%
    Nico should stay away from off-season plans
    (39 votes)
332 votes total Vote Now