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Grover’s Alternative Off-season Plan

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oakland yay!!

I liked History class when I was in school.

I learned the names and the dates, because that’s what I needed to know to pass the tests, but what really interested me was the Why? Why did things happen? Why did events turn out the way they did? Sometimes, not often but sometimes, you could look back and find a pivotal moment that led to the eventual outcome. A decision point where something as simple as turning left or right, moving on or staying put, saying Yes or No, ultimately ended up producing a result more critical and complex than what one would expect from the original decision. And then as a student of History you feel this compulsion to ask What If? What If that probably binary decision, a decision made without a tangible understanding of the larger consequences of the base act, had gone the other way? What If the coin flip had landed on the other side?

So my Off-season Plan will be an Alternate History to the SB Nation Simulation I was fortunate enough to participate in a short time ago. My options are limited to trades and contracts that Oakland executed during the SIM and any other free agent deals that I’m willing to over-spend on. Any player in the SIM who signed a 1 year contract with another team for $5 million or less can sign with Oakland if I double the money to close the deal. Any player who signed a 1 year contract for $6 million or more can only come to Oakland if I increase the deal by 50%. Players signed to 1 year contracts with options attached fall under these same guidelines except any buy-out money on the option year has to be doubled to complete the transaction. As for players who signed multi-year contracts with teams other than the A’s… that could end up being very pricey for Oakland.

Let’s begin.

Arbitration:

Khris Davis: $11.1 million projection (Tendered)

Marcus Semien: $3.2 million projection (Tendered)

Kendall Graveman: $2.6 million projection (Tendered)

Blake Treinen: $2.3 million projection (Tendered)

Chris Hatcher: $2.2 million projection (Trade Bait/Non-tendered)

Liam Hendriks: $1.9 million projection (Tendered)

Josh Phegley: $1.1 million projection (Trade Bait/Non-tendered)

Jake Smolinski: $700,000 projection (Tendered)

It was a dark and stormy night…

We wanted to be aggressive at improving the pitching staff, so our first efforts would be directed toward adding arms to the existing core roster. With almost $35 million in the coffers we could pursue all but the high-end names like Darvish and maybe Arrieta. We didn’t want to go beyond three years guaranteed if we could help it and only then for specific targets. SIM dollars can go quick in Free Agency and we’d have to be disciplined to fill the holes in both our rotation and the bullpen. We send inquiries to the agent for Mike Minor, Jake McGee, Alex Cobb, CC Sabathia, Bryan Shaw, Lance Lynn, Doug Fister, Miles Mikolas, Juan Nicasio, Yusmeiro Petit and Jake Arrieta. (We didn’t think we had much of a chance with Arrieta but better to check just in case than to not look at all and hate ourselves later.) Mikolas already had a 2 year/$12 million offer in hand and was set to sign. This struck us as too hot a market for such an unknown pitcher so we decided to let him pass. Cobb wanted 4 years, Lynn wanted 5 years and Arrieta wanted to wait until the market was running nice and hot. Fister was biding his time and CC made it clear he wanted 2 years guaranteed and to play for a winner. Mike Minor already had a 4 year deal in hand and we were wary about pursuing him down that path. The rest of the relief arms we were interested in seemed content to wait out Minor and let him set the market.

While the free agent market started to sort itself out we turned our attention to the trade market. We had ID’d Giants SP Jeff Samardzija as a good fit for our rotation and his contract, while a little pricey, would fit precisely in the three year window we espoused to create for our roster. Rumor had it San Francisco was looking to free up some budget space and Oakland was one of eight teams Shark had OK’d a trade to in his contract. We quickly struck a framework for a deal. The Giants would kick in $12 million in cash to help cover Shark’s contract in 2019 and 2020 and they’d take back Santiago Casilla to offset $5.5 million in 2018 salary. The sticking point was SF wanted Kendall Graveman in return and we couldn’t get them to budge off their position. We believed that swapping Shark for Graveman was still an upgrade due to Samardzija’s superior durability but we were hoping to acquire a bigger boost to the rotation given the money we’d be out. We had a good deal in front of us but if we could add a similar free agent SP for around the 3 years/$39 million Shark was going to cost us we’d have a stronger rotation with Graveman on the roster than without. It was still early…

What If Shark is the right trade at the right time for Oakland?

We flip the coin and the alternative begins.

We decided to table talks with the Giants until the morning and focus on other targets of interest. We send a 3 year/$21 million offer to Jake McGee’s agent. We also reach out to Miami and St. Louis in an effort to solve our obvious Catching problem. Miami had a lot of wheels in motion and was only mildly interested in dealing J.T. Realmuto. They had a blockbuster in the works and Realmuto may or may not end up being part of it; they’ll talk with us in the morning if he’s still on the roster. But St. Louis was willing to talk Carson Kelly and they were amendable to including RF Stephen Piscotty. Pulling off this deal had the potential to solve two immediate and long term areas of need but the price would be steep: Franklin Barreto, Sean Murphy and Kevin Merrell. It was a fair deal in principle but I was adamant in keeping Sean Murphy because I think he’s going to be a star; we can deal with having two extremely young and talented Catchers pushing each other for playing time in mid-2019 when we get there. We ran through a few different permeations before finally settling on the following:

Oakland sends Franklin Barreto, Grant Holmes and Kevin Merrell to St. Louis for Stephen Piscotty and Carson Kelly.

We asked Lance Lynn’s agent if they’d consider a 3 year deal and were immediately rebuffed. We offer a 3 year/$39 million contract to Alex Cobb. We figured this got us a seat at the table and if we have to we can bump our offer to include a team option 4th year. Then it was back to the trade table to see if we could move our soon to be non-tendered assets. We struck gold in Colorado and Toronto.

Oakland sends Josh Phegley to Toronto for Tim Mayza.

Oakland sends Chris Hatcher and Jake Smolinski to Colorado for Dom Nunez.

We weren’t looking to move Smolinski due to his low salary, roster versatility (he had a minor league option remaining) and LHP crushing ways but we weren’t so enamored with him that we’d let his inclusion keep us from landing an interesting LHH Catching prospect in Dom Nunez. Tim Mayza is a LHRP who can throw strikes and get K’s with a 94 MPH fastball and slider. He had made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in August but he still had a full slate of minor league options available. Maintaining flexibility within our 40 man roster was going to be a big deal for us in the SIM, just like it is in real life. But we’d just saved $4 million in salary and only gave up one player that had been in our 2018 plans in order to acquire two young, promising players at organizational areas of concern.

We also sent out early feelers to teams we felt would be interested in one of Ryon Healy or Khris Davis. We weren’t looking to give either slugger away but we were curious to see what the market would bear. Boston expressed the most interest in Davis but they made it clear that he was a back-up plan if their primary targets (JDM and Stanton) fell through. But they were also interested in Healy and Jed Lowrie and we discussed some names we’d be interested in seeing on the table. Arizona was interested in Davis and gave us a list of names they’d be willing to include but we weren’t ready to venture far in that direction. Colorado had interest in Healy but again, as a fallback option if their free agent of choice went elsewhere. Still, it was this initial Healy discussion that led to the already mentioned Hatcher/Smolinski for Dom Nunez deal and we had a framework laid for a Healy trade if the opportunity presented itself. We thought Tampa would be eager to look into an inexpensive power hitter and… WTF DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T KNOW WHO RYON HEALY IS?!?!

As we were shaking our heads from that unexpected turn of events Jake McGee’s agent got back in touch with us. His client had a 3 year/$24 million contract in hand and they’re requesting our last, top bid. Our best offer was 3 years/$27 million and feeling a bit cheeky we tell Jake we hope he’ll love the west coast. We considered our Sunday night complete with that email. We had offers out to key free agents and with any luck we’d be able to close some deals and add some needed pitching in the morning. Once we did that we could look for upgrades wherever the best value presented itself.

The dawn breaks…

Mondays suck.

I love it when I can set my personal work schedule so my first day back to work falls on a day other than Monday, that way my work Monday can never go Full Monday on me. But the first full day of the SIM fell on a Monday and it was already causing problems. For one thing, the Cubs started talking to the Giants after we tabled the Shark deal and made them an offer at least twice as good as what we had been talking about with San Francisco. The Cubs offered better prospects and to take on more money, so Shark was moving back to Chicago. McGee’s people contacted us and let us know it would take at least 3 years/$29 million to send his client our way. We declined and Jake McGee (3 years/$28.5 million + team option in 2021) joined his new teammate Juan Nicasio (3 years/$15 million + team option in 2021) to become Chicago Cubs. Even better, Alex Cobb had a 4 year/$52 million offer on the table. We were prepared for this possibility and countered with a 3 year/$51 million contract that included $16.5 annual 2018 – 2020 and a $14.5 million team option in 2021 with a $1.5 million buy-out. We think Cobb has a bit more projection in him (4 seasons with 2+ fWAR in the last 5 years) but he’s never thrown 180 innings in a season and we just weren’t comfortable going 4 years guaranteed with him.

Pivoting off from Cobb, we send a 3 year/$21 million offer to RP Bryan Shaw only to find out that he has an identical offer from a more preferred destination and would we care to raise our bid? We do, to the tune of 3 years/$24 million. We check in on RP Addison Reed and are told he’s considering several 4 year offers; we decide to add to his decision making dilemma with a 4 year/$40 million offer. We get a reply from his agent saying we’ve moved to the top of the line. Then the announcement that a couple of our earlier SP targets have signed: C.C. Sabathia goes to the Tribe for 2 years/$26 million guaranteed while Miles Mikolas is a Texas Ranger at 2 years/$17 million. The supply of free agent starting pitching we were willing to bid on is beginning to dry up. We’re near our max on Cobb, Lynn won’t back off 4 years guaranteed and Arrieta just isn’t interested in talking yet. Our approach is two – tiered; we’ll start another round of inquiry on trade options and check in on some of the more mid-ceiling arms in free agency. SP Tyler Chatwood has 3 years/$21 million on the table and we’ve got him projected to end up with much more than that, so to buy some time for our other moves to play out we make a cursory bump to $22.5 million guaranteed over the same timeframe. We check in on Yusmeiro Petit and find him sitting on a 2 year/$10 million deal; with Santiago Casilla still on the books and Raul Alcantara out of options we don’t have a need for a spot for his bullpen versatility at this time. We then receive two not-so-great pieces of news: Shaw had 3 years/$27 million guaranteed plus a $2 million buy-out on a $9 million team option and Cobb had 4 years/$56 million guaranteed. We were figuring out how to counter these bids when the next thing we know…

Oakland signs Tyler Chatwood to a 3 year/$22.5 million contract.

Wait. What?

Yes, we made the offer but in no way did we expect their side to agree at such a low number. So Tyler Chatwood is now a member of the Oakland A’s rotation… yay? It’s a good deal; we expect more production than we’re paying for but the quickness in which the deal closed caught us by surprise. It also added to the urgency to land Cobb so we increased our bid to 3 years/$53 million guaranteed with a $16.5 million team option in 2021 with a $3.5 million buy-out. We included a vesting option contingent of him making 30 GS in 2020 or 55 GS in 2019 – 2020 and he doesn’t finish the 2020 season on the DL. We bump Shaw’s offer to 3/$28.5 million plus a $2.5 million buy-out on a $9 million team option. While we’re working on all this Doug Fister joins the Boston Red Sox as David Price joins the Phillies. Pittsburgh had a better deal on the table than we could offer for Gerrit Cole. The Dodgers won’t reply to our interest in Brandon McCarthy. The Rays were asking way the Hell too much for Jake Odorizzi. The Royals were close to a deal to send Danny Duffy elsewhere

We weren’t having much luck (yet) in finding a SP in trade but we were making progress on other fronts. A couple deals fell into place fairly quickly.

Oakland sends Dakota Chalmers to Chicago (AL) for Nate Jones.

Oakland sends Ryon Healy to Colorado for Ryan Castellani and Robert Tyler.

Nate Jones has been a dynamic relief pitcher when healthy and is only owed $4.5 million over the next two seasons, followed by team options in 2020 and 2021 that carry a $1.25 million buy-out. Castellani will be 22 next April and has already survived a season in AA. He has a Scherzer-style delivery, if not quite the same fastball. Tyler is more of a lottery ticket than you’d expect from a college trained arm drafted #38 overall in 2016 but he just can’t stay healthy. He can hit triple digits… you just can’t be sure if it’ll be a fastball or his arm flying out of the shoulder socket. But trading for arms now is going to save us from having to buy arms in the future.

Or failing to buy arms as the case may be.

Shaw got a matching offer from another club and his agent lets us know we needed to be high bid to earn his client’s services. We bet that this was a gambit to make us bid against ourselves; we call the bluff. Bryan Shaw signed with Cleveland. Cobb’s agent lets us know his client has a new offer of 4 years/$62 million guaranteed and that he’s going to sign elsewhere if we don’t guarantee the 4th year. This we know isn’t a bluff but we can’t bring ourselves to extend that far, so Alex Cobb became a Chicago Cub. The Addison Reed market heated up as more and more middle relief arms sign. Petit signed for 2 years/$10 million. Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek and Brian Duensing were also off the board. We bumped our offer to Reed up to 4 years/$50 million but the counter was quick at 4 years/$52 million. $13 million annual for a Closer? We tap out and stop me if this sounds familiar but… Addison Reed became the newest member of the Chicago Cubs.

Some way, somehow we ended up chasing after the exact same arms as one of the highest payrolled teams in baseball and every time we ended up a few dollars short. Yu Darvish signed for 6 years with the Orioles. The Astros signed Lance Lynn. The Rangers traded for Duffy. Arrieta is still available but everyone is going to be bidding…

We’re screwed.

Our chances to add an impact arm towards the front of our rotation or the top of the bullpen via free agency were gone. The more readily available trade options had either been moved or were on teams that aren’t easy to talk to. There were still moves to be made on the margins that could improve the roster but any significant growth was going to have to come from within. If we couldn’t add upside to the starting rotation we needed to do our best to add some stability; last season Sean Manaea was the only Oakland starter to throw more than 150 innings (158, actually) for the ballclub. Jhoulys Chacin was good for 54 GS, 324 IP and 4 fWAR over the previous two years and had a 2 year/$10 million offer in hand. We didn’t like him enough to get into a bidding war over him so…

Oakland signs Jhouly Chacin to a 2 year/$15 million contract with a $7.5 million team option or $1 million buy-out in 2020. Total guarantee $16 million.

The free agent Catcher market had been quiet, most likely due to the run on pitching, so we made inquiries as to price points for various players. The most intriguing option was Alex Avila, who was willing to sign a 2 year/$12 million contract. We want to front load the contract, as we’re well under our spending limit in 2018 and a lower salary in 2019 would only improve Avila’s trade value if we choose to go that route. Avila’s people let us know that their client would rather sign a back loaded contract, one that would lessen the incentive teams would have to pursue their client in a 2019 trade. Well then.

Oakland signs Alex Avila to a 2 year/$12 million contract worth $5 million in 2018 and $7 million in 2019.

We were wrapping up the Avila contract when the ENTIRE STATE OF FLORIDA reached out to us with proposals. Tampa wanted to discuss a deal centered on Jose De Leon and Yairo Munoz while Miami wanted to discuss a Carson Kelly+Logan Shore for J.T Realmuto+Dee Gordon swap. De Leon entered 2017 as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball but a series of nagging injuries limited him to 8 GS, all in the minors, during the season. If healthy, he could provide exactly the type of high-ceiling boost to our big league rotation needed in 2018. The problem was getting on the same page as Tampa. They initially asked for a +1 whom we had already traded (in fairness, that happens a lot during the SIM) but they then struggled to come up with a new player. 21 hours later the deal fell through because Tampa couldn’t decide if they liked C prospect Andy Paz enough to put on their 40 man roster.

The Miami offer was far more straight forward. They wanted to capitalize on our earlier interest in Realmuto to acquire a cheaper alternative with more years of control while clearing Dee Gordon’s remaining 3 years/$38 million off the books. It wasn’t a pure salary dump, as Gordon produced 3+ fWAR in 2017, but moving that money was clearly a motivating factor. Gordon and Realmuto are both under team control for the next three years, we had room in the budget to handle their salaries and we expect them to out-produce a Lowrie/Kelly combo in 2018. But is that extra production going to make a difference with this roster? Our starting rotation is dependent on both Manaea and Graveman staying healthy and taking another step in their development. If that doesn’t happen we just don’t have the horses to make significant gains in our pitching production. Trading for Realmuto/Gordon is a Win Now move that the rest of our roster isn’t ready to support, so we tell Miami that we’re out on Realmuto.

Oakland sends Sam Moll to Cleveland for Tyler Naquin.

This is a trade on the margins that allows us to move a fairly expendable piece from an over-crowded bullpen to reinforce the outfield. Naquin is a lefty bat who can play all the outfield spots and produced a 2.5 fWAR season as a platoon player for Cleveland in 2016. Last season was something of a lost year for Naquin, thus the low sales price, but a 2018 bounce back could buy him significant playing time in an Oakland outfield that would like to keep Khris Davis at DH as much as possible and has Dustin Fowler trying to return from a knee injury.

At this point we pause the narrative.

There’s a good argument that the roster constructed above has a decent chance to compete in 2018. There might be enough pitching that when combined with breakout seasons from Chapman and Olson the A’s could push for a Wild Card spot. At the very least there’s enough depth and talent to see where the team is come July. I can see myself going along with that argument because as much as I like trades and prospects… the Oakland A’s winning baseball games is pretty damn fun. But the SIM doesn’t run through July. We get three days to preload the path our team is going take and we don’t get the benefit of mid-season corrections. So it behooves us to shop any productive veteran assets that have a limited amount of team control remaining. For Oakland, that means Matt Joyce, Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis.

We resume the narrative.

Oakland sends Jed Lowrie and Liam Hendriks to the Red Sox for RHSP Bryan Mata and RHSP Roniel Raudes.

I think a year from now Bryan Mata is going to rank as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, a true TOR arm that will be on trajectory to arrive in Oakland by 2019. Raudes doesn’t have the same ceiling but he has a solid floor of a #4 SP. I expect both pitchers to be starting for High-A Stockton at the start of next season and I’d be surprised if they aren’t in AA Midland by the end of the year. I would have insisted on Mata being included in a deal for Khris Davis... to get him as part of a package for Lowrie/Hendriks made this too good to pass up.

Oakland sends Matt Joyce to the Nationals for LHSP Dillon Peters and RHSP Brigham Hill.

We made it known that Matt Joyce was available and a little while later Washington came calling. They were looking to load up for a 2018 World Series run before losing Bryce Harper to free agency and needed a quality LHH outfielder for their bench. Coming back to Oakland were Dillon Peters, a 5’9” LHSP who made his big league debut with 6 GS for the Marlins last year. Armed with a low-90’s fastball and hammer curve, Peters will be competing for a spot in Oakland’s starting rotation during Spring Training. Brigham Hill is a 2017 draft pick that had been Oakland’s 20th round pick in 2016 as a draft eligible sophomore. Hill is a short, three pitch RHP with an average fastball but one of the best change-ups in last year’s draft class and good control. He projects as a #4 SP or could end up in the bullpen where his fastball could play up.

Oakland signs LHP Felix Doubront, SS Ruben Tejada and OF Peter Bourjous to minor league contracts.

Below is table that summarizes Alt-Oakland’s roster and payroll situation. There are 44 players on the 40 man roster, my plan would be to waive/designate Dustin Garneau, Jesse Hahn, Bobby Wahl and Mark Canha to get within roster limits.

Roster Summary

Conclusion

Oakland needs to acquire a SP that can slot towards the front of the rotation to realistically compete in 2018. We did this in the SIM by pulling the trigger early to land Shark. There, the 1-2 combination of Manaea and Samardzija made us much more confident about our chances to compete in 2018 and our subsequent moves (both good and bad) reflected that confidence. Relying on Manaea/Graveman in Alt-SIM left us hung up in the middle, and with our efforts to upgrade thwarted going into Sell Mode was the only move that made sense.

Does AN prefer this alternative version of events?

And thank you for your indulgence in this re-visit.