Welcome to the offseason, where the rumors are rampant and discussed ad nauseam.
The most recent rumor from late-October, which is really just a sentence in one of those Jon Heyman Inside Baseball posts, is that the A’s could target a right-handed outfield bat to go alongside Khris Davis in the outfield. Heyman often has great scoops, but until the hot stove gets brewing we won’t really know how serious the A’s are, particularly with Ryon Healy still in the green and gold for now. The rumor does make sense though, particularly if the A’s are in fact keen on DHing Khris Davis with frequency.
The A’s needs seemed pretty obvious when the dark ages of our offseason started four long weeks ago - pitchers of all varieties. The pen is barren while the rotation has holes, and the hope is the A’s can conjure some value via free agency or trade.
There are more needs though, especially if the A’s really do believe they can compete in 2018. Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan, and while the A’s have guys that could be fantastic at nearly ever position, not all those guys will be fantastic. Contingency plans are a part of just about every contender and World Series winner ever, and the A’s need to find some other options.
That brings us to the outfield, a unit with a solid floor and major upside but issues as well. First off, center field has some outstanding potential with Dustin Fowler, and his injury isn’t one that typically lingers. It’s an all-or-nothing kind of thing, and if he’s back, he should be what he is. We don’t know exactly what that is, but his track record suggests a solid left-handed hitting bona fide center fielder. That’d be nice.
Should he falter, Boog Powell is there with the chance to be solid, with Jaycob Brugman behind him with the chance to be passable and hold down the fort for at least a moment. That’s solid depth! Not impenetrable, as all have question marks, but solid.
But is that enough? And why might the A’s need another guy out there, specifically a right-handed hitter?
You’ll notice that all three CF options are left-handed. Okay, cool. Most pitchers are right-handed, so not a big issue. Right?
Maybe not one to completely ignore, either. The A’s outfield will be composed of a lefty in center, a lefty in right, and Khris Davis. Ideally, at least one of center or right will accompanied by a quasi-platoon mate. It’s important to remember too that Khris Davis isn’t your typical slugger, and doesn’t destroy lefties. He merely hits them at a solidly above-average rate while being extremely consistent against the other hand, cause Khris Davis is the truth.
That makes for an outfield that figures to be below-average against lefties on a team that looks like it will be decent overall against southpaw pitchers. So yes, a right handed outfielder would be nice. Not a necessity, and probably not something the A’s should give up a lot to find, but nice.
For a team in the A’s position, the best route to acquiring talent now is an internal promotion. The next-best method is via free agency, and the last option would be via trades. As a team that’s still not quite an obvious contender, it’s important to maintain future value and plan for the future. One way or other, this exercise is aiming higher than current bench guys like Mark Canha and Jake Smolinski.
As of now, Pinder’s future in the bigs looks like that of a super-utility man. For a team constantly shuffling pitchers up and down in an organization that can’t seem to escape the injury bug regardless of personnel, Pinder’s versatility is essential. And he can be just about as good a super-utility guy as you can find, escalating to that Ben Zobrist Type (TM) level if he can find his bat.
There’s no room for Pinder at AAA, and he deserves to stay at the bigs. Make him the super-utility guy, let him hit lefties, and let him continue to master the outfield with his incredible athleticism and obvious work ethic.
It’s still not clear where exactly Franklin Barreto will play. Short seems like a stretch, second is occupied by Jed Lowrie now and later by future Hall of Famer Max Schrock (just go with it for a moment).
Ultimately, there’s a chance Barreto isn’t cut out for the infield. Athleticism doesn’t always cure errors, and Barreto has struggled with the routine throughout his minor league career. He could lose that problem with a move to second, but it’s not a given. His skillset might lend itself more appropriately to the outfield.
However, 2018 is probably too soon to slate Barreto in as a big league outfielder, and his prospect value is too high to bounce him positionally.
There is a circumstance where Barreto would make sense in the outfield next year, if he’s quickly knocking on the door and Pinder is needed elsewhere on the diamond. It’s not likely for 2018, but it’s possible. Long term? The outfield should still be on the Franklin Barreto menu.
I believe it’s law that we have to discuss Austin Jackson as a potential fit each and every year, until Jackson fills his latent dream of playing for every MLB team. This offseason is no different, and it might actually make sense. Jackson is coming off a solid year against lefties and should still be cheap.
Then again, he’s Austin Jackson. A seemingly solid teammate and former star who has gone up and down the last few years, and even after a good year is far from a sure thing.
Jackson’s fit is roster-dependent with more risk. Unlike Pinder and Barreto who are in the organization regardless and under cost-control, Jackson would require more rigidity by taking up both an extra slot and more money.
But picture a 2017 Jackson roaming the outfield for the 2018 A’s. A veteran presence who hits lefties, doesn’t complain an iota about playing time, at a reasonable cost? Not a bad proposition. But not a sure thing, and with more opportunity cost than a Pinder or Barreto.
There are numerous trade targets, and none of them are worth it. Why? It would cost the A’s something beyond a one-year contract, which is more than the options above. It’s a need, but at least at the moment not urgent enough to give up value.
Give it to Pinder.