Once again I got the opportunity to work with a great group of Athletics Nation members (NateHST, bernie_ till_i_die, cA’sey h, Orodawg and Taj Adib) and take part in the SB Nation Off-season Simulation. The representatives for each team got just over 60 hours to reshape their organizations however they saw fit. Rosters are reset to the end of the regular season and budgets are recommended by SIM organizer, agent, arbiter and data entry manager, Max Rieper of Royals Review. Arbitration salaries are determined by MLB TradeRumors’ projections and then it’s off to the races. I’m only able to claim full credit for any mistakes that were made. The successes were a true team effort.
Oakland is in a strange place this off-season. An emerging core of young talent and a 17-12 record to close out the season gives A’s fans hope; but 75-87 overall and last place in the AL West, which also happens to be home to the 2017 World Champions, must give pause. Much of our early discussion reflected this conundrum. There’s talent and reason for hope on the existing roster but DAMN are the Astros good! The team finished 10 games out of the WC2 spot, not an insurmountable gap if we could patch together the pitching staff and the Matts continued to develop and veteran hitters like Davis, Lowrie and Joyce maintained their 2017 level of health and production and nothing untoward happened anywhere else. The A’s are a team that finally committed to a full rebuild in July… are they really going to be ready to aim for the postseason 8 months later?
I don’t think we ever really came up with a game plan, not like we had in years past. We had contingencies for buying or selling depending on how the market acted. We scouted the rest of the league, farm systems included, to find trade targets. We set some basic objectives with an eye towards sustainability over the next few seasons. Oakland was fortunate to find two cornerstone players in Matt Chapman and Matt Olson that they’ll be able to control for another 6 seasons and a further economic boon is that they’ll make little more than the league minimum for the next 3 years. The team will also control their 2017 Opening Day SP (Graveman), SS and top bullpen arm for those same 3 years. This created a window for us to operate in: we wanted to position the team for a 3 year run of success. We felt pretty good about our line-up except for RF and we desperately wanted to find a way to move Khris Davis to a full time DH role. Jed Lowrie made an ideal place holder until the next wave of Oakland’s youth movement was ready to hit the shores. We’d focus on acquiring pitching, preferably through free agency, which could cover our timeline. We anticipated roughly $30 million in cash reserves and we planned to non-tender some players to add a little more space to the budget. The free agent market tends to run hot during the SIM but astute choices and strict fiscal discipline would allow us to find the help we needed and stay on budget.
And then our starting Catcher gets arrested in Arizona.
Because… of course.
I don’t wish to make light of or diminish the seriousness of Bruce Maxwell’s legal situation by “prioritizing” baseball but his uncertain status throws the organization into some chaos. Maxwell was being counted on as a solid starting option going forward and the organization is not in a position to suitably stop-gap an extended absence with an internal option; Josh Phegley and Dustin Garneau offer replacement level production and Sean Murphy is too far away. We realized that what we did at the Catcher position was going to ultimately shape the direction this team would go.
Oakland sends Santiago Casilla, Joe Wendle and Kendall Graveman to the Giants for SP Jeff Samardzija and $6 million annual in 2019 and 2020.
I will first pause to allow everyone time to wave goodbye to Mr. Casilla and chuckle at the thought of his return to the other side of the Bay.
Losing Graveman hurt but it was the only way to make the deal happen. Shark listed eight teams in his contract that he’d approve a trade to and Oakland made the cut. He’s been good for 32 GS and 200+ IP the last 3 years and simply put has been better than Graveman during that timeframe. Shark is signed for three more years (fitting perfectly into our window) at $19.5 million average annual value (AAV) but getting Casilla included in the deal and cash on the backside drops our cost to $11.4 million in 2018 and $13.5 million annual in 2019 and 2020.
And did I mention we moved on from Santiago Casilla in the process?
Oakland picks up the $6 million option on Jed Lowrie.
Oakland sends Grant Holmes, Franklin Barreto and Kevin Merrell to the Cardinals for C Carson Kelly and RF Stephen Piscotty.
We decided early on to go big in settling our Catcher situation, pursuing Miami’s J.T. Realmuto and one of the top prospects at the position, big league ready Carson Kelly. The Cardinals asked about Barreto and Merrell early on and it only took a few emails to settle on Grant Holmes as the third piece. We paid a steep price but we found long term, cost affordable solutions at Catcher and Right Field. Piscotty is under contract for 5 years/$30.5 million guaranteed with a team option in 2023. His 2018 salary is only $1 million, leaving us with plenty of money to improve the pitching staff.
Oakland sends Chris Hatcher and Jake Smolinski to the Rockies for C Dom Nunez.
We were in discussions with Colorado on a larger deal that included Ryon Healy with the players above but we kept getting interest calls on Healy led us to keep ticking up our asking price for his power bat. We decided to make this smaller deal because our research into the Rockies system ID’d Dom Nunez as a player of interest and we anticipated giving non-tenders to Hatcher and Smolinski of we couldn’t move them before the deadline. This wasn’t a “getting something for nothing” trade as we were getting some feelers on our guys but this was good value for us and we wanted to be able to focus our attention elsewhere.
Oakland sends Josh Phegley to the Blue Jays for LHRP Tim Mayza.
Tim Mayza was another player our research highlighted as a player of interest. The 26 year old southpaw with 94 MPG gas and a slider could be a bullpen stalwart at best or a LOOGY at worst. When Toronto said they’d move him for a back-up Catcher we were thrilled to send Phegley and his projected $1.1 million salary their way. And with this deal we called it a successful Sunday night.
Oakland signs Tyler Chatwood to a 3 year/$22.5 million contract.
Monday morning started and we were behind the proverbial Eight Ball. One of the downsides to a SIM being run on Central time means that sometimes we’re literally asleep when events happen around us. Several of the pitchers we were interested in had signed before the Oakland F.O. could have its morning coffee. Chatwood had 3/$21 million in hand and was looking to sign soon; I wasn’t sure if we really wanted to guarantee three years but we needed time to discuss our options so I put in a bid bumping the guaranteed money the $22.5 million. This was still approximately $10 million below what we projected he’d end up with so I thought all I did was buy us breathing room to have a discussion amongst the group. Turns out is bought us a starting pitcher. The plus side is Chatwood throws hard, keeps the ball down and has made at least 25 GS the last couple of seasons. But he struggles to throw strikes and has average less than 6 IP in those 50+ GS.
Oakland signs Yusmiero Petit to a 2 year/$11 million contract.
We knew we wanted to sign a guy capable of throwing multiple innings out of the bullpen and Petit has a track record of just that. When he can keep the ball in the yard he’s very good. When he doesn’t, he’s a borderline replacement level pitcher. A two year deal minimizes our exposure and to be fair to Petit, we paid less than we expected he’d get in the open market.
Oakland sends Dakota Chalmers to the White Sox for RHRP Nate Jones.
When he’s healthy, Nate Jones is one of the best RP in baseball. He had TJS in 2014 which made him miss most of 2015 and had surgery to move a nerve in his pitching elbow in 2017. But in 2016 he was worth 1.8 fWAR while making 71 appearances and produced a 10.19 K/9 vs. 1.91 BB/9 line thanks to a 97 MPH fastball and an 88 MPH slider. Jones is due$3.95 million in 2018 but due to an injury clause in his contract only makes league minimum in 2019 and has club options for 2020 and 2021.
We were on budget and looking solid. We had some solid bites on Ryon Healy and moving him would allow us to move Khris Davis to DH full time. We planned to platoon Matt Joyce and Renato Nunez in LF while Dustin Fowler would get first crack at the starting job in CF, with Boog Powell as the primary back-up. We had a couple guys on the 25 man bubble that we wanted to move in Frankie Montas and Jesse Hahn and we were eager to see what we could get in return. But for the most part we could sit back and be opportunistic.
Oakland sends Ryon Healy to the Rockies for RHSP Ryan Castellani and RHP Robert Tyler.
We knew we wanted to add to our collection of arms in the farm system and after talking to a few different teams about Healy we made the deal to add Castellani and Tyler from Colorado. Castellani is 21 years old, 6’4” 220 and has a mid-90’s sinking fastball that helped him pass the test of AA. Tyler was a Supplemental 1st round pick in 2016 who has barely pitched since getting drafted. A college trained arm that would touch triple digits as a SP, if the A’s can get him right he would be a boon to the system.
Oakland sends Frankie Montas and Chad Pinder to the Blue Jays for RHSP T.J. Zeuch and Dalton Pompey.
I have to say where we’d been ruthlessly efficient in our previous trades… this one was more about having fun with the SIM process. We didn’t need to make this deal but we all had liked T.J. Zeuch in the 2016 Draft and couldn’t resist reaching out to see if he was available. And the price was so reasonable… Montas is out of options (unless MLB decrees he can have another due to lost time from injury) and as such didn’t have a place in our re-vamped bullpen. Pinder and his Swipe Right glory was relegated to a bench role in Oakland and with our depth of minor league options we felt that long term he was ultimately replaceable. Zeuch offers at least mid-rotation upside and Pompey brings a plus defensive glove to the outfield. This deal added long-term value to the organization but we did create a hole on our 2018 bench. And this would lead us to our next move…
Oakland sends Jesse Hahn to the Tigers for SS Jose Iglesias.
I’ll be honest… in retrospect, a bad trade. Iglesias bring a Gold Glove caliber glove but he can’t hit and he costs us $5.6 million in 2018. He’s been worth just under 2 fWAR annual over the past 4 years so I can’t say he’s a bad value but in the context of our roster construction we shouldn’t be paying our back-up middle infielder an extra $5 million. His salary would negatively impact our ability to value shop later in the FA market. As for Hahn, same story as Montas, he was out of options and didn’t have a place in our revamped pitching staff.
What were we thinking at this point? That we could shut down shop and feel confident that with a few breaks, the 2018 Oakland A’s would compete for a Wild Card spot. We wanted to cover ourselves at Catcher and not necessarily leave everything on the shoulders of a rookie new to the organization so we reached out to Alex Avila to talk terms; when we were told he was looking for a 2 year/$12 million dollar deal we were set to make him an offer… but then we got an email that offered us something more. Earlier talks with Boston and Miami had been productive but ultimately led nowhere as we ended up finding deals we liked slightly more elsewhere. The Red Sox had expressed strong interest in Jed Lowrie and had brought up a pair of tantalizing arms during the discussion. We had made solid progress with the Marlins regarding J.T. Realmuto before closing the deal for Carson Kelly.
Now the Marlins wanted to discuss a deal that would send Realmuto and Dee Gordon to Oakland in return for Carson Kelly and an arm. Both Marlins were under team control for the next three years and not to take anything away from Carson Kelly and Jed Lowrie… but a Realmuto/Gordon combo could be expected (and are projected) to out-produce Oakland’s duo by at least 2 Wins in 2018. We’d be going over-budget but if we could move Lowrie’s salary to Boston while acquiring a high ceiling arm things would at least be manageable on the fiscal side. And we had the opportunity to be legit contenders, not just for the Wild Card but for the AL West itself, staring us in the face.
Thus began a very hectic few hours.
Boston had gone dark and we weren’t sure if they were still interested in Lowrie.
Other parties who had expressed some interest in Lowrie had found other options.
Miami was closing in on a deal to send Dee Gordon elsewhere.
Avila was ready to sign.
I wasn’t willing to go over budget to make the Miami deal without knowing we had a landing spot for Lowrie. We couldn’t make the Miami deal and sign Avila, as we’d be too far over budget even if we could move Lowrie. And I wasn’t willing to let Avila slip away simply because Boston wouldn’t or couldn’t respond. So I made the call and we started drafting a contract offer to Alex Avila…
Then we got an email.
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.
Oakland sends Carson Kelly, Ryan Castellani and Logan Shore to the Marlins for J.T. Realmuto and Dee Gordon.
We’re going for it in 2018.
Adding Realmuto and Gordon offers us more impact in 2018 but at the cost of $14.7 million in salary. Moving Lowrie and Hendriks saves us $7.9 million but our budget is in the red. CA’sey h said it’s like the passage in Moneyball when Beane tells the owners to float him the extra cash or he’ll trade whatever contracts he has to to keep on their budget just as long as he can keep the savings in salary as profit. My feeling is we can cover the payroll excess with playoff ticket sales.
Oakland sends Sam Moll to the Indians for Tyler Naquin.
Feeling giddy from the previous transactions we reached out to Cleveland to check on the availability of Naquin. They had acquired some outfield improvements that made Naquin redundant and for the cost of one Sam Moll the A’s acquired a LHH outfielder who could play all three positions and had a minor league option remaining. He was at the very least excellent outfield depth and potentially much more, having produced a 2.5 fWAR season for Cleveland in 2016 as the heavy side of a platoon situation. In fact, you could easily argue that he was a younger, cheaper and more versatile version of Matt Joyce…
Oakland sends Matt Joyce to the Nationals for LHSP Dillon Peters and RHSP Brigham Hill.
We set up a post on the Royals Review discussion thread saying that Matt Joyce was available. 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 P Tim Milone, P A.J. Griffin, P Felix Doubront, P Blaine Boyer, P Mike Pelfrey, C Bryan Holaday, OF Peter Bourjos and SS Ruben Tejada to minor league deals.
Final Situation Overview:
But more than that we’re extremely happy with the roster we created. We finished the SIM with a group that we believe is a legitimate playoff contender, with a strong farm system and $3 million under budget available to supplement the roster as necessary come midseason.
And we had a lot of fun.
Thank you again to Max and the crew at Royals Review for hosting this event. A tip o’ the cap to all the GMs who participated, especially those who put up with us (OK, me) to make these deals happen.
It’s your turn, AN. Let us know what you think.
C J.T. Realmuto
1B Matt Olson
2B Dee Gordon
3B Matt Chapman
SS Marcus Semien
LF Tyler Naquin
CF Dustin Fowler
RF Stephen Piscotty
DH Khris Davis
C Dustin Garneau
SS Jose Iglesias
OF Boog Powell
UT Renato Nunez
LHP Sean Manaea
RHP Jeff Samardzija
RHP Tyler Chatwood
RHP Daniel Mengden
RHP Jharel Cotton
RHP Blake Treinen
RHP Yusmeiro Petit
RHP Nate Jones
RHP Ryan Dull
RHP Raul Alcantara
LHP Daniel Coulombe
LHP Tim Mayza
List of prospects lost:
List of prospects gained: