- Let the kids continue to blossom, mostly
- Augment the core with four key free agent signings and two tactical trades
- This results in improvements to both the offense and the pitching
- Budget nets out to $80 million
In my plan, I see the A’s taking another step forward in 2018, shooting for a winning record and possibly a wild card. I recognize that it’s still a bit early in the long-term plan, as there is a lot more talent to come into the pipeline, so let’s not get too crazy and try to get Stanton or Darvish or some such and mess up the trajectory. The course we’re on is solid, so let’s augment it this way…
Free agent signees (numbers based on MLBTradeRumors’ predictions, except where noted):
- SP Tyler Chatwood for 3 years, $20 million ($6.7 million AAV)
- RP Anthony Swarzak for 2 years, $14 million ($7 million AAV)
- C Alex Avila for 2 years, $16 million ($8 million AAV)
- OF Austin Jackson for 2 years, $12 million ($6 million AAV) (my own estimate)
- Baseline budget: $52,620,000
- Additions: $27,700,000
- Total: $80,320,000
The case for the FAs:
From MLBTR: "He’ll be just 28 in December, brandishes a 58% groundball rate, and averaged nearly 95 miles per hour on his fastball this year. Outside of Colorado, he could become an interesting pitcher."
I think getting out of Colorado will do wonders for him, as he switches to the pitcher-friendly confines of O.co, and also given our improved IF defense, his groundball tendencies should play well. He’ll be next year’s Brandon McCarthy. I see him slotting in as a #3 behind Graveman and Manaea, with Mengden and Blackburn (who has a similar profile) rounding out the rotation. I also expect improved seasons from Manaea, Mengden and Blackburn as they have lots of room to grow and refine.
From MLBTR: "The righty surprisingly dominated for the White Sox and Brewers, with a 2.33 ERA, 10.6 K/9, and 2.6 BB/9 in 77 1/3 innings. He’s set up to land the first multiyear deal of his career, with three years a possibility."
The A’s have shown a tendency to prioritize the most recent data as a more reliable indicator of success (see: Rich Hill). They like guys who have made adjustments and figured it out. Swarzak seems to fit that profile to a tee. Clearly, we need more impact bullpen arms, and this guy seems worth the bet.
Kind of a no-brainer. With Maxwell’s situation an unknown, due to both off-the-field issues and a lack of offensive production on the field, we can’t count on him for 2018. And given the A’s propensity to platoon catchers, we need a strong LHH to handle the bulk of the work against righty pitchers. Plus, his experience will help with our young pitching staff, and a two-year contract should be just right as a bridge to Sean Murphy. Finally, he’s coming off a great 2017. From MLBTR: "Among players with 300 plate appearances in 2017, the only one who posted a higher hard-contact rate than Avila’s 48.7 percent was former teammate J.D. Martinez."
I know, I know. Really? He’s taken a lot of abuse, both on this site and others. But look. I think we need a RHH OF. With experience. Who plays a decent CF. And who hits lefties well, to complement the suddenly lefty-heavy OF we have penciled in (Fowler, Powell, Joyce).
Let’s look at his 2017 stats: 126 OPS+ overall; 1.9 bWAR in only 280 Abs, which, in full-season terms, means he was roughly a 4-WAR player. And against lefties? .352/.440/.574, for a 1.013 OPS and a startling 172 OPS+. I think he’s figured it out, he’s still in his prime at age 31 next year, and used in a platoon role, he’s an absolute steal. And of course, there’s this:
Trade #1: Ryon Healy and Jesse Hahn to Seattle for RHP Thyago Vieira and OF Anthony Jimenez
Why it makes sense for the Mariners: They just lost both 1Bs to FA. They have Vogelbach, but he’s a LHH, so he can platoon with Healy, much like their last pair. Hahn still has a little bit of upside, and Seattle needs starters.
Why it makes sense for the A’s: We get Vieira, who is still raw but has triple-digit future-closer potential, which is a need for the A’s but not as much of a need for Seattle; and a bit of a lottery ticket in Jimenez, who has speed, good OF defense, a good arm, and potential hit tool. Keep in mind neither Healy nor Hahn have much trade value, so we need to be realistic in our expectations on the return. This also opens up a roster spot for Nunez, who is out of options, so the A’s can see if he blossoms into something so they don’t lose their investment in him. He’ll back up Olson and Davis, and replace Healy’s RHH power, so he’d play primarily against lefties.
Trade #2: Santiago Casilla, Frankie Montas and Casilla’s $6 million salary to the New York Mets for RHP Marcos Molina
Why it makes sense for the Mets: They still have hopes to compete in 2018, as they have enough building blocks, plus a new manager who has experience maximizing the value of pitching staffs. But they need bullpen help badly, more so than starting pitching, and these two combined may have just enough value to land the A’s a promising young starter from their farm, especially since they’re getting Casilla for free, and Montas still has closer upside.
Why it makes sense for the A’s: We get a guy who is a potential TOR starter in the future, who could join Puk, Holmes and Kaprelian in the next wave of big starters. He’s had some injury issues, so there’s some risk, but the ceiling is high enough to justify it.
As a result of both trades, the A’s clear Casilla’s roster spot, replace two pitchers (Hahn, Montas) who are out of options with two pitchers (Molina, Vieira) who have higher upsides, and whose clocks haven’t started yet. We also trade from a position of strength (1B) to clear a spot for Nunez and get a talented outfield prospect, which fills more of an organizational need. Importantly, we haven’t traded away anyone from the core group of prospects, and in fact have strengthened our farm with even more.
And as a result of the FA signings, we’ve filled the obvious gaps and made tactical upgrades – SP, RP, LHH C, RHH OF – which will help the team compete in 2018, and bridge those gaps until they're filled by the next wave of kids.
Lineup vs. RHP (with 2017 OPS+ vs. RHP):
- Fowler CF: 120? (.871 OPS overall in AAA)
- Joyce LF: 126
- Lowrie 2B:120
- Olson 1B: 180 (!)
- Davis DH: 132
- Avila C: 135
- Chapman 3B: 107
- Powell RF: 102
- Semien SS: 99
Bench: Pinder, Garneau, Nunez, Jackson
Lineup vs. LHP (with 2017 OPS+ vs. LHP):
- Jackson CF: 172 (!)
- Lowrie 2B: 103
- Davis DH: 111
- Nunez 1B: 132? (.837 OPS overall in AAA) (Healy: 132 vs LHP, 89 vs RHP)
- Chapman 3B: 110
- Pinder RF: 99 (97 vs. RHP)
- Garneau C: 87 (Phegley: 60 vs. LHP)
- Semien SS: 81 (reverse split)
- Fowler LF: 80?
Average OPS+: 108
Bench: Powell, Joyce, Olson, Avila
Jackson’s numbers are insane, and probably unsustainable, but even if he regresses to, say, 140, he’s still easily the best platoon righty bat, and yet another reason we should sign him. Nunez should be expected to match Healy’s OPS+ vs. LHP, otherwise there would be no reason to trade Healy. Surprisingly, Garneau beats Phegley here (whose OPS+ vs. LHP is a woeful 60), and his defensive stats are also better. So I’m going with him. And note that I’ve bumped all the plus-hitters up one slot in the order, as is the trend these days, to maximize their impact – e.g,. Olson hits 4th against righties, Davis hits 3rd against lefties, and the weakest hitters are clustered at the bottom to minimize their impact.
Also, if you figure that 2/3 games are vs. RHP, and 1/3 vs. LHP, then our average overall OPS+ as a team for 2018 works out to 118. That’s a pretty good offense.
We’ve also improved our defense: Fowler, Powell, Pinder and Jackson are all plus defenders, and by moving Davis to a strict DH role (and keeping Nunez away from the OF), that’s a good OF. The IF defense features two plus defenders at the corners for most games, average defense up the middle, and average defense at C.
And given that the budget is only $80 million, if the team is competing in July, there’s room to take on additional short-term salary to compete for a wild card – although it’s unlikely the team truly becomes buyers at the deadline. I think they’d just go with what they’ve got.
AAA depth -- offense:
- Barreto 2B
- Munoz OF/IF
- Maxwell C
- Murphy C
- Jimenez OF
- Ramirez OF
- Brugman OF
- Canha OF
- Smolinski OF
- Wendle 2B
- Mateo SS
- Neuse 3B
AAA depth -- starting pitching:
- Treinen (CL)
Traded: Casilla, Montas
Cotton works out his issues at AAA, Triggs starts out at AAA as rehab depth, Gossett transitions to a bullpen arm in AAA, Dull makes some necessary adjustments in AAA (and notably, he has options), and Puk and Holmes (and Molina in my trade scenario) continue their ascendancies as arms of the future in AAA.
Relief pitching figures to improve with the addition of Swarzak, the continued improvement of Treinen, Coulombe and Alcantara, the inclusion of Bassitt, and the removal of Casilla.
Admittedly, there are no game-changing upgrades to the pitching staff. Most of the big guns will hit the majors in 2019, and to try to monkey around with anything more dramatic for 2018 seems foolhardy, as that would likely require trading away future core assets.
Overall, I think it’s wiser to go into 2018 with a plus offense, improved defense, and hopefully at least average-to-above-average pitching to shoot for a winning record and a chance at a wild card in 2018. Then when the next wave of youngsters comes up, you can augment the plus offense with even more impactful players and a truly transformed pitching staff, and it’s all blue sky from there.