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Here Goes Nothing: Hayden's Offseason Plan 2017-2018

This year’s A’s are solid. I expect us to put an exciting team on the field, with competent veterans flanked by ascendant sophomores.

[ See my Oakland organizational depth chart, 2018-2023 ]

Though I don’t think the rotation is good enough to go far in the postseason, there is a chance we contend. And with $30 million or so to spend--after Petit’s signing--the team can still improve.

So when I started this exercise, I was hot to contend. That money can be put towards a couple of the free agents out there perhaps undervalued by the market--including premier ones like Lorenzo Cain and Carlos Santana--or even used to absorb a star player like Ryan Braun. (I was particularly intrigued by the idea of using Santana at first, basically using Olson to solve our corner OF problem.)

But it’s 2020-2022 that really have me excited. That’s when the rotation will have rounded into shape--AJ Puk may arrive in 2019, with Grant Holmes and James Kaprelian hot on his heels--and our infield could rival the Giambi/Tejada/Chavez combo with Olson/Barreto/Chapman around the diamond. (Olson, Chapman and Manaea will be free agents after 2022, right?)

With that in mind, I think Oakland’s acquisitions strategy -- trades and free agents alike -- should focus on buy-low candidates who could be sold at the deadline if we’re out of contention (and maybe even if we are) for players who will be in their prime during that 2020-2022 window. This largely fits with the front office’s stated goals of lining contention up with the debut of the new stadium.

I assess our 2017-2018 offseason needs, in order, as:

  1. Catcher. This is in flux based on the team’s evaluation of the Maxwell situation. However, he’s not the most exciting player even if he isn’t in jail. Most of the enticing options out there are bat-first catchers, but with a young staff it might be worth retaining someone who can help them along. Whether we target a lefty or righty depends mostly on Maxwell’s trial.

  2. Corner outfield. Khris Davis should be DH as often as possible. That opens a place in the outfield, preferably a right-hander to complement Matt Joyce or play full-time. I prefer Chad Pinder as a utility guy, not as an everyday outfielder where his bat doesn’t quite play.

  3. Starting pitching. I would say a #1, but outside of Darvish and maybe Arrieta, that’s not available. (Nor is it likely to be down the road.) I'm of two minds when it comes to targeting an innings-eater versus someone with higher upside. The former might protect some of the young guys from being overstretched.

  4. Relief pitching. We need another lefty in the pen. With Triggs, Bassit and now Petit we have the swingmen to make our mediocre back-end starters less of a liability. I’d also like to target another set-up man on a 2-year deal who can be flipped if need be. I love what we did with Petit and Pagan, who could combine for 150 innings -- basically the equivalent of adding a good starter at a fraction of the price.

  5. Platoon partner for Matt Olson. He was acceptable against lefties last year -- 759 OPS -- but that was almost 300 points lower than his rate against righties. It’s possible this is Renato Nunez.

  6. Utility infielder. This is very low on the list, and depends a lot on the team’s assessment of Chad Pinder’s value as an infielder. It was my impression they played him in the outfield mostly because that’s where he was needed, not because they see that as his long-term position. We have Joey Wendle ready to step in if Jed Lowrie becomes expendable, but I don’t want to be forced into promoting Franklin Barreto if Marcus Semien is injured.


In the big picture, I'd be on the lookout constantly for solutions in 3 places organizationally: high-upside starting pitchers, corner outfielders, and catchers.

Tenders

  • Khris Davis - $11.1 million – tender

  • Marcus Semien - $3.2 million – tender

  • Kendall Graveman - $2.6 million – tender

  • Blake Treinen - $2.3 million – tender

  • Chris Hatcher - $2.2 million – non tender

  • Liam Hendriks - $1.9 million – tender

  • Josh Phegley - $1.1 million – non tender

  • Jake Smolinski - $700k – tender

Trades


I don’t feel too interested in specifying exact trades, but here are some players I’d kick the tires on:


  • Dellin Betances -- the Yankees really soured on Betances, who even in a down year struck out 14 per 9. A real workhorse who would likely take the pen from solid to very good.

  • Michael Taylor -- really like the possibility of acquiring this five-tool player, but it's unclear what the A's could offer a very complete Nationals team; his fellow Nat Brian Goodwin could be a secondary target

  • Stephen Piscotty -- I'm not all in as some are on him, but I think it's much more likely he's acquirable than Ozuna or Yelich, who are both preferable but would cost more.

  • Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton -- his contract is very reasonable, and the Milwaukee outfield is looking crowded with youngster Lewis Brinson forcing his way into the conversation; if their year goes south and ours looks good, he'd be a good target as he's still a reliable 20/20 threat. Broxton's strikeout rates are way too high, but he might be out of chances in Milwaukee and could be worth a shot.

  • Mark Appel -- a return to the East Bay could be good for the former #1 pick, who might be convinced to accept a bullpen role where he can air out his fastball and slider

  • Avisail Garcia -- Delivered on his potential for the first time last year. I'm not sold he's a 4-win player going forward, but he could tap into his power and become a solid left fielder for the next couple years.

  • Juan Lagares -- an excellent centerfielder, Lagares is likely to catch the short side of a platoon with Brandon Nimmo in centerfield. If the Mets sign a free agent outfielder, Lagares could become available, and he's capable of a 3-win season on the basis of his glove alone.

  • Scott Alexander -- Royals lefthanded reliever who could be available per MLBTR.

Free agents


  • Lorenzo Cain, 4/$70M, OR Austin Jackson, 2/$18M, OR Carlos Gomez, 2/$20M -- Cain can play center for the next two years and move to the corner when Mateo/whoever takes over center in 2020. He may even add some power as he ages. If that falls through (and Taylor, Ozuna, and I’m not sure what the market thinks of Jackson, but he would be a great platoon partner and mentor in center or left for Powell and Fowler. Gomez would play a similar role; he has higher upside, for sure, but he hasn't had the best clubhouse reputation and it's really not worth spoiling the good vibes the youngsters have.

  • Jose Bautista, 1/$5M -- If he’s available at a cut rate, I’ll take a flier on Joey Bats as a rebound/trade chip who can platoon with Joyce or Olson, or push Davis to LF.

  • Welington Castillo, 2/$14M OR Chris Iannetta, 2/$8M -- Castillo’s been a league-average hitter, hard to find at catcher. Iannetta found rejuvenation in Arizona, but it’s really his veteran wiles I’m after. Sean Murphy 2019 baby!

  • Michael Pineda, 3/$9M -- You might think I’m crazy, but he could come back in 2019 as a front line starter for a team starting to contend. Why not keep him for 2020?

  • Tommy Hunter, 2/$10M OR Tony Watson, 2/$12 -- we need a lefty, but I love Hunter, whose fastball is HEAVY. These are only to be acquired if we get to the end of free agency and we haven't spent all our dough, though -- paying for relievers is rarely worth it.

Given that the team's real window is still at least a year off, I would really try to avoid locking too much money into 2019-2022. We will have a much better idea of the roster's needs after these next two years, when we'll find out which youngsters are the real thing.

I'm dreaming, but the perfect fit for this window is Bryce Harper, a 27 year old free agent outfielder after this year. He'd be a beast through our window of contention. Given that the entire core will be on arb contracts that get priciest around 2023, a 10-year deal that is front- and back-loaded for $40M AAV (at least) would be idea. He probably won't be interested, and there will be competition for sure, but we're out West and have a great roster fit. (Given Chapman, there's not as clear a fit with Machado; he could be offered shortstop, but he's a big dude who could age away from that position.)

Maybe we catch lightning in a bottle; the corner infielders combine for 9 WAR, Cotton and Hahn harness their potential, and Triggs/Montas/Petit/Pagan combine for 300 innings of 3.00 ERA ball in long relief. That team can make it to 86 wins. But, just as likely, the offense is more solid than spectacular and we start praying for Puk in July. In that case, Oakland shouldn't panic. Sell Joyce, Lowrie, and whatever else you can while loading up for 2020.

We can't lose this year.