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Reading Between The Lines From David Forst

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“I come back more than the Cat in the Hat.”
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

No, not the famed author Robert Forst (“Stopping Alex Wood On A Snowy Evening,” “The Rhodes Not Taken”), today we’re parsing quotes from A’s General Manager David Forst in our quest to figure out the A’s off-season strategy.

Some of what we’ve heard since the season ended came in this November 9th story. Here are some key inferences I make from Forst’s comments...

Jed Lowrie

While some interpreted Forst’s comments as suggesting the A’s were planning to move on from Lowrie, I don’t read it this way. What I hear is that the A’s recognize that if they lose Lowrie they are not stuck without a player ready to man the position, whereas they know they need a catcher, for Opening Day, who is not currently with the organization.

So if the A’s were to wait on Lowrie and wind up losing him late in the off-season, there would be no need to panic or scramble. In contrast, they are already talking to other catchers (e.g., Kurt Suzuki) because if they don’t bring back Jonathan Lucroy they need to bring in someone else.

Along these lines, I gather the A’s are unwilling to give Lowrie the market rate deal he will seek until such time as his market might collapse. Oakland got some true bargains late last year, nabbing Lucroy, Trevor Cahill, Edwin Jackson, and Brett Anderson at a time when their negotiating power had been sapped.

Right now Lowrie is probably seeking a 3-year deal, or if he can’t get it then a deal of 2 years and perhaps upwards of $24M. The A’s “we’re not going to set the market” stance suggests they will be interested in Jed if he is still available later at a more affordable rate. Why are they willing to wait to see if his price comes down, knowing they will likely lose him to someone prepared to pay more? The answer there is Franklin Barreto: it’s a gamble the A’s can afford to take.

Conclusion: If Lowrie remains unsigned late into the off-season and finds the market for him softer than he hopes, I would not be at all surprised if the A’s swooped in and brought him back at the 11th hour. For the next 11 hours, though? I think Oakland is prepared to let him go to a team ready, and more able, to pay him for his 2018 performance and not for his likely regression into his later 30s.

Franklin Barreto

Is all of this a vote of confidence for Barreto or a damning with faint praise? I don’t think it’s especially the latter, in that any interest the A’s have in bringing Lowrie back is based on Jed’s significant contribution to the A’s 2018 success. Re-signing Lowrie would hardly be a referendum on his presumed successor.

However, given that Barreto has just one option year left and that Lowrie will almost certainly garner a 2-year deal wherever he signs, one can reasonable infer that the A’s have their concerns over Barreto’s compulsion, in 2018, to strikeout over 30% of the time at AAA and nearly 40% of the time in the big leagues.

At the very least, my impression is that even if the A’s are bullish on Barreto overall they are not convinced he will be ready, in 2019, to be an every day starter for a contending team — and he does have an option year remaining. So assuming that Lowrie signs elsewhere, don’t be shocked if the A’s respond by looking at 2Bmen available on a one-year deal. There’s a reason Oakland hasn’t handed Barreto the keys and changed the locks on Lowrie’s locker.

Sean Murphy

Count me as among those truly excited for Sean Murphy’s career. He’s on my short list of “real deal” prospects, and if you talk to some A’s fans they believe he will be ready for the big leagues by June. If you talk to other A’s fans, they will argue that Murphy can catch in the big leagues right now thanks to his stellar defense, even if he has just 3 AAA games under his belt.

From what Forst has said, I don’t believe the A’s feel Murphy is quite this close. My strong sense is that all the scouts and coaches who have seen Murphy think that a more realistic and prudent timeline is April, 2020, and that Oakland needs a different catcher at the helm all next season.

It’s not that Murphy couldn’t make the jump, essentially from AA, based on his age, number of professional games played, skill set, and so on. It’s that every prospect is different with his own unique needs and timelines that will best serve him and his team.

If this assessment of Murphy’s arc is correct, it makes sense that the A’s are talking to catchers who may insist on a 2-year deal in order to sign. That would be one season as the primary catcher and one shifting into a role splitting time with, and mentoring, Murphy.

It would be fitting, in a ‘full circle’ kind of way, if Suzuki wound up playing this role with Murphy, considering that Suzuki came up with the A’s learning from Jason Kendall before taking the reins from his mentor. (Suzuki played in 68 games as a rookie in 2007, the year Kendall was dealt mid-season to the Chicago Cubs, then caught 148 games the following season.)

So while we’re all champing at the bit to see Murphy take over behind the plate in Oakland, what I gather is that the A’s view Murphy’s ETA as “Opening Day, 2020” and not sooner, and that their planning will reflect this.

Now, am I accurately reading between the lines? Or would you say, “Heck, you’re just reading the lines!” Or would you say, “On the contrary, you’re reading skills is worser then my grammer and spelling combinned!”

I invite you to weigh in, as well as to argue whether the ways the A’s might be approaching Lowrie, Barreto, and Murphy are prudent, foolish, or somewhere in between.