First and foremost, it’s remiss to discuss Oakland, the east bay, or California without first acknowledging the apocalyptic shroud that is literally hanging over the northern part of the state right now.
Oakland’s sky right now is in a perpetual haze that obscures the sun, the result of smoke whose impact on the air quality is so intense that schools across northern California were canceled yesterday.
It’s an Orwellian sight to observe locals walking around town with breathing masks affixed, some resembling gas masks in appearance. I thought we had reached Orwellian levels with crowds of people oblivious to one another, each staring at his or her personal device in such a way as to “connect” by carefully avoiding any eye contact or spoken conversation with anyone. But this is a whole new level of spooky and it comes with a direct toll on the lives, and homes, of entire communities of people.
The “Big Game” has been postponed 2 weeks, the first postponement of the Big Game since JFK was shot. Just another reminder that these are no ordinary times in NorCal. Rain is finally in the forecast for Tuesday or Wednesday, holy water to be sure. Best wishes to those directly affected by the fires and to those heroically fighting to contain the fires. May your Thanksgiving be better than your Hallowe’en.
Even though he offers a smooth segue from the blazes to the A’ses, we will not talk today about Mike Fiers. Instead, we note that the A’s tend to take one of two approaches when signing or trading for a player.
In one instance, the front office will target a specific player of interest and that is often a player they have coveted or followed since the draft. The A’s had kept a wistful eye on Mark Kotsay long before he donned an Oakland uniform, but the stars didn’t align until 2004.
A recent example is Ramon Laureano, about whom the A’s inquired when Laureano was not made available. Those earlier conversations set the table for a trade when the Astros decided they did not have room for him on the 40-man roster. It’s easy now to see why the A’s were so enamored of Laureano and pounced on the first opportunity to bring him over.
However, that is not always how the A’s operate. As a low-budget team they are always in search of bargains and sometimes those reveal themselves unexpectedly. Going into spring training of 2018, the A’s knew they needed a catcher and soon realized they needed more starting pitching. What they did know was who might be available, at the right price and at the right time.
So instead of identifying specific players, the A’s left it up to fate to determine who would fit the parameters of Oakland’s needs and resources. What ended up happening is that the A’s scored big: they were able to sign Jonathan Lucroy, Trevor Cahill, Edwin Jackson, and Brett Anderson for a sum total of less than $10M. Those four guys all played significant roles in the team’s unexpected success.
The fact is, had three other pitchers been available and looking for work, with stuff that suggested some possible upside, undoubtedly the A’s would have signed them instead. Had Cahill been more expensive, perhaps Oakland would have turned elsewhere, just as their choice of Lucroy was more circumstantial than it was premeditated.
Why do I bring this up? I have a feeling that this off-season is likely to be characterized more by “opportunity grabs” than by “targeted acquisitions,” which means that right now David Forst and Billy Beane probably have no idea who their starting pitchers will be, who will catch or even play 2B — they are just confident that they will fill each of those holes with someone they feel decent about.
If the market turns soft for Jed Lowrie, he may be brought back close to spring training. Or it may be Franklin Barreto’s job on Opening Day. (Sorry, that’s Opening middle-of-the-night.) The A’s will be signing a catcher, be it re-signing Lucroy, reuniting with Kurt Suzuki, opting for the defensive-minded Martin Maldonado or the left-handed swinging Alex Avila, or one of the other dozen catchers testing free agency this winter.
I don’t think the A’s are going to make their selection based on whether they most prize leadership, throwing skills, batting against RHPs, or any other specific quality. I think the A’s figure none of the options is terrific, but many are about equally promising, and they will secure whichever one falls into their lap as being interested in signing an affordable, shorter deal.
What we saw last spring is that often the best deals come late, as the market dries up because teams have filled spots with other players and a few guys are left standing without a chair. The A’s benefited from waiting until all the chairs were filled, and got terrific bargains from players who still had something to offer.
And there’s the risk — what if you wait the market out and then the only players left are the ones no one wants and for good reason? Now you’re in trouble, but you’re also in trouble if you try to get ahead of the market by signing players to bigger deals only to have them disappoint. Which happens all the time.
In 2018 good things came to the A’s when they waited out the market and found gems, on the cheap, after other teams paid for more for free agents who did not perform as well. 2019 has the potential to play out in a similar fashion, with plenty of talent out there if you can figure out which ones are talented.
Perhaps the A’s will identify the players they feel are the “right ones” and will go after them with intentionality (my spell check thinks I made up this word) either in free agency or trade. Or maybe they will wait to see who is more affordable later and will roll the dice that those players might have just as much to offer as their better paid predecessors.
Possible mantras for November: Good things come to those who wait, and please let it rain.