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MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs
A Unicorn the A’s can acquire?
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Greetings and salutations A’s fanatics! It is Hot Stove season in the MLB and I am here for my 3rd Annual Offseason Take on how the A’s brass ought to go about tackling the offseason. This is always a fun exercise and this year even more so than the past two. Why, you ask?

Well, the A’s enter 2019 in a much different spot than they were heading into 2017 and 2018. For the first time since the debilitating 2014-15 offseason, the A’s enter the Hot Stove portion of the calendar coming off a playoff season. And, counter to that post-2014 year, this time the core is full of young players with plenty of forward run way. We should be seeing more opportunistic trimming around the edges rather than trying to reimagine the team.

This is an exciting period for the A’s franchise. We get to watch twin corner gold (and platinum!) glovers Matt Chapman and Matt Olson. We have a three time 40 HR slugger in Khris Davis. We have another East Bay raised stick in the OF in Stephen Piscotty and another at SS in Marcus Semien. We got a taste of the human highlight film in CF in Ramon Laureano. And more young players are on the way (Luzardo, Barreto, Murphy).

But of course there is still work to do. We have questions in the short term at catcher, 2B and LF. And the entire starting pitching staff is a big ????

How do the A’s leadership build off of an upstart 2018 97 win Wild Card team and help break through to the next level of championship-caliber success in Oakland? Let’s take a look at one potential path!

Arbitration Eligible players (using MLBTR’s arbitration estimates)

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
  • Khris Davis – $18.1MM - tender & EXTEND, 4 years $64 mil. It may pay off to wait and see what prototype DH Nelson Cruz gets in the free agent market before hammering out this deal. But I think this move is a WINNER, both on the field, and in continuing to build momentum in the Bay Area market. The Bay Area LOVES STARS, especially ones who do unique and very difficult things, and Khris Davis does that, with three straight 40 HR seasons. Plus he wants to be here. This is a no-brainer to lock in to continue to build a championship lineup AND to continue the momentum of 4x more season tix sold and towards a new Oakland park.
  • Mike Fiers – $9.7MM - offer 2 years $15 mil and no more. Ball is in his court, but this is a fair deal for an innings eater whose propensity for fly balls plays well in the Coliseum.
  • Marcus Semien – $6.6MM - Tender
  • Blake Treinen – $5.8MM - Tender
  • Sean Manaea – $3.8MM - Tender
  • Kendall Graveman – $2.5MM - Non-tender and offer a strong minor league deal with a strong indication his contract will be purchased before year end.
  • Cory Gearrin – $2.4MM - Tender and trade
  • Liam Hendriks – $2.1MM - Tender
  • Mark Canha – $2.1MM - Tender and trade
  • Ryan Buchter – $1.3MM - Tender
  • Josh Phegley – $1.2MM - Tender
  • Ryan Dull – $900K - Tender

Trade Time - the Unicorn and Other Options

The last two years, my signature move I advocated for was a key FA signing to fix the OF, specifically the hole at CF. Well in 2016-17 I am glad we did not go for Dexter Fowler, as he has been a bust, while in 2017-18 we missed out on my pitch for Lorenzo Cain, as the guy was a real stud for the Brew Crew. So I am one out of two on the signature moves, batting .500 I’ll take it. At this point, we are now OK in CF, with Laureano and a nice collection of young talented players behind him. So I can finally move on from wanting to fix CF. Thank you Beane, Forst and Crew for addressing such a key position!

So then, what is the signature move this year, you ask? Well, the picture kind of gives it away, but the Unicorn of 2018-19 for me is Ben Zobrist. What are the A’s position player question marks heading into 2019? Aside from the obvious at catcher, the two areas are 2B and LF. We MAY have internal answers in Barreto at 2B and Pinder/Fowler/Martini at LF. I love Pinder as the short platoon and versatile role player. But that heavy LF platoon remains a big question for 2019. And we don’t have time to wait, it is time to contend without harming the future.

Ben Zobrist addresses both of these spots to a T. He can be insurance and/or split time with Barreto at 2B. If Barreto struggles, Zobes takes over as more of an every day 2B. If Barreto takes a big step and is fine at 2B, Zobrist takes over as the heavy side of the LF platoon with Pinder on the short side. And of course Zobrist is capable of being the glue at so many areas. He is a fantastic fit for this roster. You could even theoretically run just an 11 man position group at times with the combined versatility that Pinder and Zobrist would offer. They back up every position on the field. Look, I don’t want to give the FO any ideas in maxing out bullpen spots, but Zobrist really does give you a chance to only need 1 bench player and 1 catcher, for at least short stints. Talk about roster flexibility! I can see Beane, Forst and Melvin rubbing their hands together with a distant look of longing in their eyes.

So I’m moving Mark Canha and Fernando Rodney (or Cory Gearrin or Liam Hendriks, whichever one the Cubs prefer) for Zobrist. I’d be willing to add another little carrot. I love Canha as much as the next A’s fan. Local guy, some awesome signature moments, a real foodie and good guy. But Canha is a bit superfluous with Pinder, Laureano and Piscotty as RHH OFs, and Matt Olson not being a guy you want to platoon at 1B. You don’t sit gold glove defense... And having Canha as a pure bench/depth guy in an arb year, just doesn’t make sense to either him or the A’s. Free Canha by moving him to bring back a perfect fit.

Would the Cubs do it? Maybe not... but maybe they would. Theo floated they are basically willing to move anyone at the right price by indicating even Kris Bryant would be on the table. I mean, come on... Zobrist is not off limits if Bryant is not. Also, the Cubs have a younger version of Zobrist in SH Utility Ian Happ. They also have lefties at LF, 1B and RF in Schwarber, Rizzo and Heyward. Mark Canha fits perfect as a platoon balancer for them. And they need the mix up to get back up. Canha is a really valuable guy. I’d love to play against him in the World Series. The Cubs also need bullpen help. So giving them the option of a few different looks makes sense. In this deal, they save $5-8 mil (depending on which reliever they pick) to allocate elsewhere. While we only take on an additional $5-8 mil in our budget with just a one year commitment.

Talk about a win-win. Third time is the charm for win-win Zobrist trades for the A’s, I say. And he has already helped two teams be that “added spice” to get to hoisting a Commissioner’s Trophy, let’s make it a third. Zobrist would be the perfect add for the 2019 A’s and I will not rest until this deal is either done or it is clear it is never happening. Right now we are in the “It just might...” zone so I am banging the drum like ?uestlove.

Now, if that doesn’t work out due to the Cubs being jerks. Well... other options for that LHH versatile player include Derek Dietrich on the Marlins. I don’t see why they wouldn’t trade him for pretty darn cheap. Or Tony Kemp on the Astros. He has always been an awkward fit for their roster and I think he would thrive with the A’s. Cheaper FA signing would be Danny Descalso, but he is not quite the same impact level, although he is a Bay Area guy. Dee Gordon (Mariners) or Cesar Hernandez (Phillies) would be other options that would fill the role and who may be on the table. But Dee has a big contract and Cesar would cost a lot more in trade.

MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Cleveland Indians
Alternative option to Zobrilla?
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

End of the day, get the most impactful guy who can play both LF and 2B and preferably hit lefty, and I think you made the A’s a lot better in 2019. Zobrist is just the unicorn version.

I am not really going to go super deep here on specifics for other trades. But I do think the smart guys who ran the A’s Offseason Sim hit on the macro direction: trade from some areas of surplus to get some optionable MLB-ready pitching depth. Guys I would be most likely to move include: Canha (as noted), some of the RHH relief depth, one of SS Jorge Mateo or Richie Martin, one of OF Dustin Fowler, Luis Barrera or Skye Bolt, RHP Chris Bassitt (or possibly Frankie Montas, but that would require more return), 1-2 of the 2017 or 2018 draft class and/or recent Latin American signings. This would be the ammo I would use for deals for a Zobrist-type (preferably Zobrist) and optionable pitching depth.

Free Agency - No Real Unicorns This Year, but a Couple Moves

The A’s leadership has been Really Good At One Thing in free agency, and that is adding the right veteran pitcher. I fully trust them to nail 1-2 veteran pitching additions that will be great value and a great fit. We have the Rich Hill, Scott Kazmir, Bartolo Colon, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Edwin Jackson track record that inspires much confidence.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Oakland Athletics
Big Sexy was a great A’s SP signing back when
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Who will it be? You tell me! I don’t even want to tell these guys to do anything but get in the kitchen and cook! Let’s see what veteran starters you can add to this mix to get us over the hump. I trust you guys! Whether it is an Anibal Sanchez, who looks a lot like the Kazmir and Hill mold, or Gio Gonzalez, who is like an upgraded version of Brett Anderson, to bringing back one or more of the guys who were here last year (see Bartolo re-signing), I can see so many directions. Maybe they go big and take a smaller page out of the Cubs’ book and add a bigger splash like Dallas Keuchel to be our version of the Jon Lester “reliable veteran lefty who has already won a World Series to help get the good young team over the hump” signing. Hey, it always helps to have a template. I believe in the front office on this pitching thing and can’t wait to see who they add.

You also might have some targeted trade deals in this zone (Sonny? Grienke? Cobb? Straily? MadBum??? Not really but maybe? on that last one) I just can’t wait to see what these guys cook up with the pitching staff. It will be fascinating.

And the last add, which actually may be first, is getting a veteran catcher on a one to two year deal. Would I love to get Yasmani Grandal? Yes. But I don’t see that happening. I think it will be one of Kurt Suzuki (good offense and eh defense), Martin Maldonado (eh offense and good defense) or Jonathan Lucroy coming back (eh offense and eh defense but intangibles and a great beard). Whichever one it is, this team should be seeing better catcher days soon, regardless, with Sean Murphy due up sometime between June 2019 and April 2020. So whoever we sign, and especially if it is for a two year deal, hopefully he is the type of graceful leader and team player who is happy to both make plays and also tutor/semi-backup Murphy when that time comes. I would err on the side of Suzuki, but I can see a case for all of these players and I hope the FO markets it well to get the best fit at a good value. This is a great opportunity for a veteran catcher to be on a fun young team on the rise.

Summary

I didn’t get too much down in the weeds on this one, folks, because that is what the newly extended brain trust is for. But I gave my “Unicorn Move” and the high level game plan that I foresee for the franchise in 2019 in order to “Get Over the Hump Without Mortgaging the Future”. The Zobrist (or Zobrist Lite) moves and the catcher won’t be budget busters and the noted extensions will actually lower 2019 commitments, so there should be plenty of open field for the FO to expend the right resources on pitching. Hopefully Mr. Fisher says “Hey guys you can err on the side of let’s win this thing” with the pocket book and we are shopping more in the Nordstrom value sale rack than the back bin of the Ross “everything must go" rack, that would be fantastic! But these are the questions and storylines we will be finding out in the coming months as we patiently get ready for some 2019 Oakland Athletics baseball. Keep your stove warm, and your popcorn ready, should be a fun offseason!

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners
Defend The Town!
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Poll

Which move are you most looking forward to seeing?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    2B-LF answers
    (21 votes)
  • 8%
    Veteran Catcher
    (25 votes)
  • 83%
    Starting Pitching (and more starting pitching)
    (260 votes)
  • 1%
    Other Wild Card Move (post in comments)
    (4 votes)
310 votes total Vote Now