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Oakland A’s face decisions ahead of arbitration deadline

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They have 12 eligible players who must be tendered by Friday.

Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

The next big offseason deadline is approaching on Friday, as teams must choose whether to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. They don’t need to agree to an actual salary, just commit to the fact that they will figure something out eventually. Anyone who is non-tendered becomes a free agent.

The Oakland A’s have 12 players eligible for this process. The rest are either under guaranteed contract, like Stephen Piscotty, or haven’t played in the majors long enough to earn eligibility, like Matt Chapman. The team already resolved one of these cases, agreeing to a one-year contract with catcher Josh Phegley for $1.075 million, reports Jon Heyman of Fancred.

Here is the full list of 12 arbitration-eligible players, including estimates for their value from MLB Trade Rumors:

  • DH Khris Davis ($18.1 million)
  • SS Marcus Semien ($6.6 million)
  • OF Mark Canha ($2.1 million)
  • C Josh Phegley ($1.2 million) (signed for $1.1 million)
  • RHP Mike Fiers ($9.7 million)
  • RHP Blake Treinen ($5.8 million)
  • LHP Sean Manaea ($3.8 million)
  • RHP Kendall Graveman ($2.5 million)
  • RHP Cory Gearrin ($2.4 million)
  • RHP Liam Hendriks ($2.1 million)
  • LHP Ryan Buchter ($1.3 million)
  • RHP Ryan Dull ($0.9 million)

If the A’s keep everyone at those prices, then their payroll will stand at $83 million before making any other trades or signings (or re-signings). However, tendering a contract by Friday does not necessarily mean they will end up paying the amount listed above, nor even guarantee that the player will be in Oakland next summer — he can be tendered and then traded, leaving the salary negotiation to his new club.

Let’s have a look down the list and see what kind of decisions the A’s have to make over the next 24 hours or so. There aren’t any completely obvious non-tenders in this group and most of them are obvious tenders, but there are a few who are right on the border.

Obviously yes

No question on this first group of guys. They are obviously, undoubtedly, mathematically worth their projected salaries, and it would be foolish to cut them loose to free agency. Even if you want to trade them, or work out a longer contract with a lower AAV, at least lock in the commitment. Tender now and ask questions later.

Khris Davis ($18.1M): That’s an awfully high payday for a DH, and almost certainly more than he could command on the open market. But the A’s are contending, and they already might lose Jed Lowrie from the lineup. They absolutely cannot toss aside one of their most famous, marketable, and consistently productive stars. The question is whether they can later agree to a long-term deal with a more reasonable salary attached, and hopefully that’s what they’ll do, but if it comes down to it then he’d still be worth it next season at that arbitration figure.

Marcus Semien ($6.6M): He’s a shortstop who put up a 4 WAR season last year with a Gold Glove nomination and a decent bat, and he only just turned 28 and is almost always healthy. That’s an easy call at that price, even before getting to things like his high character, local roots, and relatively long tenure with the club.

Blake Treinen ($5.8M): He just put up one of the best seasons ever by a relief pitcher, and there’s every reason to expect he’s for real. On the open market the best you could hope for at this salary is a decent setup man, so of course you pay it to keep your All-Star closer.

Sean Manaea ($3.8M): He just had shoulder surgery, which always casts doubt on a pitcher’s future, but the prognosis is good and he might even pitch in 2019. For a young star with four more years of club control (thru 2022), you definitely pay this price to keep him around and gamble that he’ll come back strong.

Liam Hendriks ($2.1M): Your opinion of him may vary, but this salary is so low that he’s an easy call to keep. The team showed a lot of faith in him last year, and even if you only think he’s half as good as they seem to, he’d still be worth that modest price tag. Trade him if you want, but don’t flush him down the toilet just to see if he goes clockwise.

Mark Canha ($2.1M): He finally put it all together in 2018, with health, a productive bat, and even some passable defense in CF when needed. There are a lot of scenarios in which he’s a prime trade candidate this winter, especially with a logjam of righty hitters in Oakland’s outfield, but one way or other you have to tender him first.

Ryan Buchter ($1.3M): Not only is he a good lefty reliever, he’s the A’s only southpaw. Next on the depth chart are Dean Kiekhefer, and then probably a guy named Cody Stull who was bad in Double-A the last two years. He’s one of the top arms in the pen and this salary is a relative pittance.

I also would have included Phegley in this section. Last winter I suggested a non-tender, but he’s stayed mostly healthy for two straight years now and he’s a decent enough backup whom they’re familiar with. For a mill, at a position that is a particular question mark for the team right now, he’s worth keeping around.

It’s complicated

There are arguments either way for these guys. It’s ... complicated.

Mike Fiers ($9.7M): I want him back next season, but dang, that’s a lot of money. His career has been marked by inconsistency, so despite his strong 2018 he’s particularly risky. Most of Athletics Nation seems to be into the idea of re-signing him to a two-year contract for slightly less annually. Personally, I’d tender him now and risk having to pay the full amount if a deal can’t be struck, but many on AN would disagree and prefer to look elsewhere for a better bargain.

Kendall Graveman ($2.5M): He’s definitely going to miss all of 2019 after Tommy John surgery, and after that he only has two more seasons of team control. How much do you pay as a retainer for the future services of a pitcher who never quite managed to break out beyond league-average even when he was healthy? Can Oakland even afford the extra 40-man roster spot, when they already have seven other injured starters taking up space at a moment when they’re trying to build a contending squad? I’d probably lean toward keeping him, but I’m not positive.

Cory Gearrin ($2.4 million): You could make similar arguments for him as I did for Hendriks, because this is a cheap price for a decent reliever. Heck, he had a 1.99 ERA just two seasons ago. But there is finite space in the pen and it’s already getting full before any additions are made (like a second lefty?), so if it came down to keeping only one of Hendriks vs. Gearrin as out-of-options righty middlemen then I’d pick the former. But I also believe in overstocking the pen to account for spring injuries, so if there was room for Chris Hatcher at this price last winter then there certainly could be for the superior Gearrin this time around.

Ryan Dull ($0.9 million): This one is more a question of what the A’s think of him, considering they have more information than we do. I see him as a decent, optionable reliever with upside remaining, at a negligible price that’s barely over the minimum. Oakland relied extensively last season on shuttling optionable relievers back and forth to Triple-A to keep the bullpen filled out, and presumably they’ll do the same next summer. That means they’ll need a handful of such arms available, and I’m not sure they’ll find a half-dozen better than Dull-at-six-figures. But if the team doesn’t believe in him then I would understand.

Stay tuned to see how it all shakes out tomorrow!