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Oakland A’s non-tender Mike Fiers, Kendall Graveman, Cory Gearrin

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The three pitchers are now free agents.

Fiers’ time in Oakland has been extinguished.
D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s non-tendered three pitchers on Friday, allowing right-handers Mike Fiers, Kendall Graveman, and Cory Gearrin to become free agents, the team announced.

Friday brought the deadline for teams to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. The A’s began with 12 eligible players, but three of them avoided the process by agreeing to one-year contracts for 2019. The remaining six men were all tendered, and the precise terms of their deals will either be figured out later or decided by a third-party arbiter. Here’s the breakdown:

Signed contracts

  • C Josh Phegley ($1.075 million)
  • RHP Liam Hendriks ($2.15 million)
  • RHP Ryan Dull ($0.86 million)

Tendered contracts

Including salary estimates from MLBTR

  • DH Khris Davis ($18.1 million)
  • SS Marcus Semien ($6.6 million)
  • OF Mark Canha ($2.1 million)
  • RHP Blake Treinen ($5.8 million)
  • LHP Sean Manaea ($3.8 million)
  • LHP Ryan Buchter ($1.3 million)

Non-tendered

Including salary estimates from MLBTR

  • RHP Mike Fiers ($9.7 million)
  • RHP Kendall Graveman ($2.5 million)
  • RHP Cory Gearrin ($2.4 million)

None of these non-tenders are huge surprises, but none of them were guaranteed cuts either so it’s certainly interesting to see this news. In my pre-deadline writeup yesterday, I identified four players who had chances to be let go, and these were three of them. There were arguments to be made both ways in terms of whether to keep each one.

The biggest name on the list is Fiers, who was just acquired in August to help bolster the rapidly dwindling rotation. The 33-year-old pitched well for Oakland amid an overall bounce-back season, after shaky performances the prior couple of years. However, his underlying peripheral stats suggested that his success might have been aided by some fortunate hops — in fact, the A’s didn’t even trust him enough to let him start the Wild Card match-up against the Yankees, instead opting to go full bullpen in a sudden-death playoff game.

Fiers, 2018 MLB: 3.56 ERA, 172 ip, 139 Ks, 37 BB, 32 HR, 4.75 FIP
Fiers, 2018 OAK: 3.74 ERA, 53 ip, 52 Ks, 11 BB, 12 HR, 4.93 FIP

That home run rate is particularly enormous, though it helped that he cut his walk rate to a career-best. Statcast suggested his results turned out better than they should have based on the quality of contact he allowed, and his xwOBA ranked him among the worst quarter or so pitchers in the majors. It’s not impossible to overcome these kinds of factors, but apparently the A’s weren’t willing to gamble $10 million on the chance that the notoriously inconsistent hurler could be one of the few who sustains the seemingly unsustainable.

Adding a bit of intrigue to the move, Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle offers the following: “It’s also possible the A’s were not entirely enamored with way Fiers handled ‘opener’ decision for wild card game. He was pretty outspoken with his opinion.” Indeed, the decision to start the bullpen over Fiers in the biggest game of the year surprised most fans as well, and it’s easy to see how a player could be less than thrilled with that lack of faith. We may never know if that played a role in this decision, nor what kinds of contract offers (if any) were discussed between the two sides.

Meanwhile, Graveman found himself in a different type of situation. The 27-year-old missed most of the season to injury, and in July he underwent Tommy John surgery that will keep him out for most or all of 2019. He still would have had two more years of team control after that in 2020-21, but even when he was healthy he never managed to break out beyond league-average so the potential upside didn’t necessarily match the risk.

Graveman, 2015-18 OAK: 4.38 ERA, 441⅓ ip, 282 Ks, 130 BB, 58 HR, 4.58 FIP, 93 ERA+

Complicating things further, the A’s already have seven other injured starters on their 40-man roster, including three that will definitely miss most or all of next year and two more that are prospects yet to even reach Triple-A. That’s a big percentage of a contending roster to clog up with dormant, long-term investments, and perhaps there simply wasn’t room for yet another idle body, not to mention the extra deadweight money that would have been lost from an already tight budget.

Indeed, there is interest in a reunion if possible, via Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle: “I’m told that the A’s have already expressed interest in bringing Kendall Graveman back if he doesn’t find another option.” If he were to sign a minor league deal, then he could remain in the organization and do his rehab without taking up a spot on the 40-man nor seven figures on the payroll.

As for Gearrin, he may have been a victim of yet a different type of numbers game. The A’s bullpen has eight spots, and six of them are already locked up with relievers who can’t or won’t be optioned: Treinen, Trivino, Rodney, Buchter, Petit, and Hendriks. If the A’s want to make any other additions (like a second lefty?), or slide a starter back to be a long man, or keep any spots open for a taxi squad of optionable arms like Pagan, Dull, and Wendelken, then perhaps there wasn’t space for another out-of-options middle-innings right-hander.

Gearrin, 2018 MLB: 3.77 ERA, 57⅓ ip, 53 Ks, 21 BB, 7 HR, 4.31 FIP
Gearrin, 2018 OAK: 6.00 ERA, 6 ip, 2 Ks, 2 BB, 0 HR, 3.99 FIP

His modest estimated salary was reasonable enough on its own merit, between that 2018 performance and a 1.99 ERA the year prior. But the A’s have better arms available, so they will move on after receiving just six innings of work from their August acquisition. Gearrin will pitch at age 33 next year.

The departures of Fiers and Gearrin also closes the book on their trade trees. Oakland gave up four pitching prospects to get them, including Double-A arms Logan Shore and Nolan Blackwood and international teenagers Abdiel Mendoza and Teodoro Ortega. None of the prospects were more than midlevel lotto tickets, but presumably the extra year of team control on Fiers and Gearrin was factored into the acquisition costs. If one of those youngsters ends up panning out, then it will be that much more of a bummer knowing the A’s weren’t able to take full advantage of their own prizes.

Hot takes

I had interest in bringing back the two starters, but not enough to get worked up over any of this. I can understand the logic behind each of these cuts, and I’ll happily file them each under “the team knows more than we do.”

Losing Fiers makes me especially nervous, because he was the closest thing to a reliable arm in the rotation, but there’s still a ton of time to put together a new plan. There’s also quite a bit more money to work with now, whether that means signing some more efficiently salaried free agents or paying to bring back Jed Lowrie and then trading an infield prospect or two for some new arms. The A’s are good at finding bargains on effective starters, so at least there’s reason to hope they can do better with the dollars they saved.

For Fiers, the price was too high. For Graveman, the injury baggage was too heavy. For Gearrin, the bullpen was too full. Each of them belongs in the majors, but it looks like it’ll have to be somewhere else.

Updated Roster

There are now 36 players on the 40-man roster. The payroll stands at around $68.4 million, if all of today’s tendered players sign for their estimated salaries. However, the starting rotation is even emptier than before, featuring zero members of the unit that finished the season. There are just three swingmen who haven’t yet earned full-time MLB starting jobs, and then the aforementioned seven injury cases.

Here’s the updated list. Players in italics have not yet reached MLB.

Oakland A's 40-man roster
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Daniel Mengden (R)
Chris Bassitt (R)
Frankie Montas (R)
Paul Blackburn (R)
Jharel Cotton (R)
Sean Manaea (L)
Andrew Triggs (R)
Daniel Gossett (R)
Grant Holmes (R)
James Kaprielian (R)


Relievers

Blake Treinen (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
Fernando Rodney (R)
Ryan Buchter (L)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Liam Hendriks (R)
Emilio Pagan (R)
J.B. Wendelken (R)
Ryan Dull (R)
Tanner Anderson (R)
Aaron Brooks (R)
Catchers

Josh Phegley (R)

Infielders

Matt Chapman (R)
Matt Olson (L)
Marcus Semien (R)
Franklin Barreto (R)
Jorge Mateo (R)

Outfielders

Khris Davis (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Ramon Laureano (R)
Mark Canha (R)
Chad Pinder (R)
Nick Martini (L)
Dustin Fowler (L)
Luis Barrera (L)
Skye Bolt (S)