A predictive model takes the available data, spins it around in its processing matrix, and produces a result.
15 18 5 60 4 10 3 97
The Oakland A’s had 15 pitchers make starts for them in 2018. They had 5 starting pitchers go on the 60-day Disabled List (Paul Blackburn enjoyed his time there so much he visited twice!) There were 4 other starters who went on the 10-day Disabled list, with Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson making multiple visits each. Finally, 3 relief pitchers were used as either an emergency starter or as a scheduled opener to help mask the inherent weaknesses within the remaining members of the starting rotation. There’s no logic, no equation, no way anyone could have taken those numbers and predicted a 97 win season and a playoff berth for the Oakland A’s.
But that’s what happened and the Oakland Brain Trust went into the 2018 SB Nation Off-season Simulation knowing it had to respect those numbers. Max Rieper and Royals Review once again hosted representatives from all 30 teams for the two day event; 43 hours to shape the direction of our clubs for the upcoming 2019 season. (SIM overview here.) I was fortunate to team up with an amazing group of A’s fans (Orodawg, cA’sey h, NateHST, invisibleinkwell) and together we were able to formulate and execute a plan that we feel will enable the 2019 Oakland A’s to take the next step towards a championship season.
One advantage the A’s had last season was a depth of optionable pitching that allowed the team to rotate Daniel Gossett, Kendall Graveman, Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt and Daniel Mengden between Nashville and the Show; that’s not possible in 2019 as Montas, Bassitt and Mengden are out of minor league options while Graveman and Gossett are expected to miss the year as they recover from Tommy John surgery. Not only did we need to build a starting rotation worthy of a playoff contender we needed to create the depth necessary to make it through the regular season. We had an $85 million budget and a farm system that was hit fairly hard by injury and under-performance, we’d need to be creative and make hard choices to accomplish our goal.
Arbitration and Team Options
We started by non-tendering Chris Hatcher ($2.4 MM) and Jake Smolinski ($800K) while declining Fernando Rodney’s option ($5.25 MM) with a $250K buy-out. About halfway through the SIM we non-tendered Kendall Graveman ($2.5 MM) while releasing Dean Kiekhefer, Andrew Triggs and Aaron Brooks. These last three offered marginal cost savings but we valued their spots on the 40 man roster; while the 40 man roster is not an obligatory component of the SIM we believe that being mindful of roster limits adds to the realism of what we’re trying to accomplish. These moves freed up $10.7 MM in payroll and 7 roster spots, space we needed to build our rotation depth. Mike Fiers ($9.7 MM) and Khris Davis ($18.1 MM) were critical components last season and going into next year but their combined $27.8 MM in salary tied up a significant chunk of our payroll… we weren’t sure how their situations were going to play out.
We had a little bit of cash and a lot of need, so we looked to be aggressive early in Free Agency. We hoped to strike quick while the big money teams were busy chasing Harper and Machado, looking to land a Catcher and a Starting Pitcher to give us a firmer foundation to build on while we initiated trade discussions. We offered Trevor Rosenthal a 1 year/$6 MM “prove it” deal with $1.5 MM in incentives; he jumped at the offer. We reached out to Wade Miley, hoping to land him on a two year deal but were told he already had an offer in hand to return to the Brewers for more money than we were prepared to top. We looked at bringing back Jed Lowrie and at making Martin Maldanado our new starting Catcher but both players wanted three years guaranteed. We were only comfortable guaranteeing two years to either player… there was room to negotiate but was there time?
There are several reasons why I like to work the SIM with a group of people. One reason is fairly obvious: the more smart people you have working a problem or problems the easier it is to solve things. It also allowed us to divide and conquer during trade negotiations. One person working ten separate trade threads and free agency is tough; four people working on ten trade threads while I could focus on free agency is far more manageable.
Trade #1: Frankie Montas to Minnesota for LHSP Lewis Thorpe
Thorpe is a SP prospect who overcame early career injuries to work his way to the brink of making the Show. He passed the AA Acid Test thanks to good command of a low-90’s fastball and three potential Average or better secondary pitches. He made four starts in AAA to close out the 2018 season and is a lock to be added to the 40 man roster this winter, meaning he has a full slate of minor league options available. A good ST could put him on Oakland’s Opening Day roster.
Undoubtedly our toughest trade, this deal went through several permeations before we were able to close. We didn’t want to part with Pinder’s versatility or power bat but we think Bryse Wilson has the makings of a TOR pitcher. Another SP who needs a good ST to make the Opening Day roster, we do expect Wilson to be a rotation mainstay by mid-season. Corbin Clouse didn’t allow a HR in 65 IP in the upper minors and as a 2016 draft pick he doesn’t need to be added to the 40 man roster until he’s banging down the door. We think the door opens this year.
Trade #3: Sheldon Neuse to Philadelphia for RHSP Zach Eflin
Eflin made 24 starts for the Phillies last year and immediately moves into the Oakland rotation. He comes with 4 years of team control and is making league minimum, essentially replacing Montas on the roster and the payroll. He also has two minor league options remaining, thus helping with roster flexibility. Neuse is a good prospect who had a tough year in AAA and is blocked at the big league level. I absolutely believe that pushed down his trade value but a 1-for-1 deal to bring back a legit MLB Starting Pitcher is a good deal.
Trade #4: Skye Bolt to Toronto for RHSP Sam Gaviglio
Gaviglio has posted some rough numbers while in Toronto’s rotation. But he’s a groundball pitcher playing his home games on turf with a bad infield defense behind him. He’s also made at least 26 starts for three seasons running, making him look like an Iron Man in Oakland. Gaviglio is no more than a back-end SP but he’s under team control for 5 years and has a minor league option remaining. Bolt is a toolsy prospect who may or may not have broken through as a 24 year old in AA. He’s turns 25 in January and Rule 5 eligible this winter, a fitting chip to gamble with for rotation depth.
Urena has spent most of the past two seasons in Miami’s rotation, making 59 starts and averaging 170+ IP. He has three years of team control remaining and a $3.6 MM price tag in 2019. Dietrich could work into a platoon situation at 2B and helps replace some of the position versatility lost when we dealt Pinder to Atlanta. He’s been an average or better hitter since 2015 (wRC+ of 122, 121, 102, 109) and is under team control for two more seasons, costing $4.8 MM in 2019. I’ve been a believer in Martin since he was drafted and I think he’s the best SS prospect the A’s have in the upper minors… but “Hell Yeah!” we’re making this trade.
Trade #6: James Naile to Arizona for C Alex Avila
With Martin Maldanado originally asking for three years guaranteed, then counter-offering our 2 year/$10 MM proposal with an $8 MM AAV ask… we needed to investigate an alternative Catching solution. Enter Alex Avila, who has 1 year/$4.25 MM remaining on his contract. His bat was putrid in Arizona but he had a 2.5 fWAR season in 2017. He will pair with Josh Phegley ($1.2 MM) to hold down the backstop until Sean Murphy is ready for the Show. James Naile has been a solid organizational guy but even Alex Hall has moved on to a different prospect crush.
(I admit I would have preferred a Maldanado/Beau Taylor combo at $5 MM to start 2019 but we were so far apart in negotiations it didn’t look wise to pass up the potential value in Avila. And for those who are curious… Lucroy got 1 year/$10MM + Incentives to sign with Washington.)
Trade #7: Ryan Dull and Carlos Ramirez to Cleveland for RHP Nick Sandlin
Sandlin, a 2nd round pick in the 2018 Draft, pitched his way to AA in his debut. To quote MLB.com: “Sandlin may be a 5-foot-11 right-hander without overpowering stuff, but he makes up for it by mixing five pitches and three arm angles.” Dull is due $900K and has struggled to repeat his rookie success. His main value to us was a depth pitcher, possessing two minor league options for roster flexibility. Ramirez was a throw in, neither side realizing he’d be a minor league free agent if he wasn’t added to the 40 man roster. Or maybe Cleveland DID know about his roster status and planned on putting him on their 40 man roster… yeah, let’s go with that version.
Trade #8: Kevin Merrell to Washington for RHRP Koda Glover
It’s never a question of “Stuff” with Koda Glover… it’s can he stay healthy and throw quality strikes? With 4 years of team control and two minor league options remaining it makes sense to take the gamble. If we can unlock Koda Glover then the potential of having him, Treinen, Rosenthal and Trivino anchoring the 2019 bullpen could surpass what we saw in 2018.
Odds and mostly Ends
Adding Urena, Wilson, Thorpe, Eflin, Gaviglio made Mike Fiers at $9.7 MM expendable, so we non-tendered him at the deadline. He would go on to sign a 1 year/$5 MM contract with Toronto. We got some early interest in Khris Davis by a Florida team that shan’t be named but they weren’t serious about parting with anyone of value to make a deal happen. Khrush stays and we hope that a contract extension in en route. We inquired on Sonny Gray but never got a reply. We had one team who made it very clear to us that there was a difference between asking for a Top 100 prospect vs. asking for a Top 25 guy as part of a Treinen deal; this was strange to us because they didn’t have any Top 25 prospects for us to ask about.
Our maneuvers left us thin at AAA, so we signed Stephen Vogt, Eric Sogard, Tommy Milone and P Jordan Lyles to minor league contracts. Vogt gets the chance to prove he can continue behind the plate while mentoring Sean Murphy. Eric Sogard gives us an Opening Day ready go-to if we have problems in the Oakland infield... plus this keeps MehranTheGreat happy and that should earn this post at least one Rec. Milone is further rotation insurance while Jordan Lykes is a guy who’s struggled to stick in the Show but he flashed while with the Brewers at the end of last season. At the end of the SIM we had spent ~$83 million and had 39 players on the 40 man roster.
Finally, the SIM is supposed to be (at least partially) fun for those involved so I’d like to share with you a last hour deal that has been declared the Best Trade in Sim History:
Twins send Kody Funderbunk to the Cubs
Cubs send Edmund Americaan to the Pirates
Pirates send Lizardy Dicent to the A’s
A’s send Gio Dingcong to the Twins
Luzardo good, Lizardy Dicent will happen in our future.