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Love Me Non-Tender, Love Me True...

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Oakland Athletics v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
“It’s gone! ... And so am I.”
Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

So yesterday’s News Du Jour was the list of who was not tendered a contract (Mike Fiers, Kendall Graveman, Cory Gearrin) and who was (everyone else). Before analyzing, I must tell my favorite true story around “soup du jour” and then we will move on to baseball.

My mother and I were in a restaurant somewhere in the midwest, looking at a menu whose choices included “soup du jour”. So my mom asked the waitress, “What’s the soup du jour?” and the waitress paused, thought about it for a moment, and realized she didn’t know. “Hang on, let me check,” she replied and then disappeared for a couple minutes. She came back confident and smiling, armed with the necessary information. “OK,” she replied. “It’s the ‘soup of the day.’” Where are Leslie Nielsen and Julie Hagerty when you need them?

Anyhoo, I don’t have any issues with the A’s tender/non-tender decisions. I’m not a big fan of Liam Hendriks as more than a depth piece, but he’s only being paid ‘depth piece’ prices so I can’t quibble with the decision to retain him. I prefer Ryan Dull, with options and a lower salary, but when you can have both for $3M it’s fine.

The most controversial decision was the one to non-tender Fiers on a team bereft of starting pitching. When your rotation is “Mengden-Bassitt-Montas-Luzardo-Umm...” it might look like you should keep your healthy starting pitcher coming off of a solid season.

Thing about Fiers is that his appeal was mostly that the A’s were in a position to guarantee he had to pitch for them. That’s what tendering him a contract, and paying his arbitration salary (projected to be around $9.7M) would have meant. The A’s would have had him, for sure, without needing to sign him or trade for him.

This is a bit of a smokescreen because there are dozens of starting pitchers out there who are gettable, many of whom are better than Fiers (whose peripherals predict a fall from grace in 2019 and whose overall career has been mostly mediocre) and many of whom are less expensive. Those pitchers just aren’t controlled by the A’s at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be secured.

As a familiar case in point, Trevor Cahill is free to negotiate with any team and the A’s can’t make him pitch for them, but if Oakland decided to make Cahill a good offer they could do so for less than $9.7M/year and they would have a better pitcher than Fiers in the rotation.

The point is, the A’s are going to have a rotation — they just haven’t assembled most of it yet. Subtracting Fiers from the mix, and opening up ‘yet another spot,’ just means they know they will need to find another starting pitcher they believe is a better value than Mike Fiers at $9.7M. And they have $9.7M more to work with as they shop.

It would be different if the season were two weeks away, 99% of the pitchers had committed to teams, no one was looking to make trades, and it was actually “Fiers or no one”. That scenario is kind of where the A’s were when they signed Jonathan Lucroy and is part of why they were willing to spend $6M on a big question mark — because alternatives no longer abounded and the odds of finding a better catcher or a catcher at a better value were getting slim.

Don’t underestimate the value of adding $9.7M of payroll flexibility to the credit card as the A’s go shopping for the rest of their rotation. You can bet on two things: Oakland isn’t going to open the season with just 6 starting pitchers on the depth chart, and they aren’t going to open the season with Chris Bassitt as their #2 starting pitcher. There are many moves ahead, with nearly 3 months before spring training, and I will be surprised if the A’s don’t add 2 starting pitchers who are projected to pitch better than Fiers — not even that high a bar considering Fiers’ 4.75 FIP last season and his 4.56 projected FIP.

Yes, Fiers could have been a ‘sure thing’ for a rotation that currently has a lot of ‘no things,’ but the A’s are confident that is what behind door #2, even if it is currently unknown, can outperform what Mike Fiers would have provided for 10% of their overall payroll. They can, and will, do better with that $9.7M. And if Fiers is looking for a job, Oakland is still one of the 30 teams with whom he is welcome to negotiate. For an AAV that makes sense and is not easily beaten out by “door #2”.

In other words, don’t fret about holes in the rotation. Fret about holes filled by the wrong people at the wrong price. The A’s passed on the chance to guarantee filling a hole with an ‘ok’ pitcher at ‘more than just ok’ prices, and now have myriad options around how to replace that spot. If there is any area in which I fully trust the Oakland A’s front office, it’s in identifying the right starting pitchers and getting the most bang for their buck. I can’t wait to open door #2 and see who is waiting to follow this extinguished Fiers.

Poll

What should the A’s have done with Fiers?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Tender him a contract and pay the $9.7M to have a sure thing
    (92 votes)
  • 8%
    Tender him a contract to secure him and then try hard to work a 2-year deal (e..g, 2/$16M)
    (73 votes)
  • 35%
    Non-tender him and then try to sign him to a FA contract for a year (e.g., 1/$7M)
    (296 votes)
  • 15%
    Non-tender him and then try to sign to a FA contract for 2 years (e.g., 2/$14M)
    (132 votes)
  • 29%
    Non-tender him and move on
    (248 votes)
841 votes total Vote Now