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Angels take two starting pitchers off the board, but there’s also good news

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A pair of A’s targets will now pitch against them next year.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The starting pitching market took another small step forward this week, as two more free agent arms signed contracts. Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill are now off the board, and unfortunately both of them went to the Angels. What’s worse, they both settled for reasonable one-year deals.

Last week we took a look at some top SP options within the Oakland A’s price range, including a couple dozen free agent and trade targets. Harvey and Cahill were both among the names that had been specifically mentioned in rumors as having been in contact with the A’s at some point. Both of them carry plenty of risk, and neither were essential to any Oakland offseason plan, but the list of quality candidates is now shorter — and just a few hours after the Cahill news, Anibal Sanchez is also gone, to the Nationals (link).

The extra bummer here is seeing a division rival get stronger. The Angels finally put some effort into their starting rotation, after years of sinking most of their resources into their lineup while the pitching floundered. These aren’t ace additions, and there are plenty of ways they could turn into pumpkins and leave the Halos scrambling once again, but this is exactly the step forward that I’ve recently enjoyed seeing them not take.

Golden lining

Perhaps there is a promising takeaway here for the green and gold, though. Harvey and Cahill seemed like they might command multi-year deals, and indeed MLBTR and FanGraphs both predicted just that. Instead they settled for one-year pacts, each with another couple million worth of incentives attached. They aren’t alone, either, as J.A. Happ also got only two guaranteed (with a vesting option for a third), and veteran hitters Michael Brantley and Wilson Ramos didn’t secure the guaranteed third year they were predicted to receive.

Of course, there have still been some big contracts. Patrick Corbin got nine figures and Nathan Eovaldi found a four-year commitment, and at the mid-sized level Lance Lynn and Andrew McCutchen were each locked up for three. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado should still break records when they eventually sign. The point isn’t that long-term deals are gone, but rather that they’re beginning to be doled out more wisely. Older and/or injury-prone players are getting more appropriate short-term guarantees, or at least more often than even just five or 10 years ago. (Eovaldi and Corbin both have injury histories too, but it appears big-budget teams will still splurge for particularly high ceilings and/or championship resumes.)

This trend toward shorter contracts could specifically benefit the A’s because those have recently been their preference anyway. They’ve even been willing to go higher on salary in order to shorten the commitment, as we saw with Yoenis Cespedes and their swing at Edwin Encarnacion, whereas the dealbreaker with Josh Reddick was the promise of a fourth year. And once again, this winter they plan to be a “bottom-feeder,” or as Nico suggested a “later-feeder” who patiently waits for reasonable bargains to fall within their reach.

While dollars still matter, the thing that has most locked them out of the free agent market has been the lengthy guarantees. They’ve been unable to compete with those, because the thing they can least afford is long-term mistakes that hamper them far into the future. If more targets are available on shorter-term deals, then that could help Oakland be in the mix more often and for better players. They could finally be bidding apples like every other team, instead of seeing someone else win the auction by tossing in an orange.

Updated list

Check out the updated list of offseason targets below, or click here for the (perpetually updated) full rundown on the SP landscape. Those with an asterisk* have been specifically mentioned in rumors, in terms of Oakland publicly having interest or even preliminary discussions. Trade candidates are listed at the bottom, with their current team.