At the beginning of November, the Athletics Nation community shared their ideas for an offseason plan. Here’s a link to all the plans. They include arbitration decisions, free agent signings, and trade proposals, all leading to each person’s realistically ideal 2018 Oakland A’s roster.
With spring games just days away, let’s take a look back at the dreams we had a few long months ago. Oakland ended up having a reasonably busy offseason, especially compared with the rest of the league — they made three different MLB trades, and signed a free agent for eight figures. There have been years when they did more, but there were plenty of teams that did far less this winter.
As a reminder, the major real-life moves:
- Arbitration: All eligible players were tendered and retained
- Free agent: RHP Yusmeiro Petit (2/$10M)
- Trade: DH Ryon Healy for RHP Emilio Pagan (plus prospect)
- Trade: Prospects for OF Stephen Piscotty
- Trade: RHP Jesse Hahn (plus prospect) for LHP Ryan Buchter and DH Brandon Moss
- Trades: OF Jaycob Brugman and 2B Joey Wendle for prospects
- Plus a minor league swap for OF Ramon Laureano
With that in mind, here’s what the community had in mind back in November. There were 28 plans that I took into account for this roundup.
The A’s had eight players eligible for arbitration this winter, but five of them were obvious shoo-in cases. Nobody suggested non-tendering Khrush, Semien, Graveman, Treinen, or Hendriks. Good start!
The other three candidates weren’t so fortunate. Of the 28 plans, 24 of them addressed the arbitration guys. RHP Chris Hatcher and C Josh Phegley each received only 5 votes in favor, which means the community non-tendered both of them. OF Jake Smolinski got 12 tenders, exactly half of the possible total. Given how inexpensive he is, and that we didn’t overwhelmingly do anything to replace him, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and tender him a six-figure contract. He can always stash in Triple-A until needed.
Community verdict: Non-tender Hatcher and Phegley, but keep Smolinski.
The A’s entered the offseason with virtually no payroll commitments, and now in real-life February they’re still at only $59 million — far below the $81 million from last year, or even the estimated $70 million cap that insiders suggested for 2018. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the community was active on the free agent market. On average, each plan signed nearly four new players each.
All of that activity was centered around a few obvious areas of need: short-term veteran starters, good setup-level relievers, and short-term veteran catchers. A few folks looked to sign an outfielder (five total votes between Lorenzo Cain and Austin Jackson), and there were a couple stray mentions for infielder Zack Cozart. Otherwise, it was all pitchers and catchers.
Among pitchers, two names stood out the most: starter C.C. Sabathia (7 mentions), and reliever Jake McGee (9 mentions). Both are lefties, which was a critical area of need in the organization (and still is, really). Both are also Bay Area natives, which served as a neat extra bonus. But most of all, both fit precisely what Oakland seemed to need — a stopgap starter to help lead the young rotation, and a proven late-inning southpaw. A few other starters got notable support (5 for Jason Vargas, and 4 each for Tyler Chatwood, Miles Mikolas, and Doug Fister), as did some other relievers (5 for Brandon Morrow, 4 each for lefties Mike Minor and Kevin Siegrist).
As for catchers, the runaway favorite was Alex Avila, who showed up in 10 plans. There were three mentions each for Chris Iannetta and Welington Castillo, two for A.J. Ellis, and one each for Jonathan Lucroy and Rene Rivera, but Avila matched all of them combined. Looks like Bruce Maxwell is going back to the minors for now.
Community verdict: Spend on the pitching staff, specifically lefties for both the rotation (Sabathia) and bullpen (McGee). Also sign a new catcher (Avila) as a bridge until prospect Sean Murphy is ready.
Now the fun part! This is the A’s we’re talking about here, so of course there are trades to be made. What we lack, though, is consensus. The deals were all over the place, so let’s just count up who got mentioned the most and then construct whatever swaps make the most sense using those names.
In terms of departures, nobody got dealt more than Ryon Healy — 18 times, to be exact. And only three of those came after he was traded in real life, so these weren’t just hindsight. It always made sense to move on from Healy this winter, bless his heart and elephantine ears. (Holy crap, elephantine is actually a word, I was only kidding but spell-check accepted it.) The rest of the most-unwanted list:
- Ryon Healy (18 mentions)
- Jesse Hahn (11)
- Frankie Montas (11)
- Santiago Casilla (11)
- Liam Hendriks (8)
- Matt Joyce (8)
- Franklin Barreto (8)
No surprises on that list. Trade Healy to clear up the DH logjam, but keep Khrush to take the newly opened spot (only 4 mentions). Dump out-of-options Hahn and Hendriks, and unpopular Casilla, and cash in on Montas’ remaining value while we can. The last two on the list got lots of votes but will end up staying at the end of this post — Joyce got thrown into a lot of bigger trades but we never end up replacing him, and Barreto was the centerpiece in various different blockbusters that didn’t get enough widespread support to reach fruition.
Community verdict: Clear up some roster logjams by selling high (or as high as possible) on Healy, Montas, Hahn, and Hendriks. Dump Casilla however possible.
As for arrivals, the ideas were all over the place. Many plans opted to target top prospects and/or build up organizational depth, rather than targeting recognizable names for 2018. Only two names got as many as five different mentions: OF Stephen Piscotty from the Cardinals, and C Yasmani Grandal from the Dodgers. Piscotty actually happened in real life, which was no surprise given how much sense he made between his roster fit, affordable contract, and personal story (sick mom in Bay Area); I’m actually surprised he didn’t get more votes here. Meanwhile, Grandal was an obvious target as a one-year stopgap behind the plate, especially with his current team seemingly ready to move on at the position.
Not many folks opted to make the blockbuster splash for a star outfielder, though. Christian Yelich got three mentions, but there were only one each for Marcell Ozuna and Domingo Santana (and catcher J.T. Realmuto). Considering their trade prices, that wasn’t enough support to commit to any of them, so we’re sticking with Piscotty (and keeping Joyce).
On the pitching side, there was some support for acquiring a reliever. Since we only signed McGee in free agency, we should really trade for another arm — besides, we need some reason to deal that list of departure candidates. The most popular pick was RHP Kyle Barraclough of the Marlins, who were conveniently in the middle of a fire sale. Only one of the three Barraclough proposals packaged him with Yelich, and in real life Healy went for a similarly cheap/good reliever, so let’s go with him. There were also two votes each for Dellin Betances of the Yankees, and Felipe Rivero of the Pirates, but they seem like they’d be pricier to acquire.
Finally, a few plans liked the idea of absorbing a big contract for an out-of-favor starter. Specifically, two former A’s got mentioned — RHP Jeff Samardzija thrice, and RHP Brandon McCarthy twice. I’m not going with Shark because that’s not enough support to take on a $60 million albatross (from the Giants, no less), but McCarthy fits well because we’re already looking to deal with the Dodgers.
Community verdict: Get Piscotty and Barraclough, and entice the Dodgers to dump the salaries of Grandal and McCarthy.
Athletics Nation 2017-18 offseason plan
Let’s round all of that up into one plan that most closely fits the will of the larger community. The A’s offseason would have looked something like this if the team was run by us.
Step 1: Arbitration. Tender contracts to all eligible players except RHP Chris Hatcher and C Josh Phegley.
Step 2: Free agency. Sign LHP CC. Sabathia (1/$10M), LHP Jake McGee (3/$27M), RHP Brandon Morrow (2/$21M), LHP Kevin Siegrist (1/$3M), and C Alex Avila (2/$8M). I added on a couple extra relievers because we’re dumping three current ones (Casilla, Hatcher, Hendriks) and in real life we kept those guys and added three more. The salaries listed are what they signed for in real life, except Siegrist who is still unsigned (I doubled last year’s arbitration payout for him). This all adds $33 million to the 2018 payroll.
Step 3: Trade #1. DH Ryon Healy and RHP Jesse Hahn to Miami; RHP Kyle Barraclough to Oakland. This is more than we gave for Pagan because Barraclough is surely more valuable.
Step 4: Trade #2. RHP Frankie Montas and RHP Liam Hendriks to St. Louis; OF Stephen Piscotty to Oakland. This is more like what I thought the real-life trade would look like, with a current MLB reliever and another intriguing youngster. Throw in Yairo Munoz too if you must. (This is Athletics Nation, so obviously we’re keeping Max Schrock.)
Step 5: Trade #3. RHP Santiago Casilla and optional throw-in prospect to Los Angeles Dodgers; RHP Brandon McCarthy and C Yasmani Grandal to Oakland. I have no idea if this one makes sense. In real life the Dodgers dumped McCarthy purely for salary relief, and still had to take on Matt Kemp’s massive 2019 salary. This still chops more than $13M off LA’s payroll for the current year, even after taking on Casilla. On our side, we now have two catchers who predominantly bat lefty, but Grandal is at least a switch-hitter and anyway a catching platoon is never quite as precise in its matchups as are partnerships at other positions. Still makes more sense than pairing Avila with fellow pure lefty Maxwell.
Payroll: I’m getting a total of around $87 million for this squad. We’re at $59M in real life, minus around $18 million for Moss, Casilla, Petit, Hatcher, Hendriks, and Phegley. Add $33M from free agency, and another $13M from the Dodgers trade. It’s a smidgen above the last couple real-life seasons, but well within what the A’s often spend. Around half of it comes off the books after the season and only $17M remains in 2020 (just Piscotty and McGee), so long-term flexibility isn’t an issue.
The new roster
Sabathia and McCarthy now anchor the rotation, along with Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman, and whichever one youngster earns the final spot in spring. The Nashville rotation is stacked and competing fiercely for the next call to Oakland. The bullpen is revamped, or packed with trade chips, depending on how the first half of the season goes. There is a new catching duo, with Maxwell serving as the taxi backup rather than the primary starter. And there’s a new long-term corner outfielder to push Khrush to the DH spot.
Rotation: Sabathia, Manaea, McCarthy, Graveman, Mengden (or Cotton, Blackburn, etc.)
Bullpen: McGee, Treinen, Morrow, Barraclough, Siegrist, Dull, Alcantara (or Coulombe, Bassitt, etc., but Alcantara is out of options)
Lineup: C Avila/Grandal, 1B Olson, 2B Lowrie, SS Semien, 3B Chapman, LF Joyce/Pinder, CF Fowler/Powell, RF Piscotty, DH Khrush (if four-man bench, then last spot could be out-of-options Renato Nunez, or Smolinski as a spare righty outfielder)
Even though I like what the A’s did in real life this winter, I wouldn’t have minded including more aspects of this plan. In particular, I really would have liked to add one veteran starter using the money that isn’t being spent anyway, because the alternative is handing rotation spots to guys who didn’t really earn them last summer. On the other hand, this fictional bullpen is awesome, but in real life they still revamped well but at a significantly lower dollar amount.
The other thing I don’t understand is what I see as essentially punting the catcher spot, on a team for whom developing young pitching is a key requirement. Even leaving aside Maxwell’s off-field complications, he and Phegley are light on both experience and upside. There may have been value to bringing in a seasoned veteran to work with the rookie/sophomore hurlers, though two is probably overkill.
And that’s a wrap! What do you think of the moves made by the community, and the new roster we’ve created? To the comments!
P.S. Here’s one slight variation with a lower payroll. Forego the Dodgers trade, and by keeping Casilla you don’t have to fill the extra spot by spending heavily on Morrow. Sign a righty catcher (Iannetta) and another stopgap starter (Vargas), instead of Grandal/McCarthy. Using MLBTR’s estimate of 1/$10M for Vargas, this would slice out around $8 million and leave us closer to $79 million overall, with a more logical catching duo and possibly a slightly better rotation but also a weaker bullpen.