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Jonathan Lucroy and Trevor Cahill seal Oakland A’s quietly efficient offseason

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No big splashes, but every item crossed off the to-do list.

Photo by Russell Lansford/Getty Images

It would be easy to criticize the Oakland A’s offseason. Their stadium saga managed to take a step backward with an embarrassing rejection from their preferred site, their modest payroll was the subject of a grievance from the Players Association, and meanwhile they did little to improve a starting rotation that stands as an obvious weakness. That’s the glass-half-empty version.

However, purely in terms of player transactions, the A’s got quite a bit done despite having little to work with. No, they didn’t upgrade their last-place squad into an instant contender — that would have required spending money they didn’t have on a couple reliable starting pitchers and probably a bigger-ticket closer, on top of everything they actually did in real life. This is still merely a bridge year toward a bright near-future in 2019. But they took legitimate steps forward on multiple fronts.

Oakland beefed up their bullpen, added a starting-caliber outfielder with long-term control, nabbed a two-time All-Star catcher, and took a flyer on a veteran innings-eater for their rotation. They did all this despite cutting $10 million off their payroll from this time last year, and they did it without giving up any of their top 10 prospects. That’s an impressive magic trick.

The late pickup of Lucroy really sealed the offseason haul. As helpful as the other additions are, the catcher position was clearly a weakness both in quality and organizational depth. It was a little weird not to see it addressed earlier, especially when veteran catchers tend to be one of the cheapest things to find in free agency — good backstops Alex Avila and Chris Iannetta each commanded only 2/$8M, and last winter only Jason Castro got more per year than Lucroy will receive from the A’s.

Now that Lucroy is on board, though, the lineup really has no holes. The infield is set and could be downright excellent, the outfield is suddenly crowded with attractive options ranging from strong veteran to up-and-coming youngster, and now there’s a veteran presence behind the plate who also carries upside with the bat. Even the club’s defense, which has been abominable the last few years, is inching toward being a plus. The whole group might already be playoff-caliber.

The pitching is still a question mark and is the area most likely to hold this team back, but Lucroy could make a difference there too entering his age-32 campaign. Oakland’s young rotation has upside but lacks seasoning, and an experienced catcher like Lucroy can potentially help in their development. The incumbent trio (Bruce Maxwell, Josh Phegley, Dustin Garneau), has combined for only 412 MLB games behind the dish, not even half of Lucroy’s career total.

The emergency signing of Cahill should help the staff too. After losing Jharel Cotton for the year due to Tommy John surgery, the A’s finally sought out the veteran depth that they’d probably needed all along. Cahill is no sure thing himself, and he may not start right away, but he gives Oakland another potential source for innings that’s a step up from scrounging on the waiver wire. Throughout the winter the AN community had our sights set higher in terms of stopgap starting pitchers, but he’s better than nothing and the price is right.

There could be more minor additions, with Brett Anderson mentioned as a possibility by Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle (update: Anderson did sign), but the major moves appear to be done. Presuming for now that the offseason is complete, it’s easy to be satisfied with the club’s dealings, and maybe even excited.

Lets remind ourselves of all that’s happened since November. The table below rounds up the most relevant moves, but not every single name is listed. Below that is a more complete rundown of all the details. Players in italics are minor leaguers who haven’t yet debuted in MLB. Chris Smith remains unsigned.

Hello Goodbye
Free Agency
RHP Yusmeiro Petit (2/$10m)
C Jonathan Lucroy (1/$6.5m)
RHP Trevor Cahill (1/$1.5m)

Trades
OF Stephen Piscotty (from STL)
LHP Ryan Buchter (from KCR)
RHP Emilio Pagan (from SEA)
OF Ramon Laureano (from HOU)
Free Agency
RHP Chris Smith
RHP Josh Smith (to SEA)
RHP Zach Neal (to LAD)
RHP Michael Brady (to MIL)
LHP Sam Moll (waivers, TOR)

Trades
1B Ryon Healy (to SEA)
2B Joey Wendle (to TBR)
OF Jaycob Brugman (to BAL)
RHP Jesse Hahn (to KCR)
RHP Heath Fillmyer (to KCR)
IF Yairo Munoz (to STL)
2B Max Schrock (to STL)

Now for the complete rundown. Note that pitchers are labeled SP or RP for starter/reliever, not RHP and LHP for righty/lefty.

Trades

Mariners trade RP Emilio Pagan and a prospect (SS Alexander Campos) for 1B Ryon Healy

Cardinals trade OF Stephen Piscotty for two prospects (IF Yairo Munoz and 2B Max Schrock)

  • Click here for full AN coverage
  • In brief: With Khrush slotted to move toward DH, Oakland’s outfield was thin on experience and reliability. Piscotty has a few years under his belt but is still only entering his prime, and he addresses the two things the A’s needed the most (defense and OBP). They were able to buy low because he’s coming off a down year, and as a bonus the Cards were extra motivated to send the Pleasanton native home to the Bay Area for family reasons. Piscotty is signed long-term, but at salaries the A’s can afford. (Extra: Nico interviewed him at spring training.)

Royals trade RP Ryan Buchter and DH Brandon Moss (plus cash) for SP Jesse Hahn and a prospect (SP Heath Fillmyer)

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  • In brief: The A’s wanted a lefty reliever, but didn’t want to pay free agent prices. Instead they went the trade route, taking on a dead contract (Moss) to entice the Royals to give them the southpaw they craved. Moss was soon DFA’d and released, because his role in this deal was simply salary relief for KC (all told: A’s will pay him $4 million in 2018, $1 million in 2019). In terms of the return package, Oakland cashed in on the out-of-options Hahn before possibly losing him on waivers at the end of the spring.

Orioles trade PTBNL (prospect RP Jake Bray) for OF Jaycob Brugman

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  • In brief: My beloved Brugman had been passed on the depth chart by summer acquisitions Dustin Fowler and Boog Powell, with more lefty outfielders coming up behind him in the upper minors. He lost the game of musical roster chairs and was DFA’d, but at least the A’s managed to get something for him. Here’s more on Bray.

Rays trade PTBNL (prospect C Jonah Heim) for 2B Joey Wendle

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  • In brief: Wendle never quite made the permanent jump to Oakland, after three full years in Triple-A Nashville. He didn’t hit enough to supplant Jed Lowrie at 2B, didn’t show the versatility to be a utilityman, and got hurt at a couple key moments when he might have otherwise had an opportunity, all while superior prospect Franklin Barreto gained on and eventually passed him on the depth chart. Like with Bruggy, at least they got something for Wendle. Here’s more on Heim.

Astros trade one prospect (OF Ramon Laureano) for a different prospect (SP Brandon Bailey)

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  • In brief: Laureano was already on Houston’s 40-man, and they wanted to clear a spot for something else. Oakland swapped a lower-level prospect to get an outfielder who fits well in their depth chart — he can play CF, and he’s a right-handed batter unlike many of the other available CF options (Fowler, Powell, Boyd, Heathcott, etc.). He also made our CPL (No. 18), in higher position than Bailey was likely to (probably mid-20s). Unfortunately, Laureano broke a pinky during spring training and will miss several weeks.

Total: Oakland added two strong relievers and a good starting outfielder. In return they lost a couple spare parts they didn’t need (Healy, Hahn); a few prospects who weren’t top 10 in the system and who play positions where there are better prospects ahead of them (Munoz, Schrock, Fillmyer); and an extra $5 million onto the 2018 payroll. Not bad at all.

Free agents

A’s sign RP Yusmeiro Petit for 2/$10M

  • Click here for full AN coverage
  • In brief: Petit can fill any role, from long man to setup to emergency closer to spot starter. His contract is a bargain for a good reliever in 2018 (breakdown: $3.5M this year, then $5.5M in 2019, then $1M buyout on $5.5M team option for 2020). The A’s are likely to stick with an 8-man bullpen due to their unreliable starting rotation, so it’s extra valuable to have someone like Petit who can throw multiple innings at a time.

A’s sign C Jonathan Lucroy for 1/$6.5M

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  • In brief: The catching corps was thin, before even factoring in Bruce Maxwell’s legal issues. Maxwell currently profiles best as a backup, as do fellow incumbents Josh Phegley and Dustin Garneau. Now there’s an experienced starter to handle the young pitching staff, and hopefully he can hit too.
  • Extra note: Lucroy was expected to get a bigger contract this winter, and in fact he did have the chance — he reportedly turned down 3/$21M from Colorado in November (via Bob Nightengale, USA Today). Even settling for this one-year pact, though, he still got the second-highest 2018 salary for any catcher from this free agent class (behind Welington Castillo), and he ranks 14th in salary among all MLB catchers this season even though he’s coming off a miserable off-year at an age when it’s not unusual for a catcher to begin declining. He could have done better but gambled and lost, and he still wound up doing alright.

A’s sign SP Trevor Cahill for 1/$1.5M

  • Click here for full AN coverage
  • In brief: The rotation depth was already questionable, and then Jharel Cotton went down with Tommy John surgery. Oakland’s hand was forced, and they had to go find an extra arm at the last minute. Cahill is a decent enough stopgap to eat some innings, though he’s still reproving himself as a starter after spending a couple years in the Cubs’ bullpen. Don’t expect too much, but the 30-year-old does have some upside remaining. Bonus point for bringing back an old A’s favorite, which is always fun.

Total: Oakland adds an underrated stud reliever, a good catcher with great upside, and some spare veteran innings in the rotation, for the price of $11.5 million on their 2018 payroll and no commitment longer than two years. I can’t heap enough praise on the Petit and Lucroy signings in particular, in terms of player quality, roster fit, and contract value.

Minor moves

Every team is constantly making minor moves, between signing minor league free agents and claiming/losing players on waivers and cutting the guys who no longer fit. Here are the most relevant names.

In: SP Brett Anderson ... RPs Jeremy Bleich, Simon Castro, Eric Jokisch, Jarret Martin ... IFs Steve Lombardozzi, Nick Noonan ... OFs Slade Heathcott, Nick Martini, Anthony Garcia ... int’l C Cesarre Astorri ... int’l OF Dairon Blanco

  • Click here for full AN coverage
  • In brief: Castro is a returner from last year, and Anderson is back from the A’s distant past, but the rest are new. Read about them by clicking the full coverage link above. We could see any number of these depth guys make appearances in Oakland, or we could see none of them. As for the int’l signings: Astorri is a teenager out of Italy, and Blanco is a 24-year-old out of Cuba who has 80-grade speed but is otherwise an unknown. Neither have played U.S. pro ball yet, so don’t expect to see them in Oakland anytime soon.

Out: SP Chris Smith ... RPs Michael Brady, Felix Doubront, Sam Moll, Zach Neal, Patrick Schuster, Josh Smith ... Cs Ryan Lavarnway, Matt McBride ... 1B Chris Carter ... OF Jaff Decker

  • In brief: There were many more cuts among even lesser names, but these are the ones who at least appeared in Oakland last year (plus Carter, who played in MLB for the Yankees). No one on this list would be an upgrade on the current depth chart.

Rule 5: Miami selects SP Brett Graves

  • In brief: The A’s didn’t make a Rule 5 pick this winter, but they did lose someone to the Marlins. Graves is a decent prospect, but he barely cracked Double-A last year and ended up missing most of the season to injury — uncannily similar to Dylan Covey, who was taken away in the previous year’s Rule 5 and made little impact with his new team. It’s unlikely the A’s will miss Graves, especially this season.

Coaches

The coaching staff saw some turnover as well.

Bench coach: Ryan Christenson

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  • Replaces: Chip Hale (to Washington)
  • In brief: Christenson is a former A’s outfielder. He’s been managing in the minor league system for years, and he led the Double-A Midland RockHounds to back-to-back league championships. Best of all, he worked with many members of the current youth movement during their developmental years, so he’s familiar with much of the upcoming new core.

3rd base coach: Matt Williams

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  • Replaces: Steve Scarsone (reassigned: Traveling Instructor)
  • In brief: Williams was a longtime star player on the Giants, and his coaching career so far is highlighted by two years as Washington’s manager. The former Gold Glover will also serve as the infield coach. It’s gonna be weird seeing Williams in an A’s jersey, especially with longtime Oakland player/coach Curt Young now wearing a Giants jersey.

1st base coach: Al Pedrique

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  • Replaces: Mike Aldrete (reassigned: Asst Hitting Coach)
  • In brief: Pedrique spent the last several years managing in the Yankees system, essentially as their version of Christenson. He’s worked with Bob Melvin before, and he’s even briefly been an interim MLB manager (back in 2004, in Arizona). His resume seems perfect for this team.

Bullpen coach: Marcus Jensen

  • Replaces: Garvin Alston (to Minnesota)
  • In brief: Jensen had previously been the Asst Hitting Coach, but Aldrete took that job. With Alston going to the Twins to become their pitching coach, Jensen found a new role to move into.

The full 2018 staff:

  • Manager: Bob Melvin
  • Bench: Ryan Christenson
  • 1st base: Al Pedrique
  • 3rd base: Matt Williams
  • Pitching: Scott Emerson
  • Bullpen: Marcus Jensen
  • Hitting: Darren Bush
  • Asst Hitting: Mike Aldrete
  • Quality Control?: Mark Kotsay

No idea what a Quality Control coach does, but I guess we’ll find out this year!

New roster

Here’s the 40-man roster as it stands after all those offseason moves. Payroll is around $70 million. The players who are unlikely to make the Opening Day squad are in italics, and players with asterisks** have suffered spring injuries that may interrupt the beginnings of their seasons. There are actually 41 players listed, because Cotton is on the 60-day disabled list.

Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Sean Manaea (L)
Kendall Graveman (R)
Daniel Mengden (R)
Andrew Triggs (R)
Paul Blackburn (R)
Trevor Cahill (R)
Daniel Gossett (R)
Frankie Montas (R)**
Jharel Cotton (R) (DL)**


Relievers

Blake Treinen (R)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Ryan Buchter (L)
Emilio Pagan (R)
Chris Hatcher (R)
Liam Hendriks (R)
Santiago Casilla (R)
Raul Alcantara (R)
Ryan Dull (R)**
Danny Coulombe (L)
Chris Bassitt (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
Catchers

Jonathan Lucroy (R)
Bruce Maxwell (L)
Josh Phegley (R)**
Dustin Garneau (R)


Infielders

Matt Olson (L)
Jed Lowrie (S)
Marcus Semien (R)
Matt Chapman (R)
Chad Pinder (R)
Franklin Barreto (R)
Renato Nunez (R)**
Jorge Mateo (R)


Outfielders

Khris Davis (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Matt Joyce (L)
Dustin Fowler (L)
Jake Smolinski (R)
Boog Powell (L)
Mark Canha (R)
Ramon Laureano (R)**

All in all, I’m happy with the A’s offseason. They didn’t launch themselves into World Series contention, but that was never going to happen with the limited resources at their disposal. What they did accomplish was building around the young core that we saw emerge at the end of last year, finding affordable upgrades for the remaining areas of need without sacrificing key future assets or payroll flexibility. It wasn’t a splashy winter, but the to-do list got checked off in a quietly efficient effort that will help set the scene for the next competitive window as soon as 2019.