The Oakland A’s are notorious for trading away their star veterans, but that might not be the ultimate fate of this upstart 2018 squad. The team’s rebuild has taken a massive step forward this summer into the realm of fringe postseason contention, and now they’re considering contract extensions for a couple of key hitters.
First up is slugging DH Khris Davis. The two sides previously talked about a one-year extension for 2019 with no success, but Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle reported Friday that they’ve now had discussions about a multi-year deal. She suggests “it’s likely Oakland would have to go at least three years,” but also notes two years plus a team option as a possible framework. Davis is already under team control for 2019 but his salary is yet to be determined.
Following that news, Ken Rosenthal of Fox reports on Saturday that the A’s are also thinking about re-signing Jed Lowrie. He speculates that a two-year, $15 million deal could be enough to keep the infielder for his ages 35 and 36 seasons. Lowrie has been Oakland’s best hitter all summer, and his career year is likely to send him to his first All-Star Game.
The A’s only have two players under contract for 2019 so far: outfielder Stephen Piscotty ($7.3 million) and reliever Yusmeiro Petit ($5.5 million). However, they have a dozen more eligible for arbitration, including Davis, closer Blake Treinen, shortstop Marcus Semien, and starter Sean Manaea, all of whom will each get substantial raises from their 2018 salaries. With all the arbitration paydays included, next year’s payroll is more realistically over $60 million already (including Davis), even assuming non-tenders for expendable relievers Chris Hatcher and Liam Hendriks. This year’s roster cost just over $70 million.
Among their impending free agents are Lowrie, starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy, injured outfielder Matt Joyce, reliever Santiago Casilla, and several of their stopgap starting pitchers (Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Edwin Jackson). They have some young stars making the league minimum, like Matt Olson and Matt Chapman, but also several important holes yet to fill even if Lowrie is brought back.
Sign me up! I’ve long been in favor of extending Khrush. He’s got flaws as a player, but he also brings an elite skill in his power and has made it clear he loves Oakland and wants to stay here. A case could be made, probably even a good case, that it’s not a good idea to keep around a 30-plus-year-old DH as the highest-paid player on the team. But I’m about ready to hang onto a productive fan favorite even if it means overpaying a bit, and the A’s are as primed as ever to absorb a few extra dollars in the short-term while their young core is still cheap.
A three-year deal in the $40-50 million range would carry some risk, but it would be worth gambling to keep the engine in the middle of this lineup right as they’re starting to get good. He’s showing no signs of slowing down yet and is on pace for his third straight 40-homer season, and the A’s don’t specifically have a beefy-slugger replacement for him in the upper minors. There are plenty of ways to fill the DH spot, but there’s no guarantee that any of them would prove as reliably valuable as Khrush has been.
As for Lowrie, my stance to this point has been to trade him this summer — sell high for another prospect, and let exciting rookie Franklin Barreto take over at second base. However, with every day that the A’s stay relevant in the Wild Card hunt, and every day that 22-year-old Barreto continues to show he’s not quite ready for the bigs, I get closer to changing my mind. Lowrie has been a consensus Top 20 position player in MLB this year, and if he can be kept for the terms suggested by Rosenthal then you’ve got to consider taking that value play. Even if he declines from his current 6-WAR pace next year, he can still be an excellent player and well worth his proposed salary.
There is even more risk here than with Khrush. Lowrie is notoriously injury-prone, and he’s getting deep into his 30s where age tends to catch up with even the best of them. However, he’s been healthy the last two years for Oakland, with legitimate sleep-related reasons why that might not be a fluke. At $8 million per year on a short-term deal he wouldn’t cost much more than the A’s freely threw away on Casilla, so even if it all went pear-shaped they wouldn’t exactly have an albatross on their hands even by their own spendthrift standards.
There’s also the opportunity cost of the trade return he could fetch this summer, but I’m at a point where I wouldn’t deal Lowrie just for the sake of doing so. In the last few rebuilding seasons it made sense to dump every impending free agent for whatever they could fetch, but the dynamic is changing now — quickly, and a year ahead of schedule. If there’s a controllable starting pitcher or a Top 100 prospect to be had then I’d still have to at least listen, especially if the team stumbles at all during the rest of July, but we might be at a point where Lowrie is more valuable in the lineup than he is in trade regardless of how slim the current postseason chances might be. That would have been unfathomable in 2016, and it required an absolutely perfect set of circumstances in order to happen, but here we are.
The A’s need impact more than depth and lotto tickets now. When it comes to Lowrie I’m not sure I’d take the proverbial Alonso-for-Boog swap anymore, especially if he can be kept cheaply next year. Meanwhile, the ghost of Billy Butler still haunts the backs of our minds when we think of locking up an expensive DH, but there’s every reason to hope a big contract for Khrush wouldn’t be a similar disaster. I don’t need to see either of these contracts happen just yet, since a Lowrie trade could yet make sense and Khrush can be kept next year via arbitration, but I would celebrate either or both.