The 2019 season is over for the Oakland A’s, but the offseason won’t fully kick in for a few more weeks. We’ll have lots of time to debate 2020 roster plans, between the A’s own impending free agents, and potential external additions from the open market, and trades, and so on, but Thursday brought one of the first key pieces of the winter puzzle: MLB Trade Rumors arbitration projections.
Players with a few years of service time, but who haven’t yet played long enough to reach free agency, become eligible for salary arbitration. They are still under team control, so the club makes the call on whether to offer them a contract and the players must accept that decision, but the actual terms of the deal still must be ironed out.
The process plays out as follows: By December 2nd, teams must decide whether to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players or let them go to become free agents. Once tendered, the team and player are committed to each other, and they just need to agree on a salary number. Usually they are able to come to a settlement out of court, but every so often a third-party arbiter has to step in and make the final call — in such cases, the two sides each pick a number and the arbiter chooses between those two offers.
These MLBTR projections aren’t anything official, merely estimates based historical precedent, but they tend to be pretty accurate. They are based on the criteria that the arbiters would look at, like service time and stats (traditional stats, not advanced metrics), and the team/player won’t stray too far in either direction since they know an arbiter would rule somewhere around these numbers. The A’s have a dozen eligible players this year:
- SS Marcus Semien ($13.5m)
- RHP Blake Treinen ($7.8m)
- 2B Jurickson Profar ($5.8m)
- RHP Liam Hendriks ($5.5m)
- OF Mark Canha ($4.9m)
- LHP Sean Manaea ($3.5m)
- OF Robbie Grossman ($3.3m)
- RHP Chris Bassitt ($2.8m)
- C Josh Phegley ($2.2m)
- LHP Ryan Buchter ($1.8m)
- UT Chad Pinder ($1.8m)
- RHP Jharel Cotton ($800k)
Before we look at these cases, here’s a quick refresher on the A’s payroll. They enter the winter with four players under contract, or five if you include the inevitability that reliever Yusmeiro Petit’s option will be picked up. That means they’re starting with $46.2 million committed to DH Khris Davis, OF Stephen Piscotty, RHP Mike Fiers, RHP Joakim Soria, and RHP Petit. For further context, they opened the 2019 season with a $92 million payroll.
Of course, there are many more names who are under team control but still making close to the league minimum, including young stars like Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Ramon Laureano. But there will be needs to fill before next spring, so keep an eye on how high that total payroll number goes when determining what to do with these arby players.
With that in mind, who should the A’s tender and who should they let walk?
Keeping these players is an absolute no-brainer. They are either stars or key role players, and they still offer great value at these salaries.
There’s no debate to be had about this list. Even Pinder, who had a disappointing year at the plate, is easily worth his estimate.
This group adds around $32 million to the payroll, pushing it up to $78.2 million.
It’s difficult to justify the estimated salaries for these guys. They might still have something to offer, but not at these prices right now.
After looking like a superstar in 2018, Treinen fell apart this summer and there’s no way to know which version will show up next year. It’s an awfully big gamble for nearly $8M. As for Profar, he had a lackluster year and the A’s have many other options at all of his positions; at this price, he’d make more sense on a rebuilding team that wanted to take a flyer on a buy-low breakout candidate.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be as simple as letting them go. The A’s could try to trade these guys before the tender deadline to recoup something, or they could non-tender them and then try to re-sign them cheaper as free agents (I’d especially look into this for Treinen). But there’s no scenario where it makes sense to commit $13 million to this pair right now.
These are the cases that could go either way. There are arguments to be made for keeping them, or for moving on and finding new options. It’s not a coincidence that these are some of the less expensive cases.
The biggest one is Grossman. He was a decent role player in 2019 — he didn’t hit or get on base as much as hoped, but his defense exceeded expectations, and he graded out around 1 WAR as expected. I’m not sure it was really necessary to sign him in the first place last winter, and there are plenty of in-house outfield replacements available for next year, so I’d probably lean toward letting him go rather than dropping $3+ million on him. He belongs in the majors, but I’m not sure he makes sense in Oakland moving forward.
On the other hand, I’d probably keep the rest. I like Phegley and I like having continuity at the catcher position, and $2 million isn’t going to break the bank. He’ll likely be a backup next year behind Sean Murphy, and you can fill that spot cheaper than this (and a lefty hitter would be nice), but the dollar difference will be marginal and catcher offense is a secondary consideration so let’s just keep the team’s longest-tenured player.
As for the pitchers, Buchter might be coming off his worst year but he was still effective enough. He’s a lefty and you won’t find much better at this price on the open market, so I’d keep him (and let the wild Jake Diekman walk, by declining his nearly $6M option). Cotton got knocked around in his Triple-A rehab this year, in his return from Tommy John surgery, but we’ve waited this long for him so I’ll pay six figures to see the recovery process the rest of the way through; remember, Bassitt looked pretty bad in his own post-TJS minor league rehab in 2017, before getting back on track once the rust was gone.
What do you think about these 12 arbitration cases? Would you keep or cut anyone differently than I’ve suggested above? These are just my initial takes so I’m open to being convinced otherwise. Let’s duke it out in the comments!