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Did The A’s Approach Off-Season Like The Draft?

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Chicago White Sox v Minnesota Twins - Game Two
“If I were batting right-handed this would probably be a hit!”
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

And no, I don’t mean they stocked up on football players. Too soon? Probably. This off-season (one in which Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel, and Craig Kimbrell are still homeless) has been notable, from the A’s point of view, for the areas Oakland has — and hasn’t — addressed.

Going into the off-season the A’s clear need was for front-of-the-rotation starting pitching and on February 16th the clear need is, well, the same. In fairness they have addressed the rotation somewhat by bringing Mike Fiers back, then signing Marco Estrada and Brett Anderson. All are best suited to the back of a rotation but all were affordable. Yes they added to a strength when they signed Joaquim Soria, but they had also lost Jeurys Familia and can boast that Soria is more than ‘just a nice signing’ — he is legitimately a ‘plus reliever’. Jurickson Profar was acquired to replace Jed Lowrie.

And then the A’s went out and gave $2M, and a major league deal, to Robbie Grossman. This has widely puzzled and intrigued AN, leading to speculation that it must be in anticipation of another move because Oakland has added to an already crowded outfield.

On its face, the Grossman signing is odd because the A’s have two of three outfield spots seemingly locked in with Ramon Laureano in CF and Stephen Piscotty in RF, leaving only LF up for grabs and 4 incumbents already in the mix. Two bat LH (Nick Martini, Dustin Fowler), two RH (Chad Pinder, Mark Canha), and if you’re wondering who might be odd man out it doesn’t help sort things out to note that Grossman is a switch hitter. On a career basis, Grossman bats much better from the right side, which would suggest he could compete with Pinder and/or Canha for LF at bats against LHP.

Adding to the confusion is that while Grossman has strengths, particularly OBP skills and the tendency to see a lot of pitches, chasing few out of the zone, he is not considered to be a good fielder. So it becomes difficult to imagine why he would take LF at bats away from Pinder — who hits LHP very well but also plays an excellent LF — or why he would necessarily be an upgrade over Martini. Or, for that matter, why his average LH bat coupled with below average defense would offer more value than Fowler, who at least promises to be an asset on defense.

Perhaps the biggest cause for “??” is that Grossman has a major league deal. Had he been signed to a minor league contract, as Gerardo Parra just was across the bay and as Cliff Pennington was yesterday for the A’s, it would make perfect sense: insurance for Martini or Fowler, insurance for injuries to Pinder or Canha, depth at no risk.

But Grossman will be on the 25-man roster to open the season and the question is why the A’s chose to spend money, and guarantee a roster spot, on someone very unlikely to emerge as Oakland’s #2 SP.

The answer could lie in the “BPA” approach teams take in the amateur draft. There you ignore position, or the state of the big league club, and try to secure the best player available, period. Part of the theory is that even if that player winds up blocked, his value as a trade chip makes him a better investment than a less talented player.

An example here would be a scenario where Sheldon Neuse exploded again and became a blue chip prospect. He still has no future with Oakland at 3B, but he would become a coveted prospect who could return a marquee player that fit the A’s need at the time. That would be a lot more valuable than a failed starting pitching prospect, even though starting pitching is exactly what the A’s need.

That is not to say Grossman is example of “best player available” as I’m thinking that one can reasonably construct scenarios in which Bryce Harper outperforms him in 2019. So in thinking about this off-season, one has to heavily factor in cost. From Oakland’s point of view Grossman, at $2M is in fact a “better player available” than Harper at a 10 year/$300M commitment.

So for the A’s, “BPA” becomes “bang for the buck” and Oakland is always on the prowl for good value. Grossman has a career .355 OBP and players with OBPs that high are rarely available for $2M. In 2018, Grossman punished LHP to the tune of a 147 wRC+ (.325/.438/.444 slash line), and for his career his OBP against lefties stands at .378.

Perhaps, as has been speculated, Grossman’s signing allows Oakland to turn around and spin another outfielder into starting pitching. Or maybe the A’s play the options game with Martini, Fowler, or even Canha. Possibly they just go to spring training waiting to see which shoe drops — we all know you can go from “too crowded” to “one man short” in the blink of an eye.

So it appears the A’s saw a switch hitting outfielder with excellent on base skills available for too good a bargain to pass up, ignored the log-jam and just figured the addition would give the club extra flexibility to make whatever corresponding move could make the team better, or at least deeper.

According to wikipedia, which is on the internet so it must be true, “opportunity cost” is defined as “the value of the most valuable choice out of those that were not taken”. Out of all the value still on the market, most were too costly and some were just not at all valuable. And then there was Grossman at $2M. So the A’s pounced, just as they did for the excellent-yet-pretty-reasonably-priced Soria, the bounce-back-candidate-at-#5 SP-salary Estrada, and so on.

With opportunity cost, it’s “shoot now and ask questions later”. Where and how Grossman fits, who he displaces, and what corresponding moves it may bring? We don’t know and quite possibly the front office doesn’t know right now either. They saw an opportunity and fired the shot. Now it’s time to think about the questions.

Poll

Where do you see Robbie Grossman fitting in to the A’s outfield?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    As a switch hitter he will wind up as the every day LFer
    (36 votes)
  • 19%
    He will initially replace Martini, who will be optioned to AAA
    (189 votes)
  • 6%
    He will initially replace Canha, who will be optioned to AAA
    (64 votes)
  • 4%
    He will play LF against LHPs, with Pinder at 2B and Profar on the bench
    (41 votes)
  • 9%
    He will play LF against LHPs, sending PInder to the bench/utility role
    (90 votes)
  • 56%
    His signing signals the front office is on the verge of trading other outfielders, e.g. Fowler or Canha, to fill other needs, e.g., SP or catcher
    (542 votes)
962 votes total Vote Now