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A Quiet Off-Season Bereft Of Bad Moves

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics
“Hi, great pickup, nice to meet you. I’m lousy pickup.”
Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Jim Bagg doesn’t seem to be writing anything so I guess I’m chime in. What do write about when your team is annoyingly quiet as you wait, with great anticipation, for that bold, key, or unexpected winter move?

One thing you write about is the absence of that dreaded clunker: the regrettable deal that comes with “no takesies backsies” printed in blocked letters across the pre-expired receipt. So far, as 2019 has turned to 2020 we have been spared the A’s bidding against themselves to get “ahead of the market” in offering Billy Butler an inflated 3-year deal. The Jake Diekman resigning might be a tad pricier than you’ll ideally like to see for a pitcher who never saw a walk he couldn’t issue, but it’s far more palatable than the puzzling reliever deals that preceded it — I’m looking at you, John Axford, Santiago Casilla, Fernando Rodney.

Have the A’s missed out on any deals? The closest candidate would be yesterday’s signing, by the Washington Nationals, of Asdrubal Cabrera for just $2.5M, but there are indications that Cabrera might have left money on the table to return to Washington rather than the notion that no one was willing to offer more. Outside of that, it’s hard to find a deal the A’s should have topped.

The only two worth analyzing — unless you want to suggest Oakland should have been in the sweepstakes to sign Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasberg, or Anthony Rendon, in which case I also quite enjoy your comments on the A’s Facebook page as well as on ESPN’s threads — are probably Will Harris and Cesar Hernandez.

Harris is an interesting case because not only is he “sneaky good” in a truly A’s-y way, but the deal he signed is nearly identical to one Oakland did offer not too long ago. Back in 2016 the A’s signed Ryan Madson, then 35, to a 3-year deal worth a guaranteed $22M. This past week Harris, also 35, signed a 3-year, $24M deal with the Nationals.

In the case of Madson, the A’s probably got their money’s worth in that Madson was basically effective for the better part of two seasons and then helped Oakland to land Jesus Luzardo, Blake Treinen, and Sheldon Neuse. So it would not have been shocking to see the A’s, openly aiming to bolster their bullpen this off-season, make a similar offer to Harris. That being said, given the 3-year commitment and the fact that $8M/year is not chump change for a team currently near payroll capacity, and it’s hard to grieve too much over this “missed opportunity”. Let’s just say that had the A’s signed Harris for 3/$24M I would be supportive of the move, but I am also sanguine about Oakland letting him go elsewhere at that price.

As for Hernandez, the switch hitter would have slotted in nicely at 2B while also providing insurance at SS if given a multi-year deal, but it’s understandable that the A’s might have set their price point slightly lower than the $6.5M Cleveland offered to sign Hernandez (who had been non-tendered after his estimated arbitration price with the Phillies came in around $11M). Had Hernandez’ price tag come down to, say, $5M, I would have been miffed at the A’s not ponying up, but I would put $6.5M in the same category as Harris’ deal: I would have been fine with the A’s offering it but I can understand them passing with Hernandez coming off a down year.

Of course all the inactivity leaves A’s fans frustrated and Oakland’s holes still unfilled. Perhaps with Brock Holt the A’s are offering a one year deal for around the $4M Holt is believed to be worth but Holt is still holding out for a two-year deal. Maybe with Jed Lowrie Oakland is waiting on more evidence of health before pulling any triggers to bring him back for his every-other-year reunion. It could be that before making another free agent signing or salary-adding trade, the A’s are trying to shed Stephen Piscotty’s contract first as a way to free up room for an addition elsewhere on the diamond. Or none of the above.

In all likelihood, in contrast to their apparent inactivity Oakland in fact has offers out to multiple free agents waiting for one of them to settle for their price point, and has the framework for several trades worked out in which neither side has yet to blink. Just remember that in past years, by January 5th the A’s had already made ill-fated signings, such as the Butler fiasco, or trades, such as the Thanksgiving special that will not be named, and 2020 has going for it that so far Oakland has at least steered clear of any crippling blunders.

Finally, it’s also worth noting that one doesn’t have to squint hard at all to see a 100 win team with no moves. After all, the 2018 and 2019 A’s won 97 games, return all key personnel from last year, and in those season never boasted a rotation like Montas-Manaea-Luzardo-Fiers-Bassitt-Puk. So while you would ideally like to see improvements over the status quo at 2B, in the bullpen, and at backup catcher, perhaps the lack of urgency is serving the A’s front office well — they are empowered to make only deals they fully believe in, and not to take any undue risks or be pressured into offering or accepting the wrong deal.

This off-season has been, in many ways, frustrating and underwhelming, but it has also served as a constant reminder that it’s a good time to be an A’s fan because absent a bad move Oakland is poised for a great season.