The Oakland A’s 2020 season is over, but the offseason won’t kick into full gear for another couple weeks when the World Series ends. There is plenty to discuss this winter, between the 10 free agents coming off the A’s roster, and possible external additions and trades, but more than ever there is a sense of unknown after such an unusual summer.
With only 60 games and no gate revenue, it’s unclear how the market will shape up this year, and specifically how the A’s own spending might be affected. However, Thursday brought one piece of the puzzle into slightly clearer focus, as MLB Trade Rumors released their annual 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 like this: 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 on their own, but every so often a third-party arbiter has to step in and make the final call in court — in such cases, the two sides each pick a number and the arbiter chooses between those two offers, with no compromising in between.
These MLBTR projections aren’t anything official, merely estimates based on historical precedent for the benefit of fans, but they tend to be pretty accurate. They are derived using the criteria that the real-life 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.
However, this year’s version is different than normal. Since nobody knows how the arbiters will value the shortened 2020 season, there are three values provided instead of one. The first uses raw stats from the 60-game season, the second extrapolates the stats to a full 162-game season, and the third extrapolates the stats but then only gives 37% of the raise the player would have gotten. I speculate that the second value seems like the most likely one to be used, but I could possibly see it being the third one too.
The A’s have 10 eligible players this year:
- OF Mark Canha – $5.4m / $8.2m / $6.1m
- LHP Sean Manaea – $4.2m / $6.4m / $4.7m
- 1B Matt Olson – $3.5m / $6.4m / $3.5m
- RHP Chris Bassitt – $3.1m / $5.6m / $5.5m*
- 3B Matt Chapman – $2.9m / $4.3m / $2.9m
- UT Chad Pinder – $2.2m / $2.4m / $2.2m
- RHP Frankie Montas – $1.6m / $2.4m / $1.6m
- UT Tony Kemp – $900k / $1.2m / $900k
- RHP Lou Trivino – $900k / $1.1m / $900k
- RHP Burch Smith – $600k / $800k / $600k
* Note: I think Bassitt must be a typo, as the second and third values are too close for a non-first-time arby case. I’m assuming the third value should be $3.5m.
The A’s enter the winter with $28.3m committed to three players — DH Khris Davis, OF Stephen Piscotty, and LHP Jake Diekman. If you use the second (high/full) value, these 10 arbitration cases would add another $38.8m, or if you use the smaller third value it’s $26.9m. Let’s assume the higher value, which puts the A’s a little over $67m for 13 total players.
Usually there are tough decisions to make in terms of who to tender and who to let go at elevated prices, but this group is almost entirely made up of obvious tenders. Canha, Manaea, Olson, Bassitt, Chapman, Pinder, and Montas are no-brainers, and the only question is whether one of them might get traded to cut costs. They are all easily worth their sub-market price tags.
The two relievers at the bottom aren’t essential but seem like easy keepers. Trivino hasn’t returned to the level we saw in 2018, but at around a million he’s a perfectly good value in the middle innings, with upside that we’ve seen with our own eyes. Smith is just a matter of health — if he’s good to go for 2021, then he was excellent this summer and all of Athletics Nation could probably agree on giving him another try.
That leaves Kemp. He won’t cost much either way, and he was a fun and useful role player in 2020, but the question is whether there’s room for him next year. If the A’s keep free agent Tommy La Stella, which everyone on AN hopes they do, then they no longer need Kemp as a lefty who plays second base. They already have plenty of lefty outfield prospects, and lefty infielder Vimael Machin now has a bit of experience in the bigs, so with money figuring to be especially tight it might not be worth committing any of it to Kemp.
As we discussed in our free agent preview this week, a $67m starting point would give Oakland somewhere between zero and $30m to work with for the remaining half of their 2021 roster. Some of that will be made up of minimum-salary players, but hopefully they’ll be joined by a couple free agents or, at worst, quality trade acquisitions.