It ain’t over till it’s over.
The SB Nation Offseason SIM began on Sunday afternoon and the Oakland Brain Trust (as I’ve taken to calling the group that represents AN) had clear goals in mind as we set out to navigate the maelstrom of messaging and emails and “did these guys even show up” that accompanies 30 teams of passionate individuals from across the nation getting 48 hours to completely re-shape the thing that they love.
It is frighteningly easy to find yourself making a fairly benign inquiry about a relief pitcher and then realize, an hour later, that you’re trying to iron out the final details on a 4 team, 18 player extravaganza and … oh, yeah … you still need that bullpen arm. It takes diligence, planning, and a willingness to walk away regardless of the time and brain cells invested.
I felt fortunate to once again work with an experienced and knowledgeable crew that included cAsey h, Joshua Iversen, Orodawg, and invisibleinkwell. It’s a crew that allowed us to delegate workload and rotate folks into the mix when people had Real World responsibilities that demanded their time and attention. No matter who was on point, the team was in good hands, headed in the right direction.
Setting the scene
Organizational rosters are re-set to the day after the World Series ends for the purpose of the SIM. As an A’s fan you know the state of our team, but for any folks visiting from other SB Nation sites, Oakland’s bullpen had been thinned significantly and the former MVP candidate SS was set to potentially become one of the most sought after free agents of the winter.
The farm system had been at low ebb prior to COVID and the shutdown of the minor league season stalled valuable, critical development of lower level prospects that the team might have been able to turn to as we head into 2021.
As I stated in my Preview, we had a little over $20 million available in the budget, but that’s not a lot of cash when dealing in the SIM’s free agent market and the lack of prospect capital was going to make it difficult to find suitable trade partners. We believed that we had enough (just enough) of a war chest that we could target specific types of players and that the market had enough variety so if our top target got priced out of our comfort zone we could transition to another player and expect the same, basic results.
Our goal was to solidify a two-year window to compete for a world championship. We wanted to limit the amount of talent we traded from the starting lineup and were counting on (and/or hoping for) a return to solid production from Khris Davis and Stephen Piscotty. We didn’t have the resources to add superstar level talent to the remaining roster, but we believed that by making some smaller, smart additions we could create a platform that would allow the homegrown talent that has shown flashes of superstar ability to take off and lift the Oakland A’s to the Promised Land.
And when we called it an evening, late on Sunday night, I knew without a doubt that we’d had our heads handed to us like never before. We’d been whooped and the A’s were headed for disaster.
Sunday: Quiet start
We knew going in that barring something unusual (or an $18.9 million Qualifying Offer) we were going to have to trade for Oakland’s 2021 shortstop. Therefore, the almost singular focus in our trade discussions was to find that player; the obstacle was we couldn’t cast far and wide to find a preferred option because the pool of candidates that we could afford was limited.
In almost every case we had to walk away because the asking price was too great. It quickly became apparent that most of our potential trade partners were far more interested in our big league roster than our minor league talent, and that more than conflicted with our two-year goal. The few teams that didn’t try to further dismantle the A’s either had no interest in discussing the players we asked about or … hadn’t shown up to the SIM yet.
Nine hours into a 48 hour SIM and we were no closer to upgrading our middle infield than we had been at the start. Worse than that, we didn’t have any promising leads to follow up with on Monday. We had completed two tangible things by the close of business Sunday: we had signed RHP Kendall Graveman to a 1yr/$1m guaranteed contract plus incentives to fill a spot in the bullpen. We signed 2B Joe Panik to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training.
Monday: Building depth
Monday dawned and our email was bereft of positive news. Getting door after door slammed in our face the day before forced us to reconsider the Free Agent market for a shortstop.
Going down this path necessitated we shop big league talent for salary relief. Khris Davis or Stephen Piscotty would be ideal for this but their performance the past two seasons made finding a taker doubtful. We’d shop them but pinned our hopes on finding a match for Mark Canha. We still had $20 million cash on hand but had earmarked more than half to address the starting rotation and bullpen. Experience had shown that bargains could be found on mid-tier talent after the initial surge of free agent madness.
As we shopped for a SP and a RP we received notice that we had signed two more vets to minor league contracts, LHP reliever Grant Dayton and 3B Travis Shaw will go to Arizona to try to earn a spot in Oakland. These additions are minor (hence the contract name) but important in building organizational depth.
The A’s start the offseason with 32 players on the 40-man roster and the inevitable roster churn (players out of minor league options, arbitration eligible players with too high a price tag, players who are more valuable as a trade chip than in the lineup) will create more openings. Panik could platoon with Chad Pinder if necessary. Shaw might be an option if Chapman needs more time to heal. RHP reliever Hansel Robles will also sign a minor league deal; he and Dayton have had big league success and no team ever has enough pitching depth. OF Steven Souza Jr. will get a chance if we find a taker for one of Davis, Canha, Piscotty.
Monday, cont’d: Big moves
We finally break through and land a key piece when RHP starter Taijuan Walker signs a 2yr/$14m deal to fill the open spot in our rotation. We’re counting on the 28-year-old to give us 25-30 starts per year at six innings a pop. If he can eat those innings he’s a bargain at the price.
A little later RHP reliever Trevor May agrees to a 2yr/$14m guarantee with a team option 3rd year. We can’t keep Liam Hendriks. We can’t replace Liam Hendriks. But I think we’re landing the next best righty reliever on the market and we’re doing it at a fraction of the 3yr/$37.5m Hendriks will get from the Phillies.
Then we catch a lucky break. Pittsburgh wants to do a 1-for-1 swap, sending the A’s 2B Adam Frazier in exchange for Stephen Piscotty. In one move we shore up the keystone and free up $2 million in the budget. We still don’t have a shortstop but we’ve strengthened the rotation, the bullpen, second base and we have just enough cash to make a run at re-signing Marcus Semien.
Monday, cont’d: Searching for a shortstop
Semien’s agent Max Rieper (as in the guy from Royals Review who runs the SIM and handles all free agent negotiations) made it clear from the start that his player was looking for a 4 year deal. The Brain Trust had decided pre-SIM that we didn’t want to go more than 3 years for Marcus.
My plan was to offer a player opt-out after Year 1 and a guarantee that the A’s wouldn’t place a Qualifying Offer on him if he did choose to opt-out. My hope was that his market would be depressed enough due to his struggles in the shortened season to make the idea of a second chance at a big payday very appealing.
And the market had indeed been soft for him heading up to the QO deadline for this offseason; soft enough that I believed he’d accept the $18.9m guarantee and play for a new contract in 2021. We couldn’t afford to have a player say “Yes” to a QO so we withheld it from both Semien and Hendriks. The deadline passes and Semien has his 4 year offer. We won’t go there. We don’t have the cash to sufficiently front load a 3 year deal with an opt-out. Marcus Semien signs a 4yr/$56m contract with the Mets.
Oakland still doesn’t have a shortstop. Korean sensation Ha-Seong Kim has a 5yr/$50m offer in hand when we drop out. He signs with the Giants for 7yr/$90m. Andrelton Simmons signs a 3yrr/$34m deal with the Reds while we were pursuing preferred options. Didi Gregorius has a 4yr/$68m offer in hand. The shortstops we had originally pursued in trade talks all got traded to teams that weren’t us.
We were pursuing a deal with a new team, haggling over the second piece to go their way, when suddenly they go dark. It’s an East Coast team with an East Coast GM and turns out it’s commute time on the East Coast. We’re stuck in limbo with no way of knowing when they’ll get back to us. Meanwhile … Oakland is without a shortstop. So, if we can’t acquire a shortstop we’re going to try to build an amalgamation of a big league shortstop.
The nice thing about working as a part of a team is there tends to be someone free to work on side deals while the rest of the group focuses on a particular problem. One example of this was the trade we made with Cleveland, sending Skye Bolt to the Tribe for LHP reliever Kyle Nelson. Josh was talking to Cleveland about something else and next thing I know we landed a lefty with a high-spin fastball and 3 minor league options to maneuver with. In another move, we pull off a small trade with San Diego, sending Drew Millas in exchange for RHP reliever David Bednar.
But when you’re trying to Frankenstein a big league shortstop, the more hands and brains and eyes the better. cA’sey h worked a deal with the Yankees to send them Grant Holmes for 2B Tyler Wade. Now, Wade did play some SS while coming up in the Yankees’ system, but it would be more accurate to describe him as a younger, faster (cheaper) version of Tony Kemp, and he has a minor league option remaining. Kemp, by the way, was non-tendered as we needed to scrape every last dollar available to pursue Semien.
After we acquired Wade, cA’sey h worked another deal with Boston to swap Norge Ruiz for SS C.J. Chatham. Chatham tends to get nicked up and isn’t ever going to hit much, but he can hold up at SS for a while.
Combine Wade, Chatham and Rule 5 holdover Vimael Machin and you’ve got … something … to write in the lineup card on gameday. It’s a multi-verse of playing time possibilities and I know for a fact it wouldn’t exist if I had been working the SIM solo. It was the Oakland Brain Trust that made it possible.
Finally, the East Coast team got back in touch with us. Even though we (it was me) caved and agreed to send them the two prospects they asked for, they’ve decided to hold on to their veteran shortstop with one year left on his contract. Because we’re 1900 words into this journey, and of course they would. Completely daunted, we moved on.
We have one play left and that’s to reach out to a team that spent CONSIDERABLE resources acquiring perhaps the best middle infield in the SIM and asking if we can have one of their shortstops. The only chance we have of that working is if we lead with the best prospect we have in our organization: A.J. Puk.
We reach out once more to Cleveland, Puk in hand this time, and ask if one of Gavin Lux (LAD), David Fletcher (LAA), or Andres Gimenez (NYM) is available in trade. The response was tepid, at best. The only thing they really needed was a bench piece who could play the infield corners. We added Sheldon Neuse to the mix and that got them thinking. We asked for Fletcher and in their flat rejection of that ask they mentioned that Gimenez was the backup to Lux and Fletcher. So we offer Puk and Neuse for their back-up middle infielder. And they are intrigued.
But the Tribe is worried about their depth if they trade away Gimenez and we tell them we’ve acquired Tyler Wade and C.J. Chatham. Not great starting SS options but versatile players and Cleveland can have their pick as a third piece to the deal. They consider this a fair offer. They’re going to sleep on it (as it’s nearly midnight their time) and will let us know in the morning. We’ve pushed this as far as we can — any more and it’ll likely do more harm than good, so we say goodnight and shut down our operation for the evening.
Tuesday: One last chance for a SS
Tuesday, November 3rd. It’s a little before 7 a.m. and the SIM concludes in just over two hours. Cleveland nixes the deal. Every attempt we have made to acquire a legitimate, starting-caliber shortstop has failed. There are no more avenues we can pursue to make a fair trade.
It ain’t over till it’s over.
And Cleveland still likes Sheldon Neuse.
They pitch the idea of reaching out to Baltimore, an East Coast team, and figuring out a three-way trade that would send Jose Iglesias, a vet SS with a year left on his contract, to Oakland. Neuse would go to Cleveland and the Orioles would get to pick a couple prospects from the Tribes’ still fairly well-stocked farm system. Cleveland will handle all the legwork. Baltimore is interested. They trade a few names with Cleveland over the course of 10-15 minutes and at 8:09 a.m. PT a deal is reached that makes Jose Iglesias the Opening Day Shortstop for the Oakland Athletics.
2021 Oakland A’s SIM roster
Here are the final results.
Now it’s over.
Here is the link to the SIM’s official transaction thread at Royals Review.
Thank you for your time.