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The Perfect Time To “Moneyball” Is This Off-Season

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MLB: Wild Card-St. Louis Cardinals at San Diego Padres
“It’s an unusual batting stance, but it works well for me.”
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

How frustrating to be writing a post today that almost certainly will not reflect actual reality and action. But I write it anyway because I believe it to be true. “Moneyball” was not about on base percentage or dumpster diving for hidden treasures. It was about seizing opportunities to win the “unfair game” that is a shoestring payroll.

So the A’s can’t splurge on $30M starting pitchers. They can’t place scouts in every city of every country. They can’t take the risk of an expensive mistake. They can’t absorb terrible contracts in order to poach young talent.

What they can do, however, is to “carpe diem” when the right diem is there for the carpe-ing. And 2020 has provided just such a landscape.

There are going to be rare bargains to be found this off-season for any team willing to do the unthinkable: spend now, while revenues are down, instead of waiting for revenues to come back up in order to open the purse strings. It’s zagging while others are zigging, and it’s what the A’s have historically done best.

Imagine having Kolten Wong at 2B for the 2 years/$16M he is predicted by mlbtraderumors to get. Most off-seasons Wong’s price tag would be far higher and out of the A’s range. This year it’s presumably out of the A’s range because they will be trimming payroll to offset revenue losses this season (and likely into next season) from lack of fan attendance.

The “zag” Oakland should be planning is to spend now while the market is so soft, instead of later, when revenues rise and the market follows. Offer Wong, for example, a 3 year/$24M deal and watch as it becomes the envy of others in 2022 and 2023.

Another interesting target, though risky, would be shortstop Ha-Seong Kim, a KBO product coming over to the US at age 25. He is projected by MLBTR to receive a 5 year/$40M deal that — if he’s any good — could look like a bargain that is the envy of the league 2-3 years from now. Kim is crowdsourced to receive 4 years/$45.7M at Fangraphs.

If there was ever a time to splurge for a front line starting pitcher, such as Marcus Stroman, it would be while the market is suppressing all but the highest tier salaries. Stroman’s MLBTR projection is a still-hefty 4/$68M (AAV a tick lower at $16.1M on Fangraphs), but what you have to remember, if you’re an owner or GM, is that the salaries that look high now (because your revenues are so low) will look low in a couple years when revenues recover. If not Stroman, a logical tier II option might be Garrett Richards, projected on MLBTR at just 2/$16M (and crowdsourced similarly on Fangraphs).

So why won’t the A’s do it? The presumption is that John Fisher will not want to go deeper into debt in the short term, even if it makes the team so much better that revenues spike to make up the difference, and then some, over the long haul. But it’s really just giving out a loan and reaping high interest rates later.

This is not actually the year to reduce payroll. It’s the year to take advantage of a pandemically-soft market, secure top talent for multiple years, and then enjoy as those contracts look like steals in a couple years.

I don’t expect it to happen, but it’s what should happen. Carpe diem! “Seize the Moneyball!”