On Sunday, November 7, Max Rieper and Royals Review hosted the SB Nation Offseason Simulation. This was an opportunity for representatives from every team to get together and spend 48 frantic hours bartering, haggling, and cursing in order to shape their rosters into whatever vision they might have for their teams.
I (grover) was joined by John Bitzer, cAsey h, Orodawg, and JJ209 to represent Athletics Nation and the Oakland A’s as we set to prepare the roster for the 2022 season. They spent considerable time and energy helping to prepare and execute our strategy and I thank them for everything. I’ve said it before and I mean it every time … anything that AN likes about our plan is shared praise but the parts that AN might disagree with is on me.
A quick overview of the Offseason Simulation (SIM) rules:
1) All rosters reset to the day after the World Series ended. This means no one has opted-in, opted-out, or retired when we begin. The current CBA is set to expire in December but for the sake of simplicity the Offseason Simulation will run as if the existing agreement has been extended for one year. This meant all the arbitration and service time data we had is valid through the course of the SIM and no one had to worry about salary floors being introduced or the Luxury Cap threshold changing.
2) Teams aren’t given a budget per se, but they are expected to spend in a realistic manner. Teams are expected to use creativity and ingenuity when creating their rosters, not act like they can print money.
3) Max handles all negotiations for free agents.
4) Try and shower at least once during the SIM. This isn’t an actual “rule” but it’s really good advice for anyone who has to engage with people in the real world.
Goal: Maximize our Trade Assets
This would take several forms. We decided early on that we wouldn’t attach an underwater contract (Piscotty, Andrus) to a player of value. Our focus would be to trade each of Olson, Chapman, Bassitt, Manaea, Montas individually as the tertiary pieces from each deal would build depth through-out the system.
Our targets were prospects and/or pre-arbitration eligible, big league talent. We’d make our valuations clear to prospective buyers and hold firm to those price points. Montas and Olson were worth 2 Top 100 prospects; Chapman, Bassitt, Manaea were worth 1 Top 100 prospect and we expected additional pieces with all the trades.
(Some context regarding “Top 100 prospects” … everyone in the SIM has access to MLB and Fangraphs (FG) and Baseball America (BA) Top 100 lists so as long as their prospects made at least one list they met our criteria. This cut back considerably on folks trying to argue how their prospects were underappreciated by such and such source.)
Goal: Maximize our Financial Flexibility
We knew that trading our top players would shed a lot of salary. Even with Piscotty and Andrus still on the books we’d have room to take back bad money if it would help improve the talent return on our trades. We’d also look for opportunities to make small deals in Free Agency that would help fill immediate gaps in the roster and hopefully create July trade chips that would further our rebuild efforts.
And if we end up burning $30-40 MM of John Fisher’s money on players who aren’t very good … oh well.
Goal: Embrace the Suck
Don’t get tempted by the shiny. Every SIM has a moment that makes you want to toss your plans and chase after the gold. IT’S RIGHT THERE!!! You need to stop and ask yourself “What’s the next step?” Because as great it would be to land Freddy Peralta … he’d bring Jackie Bradley with him while the Matts would be out, looking for lodging in Milwaukee.
Do you really want to give up the on the 3 Top 100 prospects Olson and Chapman can bring back in order to land a 4 Win pitcher with 5 years of team control that would look freaking AMAZING fronting a rotation of Manaea, Bassitt, Montas, Kap … except oh crap we’d already dealt Bassitt and Manaea? It’s important to be flexible during the SIM but you can’t get caught up in the whirlwind and lose your bearings.
(A quick aside on the timeline of real world everts: Prep for the SIM began weeks ago. We had adopted an austerity mindset during this phase but didn’t have a specific number for what our expected payroll would be. The event itself started Sunday afternoon with no set budget given. Bob Nightengale’s article (here’s the MLBTR summary) came out Monday night and I didn’t read it until Tuesday afternoon, after the SIM had ended. If Nightengale’s piece had dropped a week earlier we would have used his $50 MM number and a couple transactions we made during the SIM would not have happened.)
Options and Non-tenders
Our first two transactions were entirely negative as we declined the options on Jake Diekman and Andrew Chafin. The Cubs are covering Chafin’s $500K buy-out while the A’s owe Diekman $375K to go miss the plate by three feet for another team. Pete Kozma got non-tendered.
Sean Manaea and Chad Pinder to Atlanta for OF Michael Harris II, RHP Freddy Tarnock, RHP Victor Vodnik, and RHP Darius Vines.
Oakland clears $13 MM to add Michael Harris II (MLB #89/BA #67) and three RHPs that will all be in the 2022 starting rotations for Midland and Las Vegas.
Chris Bassitt and $4 MM to Tampa for RHP Seth Johnson, SS Willy Vasquez, LHP Josh Fleming, and RHP Louis Head.
Oakland clears $4.8 MM to add Seth Johnson (FG #94) and two pre-arb pitchers that can slot immediately into Oakland’s starting rotation and bullpen. The A’s still need to field a 26 man roster in 2022 and these are two optionable arms that start to create the depth and flexibility so desperately needed going forward. Per BA, Vasquez is the newest member of Tampa’s 2022 preseason Top 10.
Matt Chapman and Devin Foyle to NY Mets for 1B/3B Mark Vientos and RHP J.T. Ginn
Oakland clears $9.5 MM to add one of the best bats in the Mets’ system, Mark Vientos (BA #88). Ginn can be expected to make his Oakland system debut in AA.
A.J. Puk to San Diego for LHP MacKenzie Gore.
This was a CHALLENGE TRADE suggested by San Diego. Puk is probably no more than a RP at this point but my guess is the Padres think he has a better chance of being the next Josh Hader than Gore has of pulling out of whatever tailspin he’s been in. It wasn’t too long ago that Gore was considered one of the top prospects in baseball and if the A’s can get him right he’s a potential top of the rotation arm. Puk may become the next Hader but he’s more likely to spend a couple months on the IL.
Matt Olson and Jack Weisenburger to Milwaukee for RHP Aaron Ashby, OF Garrett Mitchell, C Jeferson Quero, C/1B/3B Zavier Warren, and IF Tommy La Stella.
Oakland clears $6.75 MM to add Ashby (FG #94) who has middle of the rotation potential and can start that journey in Oakland on Opening Day. Mitchell (BA #70/MLB #51) is a toolshed that the A’s originally drafted out of high school. Quero is a long-term play who has Plus potential at the plate as well as behind it. Warren is a switch-hitter who can play three positions and is expected to start next season in AA. Milwaukee needed to clear payroll so we took La Stella on the thought he could end up covering 3B until a better option came along.
Lou Trivino to Toronto for LHP Anthony Kay.
Oakland clears $2.9 MM to add a pre-arb starting pitcher. Kay’s results have never matched his stuff and is an ideal change-of-scenery candidate. He could be a #4 if it clicks and he has two minor league options remaining.
Frankie Montas to LA Dodgers for RHP Bobby Miller, OF Andy Pages, IF Zach McKinstry
Oakland clears $5.2 MM to add Miller (MLB #78, BA #49) a potential top of the rotation arm that will build up his innings in Midland next season. He’ll be joined by Pages (MLB #100, BA #93, FG #99) who could be a potential impact bat from RF. McKinstry adds optionable depth to the roster at a pre-arb price.
IF Cobie Vance to Atlanta for LHP Corbin Clouse
RHP Grant Holmes to Arizona for C/1B/LF Cooper Hummel
OF Lazaro Armenteros to CWS for RHP Kade McClure
These three trades are lumped together because they’re all about building depth. Vance is 24 and Rule 5 eligible, having never played above A+ ball. He brings back Clouse, who was an interesting relief prospect before hurting his shoulder in 2019. It appears that he’s bounced back and once added to the 40 man roster will give the A’s another bullpen arm that has three minor league options.
Holmes has burned through his minor league options and looked bad doing so. In comes the switch-hitting Hummel who has shown some ability to control the strike zone while playing 5 different positions. Add him to the 40 man roster and get three years of roster versatility on the cheap.
Lazarito is the most famous of the group but has stalled out in A+ ball due to contact issues. Rule 5 eligible this winter, giving Chicago the chance to “fix” him allows Oakland the chance to add an arm to the 40 man roster that is ready for a chance to prove himself in the Show.
Who knows if all or any of these moves will work in Oakland’s favor, but the cost to add optionable players was minimal and not having to spend money on depth gives the A’s an advantage.
RHP Jose Dicochea to the Cubs for 1B Ji-Man Choi
Choi went from Tampa to Chicago so the Rays could afford a more expensive player from the Cubs. The Cubs didn’t want Choi but they took him so they could extract more prospect value from the Rays. The Cubs then sent out word that they’d part with Choi for peanuts and minutes before the SIM came to an end a deal was made. Not for Dicochea … but for a player I didn’t realize had been let go and was a minor league free agent. Therefore, a correction was made a couple minutes after the SIM ended and Dicochea went to the Cubs. Hijinks aside, this deal is notable because it’s one of two transactions that don’t happen if we had been acting with a $50 MM payroll.
Free Agent Contracts
Our free agency focus was on short-term deals for players that would patch holes and then (hopefully) bring back prospect value at the Trade Deadline.
Signed RHP Robert Gsellman to a 1 Year/$1.5 MM guaranteed contract with a team option at $1.5 MM for 2023. The $1.5 MM guarantee is split between a $1 MM base salary in 2022 and a $500K buy-out.
Signed RHP Nick Wittgren to a 1 Year/$1 MM guaranteed contract.
Signed LHP Tyler Anderson to a 1 Year/$3.5 MM guaranteed with a $500K bonus if he reaches 150 IP. We debated about whether or not we wanted to complete this deal; we had added some rotation depth prior to this decision. This is the other transaction that doesn’t happen if we had a $50 MM payroll.
Signed 3B Kyle Seager to a 1 Year/$6.5 MM guaranteed contract. This signing was an example of the flexibility I mentioned earlier and not a predetermined path. We checked on Seager out of due diligence and when we saw the standing offer, took a chance and ended up with the top bid. Adding Seager solidifies our infield defense and should provide a useful trade chip in July.
Minor League Contracts
Oakland was able to sign the following veteran players to compete for roster spots in 2022. These players are not part of the 40 man roster during the winter and tend to have clauses in their contracts that will allow them to declare free agency if they don’t make the big league club.
RHPs Trevor Williams, Miguel Diaz, Juan Minaya
LHP Cody Reed
IF Johan Camargo
Final Payroll: $57,400,000
We accomplished what we set out to do, bringing back more value than we traded away while adding an influx of high-ceiling prospect talent that could start to bear fruit within two seasons. We have depth in the rotation and we should have a fairly solid infield. It’s an open question as to how much the outfield will hit but they’ll catch a lot of fly balls. Our bullpen sucks. This is going to be an area that will need constant attention during the upcoming season.
The A’s are in a bad spot, no two ways about it. There are paths forward, first to respectability and then potentially to contention, if the team is willing to embrace its situation and put in the work. Progress will require a good plan, discipline, flexibility, and a little bit of luck. We believe this Offseason Simulation shows one possible example of all that.
Thank you for your time.