Given the A’s immediate outlook, I prefer to characterize it that my writing about the A’s, and alcoholism, are on “parallel paths”. But A’s fans are resilient, ever optimistic, and forward-looking by nature, so we will latch on to anything we can to remain excited and hopeful. This week we were given the gift that is Brent Honeywell, former top prospect now 4 times removed from surgery.
The Eyeball Scout watched the 1st inning of Honeywell long awaited big league debut and was sufficiently dazzled. Honeywell hit 95MPH on the gun with his fastball and unleashed a “bugs bunny changeup” that was clearly difficult for batters to pick up. As I was watching, immediately 2 comps came to mind, both from the A’s but with very different outcomes.
The first comp, which probably represents Honeywell’s ceiling, is James Kaprielian. Kaprielian was also a top draft pick whose debut was delayed, and then delayed again, by multiple injuries. Kaprielian also once threw in the high 90s but now sits more like “93MPH, topping out at 95MPH,” and rose to the big leagues with precious few minor league innings under his belt the previous 3 seasons (Kaprielian 102 IP total, Honeywell 82.1 IP since 2017).
If Honeywell were to follow in Kap’s footsteps the A’s would be thrilled, as despite throwing more innings with Oakland in 2021 than in his MiLB career combined, Kaprielian had a solid rookie season (8-5, 4.17 ERA) with numbers that only tailed off at the end as he understandably ran out of gas. It remains to be seen if Kaprielian can finally stay healthy, but if he does he appears to be a legitimate #3 SP candidate with swing-and-miss stuff and a bulldog mentality.
On the other end of the spectrum, Honeywell also reminds one of a failed A’s SP. If the “solid fastball, bugs bunny changeup” combo isn’t enough, Honeywell gave up 2 HR in his 4.1 IP big league innings in 2021 to accentuate his edition of the “Jharel Cotton guide to big league pitching”.
Cotton has shown that good velocity, a great changeup, and decent secondary pitches, are not enough to succeed in the big leagues if you can’t locate your pitches well. Cotton has given up a startling 34 HRs in 189 MLB innings, posting a 4.71 ERA that is, sadly, better than his 5.26 xFIP.
In all likelihood, Honeywell will prove to be no worse than Cotton and no better than Kaprielian. Where in between, though, is anyone’s guess. Let’s just hope he stays healthy and gives A’s fans one more reason to be excited, instead of demoralized, about the 2022 season.
You know what would have been exciting? If the owners’ proposal of a $100M salary floor and $180M competitive balance tax threshold had legs. And it would if the MLBPA wasn’t only about taking care of the “top 4% of the top 4%”. Already the players union cares not a whit about the 96% of its candidates whose professional careers fall short of “The Show”. What a reasonably high salary floor, along with a lower luxury tax cap, would do is to improve salaries for the vast majority of big league players who have ordinary careers — for one thing, the minimum big league salary could be increased to help owners reach a salary floor — at the expense of suppressing those “$30M/year” salaries given to only the elite of the elite players.
Believe me I am no fan of the owners, but even a broken clock is right twice a day and here is one area where I think they are right. Compressing team salaries to be higher at the bottom and lower at the top not only promotes parity, it takes care of the right players, which is the vast majority, and not the wrong ones. which are the ones not in need of any help. Remember that the average big league career spans only a few years and earns a player “just” a few million — which is less when you consider that these athletes cannot work until they are 65 but rather are done earning by age 30.
MLBPA worries that lower “top salaries” will have a trickle-down effect, but what has a “trickle-down effect” is greed that concerns itself only with the top .16% and willfully abandons the rest. Raise salaries from the ground up, instead of from the top down, and you take better care of more people. And the owners’ figures are surprisingly reasonable for a first offer.
Now imagine if the owners’ proposal became reality. Suddenly the A’s would enter 2022 with room to add payroll to $100M, which wouldn’t prevent them from rebuilding — they still desperately need to restock their farm system — but would enable them to rebuild without losing the chance to remain competitive in the meantime.
For example, maybe the A’s would deal Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, and Frankie Montas, but would retain Chris Bassitt as a staff leader and would offer Matt Olson a contract extension to stay in Oakland beyond 2023. Meanwhile, they might do the unthinkable and re-sign Starling Marte along with inking a solid SP to join Bassitt, Kaprielian, Irvin, Jefferies and Honeywell, not to mention any “MLB ready starting pitchers” they got back in their rebuilding trades. With $100M to spend, payroll flexibility still exists to address the bullpen, and perhaps a worthy DH.
Suddenly, with the minor league haul Chapman, Manaea, and Montas would bring, on the big league club, your 2022-23 big league team is still anchored by Marte, Olson, Murphy, Laureano, and a solid rotation. Maybe you aren’t world beaters during this time, but you are competitive, interesting, and quickly “back in the game” for contention.
But Trevor Plouffe is cool too.