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The 2022-2023 BWH Off-Season Plan: Or: The Long, Slow March Toward Relevance

"Is it finally MY TIME?" - Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Note: Despite the author's mentions of acquiring Josh Donaldson and of offering a 3 year, $30M free agent contract, this article has been promoted to the front page. Enjoy. -Nico

The 2022-2023 BWH Off-Season Plan:

Greetings, A’s Blog!

In life, there’s no direction but forward. Time’s arrow neither stands still nor reverses, it merely marches forward. Think about it. That’s a line from Bojack Horseman. It’s a good show, I recommend it. It ended a few years ago and I still think about it pretty often, which is more than I hope to be able to say about the 2022 Oakland Athletics.

That was the worst baseball-watching experience many of us have ever experienced. There were few redeeming qualities to this past season. Our lone all-star finished the season with 0.8 fWAR, which has to be the lowest full-season WAR total for any team’s all-star contingent ever recorded (maybe one of you can look that up). A few dreadfully unproductive players had some fun moments, so at least we had that.

Is there any way to start with this group and build a division-winner in 2023, while we play in the same division as the juggernaut Astros? Probably not, but could we build a team that’s roughly as good as the 2022 Phillies? Perhaps, I say. I’m an eternal optimist, and with a real offseason, increased revenue-sharing checks, and the economic effects of the pandemic moving further and further past us (baseball-wise, at least), it’s time for the A’s to begin anew.

I’m gonna give us an $80M payroll, for the sake of discussion. I think the total expenditure last year was around $65M, and they actually drew more fans in 2022 than they did in 2021, plus the revenue sharing is increasing. So journey alongside me as I build a 115-win powerhouse! Or at least something that could plausibly be the sixth-best (ninth-worst, really) team in the American League. Or at the VERY least, be more watchable than the crap we just endured.

Some housekeeping:

Departing Free Agents:

Chad Pinder - so long, Chad.

Arbitration-eligible players:

Tony Kemp, Ramon Laureano, Deolis Guerra, Paul Blackburn, Sean Murphy

No reason to keep Guerra on the 40-man, as he recovers from surgery. The rest are easy decisions. Tender contracts to Kemp, Laureano, Blackburn, and Murphy.


The Catcher Question

The one GOOD problem the A’s have right now is behind the plate. Sean Murphy established himself as the American League’s premier catcher (well, behind superstar Jose Trevino, to hear the All-Star Game selection process tell it). The should-have-been-All-Star backstop scorched the ball in the second half, hitting .278/.366/.462 from July 1st through the end of the season and finishing with a .250/.332/.426 line for the full campaign (122 wRC+). His 612 plate appearances were 71 more than the 2nd-most among American League catchers. He also got hit in the ass in a game against the Rays.

The centerpiece of the Matt Olson return, Shea Langeliers, played his way onto the big league team, and looked the part both defensively and offensively. He had his ups and downs in the batter’s box, with too many strikeouts early on and not enough walks, but finished the season with a .212 ISO and loud doubles off Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, in addition to a homer off reigning Cy Young winner Robbie Ray. Entering his age-25 season, Shea’s time is now, either in Oakland or elsewhere.

I’m keeping Langeliers and trading Murphy. Following the 2022 trades, Murphy is the only established veteran with substantial trade value left on the roster, and this team simply has too many holes to justify keeping him. Happily, Murphy is even more valuable than the most valuable player we have traded over the past eight months, Matt Olson. He has three years of control remaining, catching is scarce around the league, and put up the same fWAR total last year (5.1) that Olson did in 2021, when we traded his remaining two years of team control to Atlanta.

He has 150% as much team control as Olson did, is similarly productive, and plays a more challenging position to fill. Plus, the first arbitration year that Murphy has is cheaper (read: more valuable) than the last two. Add that all up, and I’ll say Murphy is worth 175% of what Olson was worth. So basically three top-100 prospects and two additional pieces, or two top-100 prospects and four additional pieces.

Twenty teams would want Murphy, but to my eye there are three teams with both the need and the resources to land Murphy, and I’ll build a fake trade for all three. The three teams are the Cleveland Guardians, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Tampa Bay Rays. In no particular order, here are some trades:

The Trades

Sean Murphy to the Tampa Bay Rays for Curtis Mead, Kyle Manzardo, Mason Montgomery, and Brock Jones

In terms of pure value, I probably think this one is the most attractive. The Rays are relatively light on pitching prospects, and have historically been reluctant to deplete their supply of young arms. So I turned to the position player side of their farm system for most of the return, but I’m not particularly focused on adding infielders. That said, I think this group is very talented.

Mead is an Australian 22 year-old who has one of the best bats in the minor leagues. He hit .298/.390/.532 in 76 games between AA and AAA in 2022, with 13 home runs and just 62 strikeouts before an elbow injury ended his season. He played mostly at third base, but will likely move to first base by the time he makes it to the bigs. We’ve had a lot of success with Australian players over the years, so that’s a plus.

Manzardo was a 2nd-round pick out of Washington State University in 2021. He has a huge bat but no other skills. Pretty standard 1B/DH type, but the LHB hit .327/.426/.617 between A+ and AA in 2022, as a 21 year-old. He hit 22 home runs and had a 65/59 K/BB ratio in 93 games. There’s pretty limited utility here, but if the bat is real then he’ll fit in the lineup somehow.

Montgomery was Tampa Bay’s 6th-round pick out of Texas Tech in 2021 and had a good season between A+ and AA in 2022, totalin 124 innings with a 2.10 ERA. Left-handed pitchers from Texas Tech have been good for the A’s in the past. Sometimes they pitch perfect games and become charismatic broadcasters. Montgomery is a very A’s-like target.

Jones was the 2nd-round pick of the Rays in 2022 and was linked to the A’s in the run-up to the draft. The Stanford product has plenty of upside, and on value he seems like a good piece to round out the package.

If I’m comparing this to the Olson return on value, I think Manzardo equals Pache, Montgomery equals Estes, Jones equals Cusick (late first/early second round picks in the most recent draft) and Mead is the Langeliers piece, but Mead (as MLB dot com’s 35th-ranked prospect) is sufficiently more valuable than Langeliers was (more of an 80-90 ranked prospect at the time) in order to offset that extra year of Murphy.

I’m again not totally wild about the idea of cashing in Murphy for a pair of corner bats plus a 2022 draft pick and a potential back-end lefty. Mead could be the best player I mention here in the long run, but I’m going to pass on this for now. Discuss at your leisure.

Sean Murphy to the St. Louis Cardinals for Gordon Graceffo, Matthew Liberatore, Michael McGreevy, Alec Burleson, and Connor Thomas ***OR***


Sean Murphy to the St. Louis Cardinals for Nolan Gorman, Matthew Liberatore, Michael McGreevy, and Connor Thomas

Here are two options for the Cardinals to replace Yadier Molina. They have plenty of prospects, both pitchers and hitters. I’m focusing more on the pitchers in these trades.

Liberatore has been a prospect forever. Well, technically since being drafted in the first round back in 2018. He finally made it to the majors last year, but got knocked around, with a 5.97 ERA in 34.2 innings. He wasn’t great at AAA either, with a 5.17 ERA in 115 innings for the Memphis Redbirds. His prospect arrow may be pointing down, but he’s been a durable LH starter throughout the minor leagues, and perhaps a change of scenery would be good for him.

Graceffo is ranked right next to Liberatore on MLB dot com’s top 100 list (they are 79 and 80), and in 2022 he put together one of the best seasons that any 2021-drafted college pitcher did, despite being a 5th-round pick out of Villanova. He has a good fastball and ended up with a 2.97 ERA in 139 innings between A+ and AA, raising his prospect status significantly and positioning him for an MLB debut in 2023.

McGreevy was the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2021 out of UCSB. Like Graceffo, he split time between A+ and AA, but didn’t have as much success - finishing with a 3.99 ERA and not missing quite as many bats. But as a first-round drafted 6’4" starter with four pitches, the A’s will have plenty to like. He has mid-rotation potential, although his most recent season was a mild disappointment for the 18th pick in the draft. Either way, quantity matters when it comes to pitching prospects, so adding anyone with his pedigree is welcome.

Connor Thomas is the kind of durable, fringy lefty that the A’s have always liked. Not all that valuable, but he’d be a pretty standard throw-in type if we make a deal with St. Louis. He’s pitching well in the Arizona Fall League.

Alec Burleson hit .330 at AAA last year, but as a corner bat he just didn’t walk enough (6.2% in 470 plate appearances). He made his MLB debut for the Cardinals, and he’ll be 24 next season. He was drafted in the 2nd round in 2020. He’s kinda interesting, but I don’t want to pull over and get him, since we already have a Seth Brown at home. I don’t like him as much as some of the other LH outfield options we could get from Cleveland (more on that later).

Nolan Gorman is a big prize, as he hit .226/.300/.420 and smoked 14 homers in 89 games as a rookie in 2022. The Cardinals crammed him at second base, where he isn’t good, because Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt are taking up the corners in St. Louis for years to come (Arenado has already opted in to the remaining five years of his contract). Gorman could be a trade candidate, or the Cardinals could use him at DH now that Albert Pujols is retiring. He’s a left-handed hitter, which would be useful for us. As with Mead, though, I’m not enthused with the idea of using Murphy to add another infielder.

Comparing to the Olson trade, I’d say Liberatore is equal to Pache, Thomas is equal to Estes, McGreevy is equal to Cusick, Graceffo is equal to Langeliers, and Burleson is what we get for the extra year. OR Gorman swaps out Graceffo and Burleson and adds up to Langeliers plus the additional year. At least that was my thought process on these.

*Sean Murphy to the Cleveland Guardians for Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen, Will Brennan, George Valera, Angel Martinez, and Xzavion Curry


Sean Murphy to the Cleveland Guardians for Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen, Will Brennan, Gavin Williams, and Angel Martinez


*winner!

The Guardians are the clear best fit for Murphy. Their catchers hit a combined .180/.267/.267 last year (56 wRC+). They still won the division, but they have an obvious hole at catcher and a deep farm system. Just as important, they have a crowded 40-man roster and they’ll need to consolidate some of it.

Angel Martinez hit .278/.378/.471 as a 20 year-old with a 76/52 K/BB ratio in 101 games between A+ and AA. He’s a switch-hitting shortstop who needs to be protected from the rule 5 draft. He’s definitely a few years away from the majors, but we need all the talent we can get, and using him as a piece for Murphy might be the best option for the Guardians as they determine who to roster.

Xzavion Curry has been productive in the minors since being drafted out of Georgia Tech in the 7th round of the 2019 draft. He made his MLB debut in 2022 and seems ready for a swingman role, or valuable AAA depth. Again, a useful piece but also one the Guardians may want to cash in on in order to free up a 40-man spot. Also, I like athletes named Curry.

Gavin Williams was drafted one spot ahead of Ryan Cusick, two spots ahead of Max Muncy, and four spots behind Gunnar Hoglund in the 2021 draft. He’s a college-drafted RH starter out of Eastern Carolina University who carved up A+ and AA, with a 1.96 ERA in 115 innings in 2022. He struck out 149 batters and walked 40 in those 115 innings. He’s one of the best pitching prospects in baseball and definitely fits our model.

Tanner Bibee was, wait for it, a college-drafted pitcher in the 2021 draft. There were a lot of good ones in that draft, I suppose. He was drafted in the 5th round out of CSU Fullerton, a school the A’s have liked historically, going back to the Kurt Suzuki and Mark Kotsay days. Not to mention Matt Chapman and Khris Davis. Bibee was dominant between A+ and AA in 2022, with 167 strikeouts in 132.2 innings, to go with just 27 walks. He had a 2.17 ERA. He’s another 2023 debut candidate, and extremely talented.

Logan Allen was drafted in 2020 and had a great 2021, then a bit of a hiccup at AAA in 2022. He’s another college-drafted starter, but unlike Williams and Bibee, he’s a lefty with a great changeup who relies more on command than velocity. Durable, close-to-the-majors lefty with good command and a quality changeup? That’s an Oakland Athletics trade target if there ever was one.

George Valera is one of my favorite targets. He’s like a poor man’s Juan Soto, in that he’s very swaggy left-handed outfielder who draws a lot of walks. He has a 15% walk rate in 2021 and 2022 combined. He hit .260/.405/.505 in 2021, then .250/.353/.463 in 2022 as a 21 year-old. His batting averages are a bit of a concern, but he knows the strike zone and has plenty of power. He doesn’t handle lefties as well as you’d like, but he has some defensive value and at worst could be a long-end platoon outfielder with patience and power (and swag). He might be a little young to be a 2023 option, although he is already on the 40-man roster and reached AAA last year.

Will Brennan is a 25 year-old left-handed outfielder who can play all three spots, and has elite contact skills. He struck out just 11.6% of the time in 590 plate appearances between AA and AAA last year, putting up a .314/.371/.479 line before getting called up to the majors in September. Well-rounded, major league ready left-handed outfielders are needed badly in Oakland. I’d ask for Brennan in any trade with the Guardians and happily plug him into the Opening Day lineup next spring.

The Guardians saw Steven Kwan emerge alongside fellow Gold Glove winner Myles Straw in the outfield last year. They also have guys like Oscar Gonzalez and Nolan Jones, in addition to Brennan, in the outfield. It’s a position of strength from which they can deal if they decided they want Sean Murphy.

There are so many possible permutations that make sense here. The Guardians have the pitching depth, the left-handed outfielders, and the need at catcher to make a deal easy to see. I didn’t even mention guys like Tyler Freeman, Brayan Rocchio, or Gabriel Arias. They also have a slew of other rule 5-eligible arms with decent minor league production who we could maybe target in smaller deals, like Nick Mikolajchak, Andrew Misiaszek, Joey Cantillo, Kevin Kelly, and Tim Herrin. None of these arms are probably gonna light the world on fire, but with the amount of open space on our 40-man roster, we should be looking to Cleveland to try to add as many pieces as they can part with. Maybe I just spent too much time looking at their system and now I’ve convinced myself that all of these fringe reliever prospects are as good as their minor league stats say they are. Dangerous thing, minor league stats are.

I’ve settled on the six-player Bibee/Allen/Brennan/Valera/Curry/Martinez return for Murphy, with four players coming over getting added to the 40-man roster. It’s a massive return, in terms of quantity, but I think it makes sense for the Guardians to clear out their MLB-ready roster to fill their catching hole with the Ohio-native Murph. Comparing it to Olson, I’d put Valera equal to Langeliers, Allen equal to Pache, Bibee equal to Cusick, Curry equal to Estes, and Brennan + Martinez as the price for the extra year. It’s probably a touch steep from Cleveland’s end, but I think I’d still do it if I were them, upgrading by at least 5 wins at catcher as they try to defend the AL Central and clearing out three spots on the 40-man.

Non-Murphy Trades

Cooper Bowman to the New York Yankees for Josh Donaldson and $20M

THE RETURN OF THE KING. I don’t know if any bridges were burnt in the fateful 2014-2015 offseason, but I do think that Josh Donaldson is the perfect fit as the primary third baseman and occasional DH for this team, in the last year of his contract. The Veteran Leader spot is open, and we do need someone to play the Trevor Plouffe role while Zack Gelof and Brett Harris prepare in AAA. My mind is set on a Brett Harris - Nick Allen - Zack Gelof 3B/SS/2B alignment, and that’s what has animated most of my roster decisions here. I don’t need any long-term assets added on the infield. Maybe all three of Harris, Allen, and Gelof will be stars, and maybe none of them will be any good, but this is the position where the organization seems to be right now.

For now, though, third base is ugly. The A’s used an awful hodge-podge of minor league filler at the hot corner after Kevin Smith played his way off the roster, with Vimael Machin, Jonah Bride, and Sheldon Neuse splitting most of the time. It was bad. A’s third basemen were worth -1.7 fWAR last year.

Donaldson has $30M left in guaranteed money next year, and the Yankees seem to have soured on him. He wasn’t great at the plate last year, but his defense is still solid. The Yankees have a bunch of infield prospects ready to go, and they might spend on a free agent shortstop as well. As such, Donaldson is superfluous at best and he’s not worth his salary. Send Cooper Bowman back to them and have them eat most of the salary. There are worse ways to spend $10M next year. I still love Donaldson, dammit.



The Free Agent

Kevin Kiermaier, 10 years, $250M

He’s finally a free agent! Welcome to Oakland, Kevin! OK I’m kidding, he’s no longer very good and there’s not really a need. The timing just isn’t right. Alas, Kevin, we could have been so special together…

The Real Free Agents

Mitch Haniger 3 years, $30M

Haniger has local connections, as he’s from San Jose and played college ball at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. I went to school there briefly as well, and let me tell you - calling it "Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo" is an amateur move. Nobody knows where "Pomona" is or why there’s another Cal Poly there.

So Haniger got drafted out of Cal Poly and he’s a quality major league outfielder, and he’s a free agent for the first time entering his age-32 season. Not an ideal age, and his contract season could have gone better. Injuries limited him to 57 games, but he hit 39 home runs in 2021 and still has 3-4 WAR potential in the immediate future. He lost a few years of his career to a rather, um, unfortunate testicular injury so at least maybe there’s a little less wear and tear on his legs than there are for most players his age.

He’s probably crammed out of Seattle, where they have depth in the outfield, and other places where they could choose to spend money (2B, notably). I doubt a 32 year-old hitter is looking for a one-year pillow contract. This looks like his only chance to land a multi-year deal, and we’ll offer him the Billy Butler Special, three years and $30M. We have a history of giving out 3-year, $30M contracts to right-handed hitters whose teams just went on a playoff run for the first time in decades. We also have a history with right-handed corner outfielders with local ties, in Stephen Piscotty. Neither of those experiences ended all that well, but this time it’ll be different, I promise.

I see Haniger’s free agency as roughly comparable to that of another San Jose kid, Mark Canha, who hit free agency entering his age 33 season and landed a 2-year, $26.5M guarantee with a $9.5M third year club option. Guaranteeing a third year would probably get us over the hump for a player with Haniger’s injury history.

Rafael Montero, 3 years, $21M

He looked pretty electric in October. It’s a very weak free agent market for relievers, especially now that Edwin Diaz is sticking with the Mets. Another three-year guarantee here could land us a late-inning reliever. These are the kinds of things you can do when you have no salary commitments.


Sean Manaea 1 year, $10M

When we sent him to San Diego, I thought the return for Sean Manaea was a little light. But Manaea was so bad for the Padres that it still ended up looking like a steal for us. He had some good years in Oakland, and he’s an obvious candidate for a one-year pillow contract. It’s proven far easier to lure free agent pitchers to the Coliseum for such contracts than hitters, and familiar surroundings will be an added benefit for Sean. He earned $10M last year and we’ll let him take a mulligan on his walk year with the same salary. He’ll be 31 next season, so a good year and he’s still well positioned for a multi-year contract in the future. He could be an attractive trade chip in July if things go poorly for the A’s.

Andrew Chafin, 2 years $17M

He seemed to like it in Oakland, I guess. Again, these are the kinds of contracts we should be looking to give out. The joys of having no guaranteed money on the books.

He opted out of his contract with the Tigers, which would have paid him $6.5M in 2023. He was excellent in 2022, and he’s probably the best LH reliever on the free agent market. Offering him $8.5M per year for two years is a competitive offer for a 33 year-old reliever. I’m not sure LH reliever is a place of need for us, with Puk and Moll looking good in 2022, but it’s not my money and pitchers love Oakland, so here we are.

Add them to the arbitration eligible Tony Kemp ($4M), Ramon Laureano ($4M), and Paul Blackburn ($2M) plus Donaldson ($10M) and then round out the rest of the roster with minimum salary players ($720K) and you get a $69M payroll for 2023. Nice! I got in under my made-up $80M budget. Maybe you guys can have fun and add another piece, or maybe try to land Montero and/or Haniger on a 2-year contract for a higher annual salary. But the basics of this team are pretty much where my head is.

Full roster

Shea Langeliers

Seth Brown

Tony Kemp

Nick Allen

Josh Donaldson

Will Brennan

Ramon Laureano

Mitch Haniger

Dermis Garcia

Jonah Bride

Cristian Pache

Kevin Smith

Backup Catcher

Sean Manaea

Cole Irvin

Paul Blackburn

James Kaprielian

J.P. Sears

Xzavion Curry

Andrew Chafin

Dany Jimenez

Zach Jackson

Sam Moll

Domingo Acevedo

A.J. Puk

Rafael Montero

Your 2022 Oakland Athletics

Vs. RHP

Kemp 2B

Donaldson DH

Brown 1B

Haniger RF

Laureano CF

Brennan LF

Langeliers C

Smith 3B

Allen SS


Pache

Garcia

Bride

Catcher

Vs. LHP

Laureano RF

Donaldson 3B

Haniger LF

Langeliers C

Garcia DH

Brown 1B

Smith 2B

Pache CF

Allen SS


Kemp

Brennan

Bride

Catcher

Rotation

Manaea

Blackburn

Irvin

Kaprielian

Sears


Bullpen

Montero

Puk

Jackson

Jimenez

Acevedo

Moll

Chafin

Curry

The rotation has pretty limited upside, but we’ve got a lot of pitching in the upper minors incubating away, led by Waldichuk-Bibee-Allen-Martinez at AAA and Cusick-Ginn-Hoglund right behind them, presumably starting the year at AA. Mason Miller and Hogan Harris are also in the mix. Also, my understanding was that Luis Medina is out of options, but in my research on this project I saw on Roster Resource that he has one option remaining. Hopefully that’s true. Either way, lots of interesting depth here.

Kevin Smith as an everyday player could be a disaster again, but those last few weeks at AAA have me willing to give him one more shot while we await Zack Gelof and Brett Harris. Should he faceplant, Jordan Diaz is still an option - albeit one who struggled defensively. Seth Brown emerged last year as a legitimate power threat, giving Tyler Soderstrom a bar to clear if he wants a spot in Oakland soon.

Jonah Bride and Vimael Machin are also around as depth. Nobody said this team was gonna be flawless. The backup catcher spot will probably need to be filled from the outside. There aren’t many left-handed catchers around right now. My old favorite, Jason Castro, is a free agent, but he might be done for good. I have no strong opinions on the backup catcher spot, I’m sure whoever we get will be adequate.

Will Brennan has made his MLB debut already and is ready for his shot. George Valera is waiting in AAA, readying himself to at worst be the long end of a platoon with Cristian Pache. Laureano bouncing back would be good for his trade value, if nothing else. Between Laureano, Pache, and Valera, you have a lot of variance but also a lot of talent, which is all we can ask for at this point. Plugging one spot in the outfield with Haniger raises the floor of this group significantly. If everything breaks right, an outfield and DH setup of Mitch Haniger, Cristian Pache, Will Brennan, and George Valera could be very good in 2024 at least.

Looking at the roster, a lot of the A’s immediate fortunes are still somewhat tied to Kevin Smith and Cristian Pache. Not that we’re banking on them, but they both still have the kind of talent and MLB-readiness that we’ve seen come together for lesser prospects than them. I wouldn’t be surprised if either of them turns into a legitimate starting caliber player. But unlike last year, this plan at least provides some other options around them, leaving open the possibility that both of them can settle in as useful bench pieces (I still reeeeally wish Pache had another option year…)


Conclusion

I think I’ve managed to balance veterans and prospects in a way that makes sense for the 2023 Oakland A’s. I’m starting from the assumption that Harris-Allen-Gelof is going to emerge as a playoff-caliber infield as soon as 2024, so I didn’t want to upset that too much. There may be a better way to build an A’s team for less than $80M this winter, but I couldn’t come up with one.

Any thoughts? This A’s season was terrible. Worse, it felt irrelevant. There wasn’t much of anything to be interested in. Perhaps it was the lockout that hampered the rebuild. The A’s have a certain way of doing things, but it certainly didn’t feel like a typical "bad A’s" season in 2022. Hopefully this is the first step towards renewed relevance and excitement for Oakland baseball.