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FromGCtoGM’s Offseason Plan: (Fantasy) Island of Misfit Toys

At the start of the 2022 season, it was clear that the Oakland A’s would lose a lot of games. As a fan who was able to squint at the 2015 Opening Day roster fresh off the heartbreak of the Wild Card Game and say "if everything breaks right, that’s a good team" (it didn’t and it wasn’t), the one thing I missed most from Opening Day 2022 wasn’t any of the individual players that were traded away or went elsewhere in free agency, it was that ability to, albeit foolishly, hope that there was a potentially good team lurking. It was the ability to look at a roster full of bounce back candidates, young players with either tools and pedigree or under the radar statistical success in the minors, pitchers that either succeeded in spite of their peripherals or looked to need just a bit of luck to break out, and think this could be the A’s year to shock everyone.

As has been mentioned here countless times, one area in which the A’s failed to attempt to upgrade their roster last year was in bringing in established veterans. There was no Rich Hill or Scott Kazmir, a player with a background of success who was available for cheap because there was the chance it was all a mirage in a short sample. They don’t all have to be Frank Thomas, but there wasn’t even a Billy Butler. Stephen Vogt’s homerun to end his career in Oakland was a great moment, and it was undoubtedly a silver lining to a season that ended with the A’s in last place in the American League, but I was never under the impression that Vogt or Jed Lowrie were going to find success in Oakland last year. They were clearly players that were not going to provide steady, consistent, starting caliber level play throughout the year. I want to find some players that will.

My goal for this Offseason Plan is to put together a roster balancing players with upside and others with a decent floor, where we can squint and see a year of competitive play without spending too much to make it unrealistic or trading away too much of our future to damage those years where we are planning to contend with our current core building blocks in the minors. I want to keep the long term plan in place while giving fans hope for a winning season.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about prospects and my personal view is that they have become overvalued, leaving position players that can be counted on for 2-4 WAR and 500 at bats, and solid if unspectacular pitchers, available at a discount. You’ll likely recognize most if not all of these players. I am not trying to locate a diamond in the rough. I’m trying to take players that other teams don’t want because they are chasing after superstars and put together a team that will play close to .500 ball and maybe, if anyone here breaks out, provide us with midseason trade candidates (for those players in their contract year) or potential building blocks (for those players with years of team control still left).

Some Free Agents to Consider:

I don’t expect the A’s to sign many free agents. My initial list of potential free agents included Joc Pederson, who I suspected might be affordable, but as he is contracted to make $19.65 million next year via a qualifying offer and that is where the free agent market is set, I don’t think there is going to be much in the A’s price range available. Nevertheless, if any of the following players are available for one or two years at AAVs around, but never exactly, $10 million, they are worth a look, but they do not figure into my plan as drafted:

Josh Bell – the A’s are in need of a 1B that can hit, which Bell did last year, putting up a 128 OPS+ and 3.0 bWAR. The reason he might fall to the A’s is his weak end of the year following his trade to San Diego, but I expect him to go for more than the A’s are willing to pay. As evidence of this, MLB Trade Rumors has estimated his next contract at four years, $64 million. And for a player that will be 30 next year and has a history of inconsistency, he would not fit the A’s budget or timeline with that contract.

Michael Brantley – A popular A’s free agent target on this site for years, Brantley has continued to put up good numbers, but 2022 was the first year since 2017 where his playing time was seriously limited due to injuries. After playing only 64 games, perhaps Brantley will finally be affordable to the A’s who could utilize his professional hitting approach in their outfield, which could use the stability.

Matt Carpenter – Carpenter only played 47 games last season due to injuries, but he put up a .305/.412/.727/.1.138 slash line good for a 217 OPS+ and 2.4 bWAR. This is the closest thing I can imagine to a Rich Hill-in-2015 short sample on the hitter’s side. Will he be healthy and, if so, will he continue to hit like that in 2023? Probably not to both. But if he does, the A’s might get the free agent with the best bat for the buck.

Mitch Haniger – With a similar story to many of the above, Haniger was limited by injuries last year, appearing in only 57 games. It wasn’t the first time in his career that the injury bug has bitten Haniger, which may make some teams weary of him. At 32 years old, would he be willing to take a one year bounce back deal to re-establish value? If so, the A’s have the opening in the outfield to give him all the at bats he could want. But the Coliseum is not the best park for a hitter, and MLB Trade Rumors has Haniger estimated to receive a three year, $39 million deal, which would be more money, and a longer contract, than the A’s would likely want to give out.

Sean Manaea – Can Manaea be the pitching Jed Lowie – a player who seems to only find success in Oakland? Manaea’s numbers on the year are admittedly damaged by a couple late blowups, but they’re not pretty: -0.9 bWAR, 4.96 ERA, and 4.53 FIP, each easily a career worst. Maybe that’s not enough to scare off teams from signing Manaea, or maybe it is enough to scare off the A’s, but where the Coliseum hurts hitters trying to build value, it helps pitchers. If Manaea is looking for a short term deal to demonstrate that he can pitch well again, he could do worse than Oakland, which he is familiar with and where he has had success.

Trey Mancini – Aside from his 2020 absence while battling colon cancer, Mancini has played in no less than 143 games each year since 2017 and has posted a 113 OPS+ for his career. He may not reach his 2019 .291/.364./.535/.899 peak again, but he has been a reliable hitter that the A’s could use in a 1B/DH/OF fill in role to pair as a right handed counterpart to Seth Brown. He struggled in his 51 games in Houston last year, which carried over into the postseason, and that tough set of games might make him available to Oakland at a discount price.

Jean Segura – Representing a potential upgrade over just everybody on the left side of the A’s current infield, Segura is a high floor player who consistently hits at a level slightly above average and has played second base at a respectable level recently. He won’t be any team’s everyday shortstop in 2023, but he has limited experience at 3B and could be similar to Michael Brantley, providing a year or two of stability in the infield while the A’s audition young players around him, potentially for less than $10 million a year for one or two years.

The Actual Plan:

Free Agency:

Drew Rucinski, Two years, $9MM

As perhaps the only free agent that wasn’t non-tendered that the A’s have been suggested as a serious potential candidate to sign, Rucinski, as noted by MLB Trade Rumors, has spent the last four years with the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization, pitching more effectively than ever before in his career, with at least 30 starts and an ERA that hovered right around 3.00 each year, even reaching 31 starts and dipping to a 2.97 ERA in 2022. It is very possible that Rucinski is simply more effective against a lower level of competition, but after seeing Miles Mikolas struggle in MLB, discover something in his three years pitching in Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, and return to MLB a great pitcher at a cheap price, I can see the A’s willing to pay for this particular lottery ticket in the hopes of strengthening their rotation and/or having a trade chip for the next two seasons.

Trades:

Trade 1: Josh Donaldson (-20.9 BTV), Isiah Kiner-Falefa (0.3 BTV), Gleyber Torres (4.6 BTV) and $16 Million from the New York Yankees for PTBNL or Cash Considerations

BWH presented his case for Josh Donaldson previously, but for only $4.9 million in BTV more, the A’s could add two other starter-level pieces to their infield in Torres and Kiner-Falefa. It would be a nice change for the A’s to rewrite the script and take payroll off of the Yankees hands, allowing the Yankees to free up some funds to re-sign Aaron Judge, while simultaneously taking on solid players that the Yankees are looking to replace on their roster with one of the available superstar free agent infielders.

Kiner-Falefa is not a long term answer at SS, but in this trade, he is effectively a one year, $6 million insurance plan on Nick Allen, giving us a 3 bWAR placeholder and allowing us to option Nick Allen, if necessary, to AAA to continue to work on his hitting. There is certainly a time coming for Allen where he will be forced to sink or swim at the plate, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be 2023 Opening Day, and Kiner-Falefa is a cheap, solid player that the Yankees would be giving the A’s effectively for free, as long as we take on his contract.

Gleyber Torres has a bit more upside – he is available through 2024 via arbitration, he is due ~ $9.8 million this year based on his second year arbitration estimates, and he put up an above average .257/.310/.451/.761 slash line last year worth 4.1 bWAR that would have made him the third best hitter on the A’s by OPS+ (behind Murphy and Brown), and most valuable player by bWAR overall. His BTV is only $4.6 million and trade rumors have suggested he is available, with the Mariners among the teams interested. Moving him allows the Yankees to free up further payroll and allows the A’s to take the whole starting left side of a Yankees infield (minus DJ LeMahieu) that won 99 games last season.

As for what is going back to the Yankees, BTV suggests that without receiving anything back, the Yankees would already need to include ~$16 million to balance this deal, due to Josh Donaldson’s net negative value of nearly $21 million. This suggests that whatever PTBNL or cash considerations the A’s would have to include would be negligible.

Trade 1+: Wandy Peralta (3.6 BTV) and Frankie Montas (10 BTV) to the Athletics in Exchange for ~$13.6 Million Less in Cash Considerations

Admittedly, Trade 1 is already unlikely, as it calls for the A’s to take on $36 million in payroll for 2023, getting back $16 million of that from the Yankees, and still needing to either pay Donaldson $16 million in 2024 or pay him an $8 million buyout at that time, while having Torres for his final arbitration year which the A’s might determine to be too expensive. Nevertheless, if the A’s are willing to take on more payroll to boost their ballclub, and if the Yankees are willing to trade Montas back to the A’s for nothing but cost savings, the A’s could get back their ace and add a potential closer to their bullpen in the same deal. With Montas due ~$7.7 million and Peralta due ~$3.1 million in their respective final years of arbitration, this trade would amount to a massive payroll dump by the Yankees amounting to ~$50 million. The A’s almost assuredly aren’t doing that, but if they were willing to stretch their budget, they could rebuild their infield and add back their strongest starting pitcher from 2022 and potentially the new strongest member of their bullpen in Peralta, a lefty who pitched 56.1 innings last year with a 2.72 ERA, a 2.86 FIP, and a 1.047 WHIP. In what will be his final year of arbitration, Peralta will be 31 years old and, like Montas, represents a potential trade chip at mid-season. Perhaps the best way to sell this trade to ownership is with the promise that any player producing at an above average level will be gone at mid-season, so the A’s can expect that they will not be on the hook for the full salary of many of the players they are acquiring.

Optional Additional Trades:

This team would already be substantially better, at least hypothetically, with Rucinski, Donaldson, Torres, and Kiner-Falefa added to it. Even more so with the potential additions of Montas and Peralta. If the A’s were able to add any of the free agents I suggested above in addition, with maybe the most likely being Brantley and Carpenter, you could have something resembling the following roster:

Pitchers

Position Players

Irvin (SP)

Murphy (C)

Blackburn (SP)

Langeliers (C)

Waldichuk (SP)

Carpenter (1B/DH)

Sears (SP)

Brown (1B/DH/OF)

Rucinski (SP)

Torres (2B)

Kaprielian (SP or Swingman)

Kiner-Falefa (SS)

Puk (RP or Swingman)

Donaldson (3B/DH)

Acevedo (RP)

Kemp (2B/LF/UTIL)

Jackson (RP)

Pache (CF)

Jimenez (RP)

Laureano (RF)

Medina (RP)

Brantley (LF)

Moll (RP)

*Allen (SS)

Payamps (RP)

*Diaz (DH/IF)

*Spots for best performing optionable bench spots (Rooker, Garcia, Capel, Machin, etc.)

The above is a decent start for a respectable team. If you add Montas and Peralta in, the team looks a bit more formidable as, admittedly, the pitching staff has not seen much change or improvement from last year’s otherwise, though we can hope on continued growth from Waldichuk and Sears. Further, if Murphy is traded for major league-ready talent, any part of the above could be bolstered and allow for dreaming on Langeliers’s potential.

Nevertheless, I see the possibility to add further pieces in either stable veterans or bounce back candidates through additional trades.

Trade 2: Acquire Joey Wendle (2.6 BTV) from Miami Marlins

The return of the king part deux! After arguably giving up on Wendle too early in his career, the A’s have an opportunity to bring him back and add further stability to their infield. While I am not listing specific pieces going back to Miami here, the A’s could likely find 2.6 BTV worth of players to send back (the equivalent of Brett Harris or Jonah Bride or Martinez/Logue/Oller depending on what Miami is looking for). I can understand not wanting to part with Harris or Bride, who each might turn into 6 years of Joey Wendle anyway, but there is assuredly a combination of cash considerations and smaller pieces the A’s could send over to Miami to make it work. In return would be Wendle, who after starting out hot through the first month of the season last year, missed the month of June entirely, but finished the year healthy from July on, and appeared in 101 games overall. At 33 years old, Wendle is likely not going to have a career year, but in his final year of arbitration, he is estimated to receive a salary of only $5.4 million, effectively making him a near statistical doppelganger to Kiner-Falefa, putting up an 86+ OPS in 2022 to nearly mirror Kiner-Falefa’s 84+. He does, however, bat left handed, which could make him a strong platoon partner for Donaldson, allowing both to split time at third base, with Wendle available at second and shortstop as well. For his career, Wendle has a 107 tOPS+ against right handed pitchers and a 76+ against left handed pitchers, which would allow him to fill in on an otherwise right handed heavy lineup. With Wendle added to the roster, Nick Allen would likely find himself in AAA trying to force his way up or waiting on one of the other infielders to be traded at midseason to open a spot for him on the major league roster.

Trade 3: David Fletcher (-1.8 BTV) and Jo Adell (1.9 BTV) from Los Angeles Angels for PTBNL or Cash Considerations

While trading for all of these infielders in conjunction is highly unlikely, the nearly perfectly balancing trade values of these two from the Angels deserves a look from the A’s. Fletcher has not looked nearly as strong since his 2020 season where he put up a .319/.376/.425/.801 slash line, accumulated 2 bWAR in 49 games, and earned MVP votes. Since then, his hitting has plummeted to an OPS+ of 70 in 2021 and a 77 in 2022, which also included surgery to repair his adductor muscles and in which he was limited to only 61 games. Nevertheless, his defensive utility made him worth as much as Tony Kemp last season by measure of bWAR. While both have demonstrated higher levels than they showed last year, Fletcher would be available on effectively a two year, $12.5 million deal under his current contract, with affordable team options or buyouts available in both 2026 and 2027. If he rediscovers his form, the A’s have up to five years of a useful infield utility player. On top of that, because Fletcher’s trade value is negative, Jo Adell could be added for free. Adell might be another Franklin Barreto – though admittedly with higher pedigree having ranked as high as the number 2 prospect in the game prior to the 2020 season by Baseball Prospectus and ranked as the number 13 prospect by Baseball America pre-2021 – in that both were well regarded prospects who hit well in the minors at a young age but never, up to this point, learned to master major league pitching. But for now, he is a once blue chip prospect that has lost all his luster following a total of 522 unsuccessful at bats at the major league level across three seasons before even turning 24. He has upside, plays all three outfield positions, has been squeezed out in Los Angeles, still has an option year, and can be added to the A’s for nearly free.

A couple final options:

There are two other names worth mentioning that combine youth and bounce back/unrealized potential. First is Jarred Kelenic in Seattle, who has seemingly mastered AAA pitching, but can’t (or won’t, if reports about his coachability problems are to be believed) adjust to the major league level, is being pushed off the roster of his current team, and comes with huge pedigree – having ranked as the number four prospect by numerous sources prior to the 2021 season. Kelenic is seen more as a cautionary tale rather than a realistic buy low on Athletics Nation, but he represents a once gleaming prospect with now comparably miniscule trade value (5.6 BTV). He could realistically be acquired in a trade built around either James Kaprielian (4.8 BTV) or Joey Estes (4.6 BTV). Further, as a left handed hitter, he represents a potential platoon partner for Pache, who is out of options, thereby giving each of them the best chance to succeed at the major league level as at least role players when paired together.

At a similar trade value as Kelenic is Nick Madrigal (5.0 BTV). Hampered by injuries the last two years, but capable of putting together an above average batting line and a batting average above .300 at the major league level, as evidenced by his first 73 games in the majors spread across the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Madrigal had similar blue chip status to Kelenic and Adell as the fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft and the number 12 overall prospect in the game prior to the 2021 season, according to Baseball Prospectus. He is, however, coming off a nightmarish 2022 in which he only played 59 games and hit for less slugging than on base percentage, with more strikeouts and less power than the year before. He is not a free agent until 2027 and is arbitration eligible for the first time this year as a Super 2 player, likely to earn around $1.1 million.

Final Thoughts:

While each of these trades is unlikely, either because they require the A’s to take on huge swaths of payroll for players in their final year before free agency or because they bring in players with frequent injury issues and/or who, to this point, look like simple busts, evidence that baseball is hard and even the most can’t miss prospects often, in fact, are misses. But all of the players listed above bring either a high floor and stability, having demonstrated their ability to play well at the major league level and a good chance they can do it again in 2023, thereby pushing the A’s towards relevance, or the pedigree and minor league track record to suggest a change in scenery and/or coaching approach could unearth their unrealized potential. Some of these trades are mutually exclusive, as the A’s are unlikely to bring in half a dozen middle infielders, but they are each an option, and would require the A’s current prospects to push for a roster spot, rather than be given one and flounder when the games count, as occurred all throughout last season. By using some of the above, you can mix and match whichever players you believe in the most and build a 26 man roster for less than $80 million without sacrificing any of the future core. For example:

Pitcher

Salary (Millions)

Position Player

Salary (Millions)

Acevedo (RP)

0.72

Murphy (C)

3.5

Blackburn (Swingman)

1.9

Langeliers (C)

0.72

Irvin (SP)

0.72

Brown (1B/DH/LF)

0.72

Jackson (RP)

0.72

Kemp (2B/LF)

3.9

Jimenez (RP)

0.72

Torres (2B)

9.8

Medina (RP)

0.72

Kiner-Falefa (SS)

6

Moll (RP)

0.72

Donaldson (3B)

22 (-12.5 from Yankees)

Puk (RP)

0.72

Pache (CF)

0.72

Sears (SP)

0.72

Laureano (RF)

3.6

Waldichuk (SP)

0.72

Kelenic (OF)

0.72

Kaprielian (Swingman)

0.72

Allen (SS)

0.72

Peralta (RP)

~3.1

Wendle (3B/2B/SS)

5.4

Rucinski (SP)

~4.5

Diaz (IF/DH)

0.72

Total (Pitchers)

$16.7MM

Total (Position)

$46.02MM

Total (All):

$62.72MM (plus $8M Donaldson buyout in 2024)

Adding 14 minimum wage players to the above adds $10.08MM and creates a 40 man roster at a sum total of $72.8 million, plus a potential buyout of $8M for Donaldson in 2024. Admittedly, Rosenthal’s deferred payments would have to be added to that figure, but for comparison, the A’s total payroll in 2022 was ~$61 million, per Spotrac, and the average total payroll in MLB was $164 million last year. The A’s don’t need a league average payroll to give us hope, but they should be asked to provide some level of investment to develop a team we can at least squint at with optimism.