From the 2020 shelter-in-place-a-palooza, when instead of flying to Phoenix on March 13th we just went ahead and shut the whole country down, I have airline credit for my once-annual spring training trip. Normally, by Xmas I would have reserved lodging but thanks to the lockout I have reserved no place to stay, no game tickets, have no flight booked, and no plans to attend a spring training no one can quite predict.
Meanwhile, my only regular season move has been to cancel a flight to Philadelphia for the weekend of April 8th-10th when the A’s are supposed to be playing the Phillies. Will they? Or will that series happen at a later date? Or not at all? Who knows, so scratch that — my tickets have now become just more airline credit, possibly for a trip to see my brother, a couple good friends, and other goodies Philly has to offer with or without baseball.
So from its most ardent fans — those who will flock to the Cactus or Grapefruit league, those who will fly to follow their team on the road — MLB and MLBPA are losing revenue, and more importantly interest, in the continuing battle to be the ones who are better at winning battles while losing the war.
One of these days, an agreement will be reached and weeks of transactions will be consummated in a matter of days. That means multiple A’s deals, most likely involving beloved players leaving and interesting prospects arriving, will overlap news cycles rather than what we had once anticipated: a new, chat-worthy transaction to digest and dissect, every week or two, filling the off-season with reason to stay engaged. Just another fail by an industry that relies on our interest but refuses to pique it.
Oh wellsies. Call me when there’s a CBA.
In the meantime my A’s wondering, because I know that eventually tradez will be happening, is whether the emphasis will be more on “MLB-ready AA and AAA talent” or “high risk/high upside A talent”. Oakland has sought both at different times, such as Sean Manaea, Dustin Fowler, and Jarrod Parker on one hand, Jesus Luzardo and Franklin Barreto on the other.
The lure of “MLB ready talent” is that you are not likely to be bad for as long, quickening the rebuild. Land an unproven Ramon Laureano here and a Jarrod Parker there, and you’re back in the hunt before you know it. And as the list shows, you are not necessarily grabbing entirely low-upside talent — Frankie Montas and James Kaprielian are examples along with Laureano and Manaea.
On the flip side, though, you can get not only more upside, but more quantity, from dipping into the younger and less proven pool of talent. Due to the high bust rate, more of these players are required as a guard against the risk that even the most talented players often struggle at higher levels or get injured by the time they are seasoned.
It’s worth noting that while occasionally an A-ball get has blossomed — think Josh Donaldson — most often the A’s have hit gold with the more polished prospects they have targeted and busted with the younger tries.
Imagine dealing a couple excellent starting pitchers and a beloved Matt, and languishing in last place for years waiting for the likes of Barreto, Luzardo, Lazarito, Beck, all teenagers when Oakland brought them into their minor league system.
Without question, from the group of Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, the A’s have enough talent to keep a couple of them and still add talent as strong as the next Montas, the next Manaea, the next Bassitt, Parker, and Laureano. If they were to hit on AAA prospects like they did with those five they could even conceivably deal three of their top players and come out of it as good, or better, in just the next couple years.
Or with the same haul to offer, Oakland could potentially get closer to a dozen prospects with just as much upside but in need of more seasoning. Hit on a Tatis or two and you might have a World Series contender as you welcome the first fans onto a gondola and into a new stadium. Miss and you can always just rebrand yourselves as the Baltimore Orioles.
So are the A’s setting their sights on less risk, sooner arrivals, and perhaps less upside along with fewer pieces? Or will they shoot for the moon and trust they will not whiff nearly as much as Lazarito and Beck have?
I am tempted to say go for the AAA talent just because it seems like the A’s are particularly good at it, and perhaps particularly bad at evaluating teenage talent. But it’s not an easy call, nor is it a binary one: Oakland could decide to balance the two equally.
What direction do you think the front office will go? And separately, what direction would you go if you were in charge? Some starting pitchers and some Matts are almost certainly about to be on the move, and never before has good scouting, and good strategy, been more essential.