You’re David Forst and you already have the disadvantage of apparently not being all that great at your job. You felt you “had” to trade Sean Murphy and so you accepted Kyle Muller in a tepid package, and then listened to Keith Lieppman right after his bout of hysterical blindness caused him to anoint Esteury Ruiz the “most complete minor leaguer I’ve seen this year!”
Thing is, Forst is like a chef who is given a butter knife and an aging cow and is told to make veal cutlets. In fairness, that’s a doable job since you can reasonably trade the butter knife for Kyle Muller but still.
The A’s General Manager (not Manger, we’re done with the veal analogies) has a tiny payroll and orders not to spend it and the smallest analytics/scouting department to identify talent. So if you’re the A’s GM these days, you can’t afford anyone but you also have little idea which cheaper players are any good.
That’s how you end up with Aledmys Diaz on a small-but-still-bloated contract (for his skill level) and Esteury Ruiz (the most one-skill player I know). Only the desperate and unwanted will sign and who knows exactly how the front office is going about assessing minor league talent.
The saddest thing? It is only about to get worse, as Forst tries to lure free agents to “crowds of 4,000-ish next year and then we’re really not sure where the hell we’ll call home for 3 years but it might be one place or it might be two different ones and just to feel it out how do you feel about 116 degree weather in an uncovered stadium?” If you thought Shohei Ohtani snubbed the A’s the first time he was a free agent...
So as the hot stove heats up following the owners meetings (“Rubber stamps! Getcher monogrammed rubber stamps! Collect all 30!”), here are a couple thoughts about what the A’s might be able to do to improve their roster this off-season.
Free Agent Target: Tim Anderson
Look, if they’re good and also good recently they’re not going to be affordable, nor are they going to consider choosing Oakland right now. So you are starting the hunt by looking for the best flawed players money can buy.
Anderson’s main flaw is that in 2023 he was inexplicably dreadful. Other than that he’s great. He’s also a true shortstop, which is a position of need in 2024 with Nick Allen boasting a career 58 wRC+ (.214/.260/.289) and Darell Hernaiz probably needing at least half a year of seasoning after he wore down and showed roughness around the edges at the end of 2023.
Let’s remember just how good Anderson is when the year is not divisible by 2023. (With this in mind I am cautioning teams NOT to consider signing him if he is a free agent in 4046.) In 2019, over a full season Anderson batted .335/.357/.508, then showed it to be not a fluke but rather a norm in the shortened 2020 season when he hit .322/.357/.529.
Anderson hasn’t reached those heights since, but in 2021 and 2022 he was solid, once again batting over .300 each season (.309 and .301). Meanwhile, his fielding at the game’s toughest position, while below average, was perfectly playable and well worth the bat — kind of like Jed Lowrie in his first couple go-arounds with the A’s, or Jhonny Peralta.
What happened in 2023??? No one really knows. He batted .245/.286/.296 and was the worst hitter against RHP in the league. Well, except for Nick Allen. His fielding also took a nosedive, with -16 DRS comprising half of the -32 DRS now seen over his 7.5 year career.
Basically, in 2023 Tim Anderson was a “bad fielding Nick Allen”. Before that he was pretty much “early years Hanley Ramirez”. The former might make him affordable and willing to consider Oakland for a bounce back season, while the latter could make him the steal of the off-season.
But could a player really have a season as bad as 2023 and then magically revert to being great again? The answer lies in another unsolved mystery who is a free agent this off-season: Cody Bellinger.
Here’s a guy who mashed .305/.406/.629 in 2019 on his way to a 7.8 WAR season but inexplicably hit like my aunt Bertha with COVID in 2021: .165/.240/.302. Given up for dead when he hit only .210/.265/.389 in 2022, Bellinger limped off to Chicago where he decided to resume being Cody Bellinger again. He hit .307/.356/.525 for the Cubs and is one of the most sought after position players on the FA market.
It’s not that Forst has no free agent money at all to spend. He offered a ghastly $14.5M to sign Aledmys Diaz for 2 years and another $9.5M for 2 years of the Jace Peterson Experience. Perhaps a chunk of available free agent cash will go to a “1 year bounce back” deal for Anderson as a bridge, hopefully, to Hernaiz.
Trades: Seth Brown and Paul Blackburn
The A’s don’t have any big trade chips, but maybe that’s ok. Sean Murphy and Matt Chapman begat Kyle Muller and Kevin Smith, while Sam Moll and Cole Irvin begat Darell Hernaiz and Joe Boyle.
Brown doesn’t have a ton of trade value — it’s about what Moll and Irvin had — but he has become arguably replaced by the signing of Miguel Andujar, who will make it in LF if he makes it anywhere on the diamond. JJ Bleday, cheaper, younger, and with more pedigree, can fill Brown’s lefty COF spot in his “one more chance” to show he can play at the MLB level.
Brown’s career .213 ISO will appeal to some teams in need of power and should be able to get back at least a lottery ticket — like Boyle, or a blocked player — like Hernaiz. You just hope to hit on that prospect like the A’s may have with those two.
Blackburn has more trade value, at least according the BTV site Forst seems to look at so he can do exactly the opposite. The A’s may not have established great starting pitching but they do have enough candidates that they can lose Blackburn without scrambling to cover starts.
Mason Miller (please stay healthy please stay healthy please stay healthy), Joe Boyle, Ken Waldichuk, and JP Sears are poised to anchor the rotation, and Luis Medina is out of options so he figures to be given every chance to take a step forward as a SP in 2024.
Joey Estes, following his cameo, will be in the rotation mix. Presumably Freddy Tarnok will be back healthy and vying for a starting job, and there are whispers out of the fall league that Royber Salinas could push for a spot out of camp. Even Hogan Harris and Adrian Martinez purport to still exist. Oh, and Muller is out of options. Fun.
While Blackburn’s veteran presence, and ability to stay healthy, could provide value to a young team there is also an argument to be made that in 2024 we need to “find out what the kids can do”. Yes Medina, Tarnok, Estes, Harris, Muller and Martinez may all range from “reliever” to “awful,” but also maybe two of them can be good and we need to know which two.
So in sum: if you were to push to sign Tim Anderson, and made INTELLIGENT trades of Brown and Blackburn, you could still wind up with a pretty fruitful off-season for the rebuilding cause as well as the cause to win as many games as you can in 2024, despite having every deck stacked against you as a GM.
That’s probably the approach I would take if I were in the lousy position Forst is in with regard to payroll and franchise instability. Agree? Disagree? Have a better idea? Do share!