Moving Toward a Unified Theory of the A’s Offseason

Perhaps all of the wheeling and dealing is not over just yet, but seeing as it’s been a few weeks since the Oakland A’s have made a trade, perhaps Billy Beane’s manic winter has wound down to something like a conclusion. Here’s more or less what’s happened so far:

In Out
Taylor Thompson Adam Dunn
Billy Butler Daric Barton
Ike Davis Hiroyuki Nakajima
Franklin Barreto Alberto Callaspo
Kendall Graveman Geovany Soto
Brett Lawrie Jason Hammel
Sean Nolin Jed Lowrie
Joey Wendle Jon Lester
Chris Bassitt Jonny Gomes
Josh Phegley Luke Gregerson
Rangel Ravelo Josh Donaldson
Marcus Semien Kyle Blanks
Mark Canha Brandon Moss
Eury De la Rosa Josh Lindblom
Jesse Hahn Jeff Samardzija
R.J. Alvarez Michael Ynoa
  Austin House
  Derek Norris
  Seth Streich
  Nick Punto

I’ve been a big fan of what Beane has been doing this offseason because, heck, it’s entertaining! Things have been so unpredictable in Oakland that no move would surprise us next. Sometimes proponents of different schools of thought are split when it comes to grading transactions, but this is a rare case of universal bewilderment.

It feels like we’ll only truly understand these moves in hindsight, once some actual games have been played. Will Oakland be positioned as a buyer or as a seller during next July’s trade deadline? Either option seems a viable possibility.

While I could be proven wrong if Oakland rolls out a 70-win season, here’s my best guess as to what it all means: Beane is trying to fill up his roster with as many players who are league average or better (2+ WAR) as he can. That is, Beane would be willing to trade away one star-level player (i.e., Jeff Samardzija) in exchange for two players who project as about league-average (i.e., Marcus Semien and Josh Phegley). As Dave has written about recently, the difference in value between a star player and an average one just might be a lot smaller than we think. Perhaps Oakland is operating under the assumption that a lineup without weak spots totally makes up that gap between star and mere starter.

Let’s look at the 2015 Steamer600 projections for all the players who ended the 2014 season with the A’s, and then all the players who are currently on the Oakland roster. I included everybody who was projected for at least 100 PAs or 30 innings pitched in the majors:

2014 A’s in 2015 WAR600 2015 A’s in 2015 WAR600
Josh Donaldson 5.3 Brett Lawrie 4.2
Josh Reddick 3.4 Josh Reddick 3.4
Jon Lester 3.3 Stephen Vogt 2.7
Brandon Moss 2.9 Sonny Gray 2.6
Stephen Vogt 2.7 Scott Kazmir 2.6
Sonny Gray 2.6 Craig Gentry 2.4
Scott Kazmir 2.6 Ike Davis 2.3
Jeff Samardzija 2.5 Marcus Semien 2.3
Derek Norris 2.5 Coco Crisp 2.1
Craig Gentry 2.4 Josh Phegley 2.0
Jed Lowrie 2.3 Eric Sogard 1.8
Jason Hammel 2.3 John Jaso 1.4
Coco Crisp 2.1 Billy Butler 1.4
Eric Sogard 1.8 Jesse Hahn 1.2
Geovany Soto 1.7 Jarrod Parker 1.2
John Jaso 1.4 Sam Fuld 1.1
Kyle Blanks 1.3 Nate Freiman 1.0
Jarrod Parker 1.2 A.J. Griffin 1.0
Sam Fuld 1.1 Sean Doolittle 1.0
Nate Freiman 1.0 Andy Parrino 0.8
A.J. Griffin 1.0 Ryan Cook 0.5
Sean Doolittle 1.0 Eric O’Flaherty 0.4
Alberto Callaspo 0.9 Fernando Abad 0.3
Andy Parrino 0.8 R.J. Alvarez 0.3
Adam Dunn 0.6 Evan Scribner 0.3
Ryan Cook 0.5 Dan Otero 0.2
Nick Punto 0.5 Jesse Chavez -0.1
Eric O’Flaherty 0.4 Drew Pomeranz -0.1
Luke Gregerson 0.4 Sean Nolin -0.1
Fernando Abad 0.3 Eury de la Rosa -0.3
Evan Scribner 0.3 Chris Bassitt -0.4
Dan Otero 0.2    
Jonny Gomes 0.2    
Jesse Chavez -0.1    
Drew Pomeranz -0.1    

So if the A’s returned their exact same lineup for 2015, they would have 13 players who are projected to produce at least 2 WAR over the course of a full season of playoff time. With the lineup the A’s actually have, they now have 10 such players.

Obviously 13 is a larger number than 10. But consider: the A’s end-season roster from last year was the result of some very expensive trade-deadline moves. Lester, Samardzija, and Hammel were purchased at a high price, with both Lester and Hammel due to become free agents at the end of last season. For all of the big names they’ve traded away this offseason, it’s remarkable, then, that the A’s have ended up with almost the same number of average-or-better players they had before their trade deadline action. (Yoenis Cespedes, traded for Lester, was another projected average-or-better player on Oakland’s roster last year.)

This is actually a pretty unique piece of roster construction. The Seattle Mariners, which FanGraphs currently projects as having the second-best record in 2015, only have eight average-or-better players (Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Brad Miller, Mike Zunino, Chris Taylor, Austin Jackson, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma). The Angels, projected to finish two games better than the A’s, also have eight (Mike Trout, Erick Aybar, Albert Pujols, Kole Calhoun, Chris Iannetta, David Freese, Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs). After pushing so many chips in the middle of the table this winter, the White Sox have all of six (Jose Abreu, Alexei Ramirez, Adam Eaton, Chris Sale, Samardzija, Jose Quintana).

Projected to have the league’s best record, the Dodgers have an impressive 13 of these players (Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Yasmani Grandal, Joc Pederson, Carl Crawford, A.J. Ellis, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu). The main difference being that the Dodgers will spend about four times as much on their team in 2015 as the A’s will.

By acquiring league-average players in addition to intriguing prospects, Beane just might be giving himself his best possible chance at fulfilling the intrinsically opposite goals of (1) cutting payroll and (2) remaining in contention. On Opening Day last year, the A’s had a payroll that was about 130% the size of their payroll a year previous, and about 160% the size of the payroll the year before that. If reducing payroll was the A’s top priority heading into the winter, well, Beane has definitely made lemonade out of lemons here.

Or, shoot, maybe he’s just rebuilding.

Miles Wray contributes sports commentary to McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Ploughshares, The Classical and Hardwood Paroxysm. Follow him on Twitter @mileswray or email him here.

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9 years ago

You could have saved yourself several hundred words and just written the last sentence.

9 years ago
Reply to  DrBGiantsfan

They’re rebuilding. They went all in last year and want to accelerate the process so they can be good again ASAP.

Sandy Kazmir
9 years ago
Reply to  Ryan

Except they still have the talent to compete today. One of 2B/SS looks like it could be a problem, but every other position should produce 2-3 WAR if not more. The rotation is top heavy, but with the sheer number of warm bodies following Gray/Kazmir/Hahn you can be sure that someone will differentiate or Beane will bring in a guy that can.

The second wild card makes the impossible of playing for today and tomorrow a bit more achievable. Build an 85 win team in the offseason, if you catch some breaks early with health and performance then you’re in a position to acquire a player or three and if things don’t break well you have the agility to spin off a player of three so that next year might have an even better chance.

The Rays are doing this same thing quite well. Stock every position with a 2-3 expectation, hope your one star plays well, catch some breaks. The Rays built their best team on paper last year in a long time and had everything go against them early and often. Diversifying your talent in this manner means that you don’t have to be “all in” or “rebuilding” or whatever overly simplistic word you want to use. They have a chance to compete this year and over the next several years. The Rays and A’s know what they’re doing.

9 years ago
Reply to  DrBGiantsfan

Ain’t it the truth. God forbid they admit Beane is collecting the vig on his 5% ownership stake in the A’s.

9 years ago
Reply to  DrBGiantsfan

No he could have saved time by waiting until Sat when everything changed! The A’s are NOT rebuilding – if they were why would they have signed Billy Butler to $10 million for 3 years making him the 3rd highest player on the team after Kazmir and Coco if Billy intended on rebuilding … the A’s have a great rotation which will only get better with the additions of Parker and Griffin who will be back from Tommy John surgery soon, the bullpen is solid and now they have enough versatility that they could mix and match players/positions – in the event that they wanted to they could have an entire left-handed or right -handed lineup … Bo Mel has so much to work with esp with the additions of Escobar and esp. Zobrist (who’s ranked 4th in the AL in WAR since he led the league in 2011 – behind only Trout, Cabrera and Cano!) They A’s will compete and if Saturdays trade doesn’t spell out they are NOT rebuilding then you’re crazy!! Just saying!!