What’s Next For the Athletics? by Mike Petriello October 2, 2014 Three months ago, the Oakland A’s had Yoenis Cespedes, Addison Russell, Tommy Milone, a seemingly insurmountable lead in the American League West, and joy in their hearts. (I don’t know, probably.) Now, they’ve had a summer-long collapse, a much smaller-scale collapse within the wild card game, and have some farewells to offer to short-term employees Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Geovany Soto, Jonny Gomes and Adam Dunn, plus slightly longer-term employees Luke Gregerson, Alberto Callaspo and Jed Lowrie, all free agents. I’d say “it’s going to be a winter of transition” in Oakland, except that’s always the case. A full 30 members of the season-ending 43-man roster (three players were on the 60-day DL) were acquired via trade; throw in nine more via free agency or waivers, and only four Oakland players were homegrown draftees. Even that’s overstating it, though, because two of those four (eternal prospect Michael Ynoa and injured starter A.J. Griffin) didn’t appear at all for the A’s this season. That leaves Sean Doolittle, who wasn’t even drafted to do the job he’s doing, and Sonny Gray. Otherwise, this entire A’s team was built via the non-draft machinations of Billy Beane. Right now, the A’s have financial commitments to a mere five players next year, and two of them are minimal. What’s next for the A’s? There’s no shortage of answers to that question. * * * Here’s what the A’s are on the books for in 2015, via Cot’s: SP Scott Kazmir, $13m OF Coco Crisp, $11m RP Eric O’Flaherty, $5.5m IF Nick Punto, $2.75m RP Doolittle, $0.78m That’s it. That’s a total of $33m on a team that reached approximately $83m in Opening Day payroll this year, after several seasons of being in the $50m-$70m range. Obviously, we need to get to arbitration, and we will, but the team can simply non-tender any arbitration-eligible player if they want. As far as absolute committed dollars, this is a shockingly low number, which potentially lends itself to great flexibility. Kazmir’s first year in Oakland more than backed up his career rebirth in Cleveland last year; $13m is money well spent for a lefty starter who has been approximately a three-win pitcher in each of the last two years. Doolittle’s contract is an absolute steal, as part of the 5/$10.5m extension he signed in April before becoming one of the most dominant closers in the game. (His number here is slightly different than what Cot’s shows, because the terms of the deal would have increased had he made Super 2 after this year, which it seems he’ll just miss.) Crisp also signed an extension in the spring, but a season of injury problems led to one of his least productive seasons in years, and it’s never good when things like “chronic, degenerative changes” are tossed around in regards to the neck. You don’t want to put too much importance on one-year defensive metrics, but you also don’t expect anyone to ignore that his DRS fell from +6 to -17, either. Depending on his health, he might no longer be an everyday player next year at 35, and he’s still got $11m more coming in 2016, too. O’Flaherty, signed to a back-loaded contract as he rehabbed from elbow surgery, didn’t look like the dominating Braves reliever we remembered, then missed the wild card game with soreness in the elbow. Two of those contracts are great. Two seem problematic. Punto is a bench piece being paid like one. You can’t field a team on five players, so let’s bring in those arbitration guys now, and there’s a lot: 14 of them, to be exact. * * * No, really, 14 arbitration-eligible players, the side effect of constantly churning a roster so that only one key piece, Crisp, is older than 31. Josh Donaldson, Jarrod Parker, Fernando Abad, Ryan Cook, and Eric Sogard are all first-timers. Josh Reddick, Fernando Rodriguez, Jesse Chavez, and Craig Gentry go through for the second time. Brandon Moss, Jeff Samardzija, Kyle Blanks, Sam Fuld, and John Jaso are doing this for the third time. (Moss is a Super 2, so he’s not a free agent after 2015, unlike the others.) These cases, really, are all over the map, and it’s here where the biggest questions — and spending — can be found. Samardzija is extremely unlikely to be signing a long-term deal and might even be trade bait this winter, but if he’s back, it’ll be under an arbitration award that’s somewhere around $9m. Donaldson, who is so much older than you think he is — 29 in December — played for the minimum this year, and just had his second consecutive outstanding season, particularly in the shiny counting stats that arbitration boards like. He should get around $5m as a Super Two. There’s a wonderful case to be made that the A’s should just keep going year-to-year with him. Chavez made under a million this year and can’t expect much more than $2m-$3m in the process. Parker probably avoids this entirely and just signs a relatively cheap contract as he works back from surgery, as injured players don’t fare well in arbitration. Reddick would get a raise from $2.7m to the $4m-$5m range. Those are the easy ones, really. Moss has at times been a star for the team, but is a 32-year-old with platoon issues, a limited track record, little defensive value and an upcoming hip surgery worth the ~$7m he’ll get in arbitration? It’s easy to see the team saying he’s not, though the solution might be a two-year deal that lessens the 2015 hit. Jaso has been one of the better offensive catchers in baseball; he’s also dealt with repeated concussion issues and didn’t play after Aug. 23. That’s another $3m-$4m in arbitration. Some of these guys, like Sogard, Blanks, and Rodriguez, are potential non-tenders, but even if they aren’t, the salaries will be minimal. Let’s do some back-of-the-envelope spitballing here and say that if A’s retain most of these guys,the outlay will be around $35-$40 million. Now we’re into the $68-$73 million range, or closer to what the A’s had to start this season. We don’t know what the 2015 number will be, though the team stretched a little further to make their midseason additions this year. We can assume, probably, that the A’s would have some amount of money remaining, but not a huge amount. We can probably just as safely assume that at least one member of this group is getting traded, because it’s not Beane’s style to simply re-up arbitration cases and cross his fingers things work out better next time. * * * One thing immediately becomes clear about the 2015 A’s: That rotation, even without Lester, should still be productive. Pitcher IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% 2015 Age Chavez 146 3.45 3.89 22.3 7.7 42.0 31 Gray 219 3.08 3.46 20.4 8.2 55.9 25 Griffin – – – – – – 27 Kazmir 190.1 3.55 3.35 21.1 6.4 43.8 31 Parker – – – – – – 26 Pomeranz 69 2.35 3.77 23.6 9.4 45.7 26 Samardzija 219.2 2.99 3.20 23.0 3.9 50.2 30 Those are all 2014 numbers, and when our 2015 projections come out in the next few weeks, they’ll have Samardzija, Gray, and Kazmir all in the 3-4 win range. That’s a pretty solid way to start a rotation, and they’re an easy 1-2-3 at the top. Between Pomeranz and Chavez, you can probably cobble together a back end. The question here, really, is how much confidence you put in the rehabbing Griffin and Parker, who should be back early in the season, but not necessarily for Opening Day, and likely with limitations. There’s seven starting options here, and the A’s may yet need one more. A second thing becomes clear, too: Donaldson and Reddick might be the only no-doubt starters in the lineup. (This is why rumors that the team might trade Donaldson, while not impossible, seem hard to believe, because the A’s need him, and because the third base market will have plenty of options in Chase Headley, Pablo Sandoval, and Hanley Ramirez.) In fact, there’s three pretty big questions about the offense: 1) How do you fix that middle infield? Lowrie’s consistent injury problem aren’t likely to go away, and he’s now all but proven he’s not a major league shortstop, defensively. The three-headed second base trio was a disaster all around. If there was a misstep Beane made this year, it might have been cashing in his chips without getting anything back to address these spots. Lowrie could potentially return as a second baseman; otherwise, this is more Sogard/Punto, or a trade, or a gamble on Rickie Weeks. Shortstop almost certainly has to find an external source with Daniel Robertson probably still at least a year away, though the A’s may not be able to pay for J.J. Hardy. Is this a return engagement for a buy-low Stephen Drew? 2) Who is your catcher? We don’t know if Jaso can still catch, since this is his second consecutive season that ended with concussion problems. Norris probably isn’t as bad as he looked when the Royals were going wild on him in the wild card game, and he’s been playing through back and shoulder issues, but his issues controlling the running game weren’t limited to that one game. Stephen Vogt showed some life on offense and spent plenty of time at first base; he also barely caught at all this season. Is that good enough? Maybe not, especially if Jaso’s backstop days are done. The A’s had to go out and get Soto in a waiver deal to supplement their catching depth. It’s hard not to see them doing the same this winter. 3) What does the outfield look like? Let’s say that Moss spends more time at first than in right, that Crisp is a part-time player, and that Reddick gets his usual playing time. Then what? Fuld and Gentry are fine backups, and this is a team that has shown a willingness to platoon and play matchups rather than go with one unquestioned started, but if Crisp can’t be counted on, there’s room for improvement here. Easier said than done, of course, but offense is a must here; the A’s outfield had a middle-of-the-pack wRC+, and that was with Cespedes. * * * Are the A’s better off now than they were three months ago? No, of course not, but that’s not the point. Certainly, they’d prefer to have Russell’s career and one more year of Cespedes right now, but you also don’t get to make trades with hindsight. The Lester and Samardzija/Hammel trades made a ton of sense at the time, and there’s a great argument to be made that having Cespedes but not Lester doesn’t stem the second-half collapse at all. They made the gamble to go for it, and they lost. That doesn’t change the wisdom of the gamble. There’s still a lot of talent here, and still a window. The Astros are moving in the right direction, but aren’t there yet. The Rangers have to recover from a total organizational disaster. The Angels are talented and dangerous, yet Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Josh Hamilton, and Jered Weaver aren’t getting younger. The Mariners still have huge offensive issues to resolve. This is still an Oakland team that can make a run in 2015. It’ll just take some pretty creative solutions to upgrade around a good pitching core.