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- Ryan Madson, RP: $15MM through 2018
- Sean Doolittle, RP: $7.95MM through 2018 (plus 2019 and 2020 club options)
- Jed Lowrie, 2B: $7.5MM through 2017 ($6MM club option for 2018; $1MM buyout)
- John Axford, RP: $5.5MM through 2017
Arbitration-Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; link to MLBTR projections)
- Danny Valencia, 3B/RF (5.118) – $5.3MM
- Yonder Alonso, 1B (5.116) – $4.1MM
- Khris Davis, LF/DH (3.104) – $5.0MM
- Stephen Vogt, C (3.084) – $3.7MM
- Sonny Gray, SP (3.061) – $3.7MM
- Liam Hendriks, RP (3.038) – $1.0MM
- Non-tender candidates: Valencia, Alonso
- Sam Fuld, Ross Detwiler. The A’s outrighted Henderson Alvarez, Felix Doubront, Jarrod Parker, Eric Sogard, Fernando Rodriguez, Tyler Ladendorf, Andrew Lambo, Donn Roach, Matt McBride and Chris Smith off their 40-man roster after the season. Each elected free agency.
While the A’s didn’t hit or pitch well this year, their defense and baserunning were even more egregious. Those two elements played the largest roles in Oakland’s last-place finish in position player fWAR (4.1), which was significantly worse than 29th-ranked Atlanta’s total (10.0). In the field, the A’s placed 30th in Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved, and they were third from the bottom at turning ground balls into outs (via StatCorner). That was particularly damaging to a pitching staff that had the majors’ ninth-highest grounder rate.
On the base paths, the A’s came in 28th in FanGraphs’ UBR metric and 26th in steals. Outfielders Billy Burns, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick, all of whom were dealt during the summer, combined for more than half (26) of the team’s 50 stolen bases. Thanks in part to those departures, the A’s are going to have to address their outfield, where questions abound.
Khris Davis will once again be the main left fielder after a 42-home run season, but the A’s also deployed him as their designated hitter in 50-plus games this year. In the wake of the Reddick trade (which the out-of-contention A’s were correct to make), there’s no clear answer in right. Center, meanwhile, is an especially big area of concern, Beane said earlier this month. Brett Eibner (acquired for Burns) and Jake Smolinski didn’t take advantage of their opportunities in 2016, so an upgrade is in order.
The Cubs’ Dexter Fowler and the Rangers’ Ian Desmond are the top soon-to-be available options in center, but they should be out of the A’s price range. Carlos Gomez, whom the Astros released in August, probably won’t come cheap after a late-season resurgence with the Rangers. Gomez will receive less than Fowler and Desmond both in guaranteed money and contract length, however, and the 30-year-old has typically performed well as a defender and runner. Gomez’s previously terrific offense was nonexistent for the second half of 2015 and nearly all of 2016, but if the A’s buy into the September tear he went on at the plate, pursuing him might make sense. The Athletics would be able to guarantee Gomez a job in center, which could entice the two-time All-Star as he looks to rebuild his once-immense value. That worked a year ago for the A’s, who helped convince left-hander Rich Hill to sign with them by guaranteeing him a spot in their rotation.
Aside from Fowler, Desmond and Gomez, less expensive (but seriously limited) possibilities include Rajai Davis, Michael Bourn, Austin Jackson and Jon Jay, all of whom are in line for short-term deals. There’s already a familiarity between the A’s front office and Davis, who spent 2008-10 in Oakland. With the Indians this year, Davis led the AL with 43 steals, finishing only seven stolen bases behind the A’s entire roster. Speed aside, Davis is a non-threatening hitter and has been an inconsistent defender during his 11 major league seasons.
In right field, it’s possible the A’s will give the lion’s share of work next year to Mark Canha, who missed nearly all of 2016 with a hip injury. While Canha had a respectable rookie season in 2015, he’s bat-first player who wouldn’t necessarily help the A’s prevent runs. The same applies to Danny Valencia, who’s a non-tender or trade candidate despite the strong offensive numbers he has registered as an Athletic since joining the club last year. There were already behind-the-scenes concerns about Valencia’s clubhouse reputation before he and now-former teammate Billy Butler got into a physical altercation in August.
If the A’s aren’t content with their corners, especially right, Reddick is poised to hit the market. Returning to Oakland looks unlikely, though, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported in June that Reddick and the club were nowhere close on an extension. A relatively low-cost lefty bat like Nori Aoki, Matt Joyce or even Korea Baseball Organization star Eric Thames, a former major leaguer, could serve as a nice complement to either Canha or Valencia (both are right-handed hitters). Angel Pagan, primarily a left fielder, might also carry appeal as an inexpensive stopgap. Exploring the trade market for outfield help is also a possibility for the A’s, who could target controllable players who are on the outs with their current organizations.
Moving to the infield, the A’s will likely go forward on the left side next season with 2016 rookie standout Ryon Healy at third base and Marcus Semien at shortstop. Those two are strong offensive options, but they’re certainly not great defenders (to his credit, Semien improved in 2016). A combination of Joey Wendle and Jed Lowrie is expected at second base, though that’s not a confidence-inspiring duo. The A’s have a non-tender candidate at first in Yonder Alonso, whose projected $4.1MM arbitration award looks steep for a player who was woeful as a hitter and took a step back as a defender this season.
If the A’s cut Alonso and elect to replace him from within, Valencia or Healy would be sensible choices. Although improbable, sending Healy across the infield would enable the A’s to add a reasonably priced free agent like Luis Valbuena to play third. Alternatively, keeping Healy at the hot corner and either moving on from Valencia or using him elsewhere could mean pursuing free agent first basemen like Steve Pearce, Mitch Moreland, Adam Lind or ex-Oakland slugger Brandon Moss. Moreland and Lind are coming off forgettable seasons, so it’s not a lock that either would be an upgrade over Alonso. Pearce, meanwhile, isn’t healthy at the moment after undergoing September surgery to repair the flexor mass in his right forearm. That might affect his price, which would benefit the A’s if they’re interested in him.
In the wake of the disappointing Butler era, the A’s could turn to various players at designated hitter instead of going after a primary DH in the offseason. Valencia’s defensive woes would make him a fit to get the majority of at-bats there, but again, his future is murky. That could leave the likes of Davis, Lowrie and catcher Stephen Vogt among those rotating at the position. Barring a trade, the defensively challenged Vogt will once again be the starting backstop, but the A’s have Josh Phegley and Bruce Maxwell on hand to spell him.
While you’d never know it from the rotation’s output this season (bottom 10 in ERA, FIP, xFIP and SIERA), the A’s have 80 percent of a potentially solid starting staff in place as they head into the winter. Had he not endured such a shockingly nightmarish year, (former?) ace Sonny Gray would currently look like an obvious trade candidate. However, dealing Gray now would be a sell-low move by the A’s, who are likelier to bring back the first-time arbitration-eligible right-hander at a palatable cost (an estimated $3.7MM) and hope he rebounds from an injury-ravaged campaign. Joining Gray will be Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman and Jharel Cotton, who came to the A’s in August as part of the trade with the Dodgers that sent Reddick and Hill to LA.
The signing of Hill last winter for $6MM was a brilliant move by the A’s (it more than made up for their wasted $4.25MM investment in the injured Henderson Alvarez), and he’ll once again be on the market during the upcoming offseason. This time, though, contenders should pursue Hill with much richer offers, meaning a return to Oakland probably won’t be in the cards. Adding an experienced starter to a youthful group could still happen, however, and there will be a fair amount of back-end types on the market.
Andrew Cashner, Jhoulys Chacin and former Athletic Brett Anderson would bring some upside at bargain prices, while Jorge De La Rosa and Colby Lewis represent more grizzled, lower-ceiling choices. Lewis is far less reliant on grounders than the others, especially Anderson, so the A’s weak infield defense wouldn’t hurt him as much. Further, the longtime Ranger would likely benefit by moving to a homer-suppressing park like the Oakland Coliseum.
If the A’s decide not to add one of these veterans (or others who will be available), the last spot in their rotation could go to righty Andrew Triggs, who was outstanding in limited work as a starter this year and earned a fan in Beane. Triggs tossed 25 2/3 innings out of the A’s rotation and posted a 2.82 ERA on the strength of 22 strikeouts against one walk. Oakland has other young choices in Frankie Montas (also acquired in the deal for Reddick and Hill) and Daniel Mengden. The latter made 14 starts for the A’s this year and put up an ugly ERA (6.50), but he notched a decent strikeout percentage (21.4; AL average for starters is 21.1), and his FIP, xFIP and SIERA each hovered around the mid-4s.
As is the case with their rotation, the A’s appear to have the vast majority of their bullpen in place for 2017. Unless the team deals any of them, Ryan Madson, John Axford, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Dull and Liam Hendriks should eat up five spots. The out-of-options Raul Alcantara could grab another, as could Daniel Coulombe. In the event Oakland’s not content with all of its in-house relievers, there will be plenty available in free agency at economical costs. The A’s showed a willingness to spend on their bullpen last year when they signed Madson and Axford, and there will again be options available at similar prices (upward of $5MM per annum) if they want to further invest in it.
Based on recent years, Oakland’s Opening Day payroll probably won’t stray far from the $85MM range next season, but the team will have some spending room to play with – especially if it jettisons at least one of Valencia or Alonso. Theoretically, making somewhat of a splash is possible (signing Fowler, for instance), but the abundance of weaknesses on the roster could mean spreading the cash around instead.
Considering they’re unable to spend like some of their colleagues who run high-payroll teams, Beane and Forst will clearly have their work cut out for them as they try to improve a roster that was dreadful in so many key categories this year. The A’s did virtually nothing well in 2016, but they do have some intriguing youth on hand. Now, as the offseason approaches, it’s a matter of finding capable, reasonably priced veterans to complement that young talent and help the A’s escape the basement.