We’ll continue here with our “Three Needs” series, in which we break down a few high-level needs of teams that fell out of contention early. (Soon, we’ll take full looks at every team’s offseason outlook.)
For the Athletics, a last-place finish in the AL West for the second straight year probably won’t spur a full-blown rebuild — it’s just not how the team has operated — but will likely lead to a fair bit of roster turnover this winter.
1. Improve the speed and defense.
If Oakland’s combined position-player fWAR from 2016 was doubled, it would still be nearly a win shy of the next-to-worst team in baseball. Though the team’s hitting was below-average (91 wRC+), it was the bottom-of-the-barrel baserunning and defense that did most of the damage.
The A’s had company in their troubles on the bases, with the Cardinals, Angels, and Tigers also in the conversation for worst in the game. But on defense, the A’s were far and away the least gloveable team in the league, by measure of both UZR and DRS. And that’s before accounting fully for the work behind the dish, where primary catcher Steven Vogt is one of the lowest-rated receivers in baseball (see here and here).
There may not be a lot of opportunity to change things in the infield beyond hoping for internal improvement. Moving Danny Valencia off of third base helps, but Ryon Healy isn’t an inspiring defensive choice either. Marcus Semien had a whole lot less errors, at least, so perhaps he can drive some further improvement next year at short. If he can return to health, Jed Lowrie will be looking to improve on his metrics in limited action this season at second, but age and injury pose questions. At first, Yonder Alonso has typically graded well, but had his worst season by the metrics in 2016. (Of course, his bat was a bigger problem.)
While consideration should be given to tweaking that alignment, the outfield is the key area that Oakland can target to add some speed and glovework. Read on for more on that area of need:
2. Take some risks in the outfield.
Rolling the dice a bit on Khris Davis last year paid huge dividends for the A’s, but he’s now the only clear outfield starter on the roster as 2017 beckons. In filling out the rest of the group, the club is in a pretty solid position to look for value and dangle some cash to find the right players on which to take chances.
While Oakland will presumably still look to open with a payroll that doesn’t top $90MM — a figure that the organization has only topped once — there ought to be room to add salary in a bid to improve in the outfield. The club has about $34MM on the books already, with some big first-time arbitration salaries on tap but not much in the way of arb raises that the club will need to account for.
What helps the A’s here is the relative outfield depth in the coming free agent market. There are any number of ways the team can go in the corner spot, possibly taking a risk on a short-term asset with some internal players also factoring in. That includes Mark Canha, if he is healthy, and Danny Valencia, if he is tendered, though both of those are bat-first options.
The open job in center is perhaps most interesting, though. On the open market, the best available options are Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler, and Carlos Gomez, with Jon Jay also coming off of a strong season. Ben Revere (who’ll likely be non-tendered) and Austin Jackson will represent fairly youthful, bargain-bin bounceback candidates. And that’s all before considering the creative possibilities that may be available on the trade market, where the A’s could consider dangling some of their relatively promising group of young pitching.
Speaking of the rotation — which may well also be a place that Oakland again seeks some upside in free agency — let’s turn to the team’s next need …
3. Fix Sonny Gray.
Sounds simple, right?
Gray, who’ll turn 27 in a month, remains a key asset for the Oakland organization — whether he’s pitching there or flipped in a trade. For either outcome to be a good one, he’ll need to return to being the sturdy, top-of-the-rotation arm that he was in his first three major league seasons.
There are signs of both hope and concern in Gray’s rough 2016 campaign. On the whole, his peripherals weren’t grossly out of line with his prior campaigns. He still averaged over seven strikeouts per nine innings, as he did previously, his walk rate wasn’t all that elevated, and he still generated a healthy 53.9% groundball rate. The velocity was right at his typical 93 mph. And his 5.69 ERA is explained in part by a low 63.9% strand rate and a .319 BABIP that was much higher than his career average coming into the year.
On the other hand, Gray showed a troubling downturn in his ability to manage contact after previously outperforming ERA estimators. Hard contact against him spiked to 33.6% after he had allowed just 25% an change in the prior two seasons, which helps explain the BABIP spike. And with that also came a lot of dingers, as hitters facing Gray in 2016 hit homers on flyballs about twice as frequently (17.5%) as they had previously.
All told, there’s plenty of reason to hope that 2016 can be put in the rearview mirror. Even if Gray doesn’t profile as quite as dominant a starter as his early-career, bottom-line results would suggest, he has every chance of getting back to being a high-quality starter who spins over 200 frames a year … if, that is, he can return to full health. The biggest question may not be one that’s fully within his and the team’s control: will Gray’s elbow hold up in 2017?
If Sonny ever gains his top value again, I would trade him whenever the right package came along. Since they won’t be contending I think it will benefit them way more. I am not an A’s fan though, so it might too hard for the fanbase to move a fan favorite type (if he is a fan favorite).
Sonny endeared himself to fans as a rookie dueling Verlander and the Tigers and holding up quite well in the ALDS. I’d say most A’s fans love him and last year was confusing and troubling. It would be great to see him long term but last year showed how much of a risk it would be, if say we were to extend him and pay a high amount for him only to see those results. Versus trading him and getting quite a package. My guess is we deal him at some point next year if he is healthy, regardless if he is pitching well or not.
Just Another Fan
Agreed with all these, the pitching looks really promising, but it won’t look that way stat-wise until the A’s focus on defense. It’s coming in the form on Chapman and Barreto, but getting a D-first CF would turn them from chumps to champs in a hurry.
The A’s can also quit shooting themselves in the foot by abandoning these weird Moneyball-esque front office philosophies of:
1. Finding a bat that plays in a non-traditional bat position, at the expense of having good defense at said position.
Nearly half the team is out of position, Vogt was a LF before coming to Oakland, Semien a 2B, Healy a 1B, Davis has regressed to DH-only – moving those 4 in particular back to those positions will allow them avoid worrying about their defense and make them focus solely on hitting, that would be a huge upgrade to the defense -and- offense. Semien and Healy especially appear to have high ceilings with the bat, but the way we saw Semien’s bat fall off as he focussed on defense was disheartening, as he still is in no way, shape or form, a quality MLB SS. However, he could hit 35+ bombs as a decent 2B, and Barreto looks very near ready to where he could win the Opening Day SS spot if he proves himself in ST, so they really need to be focussing on that.
2. Stop thinking that every player Beane acquires in a trade is going to pan out.
Joey Wendle is awful, just awful at baseball. His defense is shoddy at best, he cant run or hit that well, he had an extended look and it was about as good as his .600 OPS shows. Healy has a future in the bigs, Wendle does not. Beane failed on the Moss trade, yet A’s fans pine for this guy who has a lower ceiling than Eric Sogard, another bad player who gets a pass due to “well if Beane traded for him, he MUST be good” mindset. Its so obvious to an outsider: the A’s regularly give free passes to 1-tool guys all too often and it hurts the team a lot.
3. Acknowledge that the “all-platoon” philosophy that they had success with is about as reliable as expecting every reliever to be consistent numbers every year and just shoot for getting 8 or 9 guys who hit both lefties and righties about the same and can play every single day. Self-explanatory, but now Reddick & Butler are off the team it could be reality.
In terms of CF trade options, my short list of actually-gettable targets for Beane would look like: K Keirmaier, J Dyson, L Cain, B Hamilton, T Jankowski, E Inciarte, A Almora & K Pillar. The A’s certainly have enough pitching depth to work with, especially from their last draft and the haul LAD gifted them. I’d also ask if Sonny Gray for either Adam Eaton, AJ Pollock or Odubel Herrera straight up would interest those three teams, but only trade him if that’s the level of player coming back.
I don’t disagree with much of what you said, but I do have a couple of questions about your last paragraph.
1) Do you think that after Gray definitely saw his stock go down this season that it benefits the A’s to sell low on him now?
2) Guys like Eaton, Hamilton, and Inciarte (and arguably others) on your desirable and attainable list have raised their stock or at least kept it normalized. What do you think the A’s have that are most desirable to those specific teams needs that would possibly net you the player you mentioned? (in other words what do the A’s offer that meet those teams specific stated needs and stated plans for 2017?)
I’m not saying you are wrong. I’m just saying, that it might not be as easy to net a trade that it appears on the surface. I know with Atlanta’s stated goals for 2017 (veteran starting pitching, a defensive and offensive improvement at catcher, and possibly an upgrade at third-although they’ve repeatedly said third isn’t the big target it was before Garcia’s better second half) I’m not sure I see a big fit unless the Braves are sold on someone like Gray being capable of return to form AND the A’s sell low on him, or they like Vogt and the A’s have another alternative, or something totally unforeseen (and unlikely) like a huge package for Healy and Manea. It would have to be something big to get Inciarte from them. I just don’t see those things as likely at all.
Forgot to add that Atlanta has repeatedly said they desire to compete in 2017 (now personally I don’t see that happening unless they mean finishing in the low 80’s in win and staying in the wild card hunt until the final 2 weeks at best). So IF they hold true to that statement, then the only big changes they make on the major league rosters will be ones that net players that the Braves feel will step in immediately and impact that goal from day 1 of the 2017 season.
Just Another Fan
I’m not sure Inciarte is as valuable in a trade as you might think, being mostly a glove-only guy (career 96 OPS+) who gets caught stealing a lot and gets hurt often. I’d think Atlanta would take Grant Holmes and someone ranked 15-20 on the A’s top prospect list for him.
As for Gray’s trade stock, his larger body of work far outweighs his couple of rotten months where he played hurt. I’m not saying he absolutely needs to be moved, but if for some reason the White Sox decide Eaton is worth him, then the A’s should make that deal.
The sox moved Eaton to RF for a reason…
Just Another Fan
Luckily, the A’s so happen to need a RF too!
Inciarte certainly isn’t the most valuable centerfielder in major league baseball, but he is a valuable defender at all 3 outfield positions (definitely has the arm for right) and is roughly league average with the bat. Inciarte also is still young (will soon turn 26), and under team control through the 2020 season. He is also coming off arguably his best overall season. Those things drive his value up to an all time high for him.
He may not be quite as valuable as many braves fans think (myself included) but he is probably more valuable too than you are giving him credit for. At the very least I think it would highly unlikely the Braves would deal him for Holmes (you have to realize the Braves have Newcomb, Wisler, and even Blair who are still learning in the bigs, but at one time or another have all been ranked at least as high as Holmes as prospects). Holmes is no doubt a solid prospect and still very young, but he doesn’t fit the repeated stated goals of the Braves for 2017 (even if you threw in a 15-20 pick from a middle grade type farm system like the A’s). The only way the Braves will deal Inciarte (and they very well may) is for player(s) that they think will significantly help the team increase it’s win total for 2017.
As far Gray having a larger body of work far outweighing his couple of rotten months playing with an injury, Gray only has roughly 2 and 1/2 seasons of experience beyond the recently completed 2016 season. I really do hope he recovers well and returns to form, because he was truly a joy to watch pitch. The sad fact is that through baseball’s history there have been a lot of young pitchers who started their careers great and suffered some sort of injury that significantly impacted their production for the remainder of their careers. Hopefully that isn’t the case, but you’d have to think that any team that seeks to acquire him is going to include his most recent production and the injury question marks that he has now at least as much as they consider his past production. Certainly he has value, but you’d have to think Gray’s value is at a all time low.
I will definitely agree with your statement about Eaton (or at least the implication). Eaton is a worthy pickup for virtually any team.
Defense doesn’t explain Gray’s Hard Hit and Home Run increase. Also, Atlanta is not motivated to trade Inciarte so acquiring him would be tough. He’s young, productive and cheap. Exactly what rebuilding teams want.
Just Another Fan
Being injured explains those things. FWIW Vogt caught his late season side sessions and his appearance near the end of the year and said it was back to 2015 era Gray.
As for all this Inciarte chatter, it was just an idea. The A’s are looking and Inciarte fits the mold of who the A’s should be looking at.
Agree 100% with all of this
I like how he mentions there being not much hope for improvement in the IF. Like does he even know that Chapman and Baretto are about half a season of AAA away from hitting the majors? I do agree with taking risks in the OF though. Maybe move Healy to one of the corners so Olson play 1B as his size and athleticism make him a perfect fit over there and he’s shown flashes of terrific defense there as well. Tryout Semien in CF because what have you got to lose. You need to open up SS anyways for Baretto but you don’t want to lose Semien’s bat either.
By July my Oakland lineup would be
If Semien bombs CF then move him to 2B instead and either sign/trade for a CF. One guy who the A’s should pick up that won’t cost them tons of money but is more than capable is Peter Bourjos. He plays great defense and has great speed. He played well enough for the Angels to keep Trout out of CF during his tenure there.
Lineup would then be;
I actually like this lineup better with Bourjos in CF and with the young SP they have this team could surprise a lot of people and win some games.
I haven’t been keeping up with the minor leagues as much as I’d like – regarding Barrett I know he had issues defensively and tried out the OF. I’m not sure how that panned out but I wonder if he is considered an option next year in CF. Curious if you know anything about that as it looks like you know quite a bit about our farm…
You need to get Vogt out of the outfield they tried that when they had three good catchers now they have one good catcher him so no don’t put him in the outfield. The A’s have a bunch of young infielders try out wendle, pinderin the outfield . Olson and Nunez already have some experience in the outfield so play them there. Also Baretto is as bad in the infield as semian so he will play second if he plays the infield.
I didn’t suggest they have no hope of improving, ever. I’m talking about the roster out of camp. It’s mostly a matter of trying to get more out of the guys on hand unless they shake things up … I guess one of those guys could crack the Opening Day, but that would be a bit of a surprise to me, at least.
I have never been a fan of Davis and expect drastic regression. Because the A’s are going through a retooling right now and don’t need him. I would try to trade him right now as his value will never be any higher. Look to get a stopgap and replenish that farm system. Player development and savvy trades have always been what keeps this franchise relatively afloat.
Just Another Fan
You should be a fan of Davis, that power plays in every single park – that is extremely valuable. Davis is a great cleanup hitter but needs to stay off defense where his work in LF is shoddy at best.
I see Brett Gardner ending up in Oakland next season.
I wish beane would hurry up And trade gray for a new washing machine already. Dude is the worst GM in baseball. Consistently trades top talent away and the team sort of contends for a year here and there. He belongs in Miami, Moneyball is all well and good but when the other 29 teams follow suit, it doesn’t work anymore.
You really don’t know sh–. Has he made some bad trades the last few years, absolutely but he had the brokest team in baseball contending for the better part of his career. Calling him the worst GM in baseball is laughable
Here’s a high level trade idea:
A’s send Matt Chapman to the Braves for Mallex Smith and a low-level lottery type pitcher (such as Bryse Wilson)
Chapman has a few very good tools in his power, his arm and his defense , but his strikeouts, poor average and on base percent really makes him a big question mark (sorta reminds me of Matt Dominguez and we’ve all seen his struggles at the big league level) . I could definitely be wrong, but I don’t see the Braves trading Smith (much less throwing in a high upside pitcher like Bryse Wilson) for Chapman with so many question marks.
Just Another Fan
Seeing that the A’s view Chapman as their future 3B, they aren’t trading him unless a MLB-ready 3B is coming back. Smith is a nice idea, but the A’s wouldn’t trade for him unless it was for Pinder or Nunez.
That trade grades as a MASSIVE win for ATL and so-so for Oakland.
4. Get a new stadium in Oakland or San Jose
5. Trade for McCutchen and sign Pillar.
Pillar is not available
Which is the second-most egregious part of that two-part “solution.”
Just Another Fan
Everyone is available.
Not to be signed
Just Another Fan
Its not really worth calling out a simple flub like that, either by trade or sign, everyone in MLB could be obtained for the right price.
Oh right, than maybe trade for him too.
I’m just curious because I’ve seen it mentioned a few times now in the comments of different articles but where are people getting the idea that the Jays would trade Pillar or that he is even available? I’m not saying he’s untouchable but he’s arguably the top defensive CF in the AL(with Keirmaier and JBJ) and the Jays literally have zero other options in CF. Sure theirs Upton and maybe Pompey but neither come close to Pillar’s defensive value in CF. Pillar is literally one of the main reasons the Jays rotation looks so good this year because he’s a literal vacuum out there. His value to the Jays is far greater than what they would receive in any potential trade. Plus he’s going to be relatively cheap come arbitration since the process focuses mostly on hitting stats.
I think some posters throw out names that they desire to see on a certain team as a trade target without thinking about the effects on the team said player (in this case Pillar). Many of them also don’t look to see what they stated plans, or the up and coming prospects (including their projected timeline) are either in their trade scenarios.
Some one must generally overpay to get a player who is of high value to their team, and is coming off a good season. Most teams just simply cannot afford to do that unless the offer is overwhelming (and then that generally hurts the team dealing for them more than they realized at first).
Envy or wishful thinking? I’d love to have Pillar. I don’t picture Toronto moving him, but that’s hard to say until the playoffs are over and the Bautista and Encarnacion decisions are made, and if they make any headway on a long term Donaldson contract. I would imagine the outcome on all of those and how they are plugged if those two bats leave will determine if there is a remote chance of Pillar being dealt or not.
I was literally just wondering where his name was coming from. Envy/wishful thinking make sense. Was curious if maybe some outlets in the US were speculating and I just wasn’t hearing it in Canada.
Just Another Fan
“the Jays literally have zero other options in CF.”
The Jays literally have 2 CFs in their top 5 prospect list on MLB.com – know your team.
I do know my team and Alford is 2 years away at best assuming he faces no more setbacks(injuries, development, etc). He’s also in Hi-A ball and is going to repeat that level, at least to start 2017.
Ramirez is not likely staying in CF due to restricted range and a below average arm. Plus he profiles more as a 4th OF with a decent/good bat and average D in LF.
Pompey is the only MLB-ready CF in the minors and he hasn’t progressed as hoped. He has potential but his bat is a huge question mark and he has yet to truly earn a regular spot in the MLB.
So I stand by my original comment that the Jays have zero other options in CF if they decide to move Pillar.
Just Another Fan
Even though you immediately DQ’d yourself when you said “Sure theirs Upton and maybe Pompey”?
Why is this thread about the A’s being derailed by Braves and Jays fans? More A’s talk please everyone.
Absolutely no one was trying to hijack a thread about the A’s to focus on other teams. All the comments were made in response to hypothetical trade proposals that were already posted. I don’t think (with only a few possible exceptions) that anyone tries to troll threads. I think there are several die hard baseball fans (who follow not just one team but SEVERAL teams in depth) who spend several hours each week reading articles, scouting reports, and watching video’s because they love baseball. When those people see things that they don’t think is right, then they respond with their opinion. Take it or leave it, but no one is trying to derail anything.
As far as the Athletics themselves they definitely have some nice pieces on both their major league roster and in their farm system. But both are sort of middle of the road. The approach over the last few years for the organization also has been sort of middle fo the road (with the exception of a big expenditure of talent at the trade deadline a few years ago that didn’t work out so well). Some A’s fans give their front office all sorts of grief, but to be honest you can only work with the budget that you are given. You can’t serve caviar if you only have money for spam.
I like most of the A’s prospects in the top 100 of MLB except I’m not a huge fan of Chapman. I see him as a Matt Dominguez type and I’m not sure he will hit enough at the big league level to be a regular. IF Chapman can make enough contact and hit .240 at the big league level though he should be okay. Barreto should be up by mid season and in the long run will be a very solid addition to the team. He did more than halved his error total from a year ago so thankfully his questionable defense is improving. If Montas could stay healthy he might very well be a force in Oakland before 2017 is done. Montas has the stuff.
The pitching staff has depth and if Gray comes back healthy will truly be a force to be reckoned with. I loved what I saw from Manea. I would not be surprised if Graveman turns in a better season in 2017 either.
As noted in this article though there are clearly some issues with the position players. Davis, Vogt, and Healy are quality players and would be starters on most teams (but definitely not all). Beyond that are a lot of players who could be improved upon.
It always seems with Oakland the goal is to finish somewhere around .500. That non committal intent appears to lead fans mildly interested as Oakland attempts to capture lightning in a bottle. Too often it results in the better players being dealt away. I seriously wonder if the team would be better off to sell off most of their assets and just reboot everything. Of course if they do that would they ever get their stadium fixed? (I’ve often heard they have tons of issues with it).
Just Another Fan
and I dont understand why people get so defensive over simply floating a name out there. Pillar and Inciarte are by no means franchise players, and the A’s could easily obtain either or even both in trades – that’s a fact and homer fans refuse to believe in those, so we see all these many, many lines of words about it. Being as we have seen trades no one has ever even thought about, its not out of the realm of possibility, so why not just let it slide???
A literal vacuum, huh?
Need 1- a new President of Baseball Ops
Need 2- a new GM
Boy, this analytics is really working out!
Agreed. I propose they make a trade with Boston for Ruben Amaro Jr so he can be head of baseball OP, convince Kevin Towers to take on the role of GM, and the recently available Dave Stewart would be the ideal head of player development. That will for sure get them on the right track.
Mallex Smith, Aaron Blair, Lucas Sims & Jace Peterson for Sonny Gray & Stephen Vogt ?????
Just Another Fan
Ender Inciarte & Jace Peterson for Stephen Vogt, Kendall Graveman and Danny Valencia?