Oakland entered the 2017 season with a plan to compete, but there was always an alternative course available. With some intriguing young players pushing for MLB time and a few quality veterans on short-term deals, the A’s pivoted to a youth-first strategy over the summer. That shapes the club’s needs entering the offseason.
1. Make a call on Jed Lowrie.
The one obvious veteran trade chip that wasn’t moved this summer was Lowrie, who is controllable next year by way of a $6MM club option ($1MM buyout). It seems all but a foregone conclusion that the option will be picked up; Lowrie has rewarded the A’s faith in his ability by slashing .276/.358/.450 over 597 plate appearances this year. The question remains, though, where he’ll play.
If he stays in Oakland, Lowrie would surely retain a hold on regular second base duties, at least to open the season. That would mean less infield time for Chad Pinder as well as a return to the upper minors for Franklin Barreto (who could certainly stand to continue working on reducing his swings), recent acquisition Jorge Mateo (who has yet to reach Triple-A), and Joey Wendle (who came over in the Brandon Moss deal).
While there’s an avenue to keeping Lowrie around, at least until next summer’s trade deadline, it’s fair to wonder whether the A’s ought instead to cut the cord. The veteran infielder is a versatile asset, with the ability to hit from both sides of the plate and plenty of experience up the middle, so he ought to draw real interest. Even if he won’t command a huge return, the A’s might reasonably expect to get something intriguing back while also opening the door wide open for the younger options to sink or swim.
Either way, it would likely behoove the A’s to make this call fairly early on. Lowrie might hold more appeal at the outset of free agency, when he’d represent a cheaper alternative for teams considering open-market veterans. And if he’s going to go off the books, the A’s would be well-served to have a full offseason to pursue interesting ways of utilizing the extra roster spot.
But he’s not the only possible trade piece. The team also ought to …
2. Dangle Khris Davis.
There’s less of a rush here, but the A’s ought to push to get a read on Davis’s market even as competitors weigh moves for slugging free agents. Davis is closing in on a second-straight forty-dinger campaign, which’ll boost his current $5MM arbitration salary yet higher in his final two years of control. Still, he’ll cost a pittance compared to, say, J.D. Martinez.
While Davis doesn’t have that kind of bat, and has graded terribly on defense this year, he has produced offense at more than twenty percent above league average in each of the past three campaigns in spite of his contact problems. The case of Chris Carter shows that teams won’t go wild for a player with this profile, though Mark Trumbo did score $37.5MM over three years from the Orioles last winter.
Oakland would likely be better off sending Davis on to another organization while his value is at a relative high-point. With so many young players looking to find their way in the majors, it would take quite a few good breaks for this roster to spring into contention in the next two years. Continuing to employ Davis, especially at his skyrocketing rate of pay, doesn’t seem to serve the team’s long-term interests.
That’s especially true since there may be an opportunity to …
3. Take advantage of other teams’ outfield surpluses.
The A’s already have young players lined up all over the roster. Few are sure things, but the club will want to get extended looks at its most intriguing assets in the infield and rotation. That’s even true to some extent in the bullpen, where the club has a few interesting pitchers and can also stash those hurlers that don’t crack the starting five. While the pitching remains a long-term concern, there isn’t exactly a ton of room to add new arms; as importantly, other clubs won’t be anxious to allow the A’s to get ahold of their most interesting youngsters.
It’s a somewhat different situation in the outfield, though. There, veterans — the aforementioned Davis, Matt Joyce, and Rajai Davis — have seen the most extensive time this year. And there are only a few younger players — Pinder, Boog Powell, Jaycob Brugman, Mark Canha — that seem to be plausible options to roam the major-league grass for the A’s in 2018. Meanwhile, quite a few other clubs could face difficult choices with their own outfield situations. The Cardinals and Brewers have perhaps the most notable forthcoming surpluses, but it’s possible to imagine some intriguing outfield talent shaking loose from a fair number of other organizations as well as they seek to manage 40-man roster pressure and improve their chances at contention.
The A’s can afford to have patience that other teams can’t. Acquiring some new outfield talent for little cost — through minor trades, claims, the Rule 5 draft, and other means — would create an opportunity for the team to capture the upside of low-service-time talent. The A’s came into 2017 paying at least $5MM apiece to three outfielders (the Davises and Joyce) along with a host of other players (Lowrie, Trevor Plouffe, and a few relievers). For 2018, the club should keep the money in its pocket and see if it can find a few diamonds in the rough for the outfield.