The Athletics are beginning to amass an impressive young core, led by corner infielders Matt Olson and Matt Chapman, and Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that they’re seeking a controllable outfielder this winter as a means of adding to that core. Among the team’s targets, per Slusser, are Marlins stars Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.
Oakland picked up highly touted Dustin Fowler in the trade that sent Sonny Gray to the Yankees, and the team also has top shortstop prospect Franklin Barreto on the cusp of MLB readiness. Fowler will compete for the center field job next spring, and Barreto projects to be with the club by midseason. That young group is complemented by solid veterans like Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis.
Per Slusser, Oakland’s preference is to add a right-handed bat, though their interest in Yelich would suggest they’re not necessarily set on players of a certain handedness. Yelich’s contract, of course, plays a significant role in that interest as well. He’s owed $44.5MM through the 2021 season and also has a $15MM club option for the 2022 season. Ozuna, meanwhile, would certainly fit the criteria of a big right-handed corner outfield bat. However, he’s controllable only for another two years and is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $10.9MM next season.
Yelich’s 2017 season wasn’t quite as impressive as his 2016 campaign, but he’s still posted an excellent .290/.373/.460 batting line over his past 1180 MLB plate appearances. That, paired with high-quality left-field defense and a capability to handle center field, has made him worth roughly nine wins above replacement since Opening Day 2016.
Ozuna, meanwhile, belted a career-best 37 homers in 2017 and slashed .312/.376/.548 along the way. Over his past two seasons, he’s slashed .290/.350/.503 with 60 homers. Questions about his glove in center field caused the Marlins to flip him with Yelich this season, and Ozuna responded with well-above-average defense in left field (+11 DRS, +3.4 UZR).
Ozuna and Yelich are just two of many possibilities for the A’s to pursue this winter. The Cardinals have a noted glut of outfielders and are widely expected to shop Randal Grichuk and/or Stephen Piscotty. One would imagine that the White Sox would be open to dealing Avisail Garcia, though like Ozuna, he’s controlled only for another two seasons. Across town in Chicago, the Cubs have a glut of young position players, with switch-hitting Ian Happ an oft-rumored trade possibility. Speculating further, the Reds could be open to offers on Adam Duvall. Oakland doesn’t have any intention to trade from its big league roster, Slusser notes, with the possible exception of first baseman/DH Ryon Healy. (Trading Healy, she points out, would allow the A’s to move Khris Davis to DH.)
The A’s will have no shortage of options as they explore their corner needs this summer, and though payroll is always a concern in Oakland, their clean payroll slate makes it plausible for them to take on some dollars in 2018 and beyond. Oakland has just $18MM in guaranteed money on the 2018 books — $6MM to each of Lowrie, Santiago Casilla and Matt Joyce — plus another roughly $34MM in projected arbitration salary. Beyond the 2018 season, Oakland doesn’t have a single guaranteed dollar on the ledger, putting the A’s in position to take on a player already on a multi-year deal or one who is projected to begin earning substantial salaries via arbitration.