Over the past 18 months, the A’s have traded away most of the core players on the roster as a means of stripping down payroll. While much of that teardown was orchestrated either last offseason or at the summer deadline, it continued with the three-team deal that sent Sean Murphy to Atlanta last month.
Given Oakland’s recent activity, it stands to reason virtually anyone on the roster with an MLB track record could be a viable trade candidate. Outfielder Ramón Laureano is one of the team’s more established remaining players and could be the subject of attention from other clubs. However, Dan Hayes of the Athletic reports the A’s didn’t show much interest in dealing Laureano after the Twins inquired on his availability.
It’d be a surprise if the A’s had anyone firmly off the table, perhaps aside from pre-arbitration players they hope will be building blocks of their next contender like Shea Langeliers and Esteury Ruiz. Nevertheless, there’s good reason for general manager David Forst and his front office to be reluctant to pursue a Laureano deal over the offseason. The 28-year-old outfielder is coming off the worst season of his career, putting his value at a low ebb.
Laureano had an impressive debut with Oakland late in the 2018 campaign. He backed that up the following season with 24 home runs in 123 games. His offensive numbers dipped during the shortened 2020 schedule but bounced back through the first few months of ’21. Laureano was sitting on a .246/.317/.443 line over his first 378 plate appearances. That’s not an eye-catching slash at first glance but marked offensive production 13 points above the league average as measured by wRC+ given Oakland’s pitcher-friendly home park.
His 2021 season was brought to an abrupt end in August after he tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug Nandrolone. That resulted in an 80-game suspension that carried over into the start of last season. Laureano returned in April but saw his production crater. He hit .211/.287/.376 over 94 games, with the batting average and on-base percentage each representing career worsts. Only in 2020 did he have a lesser slugging mark.
The residual effects of the suspension aren’t the sole possible explanation for Laureano’s down year. He carried a .223/.300/.395 line into mid-August, production that was below his previous career standards but still marginally above average after adjusting for the ballpark. He suffered a left oblique strain on August 15 and landed on the injured list. Upon returning three weeks later, he limped to a .108/.175/.216 mark in 40 trips to the dish before suffering a hamstring strain that ended his season.
Coming off that year, it’s certainly not an ideal time for Oakland to move him. Laureano’s suspension kept him from surpassing four years of service time last season — players don’t accrue service while on the restricted list — and extended Oakland’s window of arbitration control by another season. He’s eligible for arbitration through the end of 2025 and making $3.55MM for the coming season. That’s affordable even for a team that runs one of the league’s lowest payrolls. That all leaves open the potential for Oakland to hold Laureano into the coming season and reevaluate offers at the deadline after a hopeful better first half from the right-handed hitter.
Another club making a very strong offer in the coming weeks could change the calculus for Oakland, of course. It’s hard to imagine they’d steadfastly refuse to entertain any trade discussions on Laureano. Yet it’s also understandable the club doesn’t seem particularly eager to shop him with his stock at its current point. Assuming he stays in Oakland, he’ll join the likes of Ruiz, Seth Brown (if he’s not dealt himself), Cristian Pache, Conner Capel and Brent Rooker in the outfield mix.