- As the Athletics sort through their young position-player options, Joe Stiglich of CSN Bay Area writes, the club could consider giving Franklin Barreto some time in center field. Oakland seems to have a rather wide-open situation up the middle in the outfield grass. In the infield, though, there are several options at second base — including veteran Jed Lowrie, assuming he isn’t traded (and that his option is picked up, as appears likely). Stiglich runs through some other options; while there are a few internal players that may warrant consideration, it’s also conceivable that the team could use the opening to try an outside acquisition. (As I noted recently, Oakland could have a chance to take advantage of some outfield gluts in other organizations.) Regardless, as regards the 21-year-old Barreto, the key consideration is likely whether the team feels he’s best served taking on major league pitching or going back to Triple-A to iron out his strikeout issues.
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.
While the Athletics still face an uncertain path to finally landing a new ballpark, the club’s announcement of a target site has gained some support from the business community, Kimberly Veklerov of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. It certainly seems as if there’s some public relations jockeying going on as the ballclub attempts to ramp up its efforts. As Veklerov notes, some of the initial political response was less than fully supportive. And as the Chronicle further reports, there may be some environmental concerns with the site under consideration.
- The Athletics have a $6MM option or a $1M buyout on Jed Lowrie’s services for 2018, and Lowrie says he hopes the A’s retain him. “I love playing here,” he says. “I think being here surrounded by the good young players we have has been fun. So I hope to stay here, but you never know.” It would be eyebrow-raising, to say the least, if the A’s declined Lowrie’s option — he’s batting .276/.358/.444 this season. He could, however, be a trade candidate as the team attempts to find space for youngster Franklin Barreto.
- The Athletics’ new ballpark won’t open for several more years at a minimum, but the team’s future that far down the horizon could still be very bright, Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. The team has a solid young core that includes Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Franklin Barreto, Marcus Semien, Chad Pinder and Ryon Healy, along with prospects like A.J. Puk, Jorge Mateo, Dustin Fowler, Austin Beck and Lazaro Armenteros. Of course, it’s far from clear which of those players will be keys for the A’s five-plus years down the line — in fact, some of them, like Semien, could well depart via free agency by then. But Jenkins points out that, unlike with the nearby Giants, it’s already possible to imagine good future Athletics lineups based around the players they already have.
With just a few weeks left in the season, we have a pretty clear idea of which Rule 5 draft picks will stick with their drafting teams. At this point, having already carried the player this far and with expanded rosters easing any pressures, teams are quite likely to stay the course. Here’s how this season’s Rule 5 group has shaken out thus far:
It isn’t official yet, but these
- Miguel Diaz, RHP, kept by Padres (via Twins) from Brewers: As part of the Pads’ unusually bold Rule 5 strategy, the club kept three youngsters this year. Diaz, 22, has managed only a 6.21 ERA with a 31:22 K/BB ratio over 37 2/3 innings. But he is showing a 96 mph heater and will remain with the organization, quite likely heading back to the minors next season to continue his development.
- Luis Torrens, C, kept by Padres (via Reds) from Yankees: The youthful backstop — he’s just 21 — has struggled badly on offense in limited action. Through 133 plate appearances, he’s slashing just.169/.246/.212 — with just four extra-base hits, none of them home runs.
- Allen Cordoba, INF, kept by Padres from Cardinals: And then there’s Cordoba, who’s also just 21 years of age. He faded after a hot start at the plate, but on the whole his output — a .209/.284/.304 batting line and four home runs over 215 plate appearances — is fairly impressive given that he had never before played above Rookie ball.
- Dylan Covey, RHP, kept by White Sox from Athletics: Technically, owing to a DL stint, Covey has only compiled 83 of the minimum 90 days of active roster time required to be kept. But he’s going to make it there before the season is up, meaning that the Sox will be able to hold onto his rights and option him back to the minors in 2018. Covey, 26, has struggled to a 7.90 ERA with 4.9 K/9 against 4.4 BB/9 over 54 2/3 innings, allowing 18 long balls in that span.
- Stuart Turner, C, kept by Reds from Twins: Turner has seen minimal action, appearing in just 33 games and taking only 77 trips to the plate. And he’s hitting just .141/.184/.268 in that sporadic action. Clearly, though, the Reds have seen enough to believe he’s worth the trouble to hang onto.
Still In Limbo
- Kevin Gadea, RHP, selected by Rays from Mariners: Gadea has not pitched at any level this year owing to an elbow injury. He’ll remain with the Tampa Bay organization for the time being, but will still need to be carried on the 40-man roster over the offseason and then on the active roster for at least ninety days for his rights to permanently transfer.
- Armando Rivero, RHP, selected by Braves from Cubs: It’s the exact same situation for Rivero as for Gadea, though he has had shoulder problems.
- Josh Rutledge, INF, selected by Red Sox from Rockies: This was not your typical Rule 5 move. Boston snagged the veteran infielder after he signed a minors deal with Colorado. He ended up seeing minimal MLB time owing to injuries and his season ended recently with hip surgery. Rutledge is eligible for arbitration this fall and isn’t likely to be kept on the 40-man roster regardless.
- Anthony Santander, OF, selected by Orioles from Indians: Since he only made it off of the DL late in the summer, Santander can accrue only 45 days on the active roster. If Baltimore wants to keep him, then, it’ll need to put him on the Opening Day roster next year. Santander has seen minimal playing time thus far, recording two hits in twelve trips to the plate, though he put up impressive numbers on his rehab assignment.
Kept By Other Means
- Daniel Stumpf, LHP, signed with Tigers after electing free agency upon return to Royals: This is another unusual situation. As a previous Rule 5 returnee, Stumpf was eligible to elect free agency upon being returned to his original organization. That’s just what happened when Detroit sent him back to Kansas City; the southpaw then turned around and re-signed a MLB deal with the Tigers. He has ended up turning in a rather productive year, posting 32 1/3 innings of 2.78 ERA ball with 8.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 at the major-league level and showing even more impressive numbers during his time at Triple-A.
- Tyler Jones, RHP, returned to Yankees by Diamondbacks: Jones has thrown rather well at Triple-A since going back to the New York organization, posting 10.7 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 in 63 2/3 innings, though he has also allowed 4.38 earned per nine.
- Caleb Smith, LHP, returned to Yankees by Brewers: Smith ended up earning a 40-man roster spot and spending some time in the majors after showing quite well as a starter in the minors. But he has been knocked around in his 18 2/3 MLB frames on the year.
- Justin Haley, RHP, returned to Red Sox by Twins (via Angels): The 26-year-old didn’t stick with Minnesota, allowing a dozen earned runs in 18 innings before being returned to Boston. But he has thrown well since landing back at Triple-A Pawtucket, posting a 2.66 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 in 44 innings over seven starts.
- Tyler Webb, LHP, returned to Yankees by Pirates: Webb also gained a 40-man spot with the Yankees after showing some intriguing K/BB numbers at Triple-A. He was ultimately dealt to the Brewers.
- Aneury Tavarez, OF, returned to Red Sox by Orioles: Tavarez played his way back up to Triple-A upon his return to his former organization, but has hit just .244/.292/.400 in 145 plate appearances there.
- Glenn Sparkman, RHP, returned to Royals by Blue Jays: Sparkman was bombed in his one MLB appearance and has been limited to just 30 1/3 minor-league frames due to injury.
- Hoby Milner, LHP, returned to Phillies by Indians: Another player who has risen to the majors with the organization that originally let them leave via the Rule 5, Milner has turned in 24 1/3 frames of 1.85 ERA ball in Philadelphia. Of course, he has also managed just 15 strikeouts against ten walks in that span.
- Mike Hauschild, RHP, returned to Astros by Rangers: The 27-year-old righty struggled badly in his eight MLB frames. Upon returning to the rotation for Houston’s top affiliate, Hauschild has uncharacteristically struggled with free passes (5.3 per nine).
The Athletics’ search for a new ballpark has gone on now for years and taken many twists and turns. It’s far from over, but as Phil Matier and Andy Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle report, the club has now settled on a preferred location for a new park that would keep the club in Oakland.
A’s president Dave Kaval has penned a letter to the Peralta Community College District expressing interest in building on a parcel of land in the vicinity of Oakland’s Laney College, per the report. Working out an agreement with the landowner is just one of many steps that would be required, of course, with massive infrastructure and permitting needs among the major hurdles to be cleared.
The A’s intend to utilize private financing to construct the ballpark, which is expected to cost something in the range of $500MM. Kaval emphasized that the preferred site had advantages in securing the needed investment against the other sites that had been considered, including potential for nearby mixed-use development. You’ll certainly want to read the full reporting from Matier and Ross to understand the considerations at play and remaining obstacles.
Kaval also hinted at some real optimism despite the long road ahead. “Finally, we’ve got our site,” he said, suggesting that the team sees this as a key step. Even if things go well, though, the report makes clear that construction won’t begin until at least 2021, with the still-hypothetical new stadium potentially ready for games in the 2023 season.
The stakes are high for the A’s, who have been searching for years for an avenue to a new ballpark and now face a phase-out of MLB revenue sharing. While the O.co Coliseum has become something of a lovable dump, it is ill-equipped to maximize revenues. (Of course, it also became a possible site for a new park once the NFL’s Raiders left town; instead, the A’s propose turning it into a community sports park that might host an urban youth baseball academy.)
Many other organizations with less compelling needs have reaped huge financial windfalls through taxpayer-funded parks built through efforts that lacked many of the complications present here. While the A’s figure to seek quite a bit of public assistance for infrastructure projects, the team won’t be able to call upon public money or significant political streamlining to accomplish this complex undertaking.
- The Athletics installed Matt Olson at first base after dealing Yonder Alonso to Seattle last month and have gotten great results so far, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle notes. Olson has 17 homers in just 47 big-league games so far this year. The lefty-swinging Olson’s performance so far has suggested he doesn’t need much platoon help, either — three of his homers have come against lefties, including one today against Houston’s Tony Sipp. Olson was a former first-round pick and top prospect whose star faded somewhat after a mediocre 2016 with Triple-A Nashville, but after strong performances in both Nasvhille and Oakland this year, he appears to be very much back on the map. “Olson looks like the real deal,” says a rival scout, via Slusser. “I’ve been impressed with how he’s gotten on some pitches in the upper zone.”
- Right-hander Raul Alcantara is back with the Athletics, who have selected his contract and opened a 40-man spot by placing righty Paul Blackburn on the 60-day disabled list. Alcantara was outrighted after clearing waivers earlier this year, and he responded to his 40-man removal by posting a solid 2.67 ERA in 33 2/3 Triple-A frames (albeit with just 5.9 K/9 against a more impressive 1.9 BB/9 mark). Blackburn left a start in late August after being struck in the hand by a line drive, and while he’s only been diagnosed with a contusion, his season is over with that placement on the 60-day DL. He missed fewer bats than just about any pitcher in the league but still managed a 3.22 ERA in 58 2/3 innings with the A’s in his debut campaign.
With Athletics executive vice president Billy Beane in his 20th year atop the team’s baseball department, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle takes an interesting look at his legacy. Beane’s best known as the subject of the 2003 book “Moneyball,” which has made the executive an iconic figure in business circles, Slusser writes. The author, Michael Lewis, told Slusser that Beane “made it cool to bring science into player evaluation, and because of that, every businessperson in America wants to meet him.” Lewis’ book followed the 2002 A’s, who won 103 games and were part of a run that included four straight playoff berths and eight consecutive seasons of at least 87 victories for the franchise. The low-payroll A’s haven’t been nearly that successful in recent years (they’ll finish well below .500 for the third season in a row in 2017), in part because of the trade that sent third baseman Josh Donaldson to Toronto in 2014. Beane offered an unenthusiastic review of the move to Slusser, saying: “In hindsight, that was certainly questionable — and I’m being kind to myself. There were a number of reasons why, and Josh was a good player who became a great player — but when you make as many transactions as we do, some are going to be good and some are not going to be good.”