More to come.
The Blue Jays, Pirates, Reds, Red Sox, and Yankees have all shown interest in veteran second baseman/left fielder Tony Kemp, FanSided’s Robert Murray reports. These are the first teams linked to Kemp this offseason, as the 32-year-old is a free agent for the first time in his career.
One of the few experienced players on a young and rebuilding A’s team, Kemp has spent the last four years in Oakland, bridging the gap between the last contending Athletics club and its current state of extreme teardown. Most of his playing time has some against right-handed pitching (though Kemp’s career splits are pretty even against both righties and lefties), and Zack Gelof’s emergence at second base meant that Kemp was mostly a left fielder in the back half of the 2023 season.
Kemp’s own lack of production didn’t help his cause for more playing time, as he hit only .209/.303/.304 over 419 plate appearances last year. Kemp posted strong numbers in a part-time capacity with the A’s in 2021 and the Astros in 2018, though he has generally been a below-average hitter during his career, with a 94 wRC+.
It seems likely that any of Kemp’s suitors would be viewing him as a bench piece or platoon option at best, plus the respected Kemp would be a boost in any clubhouse. While he played some center field early in his career and he has a handful of games as a right fielder and shortstop, it seems like Kemp is pretty set as a two-position player, and the public defensive metrics have been more positive about his work as a left fielder than at second base.
Of the five teams mentioned by Murray, the Red Sox might be the cleanest fit for Kemp given that Tyler O’Neill and Vaughn Grissom (their projected left field/second base starters) are both right-handed hitters. Utilityman Rob Refsnyder is right-handed and infield backup Enmanuel Valdez is short on big league experience, perhaps creating an opening for Kemp on the roster. Red Sox manager Alex Cora is also a familiar face, as Cora was on Houston’s coaching staff during Kemp’s time with the Astros.
The Pirates have a pretty crowded second-base competition heading into the season, with Ji Hwan Bae, Liover Peguero, Nick Gonzales, Jared Triolo, and others all battling for time at the keystone. While the Bucs would prefer to see one of their youngsters grab the job, adding a seasoned player like Kemp could help add some depth in the event that nobody really breaks out. Kemp’s reputation as a leader could also be particularly useful for a young Pirates team, particularly after several players spoke of how the addition of such veteran voices as Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Santana helped the club last year.
New York, Cincinnati, and especially Toronto could all use some more left-handed balance in their lineups, though Kemp isn’t as clear-cut of a fit given how all three of these teams are already pretty deep in second base and left field options. Kemp’s experience could again be a factor here as something more of a proven commodity, in case any of the Reds’ prized young infielders need some more minor league seasoning or if the Yankees want some depth in case Oswaldo Cabrera or Oswald Peraza don’t develop at the plate.
Pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Spring Training in about three weeks but a slow offseason means there are still plenty of free agents out there. MLBTR already took a look at the catchers, first basemen, shortstops, third basemen, center fielders and starting pitchers still available and will now take a look at some notable second basemen.
- Whit Merrifield: A late bloomer who also signed an extension with the Royals, Merrifield is now a free agent for the first time at the age of 35. He’s never been a huge power guy, nor does he take many walks, but he’s tough to strike out and has had some success with the contact approach. He’s also provided defensive versatility by playing the keystone and the outfield, along with some brief time at the infield corners. In each of the past three years, he’s hit either 10 or 11 home runs while walking less than 7% of the time, but his strikeout rate has never climbed above 17.1%. He’s stolen 82 bases over those three seasons while getting solid defensive grades at second and passable marks in the outfield corners. His .284/.330/.420 career batting line translated to a 101 wRC+.
- Tim Anderson: From 2019 to 2022, Anderson hit .318/.347/.473 for the White Sox for a wRC+ of 123. But his batting line dropped all the way to .245/.286/.296 last year. That translated to a wRC+ of 60, the worst mark of any qualified hitter in the league. His glovework also seemed to decline, relative to his previous work. He’s a prime bounceback candidate, with an April knee injury perhaps helping to explain his poor results last year. The lack of available shortstops could lead to him getting a job at that position but he has expressed a willingness to move over to second going forward.
- Amed Rosario: Mostly a shortstop in his career, Rosario got his first taste of second base in the latter stages of the 2023 campaign. His glovework received solid marks at the keystone, albeit in a small sample of 190 innings. But since he was never considered a strong defensive shortstop, he’s probably best suited to move across the bag regardless. Like Anderson, the weak shortstop market might get him a gig at that spot but he could be a solid option on the other side if that’s his best bet. He’s also a bounceback candidate, having hit .263/.305/.378 for a wRC+ of 88 last year but .282/.315/.412 for a 101 wRC+ in the four previous seasons.
- Donovan Solano: Somewhat quietly, Solano has been an excellent utility piece over the past five years. Since the start of the 2019 season, he has hit .296/.355/.413 for a wRC+ of 112. His on-base percentage hasn’t been below .339 in any of those seasons and his wRC+ never below 100. He’s done that while playing all four infield positions, though he hasn’t played shortstop in the past two years. The majority of his time in the field has come at second base, where he’s received passable reviews for his glovework.
- Adam Frazier: Somewhat similar to Merrifield, Frazier doesn’t walk much or run up huge power numbers, but he’s tough to strike out and does a few things well. His 13 homers in 2023 were a career high and he has career walk and strikeout rates of 7.4% and 13%, respectively. He’s hit .269/.331/.393 overall for a wRC+ of 98, though his 2023 output was slightly below that, except in the power department. DRS likes his glovework at the keystone but OAA doesn’t, though both like his work as an outfielder. He’s tallied double-digit steal totals in each of the past three seasons.
The Giants lost second baseman Thairo Estrada for over a month when he fractured his left hand on a hit-by-pitch two Sundays back. San Francisco president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi told reporters last week that Estrada’s injury could affect the team’s deadline outlook.
“We’ve got to at least evaluate what we have in the middle infield,” Zaid said on Friday. “Kind of just keep an eye on the market and see if there’s someone that can be impactful there and weigh that against continuing to give opportunities to Casey [Schmitt] and Brett [Wisely].”
With Zaidi and his staff examining things, let’s take a look at some potential options. The middle infield market is light on apparent trade candidates. Most of the available short-term solutions are having average or worse seasons. Perhaps a longer-shot name comes available (we’ll take a look at a few potential options at the back of the list), but the likely scenario is that San Francisco sifts through stopgap types.
- Paul DeJong ($9MM salary, controllable through 2025 via club options)
A quality everyday shortstop early in his career, DeJong fell off at the plate by 2021. He combined to hit .182/.269/.352 between 2021-22. The Cards optioned him to Triple-A last summer. He’s rebounded somewhat in 2023, putting together a .231/.302/.434 line with 12 home runs in 245 trips to the plate. Paired with his customary above-average defense, he reclaimed the primary shortstop job in St. Louis.
DeJong’s profile isn’t without flaws. He’s striking out in more than 30% of his plate appearances. His production has been very platoon-dependent. The right-handed hitter is mashing southpaws at a .269/.381/.500 clip but reaching base at a meager .275 rate against righty pitching. He could step in as a short-term replacement for the righty-swinging Estrada at second base while potentially taking a few at-bats against lefty pitching from Brandon Crawford at shortstop later in the year.
- Tim Anderson ($12.5MM salary, $14MM club option for 2024)
MLBTR’s Darragh McDonald recently explored the White Sox’s dilemma regarding Anderson. He’s an All-Star caliber shortstop at his best — a threat to hit over .300 with double-digit homers and steals. That player hasn’t shown up in 2023. Anderson has been among the worst regulars in the sport, hitting .223/.259/.263 without a single round-tripper.
Where does that leave Chicago? They’re 16 games under .500 and preparing to move short-term players. Trading Anderson now would be an obvious sell-low, but this could be their last chance to get a return at all. A $14MM club option that looked like a no-brainer a few months ago is now more borderline. If the Sox are leaning towards buying Anderson out next winter, then a trade would be advisable. He only has two MLB starts at a position other than shortstop but would presumably have to move to second base if San Francisco were interested in buying low.
- Cavan Biggio ($2.8MM salary, arbitration-eligible through 2025) / Santiago Espinal ($2.1MM salary, arbitration-eligible through 2026)
Biggio and Espinal have been pushed out of the everyday lineup in Toronto. Whit Merrifield has taken over as the primary second baseman. Biggio is bouncing between right field and the keystone. Espinal is covering multiple infield spots off the bench.
Neither player is hitting well this season, though they’ve both shown better in the past. Biggio was an above-average bat from 2019-20 thanks to huge walk totals. Espinal was an All-Star a season ago and combines defensive versatility with plus contact skills. The Jays don’t have to move either but could find one of them expendable, particularly if they can bring back immediate pitching help in a trade.
- Ramón Urías (pre-arbitration, controllable through 2026) / Adam Frazier ($8MM salary, impending free agent)
Like Toronto, Baltimore enters deadline season as a buyer. The O’s have plenty of infield depth, however, so they could consider ways to deal from that surplus to address the pitching staff. Urías, 29, established himself as a regular last year when he hit 16 home runs while playing Gold Glove defense at third base. He’s hitting .261/.328/.396 with only four homers in 229 trips to the plate this season. He can play either second or third base and will reach arbitration for the first time next winter.
Frazier’s only two years older than Urías but much further along in his career. The former All-Star is actually Baltimore’s highest-paid position player at $8MM. He’s a bottom-of-the-lineup second baseman hitting .232/.299/.397 with 10 homers over 297 trips to the plate. The recent promotion of top prospect Jordan Westburg to join Gunnar Henderson in the everyday infield leaves fewer at-bats for the likes of Urías, Frazier and Jorge Mateo.
- Nicky Lopez ($3.7MM salary, arbitration-eligible through 2025)
Lopez is a light-hitting defensive specialist who can cover either middle infield spot. He’s a career .249/.312/.319 hitter in just more than 1800 plate appearances. Lopez is tough to strike out but has bottom-of-the-scale power and hasn’t homered since 2021. Public metrics consider him an above-average defender throughout the infield. He’s controllable for two additional seasons, but a last place Kansas City team could put him on the market this summer.
- Tony Kemp ($3.725MM salary, impending free agent)
Kemp is a clear trade candidate as a rental on a terrible A’s team. If Oakland can find any interest this summer, they’ll move him. A left-handed hitter, Kemp has only hit .197/.286/.283 on the season. He’s played fairly well of late after a dreadful first couple months, though. Going back to the start of June, the veteran has a .272/.359/.407 line with eight walks and only six strikeouts in 94 plate appearances. It wouldn’t be the most exciting acquisition, but Kemp could be a short-term option if the Giants want a stopgap until Estrada returns without sacrificing any notable prospect talent.
- Gleyber Torres ($9.95MM salary, arbitration-eligible through 2024)
Torres is one of the few Yankees’ hitters with slightly above-average offensive numbers on the year. The right-handed hitting second baseman owns a .251/.325/.413 line with 13 homers over 375 trips to the dish. Torres has strong strikeout and walk numbers but modest batted ball marks. He has rated as an average defensive second baseman by measure of both Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast.
New York is a game back in the AL Wild Card picture. They’re likely to look for ways to upgrade the offense in the next few weeks. A Torres trade isn’t especially likely, but it’s not inconceivable. Oswald Peraza is in Triple-A and could soon be an option to step in at second base on a regular basis. The Yankees have short-term questions at third base and in the corner outfield.
The organization is also right up against the fourth luxury tax line at $293MM. They were reportedly reluctant to cross that threshold over the offseason; owner Hal Steinbrenner suggested a few weeks ago it wasn’t a firm cap but implied the team would want an impactful acquisition to go over that mark. Reallocating a few million dollars in a Torres trade could clear some flexibility for a subsequent acquisition.
- Nolan Gorman (pre-arbitration, controllable through 2028) / Brendan Donovan (pre-arbitration, controllable through 2028)
The Cardinals would have to be blown away to part with either Gorman or Donovan. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak conceded yesterday the club would probably part with short-term assets. Gorman and Donovan have the chance to be core players for years to come.
Trading DeJong is the more straightforward path for St. Louis. They have enough infield depth it’s theoretically possible another club could sway them on Gorman, Donovan or Tommy Edman — likely by dangling high-upside young pitching. That’s probably beyond what San Francisco has in mind.
In late January, I took a look at some of the Athletics’ options in what’s a generally crowded mix of rotation possibilities. Calling it a true logjam or crunch might overstate things a bit, as those monikers are typically more appropriate when there are more established players than there are spots to go around. For the A’s, it was more a matter how they can divide up the innings among a wide variety of unproven names.
Similar questions persist in the outfield, where Oakland has one lock for playing time and otherwise a carousel of names who could rotate through the remaining spots. Ramon Laureano is a fixture in the outfield and will continue to be through much of the season’s first half, at least (health-permitting). Laureano can play all three spots but has been better in right field than in center recently. He’s coming off a disappointing .211/.287/.376 batting line in 2022, but from 2018-21 he slashed .263/.335/.465 while playing quality defense.
Were it not for injuries and an 80-game PED suspension derailing Laureano’s trajectory, he might already have been traded by now. The A’s have gutted the rest of the roster while embarking on their latest rebuild, but Laureano is one of the few remaining veterans. Trading him this offseason would’ve been selling low, but it’d only take a couple months of productive ball to restore some of the 2018-21 shine. With a good showing in April, May and June, expect Laureano to be among the more talked-about trade candidates on the summer market.
Because of that, he should be penciled in for full-time at-bats in the outfield. It seems likely that’ll come more in the corners than in center, but whatever form it takes, Laureano’s going to be out there every day.
As far as the rest of the outfield is concerned, things are far murkier. Let’s take a look at who’ll be vying for playing time…
On the 40-man roster
Cristian Pache, 24, RHH, no minor league options remaining
Pache’s lack of minor league options and lack of production in either Triple-A or the Majors make him the most confounding player of this group. He’s still just 24 years old, is considered to be an elite defender, and as recently as the 2020-21 offseason was considered to be among the 20 best prospects in all of baseball. Pache’s bat simply hasn’t developed, however, evidenced by a disastrous .156/.205/.254 batting line in 332 MLB plate appearances and an ugly .248/.298/.389 showing in Triple-A last season. Pache posted five Defensive Runs Saved and eight Outs Above Average in only 646 innings last year. He’s one of the best defensive players in the game but currently one of its worst hitters. The A’s can’t send him down without exposing him to waivers, and the glove alone would probably get Pache claimed. At the same time, it’s hard to keep trotting him out there with such an anemic batting line. Giving up on Pache as an everyday player and relegating him to a bench role is also unpalatable, though, given his youth and the fact that he was one of the key pieces in the trade that sent Matt Olson to the Braves. The A’s have to hope Pache can somehow develop his offensive approach at the big league level, and if he can’t, he could eventually force them into a tough decision. A big spring could also position him as a trade candidate; manager Mark Kotsay candidly admitted last month that Pache could be “showcasing himself for 29 other teams.”
Esteury Ruiz, 24, RHH, two minor league options remaining
The Pache dilemma is exacerbated by the fact that the A’s acquired another potential center fielder in this offseason’s Sean Murphy trade. The 24-year-old Ruiz stole a whopping 86 bases in 2022 and is considered among the fastest players in the sport. Like Pache, he has the potential for plus range in center, though scouting reports are far more bullish on Pache’s instincts and overall defensive prowess. There are some similar red flags with Ruiz’s game, though his minor league numbers are a sight to behold. He hit .332/.447/.526 in 541 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A last season, but Ruiz also posted bottom-of-the-scale exit velocity and hard contact numbers. His lack of hard contact can be somewhat erased by what’ll surely be plenty of infield hits, but there are questions about how impactful his bat and glove can be at the game’s top level. He’s ready for a look right now, but playing time will depend on how the A’s view Pache and, quite likely, their other offseason outfield acquisition. Speaking of which…
JJ Bleday, 25, LHH, three minor league options remaining
Acquired in a straight-up swap for reliever A.J. Puk, Bleday is a former No. 4 overall draft pick whose prospect star has dimmed in recent years as he’s struggled throughout the minors. The Marlins have spent several years in search of an everyday center fielder and still don’t have one, yet they were content to trade Bleday for a controllable bullpen piece. Scouting reports on Bleday peg him as more of a left fielder, and clearly the Marlins agree, or else they wouldn’t have moved on. Bleday has above-average raw power, but he strikes out and pops up too often in trying to get to it in a game setting. He’s a career .225/.337/.409 hitter in the minors, and his strikeout rate has risen at every level, topping out at 27% in Triple-A last year and 28.2% in his 238-plate appearance MLB debut. Bleday took 605 PAs between Triple-A and the Majors last season and, in addition to 166 strikeouts, he popped up a staggering 33 times. That’s an automatic out in nearly one-third of his plate appearances. The A’s can offer some new coaching perspective, so perhaps they can unlock something in Bleday that the Marlins couldn’t, but so far the results on Bleday haven’t come close to aligning with his draft status.
Seth Brown, 30, LHH, two minor league options remaining
Because Brown has spent so much time at first base and in right field (688 innings apiece), it may be a surprise to many that he’s also logged 141 innings in center. He’s not a great option there, but Brown can handle the spot in a pinch and can cycle through all three outfield spots, first base and designated hitter. He’ll have free-agent signee Jesus Aguilar and Oakland’s Rule 5 pick Ryan Noda (more on him in a bit) competing for time at those positions, however, so Brown could see a fair bit of outfield work. The 30-year-old Brown smashed 25 home runs last year and stands as one of the team’s primary power threats. Virtually all of his MLB production has come against righties, which leads to some easy platoon maneuverings. Brown will be arbitration-eligible next winter, and if he continues bashing righties in the first half, he’ll join Laureano on the trade market.
Tony Kemp, 31, LHH, cannot be optioned without his consent (five-plus years of service time)
One of the team’s elder statesmen at just 31 years of age, Kemp is another likely summer trade candidate. He’s spent more time at second base than in left field over the past few seasons, but he’s played both with a fair degree of regularity. Oakland’s signing of Aledmys Diaz could cut into his time at second base, though. Kemp, like Brown, is a better hitter against righties, though the split isn’t as glaring in his case. He should be out there regularly to begin the season, but the presence of Diaz and looming prospect Zack Gelof feels like it’ll eventually lead to a trade, so long as Kemp is playing reasonably well.
Aledmys Diaz, 32, RHH, cannot be optioned
The A’s needed to spend some money this offseason, and luring free-agent bats to a last-place club in a cavernous home park can’t be easy. They paid up on a pair of multi-year deals for versatile infield/outfield veterans Diaz and Jace Peterson (the former of whom seems ticketed for regular work at third base). Diaz can act as a left-handed complement to Kemp at second base, mix in at all four infield slots and will probably also see occasional time in left field and at designated hitter. He’s making more than $7MM this season, which is a sizable sum by Oakland’s standards, so expect him to play fairly regularly.
Ryan Noda, 26, LHH, cannot be optioned (Rule 5 Draft pick)
Noda will need to earn his way onto the roster, but he’s a first base/corner outfield slugger who was blocked in Los Angeles by names like Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. With the A’s, there are no such roadblocks to playing time, and he’ll get the chance to prove his career .894 OPS in the minors, including a .259/.396/.474 showing in Triple-A Oklahoma City last year can carry over to the big league level, to some extent. Noda, 27 later this month, has nearly twice as much first base time as he does corner outfield time in his pro career, but the A’s grabbed him for his bat, and he’ll get chances against righties so long as he earns a spot this spring.
Conner Capel, 25, LHH, two minor league options remaining
Capel posted a respectable .264/.364/.422 slash in Triple-A between the Cardinals and the A’s (who claimed him off waivers from St. Louis) in 2022. A 40-plate appearance cup of coffee in Oakland resulted in an eye-popping .371/.425/.600 slash late in the season, though a .423 average on balls in play in that tiny sample had plenty to do with it. Capel’s minor league track record is more solid than standout, but he’s on the 40-man roster and will try to hit his way into an Opening Day roster spot, even if he doesn’t share the recent production and/or prospect pedigree of some of his competitors.
Cal Stevenson, 26, LHH, two minor league options remaining
A thrice-traded former 10th-round pick, Stevenson turned heads with a .322/.413/.529 output in Triple-A last year — his first season in the A’s organization. That came on the heels of his inclusion in the trade sending Christian Bethancourt from Oakland to Tampa Bay, and Stevenson’s overall Triple-A output clocked in at .284/.389/.413 in 307 plate appearances. Stevenson walks at a high clip and has strong bat-to-ball skills, but he’s not a premium defender and has never topped nine home runs in a full season.
Brent Rooker, 28, RHH, one minor league option remaining
The former No. 35 overall pick (Minnesota, 2017), Rooker came to the A’s by way of a waiver claim. Oakland is his fourth team in the past calendar year, as clubs continue to be intrigued by his raw power and minor league production even as injuries and MLB struggles have undercut his appeal. Rooker is a first baseman/left fielder who has a career .274/.387/.590 slash and 62 dingers in 906 Triple-A plate appearances, but he’s mustered tepid .200/.289/.379 line in 270 big league plate appearances. It’s big-time right-handed pop, but Rooker needs to cut back on the 31.9% strikeout rate he’s shown in the Majors.
Given the slate of options already on the 40-man roster, it’s not a huge surprise that the A’s didn’t add a ton of minor league outfield depth over the winter. Cody Thomas was retained after they passed him through waivers following a DFA, and he’s in camp as a non-roster invitee. Thomas carved up Triple-A pitching in 2021 but missed nearly all of 2022 on the injured list. If he can get back to that ’21 form (.289/.363/.665), he could get another look in 2023. Meanwhile, old friend Greg Deichmann is back in the organization on his own minor league deal after scuffling in his lone full season with the Cubs (who acquired him in the 2021 trade that sent Andrew Chafin from Chicago to Oakland).
Looking just at the names on the 40-man roster, there are clearly far more bodies than at-bats to go around. The A’s are somewhat handcuffed by Pache’s lack of options, so he seems likely to make the roster and occupy at least a part-time role. Both Ruiz and Bleday are clearly viewed as potential outfield regulars by the Athletics’ front office, though neither is a necessary lock to break camp on the active roster (even if they’ll surely be given every opportunity to do so). The A’s are the perfect club to carry someone like Noda — a polished upper-minors hitter who can’t be optioned given his Rule 5 status — but they’ll need to also get Kemp and Brown sufficient at-bats (particularly if the goal is ultimately to trade one or both this summer).
Each of Capel, Stevenson and Rooker could factor into plans as well, though that trio ostensibly feels more like upper-minors depth or perhaps part-time options off the bench. On many clubs, playing time with this type of saturated outfield mix would boil down to a meritocracy, but the rebuilding A’s can and likely will be more patient with out-of-options players, Rule 5 selections and hopeful summer trade chips.
It’s a fluid situation, one without clear answers. An ideal situation would see Laureano, Brown and Kemp play well enough to be traded for decent returns, while Pache takes enough of a step forward to hold down center field as Ruiz and Bleday emerge as viable options on either side of him (all while Noda hits enough to seize the first base job). Things rarely work out so smoothly for any club, however. The A’s badly need some of their newly acquired outfield talent to pan out, though, as last offseason’s slate of trades did little to improve the long-term outlook. How they allot playing time on the path to reaching that end goal will be one of the key stories to monitor for A’s fans this year.
The 2022 season has been a disappointing one for A’s second baseman/outfielder Tony Kemp, who’s followed up last year’s .279/.382/.418 slash with a flimsy .235/.308/.335 output through a career-high 554 plate appearances. Kemp, due a raise on his $2.25MM salary in what will be his final trip through the arbitration process, seemingly acknowledged his status as a potential trade or non-tender candidate, telling Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle that he hopes he’ll get the chance to rebound with Oakland next season.
“I want to be with this team,” Kemp said yesterday. “…going into my last year of arbitration I just think that being able to be part of this team would be something special.”
A’s skipper Mark Kotsay gave Kemp a vote of confidence, lauding the 30-year-old’s improved second-half play and touting him as a potential clubhouse leader for the 2023 team. Kemp, to his credit, is hitting .278/.343/.429 in the season’s second half, but the A’s have been focused on shedding payroll since last offseason began; time will tell whether Kemp becomes another step toward that end.
Kemp’s salary next season will by no means break the bank — likely falling shy of the $4MM range. As I noted when previewing Oakland’s upcoming offseason, the A’s don’t have a single dollar committed to next year’s roster at the moment, with Kemp, catcher Sean Murphy, outfielder Ramon Laureano, righty Paul Blackburn and perhaps lefties A.J. Puk and Cole Irvin (depending on this year’s Super Two cutoff) standing as the team’s notable arbitration-eligible players. (Murphy, who drew ample interest prior to the summer trade deadline, figures to generate plenty of interest again this offseason.)
One player who assuredly won’t be back — at least in a playing capacity — is veteran catcher Stephen Vogt, who announced late last month that he’d retire at season’s end. A ten-year veteran with a unique career arc and future managerial aspirations, Vogt seems far from done in with baseball as a whole. Whether the next steps for him are to pursue coaching/managing, front-office work or even a career in the broadcast booth remain to be determined, but the Chronicle’s John Shea spoke to Kotsay, GM David Forst and broadcaster Ken Korach about why Vogt would excel at any of the three.
Kotsay praised Vogt’s ability to have tough conversations with teammates — “telling guys things they need to hear, not things they want to hear” — and cited recent examples of Vogt doing just that. Beyond Kotsay’s own belief that Vogt has a future in managing, he noted to Shea that Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who managed Vogt in 2017, has remarked in the past that Vogt could eventually even be his successor in Milwaukee.
Forst, too, noted Vogt’s leadership traits and “ability to connect with everybody in the clubhouse,” adding that such traits are also important on the front-office side of the game. Forst compared Vogt’s skill set to that of former A’s outfielder and current Phillies general manager Sam Fuld, adding that Vogt will quite likely “be good at whatever he chooses to do.”
The 28-year-old Irvin name-checked Vogt after yesterday’s game, telling reporters that he’s “learned a lot” from Vogt, specifically with regard to his preparation for each start (link via Martin Gallegos of MLB.com). Irvin’s six shutout innings Tuesday dropped his ERA back under 4.00 — a personal goal of his after he’d struggled through a rough patch over the past month or so. The lefty voiced pride in making 30-plus starts in consecutive seasons and, after finishing this year with a career-high 181 innings, noted that reaching 200 frames will be a goal in 2023.
At this point, any A’s player with some success and a potential arbitration salary will draw his share of trade speculation, but Kotsay spoke glowingly of Irvin’s increased role as a leader on the pitching staff and spoke of him as an important piece to the 2023 roster: “I’m looking forward to seeing him again next year.”
Oakland’s acquisition of Irvin didn’t garner much attention at the time, but sending cash to the Phillies following the left-hander’s DFA in late January of 2021 has proven to be one of the best quiet acquisitions the A’s have made in recent years. Over the past two seasons, Irvin has started 62 games and pitched to a combined 4.11 ERA in 359 1/3 innings. The 2022 season saw Irvin make slight improvements in his strikeout rate, walk rate, swinging-strike rate, called-strike rate and opponents’ chase rate over last year’s levels.
Irvin will head into the offseason with two years, 120 days (2.120) of Major League service time. That’ll put him right on the Super Two bubble, potentially setting him up for four trips through the arbitration process, rather than the standard three. The Super Two cutoffs over the last three seasons have been 2.116, 2.125 and 2.115, respectively, so Irvin would’ve made the cut in two of the three seasons. The 27-year-old Puk, who’s saved four games and piled up 20 holds while pitching to a 3.12 ERA in 66 1/3 innings of relief, is in a similar boat with 2.124 years of service time.
In recent days, MLBTR has taken a look at some players who could find themselves on the move between the conclusion of the lockout and the start of the season. First, Tim Dierkes looked at the league’s 14 likeliest trade candidates. Steve Adams then ran through some impact players who, to varying degrees, could find themselves in trade rumors whenever transactions resume.
Today we’ll look at other regulars who we could envision changing uniforms in the relatively near future. Acquiring any of the players on today’s list wouldn’t be quite as splashy as landing the stars we covered last week, but it’s easy to envision any one of them assuming an important, regular role on a new team.
Before we get into the list, a quick note on methodology. In defining “plausible” trade candidates, we looked at players we felt had somewhere between a 20% and 50% chance of being dealt before the start of the season. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive list of trade possibilities — almost any player around the league could theoretically move if another team made the right offer — but it’s meant to capture a tier of regulars we wouldn’t be surprised to see change hands. In an exercise of this nature, there has to be a somewhat arbitrary line that delineates the last of the players who, in our view, are “plausible” trade candidates. Players like Gary Sánchez and Jesús Aguilar were discussed internally but fell just on the other side of that line.
Now, on to the list. The players are ordered by what we feel to be their likelihood of getting traded (all arbitration projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz):
John Means, Orioles SP
Buster Olney of ESPN reported in November that the Orioles were “dangling” Means in trade talks. Baltimore’s rebuilding and seemingly amenable to offers on anyone on the roster, but it remains to be seen how actively they’ll push to make their top starting pitcher available. With Means controllable through 2024 and projected for a modest $3.1MM salary, the O’s needn’t force a deal this offseason.
The 28-year-old presents a tricky evaluation for teams. He got off to an excellent start to the season, posting a 2.28 ERA (albeit with a 4.20 FIP) through his first 71 innings. Means then landed on the injured list with a shoulder strain. After returning in July, he posted a 4.88 ERA down the stretch, watching his strikeout rate tumble almost six percentage points in the process. The medical evaluation will be critical, but teams that are comfortable with the state of Means’ shoulder moving forward might expect him to regain the strong mid-rotation form he showed early in the year.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Rangers SS/3B
Kiner-Falefa has been a solid regular for the Rangers for the past couple seasons. He spent 2020 at third base, then was tasked with moving up the defensive spectrum to shortstop last year. Defensive Runs Saved loved his glovework at short; Statcast’s Outs Above Average did not. Kiner-Falefa finished third in the 2021 Fielding Bible shortstop award voting. There’s not much question he’s a very good defender at the hot corner, and most teams would probably at least feel comfortable with him moonlighting at shortstop if need be.
Texas remade their middle infield in free agency, signing Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. Kiner-Falefa could kick back to third base, but the Rangers have top prospect Josh Jung nearing big league readiness at the position. Controllable for two more seasons and projected for a $4.9MM salary, he could stick around as a utility guy. But if another team buys him as a plus defender at shortstop, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Texas ship him somewhere he can continue playing everyday. Kiner-Falefa’s .271/.312/.357 line fits better at the bottom of a lineup, but he brings good contact skills and a solid infield glove to the table. MLBTR’s Steve Adams explored the possibility of a Kiner-Falefa trade at greater length this afternoon.
Raimel Tapia, Rockies LF
Reports out of Denver have suggested the Rockies could look to move Tapia, projected for a $3.9MM salary in his second-to-last arbitration-eligible season. The Rox need to bolster an offense that was among the league’s worst last year, and they’re seemingly planning to make a splash in the corner outfield. That’d probably push Tapia — who’s spent almost his entire MLB career in left field — out of the everyday lineup.
Tapia has never hit at the level one would hope from an everyday left fielder. One could argue he’s better suited for a fourth outfield role regardless. He’s a plus runner with good bat-to-ball skills, though, and he ranked among Baseball America’s top 50 overall prospects back in 2017. It’s certainly not out of the question another team takes a flier on him, particularly if the Rockies are willing to take a minimal return after acquiring his replacement.
Chris Paddack, Padres SP
The pre-lockout agreement with Nick Martínez bumped a bunch of the Friars’ younger arms down a peg on the rotation depth chart. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently explored, that could pave the way for them to move one of their controllable starters. If they do, Paddack looks the likeliest of the bunch. He’s arbitration-eligible and projected for a $2.1MM salary. That’s certainly affordable, but the Padres could be looking to open some payroll space after exceeding the luxury tax threshold last year.
Paddack has had back-to-back down seasons after a promising rookie campaign. But he’s still only 26 years old, boasts pristine control, and teams can dream on him recapturing his 2019 form. That he’s controllable for three seasons could be of particular appeal to teams like the Rangers and Nationals (who expressed interest at last summer’s deadline) who might be eyeing 2023 as a more plausible contention year.
Ryan Yarbrough, Rays SP
Yarbrough has been a flexible member of the Rays pitching staff for the past few years. He’s worked variably as a traditional long reliever, a bulk man behind an opener and as a true starting pitcher. Yarbrough posted an ERA of 4.13 or lower in each of his first three seasons, but he scuffled to a 5.11 mark in 2021. That came without meaningful changes to his strikeout and walk numbers, though, and Yarbrough remained excellent at avoiding hard contact.
The Rays likely anticipate the southpaw will return to form, but his price is escalating. Tampa Bay is already projected for a franchise-record payroll, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they move some of their arbitration-eligible players for pre-arb or minor league talent. Yarbrough is projected for a $4.4MM salary and remains under team control through 2024.
Austin Meadows, Rays LF/DH
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times wrote over the weekend that the Rays could be open to moving Meadows, who is projected for a $4.3MM salary. Controllable through 2024, Meadows would be a long-term option for Tampa Bay or any potential acquiring team, but the Rays have proven willing to field offers on almost anyone on the roster. And with the aforementioned payroll outlook for the typically low-spending club, the front office figures to be amenable to ways to pare back costs.
Meadows is coming off a decent season, in which he hit .234/.315/.458 with 27 homers over 591 plate appearances. That marked a bounceback from a below-average offensive showing during the shortened 2020 schedule, but it’s a fair bit shy of his career-best .291/.364/.558 line the season before that. Meadows isn’t a great defender, so he needs to mash to be a star. He did that in 2019, but he’s otherwise been a good-not-great hitter. That’s still a valuable player to have on hand, but unless the Rays anticipate him replicating his peak season this year, it’d be sensible to listen to offers.
Tony Kemp, Athletics 2B/LF
Kemp has bounced around the league a bit in recent seasons. He plays second base and left field, but advanced metrics have pegged him as a fringy defender at the keystone. Kemp doesn’t bring a ton of power to the table, and he’s already 30 years old. It’s not the easiest profile to make work, explaining why he has yet to find a long-term home.
There’s no questioning Kemp’s 2021 results, though. Over 397 plate appearances, he hit .279/.382/.418. Both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference pegged him as worth around three wins above replacement. Kemp has excellent plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills, and he could be trending towards a late-career emergence in the mold of former A’s second baseman Tommy La Stella. The market for teams on the hunt for second base help is pretty thin. Kemp, who avoided arbitration on a $2.25MM salary and is controllable through 2023, would be an affordable pickup if the A’s move him as part of their anticipated post-lockout efforts to trim payroll and reboot the roster.
Manuel Margot, Rays OF
MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk recently looked at the possibility of the Rays making Margot available. He’s projected for a $5MM arbitration salary as he enters his final year of club control. That’s a reasonable salary for a player of Margot’s caliber, but Tampa Bay has plenty of cheaper, controllable outfielders on hand, and top prospect Josh Lowe looks ready to step into an everyday role somewhere in the grass after a monster season in Triple-A.
It’s not out of the question Tampa trades away multiple outfielders, but if they move the more expensive Kevin Kiermaier, Margot sticking around to handle center field is certainly possible. The latter might have broader appeal around the league, though. Not only is he set to make around a third of Kiermaier’s remaining guarantees, Statcast credited Margot with a league-best +16 Outs Above Average in the outfield last year. He’s never been more than an average hitter, but acceptable offense coupled with Gold Glove caliber defense is a very valuable player. There’s also a dearth of center fielders available in free agency at this point.
Max Kepler, Twins OF
MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk recently broke down Kepler’s trade candidacy at great length. Guaranteed $16.25MM through 2023 and controllable for 2024 via club option, he’d be an affordable target for teams seeking outfield help. Yet Kepler’s offensive production has ticked down towards league average following what seemed to be a breakout showing in 2019. The Twins might prefer to hold onto him in hopes he rediscovers that form, but they just extended Byron Buxton and have former top prospects Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach in the fold as corner outfield options. A Kepler deal could be a creative way to address some of the team’s other issues in the starting rotation or at shortstop.
The Jays’ catching depth has been a topic of conversation throughout the offseason. Would Toronto part with one of their controllable backstops to land help in the rotation or infield? The signing of Kevin Gausman probably diminishes their need to land an impact starter via trade, although they’re likely to at least look for depth pieces.
Reese McGuire is a capable backup catcher who’s out of minor league options. Top prospect Gabriel Moreno is rapidly approaching and could be in the majors by the end of the season. Jansen offers a solid bend of power and defensive acumen, while Kirk has otherworldly bat-to-ball skills and an elite minor league track record. Toronto doesn’t have to move anyone from this group, but it could be an opportunity to consolidate their catching depth for help elsewhere on the roster.
Amed Rosario, Guardians SS/CF
Cleveland acquired Rosario from the Mets as part of the Francisco Lindor trade last offseason. His offensive numbers (.282/.321/.409) were fine, although neither Defensive Runs Saved nor Statcast was fond of his glovework at shortstop. Rosario’s aggressive approach at the plate will probably keep him from emerging as the star many envisioned he’d become as a prospect, but he has alright career hitting numbers, runs well and could be an option for teams at any of the up-the-middle positions on the diamond (aside from catcher).
The Guardians have a lot of infield depth, with several talented prospects in the high minors and already on the 40-man roster. With their seemingly annual need for outfield help, a Rosario trade could help balance the roster. Cleveland could also just give him more run in center or left field themselves, but it might be more straightforward to trade him to an infield-needy team with an outfield surplus. Rosario is projected for a $5MM salary and controllable through 2023.
Josh Bell, Nationals 1B
I covered Bell’s trade candidacy in greater length in late December. The Nationals are taking a step back in 2022, and he’s entering his final year of club control. A projected $10MM salary might scare away some suitors, but Bell would be a notable offensive upgrade for many teams around the league. The switch-hitter posted a .261/.347/.476 season-long mark, and he had an excellent 277/.381/.506 line with more walks than strikeouts after the All-Star Break.
Garrett Cooper, Marlins 1B/COF
Cooper has looked like a viable trade candidate for a few seasons. He’s part of a corner outfield/first base rotation in Miami that got a bit more crowded when the Fish signed Avisaíl García. The Marlins have suggested they could use García as their regular center fielder, but that’s less than ideal. If they land a center fielder after the lockout and push García to a more suitable right field role, Cooper might find himself squeezed for playing time.
A late bloomer, Cooper’s already 31 years old. He has quietly been a very productive hitter when healthy, though, including an excellent .284/.371/.478 line (133 wRC+) in 383 plate appearances since the start of 2020. Health is a big caveat for Cooper, who has had stints on the injured list in all five of his MLB seasons and missed the second half of last year with a left elbow injury. As MLBTR’s TC Zencka explored in December, he’d returned to taking batting practice and figures to be ready for 2022. Projected for a modest $3MM salary with an additional season of control thereafter, he could be an interesting flier, particularly for NL teams looking to add offense if/when the universal designated hitter is finalized.
Anthony Santander, Orioles RF/LF
Santander’s name has been floated around the rumor mill in years past. The Orioles are rebuilding, and he’s more of a complimentary piece than a likely member of the long-term core. Santander is limited to the corner outfield and has a very aggressive approach, though, making it crucial he makes plenty of contact and hits for power. He did that in the shortened 2020 season en route to a .261/.315/.575 line, but he couldn’t follow up on that success.
Last season, Santander had a couple injured list stints and struggled to a .241/.286/.433 mark. He signed for $3.15MM to avoid arbitration in November and remains controllable through 2024. Given their competitive window, the O’s would certainly listen to offers on Santander. But it remains to be seen whether there’ll be sufficient demand that Baltimore wouldn’t be better off hanging onto him and hoping he approximates his 2020 performance over the first few months of next season. MLBTR’s Darragh McDonald recently explored Santander’s trade candidacy in greater depth.
Zach Plesac, Guardians SP
Plesac isn’t yet arbitration eligible and he’s controllable for another four seasons. The Guardians might simply prefer to hang onto him, particularly after their 2021 season was derailed by rotation injuries. Yet as mentioned with regards to Rosario, Cleveland has significant concerns in the outfield. They’ve dealt key starting pitchers over the past couple seasons, seemingly confident in their ability to continue to develop less-heralded prospects into capable rotation cogs.
If they were to deal a starter, Plesac would seem the likeliest candidate. The Guardians aren’t about to rebuild, and moving Shane Bieber or Aaron Civale might be too significant a blow to their hopes of contending in 2022. Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill might still have upside Cleveland’s hoping to unlock. Plesac’s small sample excellence in 2020 was probably inflated by a regional schedule against Central-division teams that, by and large, weren’t good offensively. That season aside, he hasn’t posted particularly impressive strikeout rates. But he’s got excellent control, gets a decent number of grounders, and should be a solid bet for league average rotation innings over the next few seasons.
Merrill Kelly, Diamondbacks SP
The D-Backs were the worst team in the National League last season. They don’t seem to have the appetite for a full rebuild, but Kelly’s entering his final year of club control. At age 33, he’s probably not an extension candidate, so Arizona figures to be open to moving him.
Kelly’s not an overpowering arm. He posted a 4.44 ERA over 158 innings last season, striking out only 19.5% of batters faced. He throws plenty of strikes, though, and he gets a decent number of grounders. Playing on a modest $5.25MM salary, Kelly would be an eminently affordable pickup for contenders looking to stabilize the back of the rotation.
Garver missed a good chunk of last season after suffering a gruesome injury. During his 243 plate appearances, he mashed at a .256/.358/.517 clip with 13 home runs (137 wRC+). That’s two of the past three seasons with some of the best offensive output of any catcher in baseball. He’s controllable for two seasons and projected for a modest $3.1MM salary. Jeffers hasn’t yet hit arbitration-eligibility and still has minor league options remaining. He struck out too often as a rookie, but he hit for power and is a well-regarded defender who entered the year among the sport’s top catching prospects.
As with Kepler, a trade of Garver or Jeffers would probably be about dealing from an area of surplus to address the rotation or shortstop. Both players could plausibly be regular catchers next season, and they’d lose some of their value if penciled into the DH role regularly. Given Garver’s injury troubles, Minnesota might prefer to hold their depth behind the dish.
Elieser Hernández, Marlins SP
The Marlins have reportedly fielded offers on their arbitration-eligible starting pitchers this winter, perhaps in search of controllable outfield help. Miami already thinned their rotation depth a bit by including Zach Thompson in the Jacob Stallings deal, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they make one more move in that vein.
Over the past two years, Hernández owns a 3.84 ERA in 77 1/3 innings with very strong strikeout and walk rates (26.3% and 5.7%, respectively). He’s an extreme fly-ball pitcher who’s likely to always have some difficulty keeping the ball in the yard. He missed most of 2021 recovering from a pair of long-term injuries (biceps inflammation and a quad strain). Because of those drawbacks, he won’t be in as much demand as rotation mate Pablo López. Yet another team may try to take a shot on Hernández’s promising strikeout/walk profile, particularly since he’s only projected for a $1.4MM salary and controllable through 2024.
Chris Stratton, Pirates RP
I covered Stratton’s trade candidacy at greater length in December. He’s a 31-year-old reliever controllable for two seasons on a rebuilding team. The Bucs aren’t going to view him as a core piece of the rebuild, and it stands to reason they’d welcome the opportunity to pick up an intriguing low-level prospect. Over the past two seasons, Stratton has been the kind of capable if unexciting middle relief piece contending teams need. He won’t bring back a franchise-changing return, but at a projected $2.2MM salary, he should draw some interest.
Cole Sulser, Orioles RP
Sulser had a quietly strong second half with the Orioles, occasionally factoring into their closing mix. A late bloomer, he’ll be 32 by Opening Day. So while they’re under no contractual pressure to move him, the rebuilding O’s would certainly listen to offers. After putting up a 2.70 ERA with a 28.4% strikeout rate, he should be of interest to contenders. Sulser isn’t yet arbitration eligible and can be controlled through 2025.
The Brewers certainly aren’t obligated to trade either of Houser or Lauer, both of whom are coming off strong seasons. Still, the Brew Crew already have a vaunted top three of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta and prospects Aaron Ashby and Ethan Small are at or nearing the big leagues. Might Milwaukee plug one of the younger arms into the rotation and flip a veteran back-end starter for offensive help?
Adalberto Mondesi, Royals 3B/SS
Mondesi’s an enigmatic player. He brings an enviable combination of power and speed and has enough athleticism to play a competent or better shortstop. He also has among the worst strikeout and walk numbers of any regular position player in MLB. Perhaps most alarming, he’s dealt with enough injury issues in recent years that Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore expressed some doubt about his ability to play more than 100 games per season regularly.
Nicky Lopez played well enough to supplant Mondesi at shortstop last year. Bobby Witt Jr. will probably take that position early in 2022, pushing Lopez somewhere else on the dirt. Whit Merrifield is still around as a second base option. Kansas City might have enough infield depth to explore a Mondesi trade, although it’d be a bit of a sell-low on a player with obvious physical gifts who’s controllable through 2023. He’s projected for a $3.2MM salary.
Kyle Hendricks, Cubs SP
Hendricks is guaranteed $29.5MM through the next two seasons, with a vesting option that could keep him in Chicago through 2024. The Cubs have moved most of their core players dating back to last offseason, but Hendricks remains on the North Side. That might be attributable to some uncharacteristic struggles, as the righty’s coming off a career-worst 4.77 ERA with unimpressive peripherals.
Hendricks has never struck batters out or fared exceptionally well in the eyes of ERA estimators, though. Until last season, his actual run prevention handily outperformed metrics like FIP and SIERA as he thrived on exceptional command. He’ll probably bounce back, even if he may never recapture his Cy Young-caliber, 2.13 ERA form from 2016. With the amount of teams on the hunt for starting pitching, there’d no doubt still be demand if the Cubs made Hendricks available. Will they? Perhaps, since they’re not likely to compete in 2022. Yet their early-offseason activity — signing Yan Gomes and Marcus Stroman, claiming Wade Miley — has suggested they may not be keen to punt next season entirely.
Trey Mancini, Orioles 1B
The Orioles aren’t going to compete in 2022, and Mancini is ticketed for free agency at the end of the year. Most players in his situation would be very straightforward trade candidates, but the first baseman is a fan favorite and reported clubhouse leader who made an inspiring return to the diamond last year after missing the 2020 campaign battling colon cancer.
That Mancini returned to play in 147 games after facing that kind of life obstacle is a remarkable achievement. It’s undeniable, though, that his production slipped relative to his excellent 2019 campaign. Mancini’s .255/.326/.432 line was only marginally above average, and he played exclusively first base and designated hitter. It certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see him bounce back into a middle-of-the-order presence as he gets further away from beating cancer, but demand for his services might be limited until his production rebounds. If that’s the case, it’s probably not worth it for the O’s to trade him away this offseason. He’s projected for a $7.9MM salary, but Balitmore’s 2022 payroll ledger is wide open.
With the non-tender deadline on the horizon, expect quite a few players to agree to contracts for the 2022 season over the next 24 hours, avoiding arbitration in advance. In many (but not all) cases, these deals — referred to as “pre-tender” deals because they fall prior to the deadline — will fall shy of expectations and projections. Teams will sometimes present borderline non-tender candidates with a “take it or leave it” style offer which will be accepted for fear of being non-tendered and sent out into an uncertain market. Speculatively, such deals could increase this offseason due to a desire among players to avoid the potential uncertainty of a lockout and accompanying transactions freeze after the current collective bargaining agreement expires Wednesday evening.
View projected salaries by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz:
- The Athletics have agreed to deals with utilitymen Chad Pinder and Tony Kemp, reports Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic (via Twitter). Pinder will make $2.725MM, while Kemp lands a $2.25MM salary. Pinder, a career-long member of the organization, is headed into his final season of arbitration control. Kemp remains controllable through 2023. Pinder hit .243/.300/.411 in 2021; Kemp’s coming off a very productive .279/.382/.418 showing.
- The Pirates announced they’ve agreed to terms with outfielder Ben Gamel. The 29-year-old will receive a $1.8MM guarantee, with the opportunity to earn an additional $200K in incentives based on plate appearance thresholds, reports Rosenthal (on Twitter). Gamel is entering his final year of club control, coming off a .247/.347/.388 showing over 400 plate appearances between Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
- The Nationals announced agreement with outfielder Andrew Stevenson. He’ll receive an $850K salary, reports Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post (on Twitter). The 27-year-old qualified for arbitration as a Super Two player and will remain under club control through 2025 so long as he sticks on the 40-man roster. He hit .229/.294/.339 with five homers over 213 plate appearances this past season.
The Athletics are squarely in the mix for the second American League Wild Card and, with six remaining games against the first-place Astros still on the schedule, are still alive in the division chase in the American League West as well. Oakland currently trails Houston by four and a half games, so with 28 games left to play, there’s time for a surge to overtake the current leaders.
Oakland’s proximity to a division title and their (at the time) status as a team in possession of the second Wild Card spot surely emboldened the team to go for it at this year’s trade deadline. The acquisition of Andrew Chafin was a solid addition to an already-sound bullpen, but it was the team’s trade for Starling Marte that really grabbed headlines. That’s in part due to Marte’s status as one of the more prominent names on the summer trade market but also due to the fact that Oakland parted with longtime top prospect Jesus Luzardo — five years of control over him to be exact — in exchange for a rental player who’ll be a free agent at season’s end.
At the time of the trade, I touched on this a bit, but it’s a concept that bears a bit more detail. The Athletics have every reason to act aggressively on the trade deadline this summer, because barring a major uptick in the team’s typically thrifty payroll, this could be something of a last hurrah for the current Oakland core.
The A’s don’t have much on the payroll next season — just Elvis Andrus $14MM salary (of which the Rangers are paying $7.25MM) and Stephen Piscotty’s $7.25MM salary. The A’s have a $4MM club option on Jake Diekman that comes with a $750K buyout as well. Most clubs would probably pick that up given his strong season, but it’s at least feasible that given the forthcoming payroll crunch that will be laid out here shortly, the A’s could pass on it.
Those minimal contractual guarantees look nice at first glance, but the Athletics have an enormous arbitration class on the horizon — and it’s not just large in terms of volume. It’s a talented and experienced group of players featuring the majority of Oakland’s most recognizable names: Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, Ramon Laureano, Frankie Montas, Lou Trivino, Chad Pinder, Tony Kemp, Deolis Guerra, Burch Smith and (depending on his final service time numbers) perhaps Adam Kolarek. Of that bunch, Manaea and Bassitt are up for their final arbitration raises — the former as a Super Two player. Chapman, Olson, Montas and Trivino are getting their second raises.
I wanted to better ascertain just how expensive a class this is going to be for the Athletics, so I reached out to MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for some help. Matt created MLBTR’s Arbitration Projection model, and I asked if he’d be able to put together some projections for the Athletics’ class based on the seasons they’ve had to date. Matt did just that, tacking on each player’s rest-of-season projections from the Steamer projection system to their actual production to date, coming up with the following projections:
- Matt Olson: $11.8MM
- Sean Manaea: $10.1MM
- Matt Chapman: $9.8MM
- Chris Bassitt: $8.9MM
- Frankie Montas: $4.8MM
- Lou Trivino: $3.0MM
- Ramon Laureano: $2.8MM
- Chad Pinder: $2.7MM
- Tony Kemp: $1.8MM
- Burch Smith: $1MM
- Deolis Guerra: $900K
- Adam Kolarek: $800K
(One caveat on the projections themselves: these raises are determined using the 2021 model and standard inflation for the 2022 season. Major League Baseball and the MLBPA agreed not to use 2021 arbitration raises as precedent-setters because of the anomalous nature of last year’s short-season data.)
In all, it’s a projected total of $58.4MM. Add that to the combined salaries of Andrus and Piscotty, and the A’s are up to $72.4MM — $76.4MM if they exercise the option on Diekman. That’s what they’d owe to just 15 players. There are some possible non-tenders in there (Smith and Kolarek, certainly), but for the most part, all of the major names should be expected to be tendered. We don’t know precisely what next year’s minimum salary will be due to the expiring collective bargaining agreement, but even filling out the roster with players earning this year’s minimum would take them up to nearly $80MM — about $6MM shy of their current payroll.
Of course, we know that you can’t simply supplement this group with pre-arbitration players, because the rest of the current roster isn’t made up of pre-arb players. The A’s currently stand to lose not only Marte but also Mark Canha, Yan Gomes, Yusmeiro Petit, Sergio Romo, Jed Lowrie, Mitch Moreland, Josh Harrison, Mike Fiers and Khris Davis to free agency. Replace that group with readily available, in-house options and you’re probably not looking at a playoff team — certainly not with the Mariners, Angels and Rangers both looking to improve their rosters this winter, making for even tougher competition within the division.
The A’s have never carried an Opening Day payroll greater than $92MM, per Cot’s Contracts — their prorated 2020 payroll may have gotten there — so an arbitration class worth more than $55MM is an immensely expensive group for ownership. Some of this crunch could be alleviated by trying to find a taker for Andrus and/or Piscotty, though moving either player might necessitate the A’s paying some of the freight (or taking a lesser contract in return). As previously mentioned, some non-tenders could get the bottom-line number down as well.
It’s always possible, too, that ownership simply bites the bullet and pays up for a franchise-record payroll. We haven’t seen that level of spending in the past, though, and this is the same A’s team that only agreed to pay its minor leaguers a $400 weekly stipend after considerable public relations backlash during last summer’s pandemic — a move that only cost them about a million dollars. The A’s also had the Marlins foot the bill for all of Marte’s remaining salary. Perhaps that was in preparation for a payroll hike this winter, but that’d be a rather charitable interpretation when history and precedent tell us this is a team that is already pushing the upper levels of its comfort from a payroll standpoint.
All of this is to say: the Athletics certainly have the look of a team that is going to have to make some tough decisions this winter. They can either take payroll to new heights, look to move Andrus and/or Piscotty (which would likely mean attaching a prospect and further depleting a thin farm), or listen to offers on some names who’ve become staples on the roster.
Parting with a starter such as Manaea or Bassitt would be difficult, but both are slated to become free agents following the 2022 season. Both Chapman and Olson have two arbitration raises left, which means both are going to be owed a raise on top of that already sizable arbitration projection following the ’22 campaign. Both are on a path toward $15MM-plus salaries in 2023 — especially if Chapman is able to maintain his recent surge at the plate and return to his pre-hip surgery levels of offensive output.
Whatever route the Athletics ultimately decide to take, the organization and its fans are in for a good bit of change this winter. That could mean changes to the payroll or changes to the composition of a core group of players who’ve been quite successful since coming together a few years back. Regardless of which path they choose, it’s understandable that the A’s opted to be aggressive at this year’s deadline; with Canha, Marte and several relievers set for free agency and a huge arbitration class that could force some financially-motivated trades, this looks like the current group’s best and perhaps final chance to make a deep playoff run together.
The A’s are going to add Jed Lowrie to the Opening Day roster, manager Bob Melvin announced to reporters (including Martín Gallegos of MLB.com and Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle). Oakland still needs to formally select Lowrie’s contract but has a vacant 40-man roster spot to do so.
Interestingly, the A’s plan to deploy Lowrie as the primary second baseman, Melvin said. Lowrie obviously had quite a bit of success in that role in 2018, when he hit .267/.353/.448 and earned an All-Star selection. However, the 36-year-old (37 in April) hasn’t played a single inning on defense since then on account of knee injuries.
Lowrie’s 2019-20 stint with the Mets was a disaster, as those health woes limited him to just eight total plate appearances (none last season). He returned to the A’s on a minor-league deal over the offseason. Lowrie does have a long track record of being a productive regular, which can’t be said of either Tony Kemp or Chad Pinder. The A’s will certainly keep tabs on his workload, but Lowrie looks to once again be Oakland’s go-to option at the keystone.