Following a disappointing ending to an otherwise remarkable season, the Oakland A’s will now begin their offseason evaluation period as they begin constructing another team they hope will contend with the higher payroll powerhouses of the league.
At some point it gets annoying to constantly be beat over the head with the payroll restrictions of playing in Oakland and at the O.co Coliseum, in fact, I’d wager a bet that most of you already feel that way, but it’s a fact that must be acknowledged and accepted if you are a fan of the A’s.
Let’s do this in two stages. First, let’s take a look at the payroll decisions that the A’s are facing and what the most likely outcomes are. Secondly, at some point in the coming days, we’ll look at the trade and free agent market and see where there may be some reasonable upgrades or replacements.
Before we get started with who the A’s will have to make decisions on, let’s quickly recap who the A’s don’t have to make roster decisions on.
Yoenis Cespedes is under contract for two more seasons. Though he could be a trade candidate, there is no contract decision to make on him, so for the purposes of this article, we’ll assume he sticks around.
Josh Donaldson, Eric Sogard, Alberto Callaspo, Nate Freiman, Derek Norris, Stephen Vogt and Michael Choice are all still under team control or under contract and won’t require any negotiating unless the A’s engage them in contract extension talk, so they’re staying put as well.
Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Dan Otero are also under club control and not yet arbitration eligible. They won’t be headed anywhere.
That’s 16 of the 25 roster spots already accounted for. Leaving us with nine more to fill.
Coco Crisp – $7.5M ($1M Buyout)
Brett Anderson – $8.0M ($1.5M Buyout)
Chris Young – $11.0M ($1.5M Buyout)
Kurt Suzuki – $8.5M ($650k Buyout)
It feels like a no-brainer that Coco Crisp will be brought back to the Oakland A’s in 2014. Crisp hit .261/.335/.444 this year while hitting a career high 22 home runs and stealing 21 bases. He played error free defense all season in center field and should be the American League Gold Glove winner, were it not for a stupid rule that saw him two games short of qualifying at the cutoff point. His manager and teammates all rave about him being the engine on this team. This team goes as Coco goes, and it’s hard not to picture them picking up his $7.5 million contract for next season. It’s a bargain. It should happen.
As for the rest of the group, the only questionable retention would be Brett Anderson. Chris Young and Kurt Suzuki will receive their buyouts and hit free agency. As much as I like Suzuki, the A’s still have John Jaso and Derek Norris (not to mention Stephen Vogt) and there just isn’t a place for a third/fourth catcher that would make $8.5 million. There’s not much analysis needed for Young, he’s not worth the $11 million option and the outfield is already crowded with the probable emergence of Michael Choice, he’s gone.
Anderson is an interesting question mark. I don’t believe the A’s will pick up his option and pay him $8.0 million based on his injury history the past few years. I could be wrong, but it seems like a lot of money to invest in a pitcher that you just haven’t seen the returns from the past few years. Giving him his $1.5 million buyout and trying to restructure a lower base salary with a ton of incentives that bring it back up to the $8 million threshold seems a lot more likely. That said, giving him his buyout and granting him free agency opens the door for his departure, and there will certainly be suitors for a left-hander of Anderson’s caliber. I’ll go out on a limb and say that with Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily, the A’s will likely allow Anderson to test free agency as they look for another pitcher like Bartolo Colon to anchor the staff. I have some thoughts on who that should be, but we’ll get to that later. For now, I will say we have seen the last of Brett Anderson in an A’s uniform, though I readily admit I could be wrong — and kind of hope that I am.
3rd Year Arbitration Eligible:
Seth Smith – $3.675M
Jed Lowrie – $2.4M
Daric Barton – $1.1M
Pat Neshek – $975K
The reason we are looking at third-year arbitration eligible players specifically, rather than arbitration eligible as a whole, is because these players will reach free agency following next season. Beane has a habit of maximizing value when he trades, so it’s possible that there could be a trade candidate or two in this group. In fact, two trade candidates jump off the page at me.
Let’s start with Jed Lowrie, though. He’ll be back. No question in my mind. He was too valuable to the A’s this season and he fills the shortstop position nicely while the A’s continue to develop Addison Russel next season. When he hits free agency after 2014, hopefully Russel will have proven he is ready to step in and take over shortstop. He’s going to deserve a raise this coming season, that’s for sure, but it is not a problem for the A’s to give him a boost in contract, or perhaps even workout a deal with him that gives the A’s an option for 2015, just in case.
Seth Smith and Pat Neshek are my two trade candidates here. The A’s love Smith off the bench and in the DH role, but he’s in a crowded outfield mix and I am just not convinced that the A’s have a spot for him next season. Especially not at the raise he is likely to receive from the $3.675 million he earned this season. We’ll get to Josh Reddick in a moment, but assuming the A’s decide to go with an outfield in 2014 of Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Reddick and Michael Choice, there just won’t be enough at-bats to justify the raise that Smith will receive through arbitration.
Neshek could be retained, though I think he could also be a trade chip since Beane has not shown much hesitation in rebuilding his bullpen annually. Either way, I am okay with whatever decision Beane makes. It’s not that I don’t value Neshek’s contributions, it’s just that he only logged 2.2 innings in the entire month of September and he is not one of the arms that defines the A’s bullpen. They can live without him.
Daric Barton — I just can’t see the A’s tendering him a contract for above $1.1 million. They could technically offer him a 20% pay decrease and see if he accepts, but I think he may have played himself back into some worth to another team. It’s not exactly the same situation as earlier in the season when 29 other teams all passed on him during the waiver process. They’d have to non-tender him and then offer him a minor league deal with an invite to spring training if he comes back next year. He’s a Beane favorite, so that latter option is entirely possible.
Also Arbitration Eligible:
John Jaso – $1.8M
Brandon Moss – $1.6M
Jerry Blevins – $1.1M
Josh Reddick – $510K
Scott Sizemore- $500K
I separated these players because they will remain under club control beyond this coming season, which means Beane has a little more leverage with them in terms of using as trade bait or even waiting to see if MLB ever makes a stadium decision that could determine helping retain them.
Out of the group though, there really is no star player that would garner long-term contract consideration. Reddick would be the closest of that group to being considered, but his regression this year casts some serious doubt on his abilities to be an impact player offensively — there’s no questioning his glove or arm in the outfield though.
The latter of the attributes I just mentioned for Reddick is why I believe he will be retained this offseason. I don’t think he is an everyday starting outfielder, sorry Josh, but I do think he makes a great fourth outfielder and late inning defensive replacement. A starting three of Crisp, Cespedes and Choice will give you your offensive punch, and Reddick off the bench or giving days off in the outfield is a very nice weapon for Bob Melvin to utilize next year. It will also balance the lineup better. Reddick won’t like not being out there every day, but Melvin does go with the hot hand, so he could always play his way back into the starting three. It can’t be guaranteed to him anymore until he proves himself though. He could be a trade candidate if the A’s were to decide to stick with Smith, but given the drastic difference in salaries, I would wager a bet that it’s Reddick that sticks around, plus you’re not going to find a better defensive option.
Brandon Moss brings versatility and power to the A’s. The man hit 30 home runs as a platoon player for crying out loud, how can you not want to bring him back? The fact that you can use him at first base, outfield or designated hitter makes it all the easier to find a spot on the roster for him, even with a raise in order.
Melvin clearly sees the value in catchers, not surprising since he was a catcher himself, and John Jaso is a great offensive addition. It’s hard to see the A’s not bringing him back next season. He’s also an option at DH to keep his bat in the lineup, so I would bet that he comes back.
Blevins is my wildcard here. Personally, I’d bring him back. I think he is a key piece to the bullpen. Earning a raise from $1.1 million though, I can see where he could be included in a trade and a cheaper arm brought in. There’s no way he’s not tendered a contract, that part is a given, it’s just a question of whether that contract will be to play on the A’s or used as a trade a chip.
Scott Sizemore is a difficult one for me. I feel bad for him, honestly. He had a legitimate shot at being the starting second baseman headed into this season, but once again injuries got him and he lost another complete season. I feel like he won’t get another shot with the A’s, but he remains under club control and won’t command much of a raise at all. I think they will bring him to spring training next year and then likely cut him loose so he can catch on with another team in need of a starter-capable infielder. I just don’t see the fit for him in Oakland, but I don’t see them just non-tendering him either.
As much as I hate to say it, I believe we have seen the last of both Grant Balfour and Bartolo Colon in A’s uniforms. Balfour has earned himself a nice payday in free agency and with Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook capable of stepping in and filling the closer role, I believe we will be seeing Balfour’s rage in another city in 2014. As for Colon, it’s possible that he could come back on another one-year deal, but his performance this year probably will earn him an offer that will be a little out of the A’s comfort zone for a 41-year old pitcher.
If they can have him back for around $5 million, still a $2 million raise from this season, I’d believe it gets done. Perhaps all the way up to $6-7 million range. But his age and durability will make it a bigger risk for the A’s than it would be for most of the other teams to extend far beyond that. As we all know, all it takes is one team and one GM to throw an offer out there that will steal him away. And I personally can easily see it happening.
So, just recapping, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Chris Young and Kurt Suzuki are headed out of town, as are likely Balfour and Colon. There’s a strong chance that Brett Anderson will be testing free agency as well and it wouldn’t shock me at all if Seth Smith, Daric Barton, Pat Neshek and perhaps Jerry Blevins all are in different uniforms at the beginning of spring training.
The estimated amount that I could see the A’s having available to spend for next season is roughly around $15-20M if they keep the payroll around the same, taking into consideration some estimated raises that some of the arbitration eligible players will make, and the basic cost-of-living increase for the league minimum guys.
It’s not a whole lot to work with, but with some mix-and-matching through trades as well, Beane’s favorite thing to do, the A’s can build around their core group and add a few pieces this offseason to give themselves another look at a contender in 2014.
Maybe Beane can even convince Lew Wolff to extend the payroll a little and make a bigger splash?