Sports

Offseason In Review: Oakland Athletics

Even before general manager David Forst kicked off the offseason by acknowledging a need to listen to trade offers on his core players, a large-scale teardown wasn’t hard to see coming. The A’s spent the bulk of the winter in trade talks that resulted in four fan favorites being dealt for prospects, and the lack of subsequent moves to reallocate the money they saved further underscores that this is a team looking at 2023 and beyond.

Major League Signings

Option Decisions

Trades and Claims

Extensions

None

Notable Minor League Signings

Notable Losses

The “Notable Losses” section of the introduction to this review would be a better foundation for a roster than several teams throughout the league currently have — Oakland among them. Heading into the offseason, the A’s had the option of paying their core arbitration class a projected $53.7MM, adding that to the guaranteed salaries of Elvis Andres ($7.75MM, when including cash received from the Rangers) and stephen piscotty ($7.25MM) and then rounding out the roster with pre-arb players and whatever offseason additions they might’ve seen fit to add.

Surrounding the group of Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas, Ramon Laureano, Tony Kemp, Lou Trivino, Chad Pinders, Deolis War, Andrus and Piscotty with pre-arbitration players would’ve left the A’s with a payroll in the $80-85MM range — a stone’s throw from 2019’s franchise-record Opening Day mark of $92.2MM. A’s ownership instead opted to tear it down and let longtime manager Bob Melvin depart for a three-year deal to manage the Padres.

From a big-picture standpoint, it’s easy enough to take each transaction in isolation and more or less see the merit behind it. Nine of the Athletics’ top 30 prospects at MLB.com came over by way of this quartet of trades, including half of their top ten. It’s a similar story at Baseball America and FanGraphs. Oakland’s farm system was generally bereft of high-end talent, save for a few names, and while no one is going to suddenly crown them the best minor league system in MLB, their farm is unequivocally improved. For a team that typically operates with notable payroll constraints, a deep farm is vital.

On the other hand, this is an A’s team that has gone 313-233 over the past four seasons — a .573 winning percentage that has kept them squarely in contention. The loss of Starling Mars and Mark Canha in free agency would’ve stung and left Oakland with some work to do in the outfield, particularly with Ramon Laureano suspended for the first month of the season. However, the infield, catching corps and rotation would’ve all been in fine shape. The bullpen and outfield, the two areas that would’ve needed the most attention, are typically deep in relative bargain options, and that was true this winter as well.

What’s done is done, however, and the A’s opted for the long-term approach. The trade of Olson brought Oakland a near-MLB-ready outfielder in Christian Patch, who was given the nod as the team’s Opening Day center fielder. Pache and touted catching prospect Shea Langeliers could both be regulars in the Oakland lineup in the near future — depending on what happens with current catcher Sean Murphy — whereas pitchers Ryan Cusick and Joey Estes add a pair of interesting arms to the lower levels of the system. Cusick, in particular, is of interest given that he was Atlanta’s top draft pick just last summer.

He’s not the only 2021 first-rounder acquired by the A’s, though, as righty Gunnar Hoglund headed the return for Chapman. Hoglund might’ve been a top-10 pick and the second college arm off the board had he not undergone Tommy John surgery during his junior season at Ole Miss. The Jays were happy to scoop him up with the No. 19 pick, and the A’s are surely all the more pleased to add him to their system. Like Cusick and Estes, he’s a ways from big league readiness, but that’s not true of the rest of Oakland’s return. infielder kevin smith broke camp as their Opening Day third baseman, while lefty Kirby Snead is in the big league bullpen. fellow southpaw Zach Logue received the call to the big leagues just today, and while he profiles mostly as a back-of-the-rotation arm, there’d be plenty of value in securing six years of a fourth starter if he indeed realizes that potential.

Likewise, the Bassitt trade has already produced one big leaguer in the form of righty adam oller. He’s not as highly regarded as fellow righty JT Ginn, also acquired from the Mets in that Bassitt swap, but he’ll give the club a rotation candidate to evaluate in 2022 and beyond. Ginn, meanwhile, is now ranked as the A’s top pitching prospect (fourth in the organization overall) at Baseball America.

Following the trades of Bassitt, Olson and Chapman — each of which happened in fairly rapid succession — all eyes turned to Manaea and Montas. As a one-year rental, Manaea felt particularly likely to be moved, but the broader focus was on Montas. The hard-throwing righty had just wrapped a career-year in 2021 and, following a declaration from Reds GM Nick Krall that neither louis castle nor Tyler Mahle was expected to be traded, Montas became the undisputed prize of the pitching trade market. He drew interest from virtually every team in need of rotation help, with the Twins, White Sox, Yankees, Royals and several others connected.

Just as it started to appear the A’s would carry both Montas and Manaea to begin the season, however, Oakland struck an agreement to send Manaea to San Diego. In return, they received what many considered a surprisingly light package, landing infield prospect euribiel angels and righty Adrian Martinez. Angeles posted a big .330/.392/.445 line as a 19-year-old against much older competition at two Class-A levels in 2021, and he’s out to a strong start with the A’s High-A club thus far. He’s regarded as the higher-ceiling name of the two, but Martinez posted huge numbers in Double-A last year and has now reached Triple-A. He has a good chance at cracking the Majors this season and, like Logue, could give the A’s a rotation option to consider as soon as this summer.

Suffice it to say, the A’s have considerably bolstered their farm system, though they’ve done so at the cost of any realistic shot of competing in 2022 (and perhaps in 2023 as well). They’ve also set the stage for further trades in the near future. Montas will again be one of the most in-demand names on the market this summer, health permitting, and the A’s will also have center fielder Ramon Laureano, right-hander Lou Trivino and others to peddle as contending clubs look for upgrades.

One name of particular intrigue is young catcher Sean Murphy, who swatted 17 home runs and won a Gold Glove last year — the first of what could be multiple Gold Gloves for the defensive standout. Murphy is controlled three years beyond the current season, but there was at least speculation he could be in play this past winter. With Oakland acquiring Langeliers, who possesses a similar skill set to Murphy but is younger and could be controlled at least six seasons, it’s fair to wonder whether parting with Murphy will now be easier. Add in that Murphy will reach arbitration eligibility next winter and that the Athletics’ top overall prospect is 20-year-old catcher Tyler Soderstrom (the No. 26 pick in 2020) — and it’s all the more feasible that executive vice president Billy Beane and Forst contemplate dealing from their surplus. There’s no urgency to move Murphy, of course, but his name will likely surface at this year’s deadline and, if he’s not moved then, in the offseason.

Beyond that veritable landslide of prospects and young big leaguers, the A’s didn’t do much of anything to strengthen the 2022 roster. The lack of any real spending further solidifies both the fact that this is viewed as a rebuilding year and that payroll concerns were a driving factor behind the trades of Olson, Chapman, Bassitt and Manaea.

That was also true with regards to the departure of Melvin, who had managed the club for ten-plus seasons. The veteran skipper was under contract for 2022, but the A’s allowed him to pursue the San Diego opportunity — reportedly at least partially due to concerns about the $4MM salary he’d been set to receive. Once Melvin departed, Oakland hired third base coach Mark Kotsay as skipper. Kotsay, who signed a three-year deal but whose salary is unreported, gets his first crack at managing after six years on Melvin’s staffs. He’s overseeing a young roster, one that wasn’t much fortified after many of the top players were dealt away.

The only two Major League contracts given out by the A’s were a pair of deals for old friends and fan favorites Jed Lowrie and Stephen Vogt. Lowrie provided league-average offense and poor defense at second base last year, but he’s been a DH and played the corners in his only four games thus far. Vogt hit poorly in 2020-21 with the D-backs and Braves, but he’ll give the team a backup catcher and the fans an old cult favorite to root on in what’ll likely be a lean season.

Perhaps in the end, the Athletics’ latest bevy of trades will ultimately yield a group that turns into their next core. It’s arguable this was a necessary course of action, given the team’s mounting arbitration class, but that’s only the case if fans accept that ownership can’t field a payroll even in the $80-90MM range, which ought to be a tough sell for fans considering all 30 clubs are now receiving upwards of $65MM annually in national television and streaming revenue alone. (That sum does not include local television deals, gate revenue, etc.) As Forst said at the onset of the offseason, “this is our lot in Oakland until it isn’t” — and it seems ownership is pretty content to maintain the status quo.

The A’s can push the company line these trades are necessary for them to compete, but it has long been apparent many of the players who drove their recent run of success would be moved to cut costs. Back in November, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported ownership desired a payroll of $50MM. After making the Manaea deal just four days before Opening Day, the team reached that level. Cot’s Contracts pegs the Athletics’ payroll at $47,953,333. Roster Resource estimates that it’s $49,866,025. According to Cot’s, it’s the second-lowest mark in MLB, ahead of only the Orioles. With that cheaper roster will almost certainly come a worse on-field product than A’s fans have enjoyed of late.

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