The now-vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and current general manager David Forst began dismantling the Oakland Athletics after their epic collapse in 2014.
The pair of front office execs traded away six of their seven 2014 All-Stars for prospects and some unproven MLB-ready players. They’ve since traded a couple more players, such as Josh Reddick and Rich Hill for more prospects.
While their efforts have resulted in the Athletics having two of their worst seasons in the past two decades since Beane took over as GM of the club, many of the prospects collected, along with some homegrown talent, in recent years are starting to mature into big league players.
The Athletics have very few needs for the 2017 season and will likely not be looking too much into the free agent market with the exception of one, maybe two positions. They have also opened up quite a bit of their limited payroll with Coco Crisp, formerly the team’s highest paid player, out of the equation.
The team is likely to retain a few veterans in first baseman Yonder Alonso, two-time All-Star catcher Stephen Vogt, left fielder Khris Davis and utility-man Danny Valencia — at least until the 2017 trade deadline. Valencia will be a free agent after the 2017 season and is likely going to be with Oakland for part of the season while some prospects get a little bit more seasoning in the minors.
Their starting rotation is going to contain Sonny Gray and Kendall Graveman, who was part of the trade that sent reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays. While the remainder of the rotation is not set, it is pretty safe to say that prospects acquired via trades — Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden and Jharel Cotton — will be given every chance to make it.
Marcus Semien will probably retain his position at shortstop despite some defensive issues (though, to be fair, those have been improving dramatically). Not to mention that the shortstop, who will be entering just his third full season in the majors, has a slight chance to reach 30 home runs before the end of this season.
Second base will be interesting in spring training. Both Chad Pinder and Joey Wendle were called up in late August to fill in for injured veteran Jed Lowrie. They have each played moderately well, though each could stand to improve in on-base percentages. Lowrie, however, has another year on his contract with the club, so one of the prospects may end up as an extra infielder.
So the A’s have some room to work with here.
Similarly to Pinder and Wendle, it’s unclear where outfielders Jake Smolinski and Brett Eibner will fit in next season. I recently wrote that their defensive prowess may keep them in the lineup in 2017, but after taking a second look at their offensive stats, it looks like the Athletics will have to find another outfielder, perhaps via free agency, in order to have a productive outfield.
The team does have the versatile rookie Matt Olson, who can play in the outfield and at first base (another place where the A’s could use some offensive power) but the sample size of his offensive stats in the big leagues really doesn’t provide enough information to be sure he is really ready for the majors.
Ryon Healy was called up in July and immediately displaced Valencia as the A’s everyday third baseman and there is no reason to think that is going to change.
In 69 games with the Athletics so far, which will likely be 72 after the conclusion of the regular season on Sunday, the 24-year-old has shown his power, hitting 12 home runs and driving in 35 runs while batting .313 with a .346 OBP. He will be the A’s third baseman of the future if he continues on this path.
Bruce Maxwell, another July call-up, has basically stolen the position as Vogt’s backup catcher from the injured Josh Phegley. In 30 games this season, Maxwell is batting .296 with an above-average .348 OBP. The 25-year-old was an afterthought during spring training but he’s now made his mark on the Athletics.
The A’s bullpen is relatively solid with closer Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Dull, Liam Hendriks and the team’s only free agent, John Axford. It’s not unlikely for the team to re-sign Axford for another year.
The team’s only real holes or needs appear to be an another outfielder to assist Davis and Valencia, who has played right and center field since being removed from his spot at third base.
They could use more power in their lineup as well as some offensive help at first base. These roles could likely be filled by one player — someone who can be in the A’s current designated hitter rotation, play first and play decently in the outfield.
The first free agent that came to mind was the Cardinals’ Brandon Moss, a former Athletic with a power bat who can play the necessary positions. Moss, however, has hit well this year and could possibly be looking for up to a three-year deal, which isn’t the A’s style. Yet, they know Moss and might be able to work something out.
A similar skill set goes for the Tampa Bay Rays Logan Morrison. Morrison’s stock fell a bit this season after an extremely slow start, but prior to him incurring a season-ending wrist injury, his suitors got a last look at him during a 303-plate appearance run to end the year. In that span, he put up a .275/.350/.498 slash and has knocked 14 long balls.
Morrison is young (29) and should bounce back from the injury. Plus, since his stock has fallen a bit, he may be someone the A’s would be able to sign to a one-to-two-year deal for a reasonable price. Assuming he doesn’t have such a slow start in 2017, he’s definitely worth a look for the A’s.
Seattle’s Adam Lind could be a third free agent candidate. He hit just .238 with an awful .287 OBP, but he did put up 20 bombs on the year which is power the A’s can use. He’ll be affordable at age 33 and a possibility for a cheap one-or-two-year deal.
There are a few more of these first base/DH/outfielder types of free agents out there — ones that the A’s may go after that will be discussed in detail in a later piece — but don’t expect any big name free agents like Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista to ever don an Athletics’ uniform.