Welcome to the inaugural Inside the A’s mailbag! I’ll be doing these once a week, so if there’s an A’s-related topic that is on your mind, tweet it at us @InsidetheAs and we’ll compile the best questions each week!
Our first question concerns the A’s payroll in 2023.
My assumption wold be that the payroll situation will be similar to what it was this season, meaning an estimated payroll of $50 MM. I could also see that number being a little higher, but not by much. The reasoning is that the A’s are still in the “finding the next core group” stage of the rebuild, so pumping the roster with free agents isn’t all that likely. Wins and losses don’t necessarily matter in the short run, so why spend the money? At least that’s ownership’s thinking.
MLB Trade Rumors projected the A’s six arbitration eligible players (Sean Murphy, Ramón Laureano, Austin Pruitt, Tony Kemp, Deolis Guerra, and Paul Blackburn) to earn a combined $15M. With the major league minimum bumping up to $720K, and 20 players expected to get that sum, payroll would be sitting right around $30M if those arbitration estimates are accurate.
Obviously the A’s could make some trades to move a couple of their more costly arbitration guys like Laureano (est. $3.6MM) and Murphy (est. $3.5MM), and that would free up even more space in the payroll for additions if they wanted to make them.
But let’s say the A’s have $20M to spend this winter, which leads us to another mailbag question:
Personally, I think that the A’s will target one of two kinds of players: Good clubhouse fits that will help this young group adjust to the big leagues and provide some mentorship, or guys that they feel can rebound and be pieces to be moved at the Trade Deadline, essentially, spending a little money to acquire some prospects.
I have a few guys from each camp that are free agents, or at least somewhat likely to be free agents.
The first is Miguel Sanó, who is likely going to have his $14MM team option declined after playing in just 20 games in 2022. He’s basically a first base/DH type nowadays, but he does have some thump in his bat, hitting 30 homers in 2021. He could also act as Dermis Garcia insurance at first base, though Seth Brown could also fill that role. Sanó and Joey Gallo have similar profiles at the plate, but the former has been consistently above league average more often. A deal like the one the Yankees swung to move Gallo would be a nice framework for a Sanó deadline deal.
Another tradable free agent could be James Paxton. Injuries have cost him large chunks of the last three seasons, but he is the kind of guy the A’s have had success with in the past. He’s a veteran that has had some stellar seasons in the big leagues, and that experience could be valuable to everyone on the roster. His recent injury history may also lead to some of the top-tier teams not lining up to sign him this winter. If he’s still on the market in January, the A’s may be able to swoop in.
Chris Archer just hasn’t been the guy we all watched in Tampa Bay for a few years now, and he’s always felt like a future A. He has a $10MM mutual option that I doubt the Twins will pick up, and the prospect of going to the A’s where pitchers tend to have some success might be appealing. The idea that if he puts in the work and performs well and could get traded to a contender midseason would also have to be appealing. He went 2-8 with a 4.56 ERA in 102 2/3 innings this season with Minnesota.
The final guy on the trade list is reliever Matt Strahm. He had a 3.83 ERA in 44 2/3 innings with Boston, so not stellar, but his K/9 bumped up to its highest rate (10.5) since his rookie season with the Royals back in 2016 when it sat at 12.3. His changeup ranked sixth in horizontal movement, with Kirby Snead and Domingo Acevedo right behind him, and movement on the change seems to be something that a lot of current and former A’s pitchers have.
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As for guys that would clubhouse presences, atop that list has to be Sean Manaea, who posted a 4.96 ERA in his walk year with the Padres and hasn’t been great in the playoffs over his career, totaling 7 2/3 innings in three games pitched, going 0-3 with a 15.26 ERA. An affordable reunion could very well happen, and would make it so that one more spot in the rotation is spoken for, meaning that the guys that are hoping to make the rotation would have to step up their game to get back to the majors.
The other clubhouse guy I could see being a target is Joey Wendle. He has playoff experience, was in the A’s system until 2017 when the A’s traded him to Tampa Bay for Jonah Heim, he can play third base extremely well, and he doesn’t strike out. He feels like the kind of guy the A’s are going after these days, and would be a nice bridge until either Brett Harris or Zack Gelof are ready for their call-up. He does have a mutual option with the Miami Marlins for $6.3MM, but after a down year, there’s no guarantee that the team picks up its half.
The final guy I’ll mention is a little bit of a clubhouse guy, a little bit of a trade candidate, and a little bit of fan service: Yoenis Cespedes. I already wrote about all the reasons why it would make sense to bring him back, but I think that he has something that not a lot of guys have: a taste of superstardom. His experience dealing with the New York media, playing for the Mets, being traded, and ultimately (potentially) coming back to Oakland could provide a lot of valuable lessons on how to deal with everything it takes to be a success at the highest level.
I would argue that we have *had* nice things, but it’s the keeping them around part that has been an issue.
At the end of the day, baseball is a business, and the owner has to decide how much they want to spend, and the front office has to make roster decisions based on how much they’re allowed to spend. That leads to the all-too-familiar tear-downs of the past couple of decades.
They say that when the A’s get a new ballpark their spending habits will change, but I’ll be taking the wait and see approach on that one. The real hope has to be for a new owner to take the reins (cough cough Joe Lacob) and start writing some big checks.
MLB has a link to some big ones their site, but I’ll share some of my favorites!
The Winter Meetings are always a big event, and we typically see a couple of big-name free agents come off the board during this time. There’s usually a trade or two that happens as well. If the A’s are going to move a player or two, I would expect those moves to happen by the end of December so that they have time to piece together a roster and consider any remaining free agents in their price range. The Meetings this year are from December 4-11 in San Diego.
The Rule 5 Draft is also held during the Winter Meetings, usually on the final day. If the A’s have a roster spot open, I’d expect them to make a selection in that Draft, which means that the player selected would have to remain on the A’s 26-man roster all season or be offered back to the club he was selected from. Mark Canha and Vimael Machín were both recent Rule 5 selections in 2014 and 2019.
The A’s haven’t announced when pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Mesa, Arizona just yet, but their first Spring Training game is on February 25 at home against the Diamondbacks.
This off-season also sees the return of the World Baseball Classic, which begins play on March 8. The best players from around the world playing in a quick tournament is just a fun time. There are bragging rights up for grabs, but you also get to see some guys you’ve never heard of absolutely go out there and dominate. You’re also likely to see some future big leaguers playing as well!
If you have an A’s question you’d like answered in next week’s mailbag, feel feel to hit me up on Twitter either @InsideTheAs, or @ByJasonB
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