The A’s Rebuild Is Coming
This winter, we believe the A’s will change direction. Instead of retaining pending free agents and arbitration-eligible players, they’ll acknowledge that they can’t afford them, and enter a rebuilding period.
The team is in a very similar position to 2014. That year, they were all-in, only to lose a Wild Card game to the Royals, after which they traded away Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Jeff Samardzija, and others. That rebuild took three years, and they then emerged with a new core, which made the playoffs from 2018-20. This year, they tried again, but came up short.
The team had originally hoped to keep this core intact through 2023, when they would open a new waterfront stadium. Alas, that project has been delayed multiple times, and now there’s no clarity on whether they’re even staying in Oakland.
Making matters worse, the pandemic hit them hard, and attendance in 2021 did not rise the way it did in some other parks (rumors of the team leaving for Las Vegas didn’t help). And if that weren’t enough, the team stopped receiving revenue-sharing checks a few years ago (which were as much as $34M per year at their peak) to help make ends meet. Owner John Fisher is one of the richest in baseball, but does not fund team shortfalls out of his own accounts.
So there’s no new stadium, and no revenue streams on the horizon to help pay players. Time to change course.
- Major players expected to be shopped on the trade market:
These are the big four — Olson and Montas have the most trade value, helped by strong 2021 performances. Chapman is coming off a bit of a down year offensively, but his defense is still elite, and his bat did wake up a bit in the second half. All three of those players come with two years of control. Manaea, who has been mostly effective this year, has one more.
- Two more who might be dealt:
Bassitt was having an all-star year before he got hit in the face with a line drive, and though his recovery is reportedly going well, teams will want to make sure he’s healthy, both physically and mentally, before making any offers. That might require the A’s to hold on to him into next year (his walk year), with a plan to trade him at the deadline.
Laureano is serving an 80-game suspension for PEDs, which will carry over into the early part of 2022. Teams might be leery of trading for him as well, thinking they’ll want to see if he can be just as productive while testing cleanly. So Oakland may hold on to him, too, and move him at the deadline. On the plus side, he has four years of control, since the suspension froze his service-time clock. He’s effectively a Super Two player now, going into his first year of arbitration.
Other possible trade candidates:
Sean Murphy [84.3] has significant trade value as well, but he also has four years of control, and may not have peaked yet. This one seems like a hold.
Tony Kemp [1.2] is coming off his best year, and on paper, does have some positive value. But the market for his type — 2Bs who also play LF — has been very cold. He’d likely net a minor prospect.
Veterans without value on paper:
Lou Trivino [-3.4] ”s year started off strong, but took a turn for the worse in the second half, to the point where he’s a possible non-tender, as he becomes more expensive (his salary figures to increase due to the amount of saves he earned in the first half).
Andrew Chafin [7.1] will likely decline his side of a mutual option, thus making him a free agent.
Jake Diekman [0.3] is coming off an underwhelming year, and by our calculations, has mildly negative trade value. The A’s will likely decline his $4M option (instead, buying him out for $750K), making him a free agent.
Chad Pinder [-0.8] is coming off a lost year, and although he still has one year of control left, he’s getting expensive, and projects to be another non-tender candidate on paper. The A’s would likely take any offer for him.
Stephen Piscotty [-0.8] and Elvis Andrus [0.3] are both under contract for 2022, and both are significantly underwater. Neither figures to interest any other team, even if the A’s included cash, since they’re both essentially dead roster weight. So the A’s will likely have to eat those contracts.
Meanwhile, the A’s have one of the weakest farms in baseball. Only one prospect made Baseball America’s Top 100 (catcher Tyler Soderstrom  ). By our valuation measures, the farm ranks 27th out of 30.
So by trading Olson, Chapman, Montas, and Manaea, the team would effectively transfer well over $100M in player capital from the MLB side to the minor-league side, which would vault the farm into the top half. If Bassitt and Laureano are also traded, assuming fair deals, the additional prospect capital could lift the farm into Top 5 status. Assuming another three-year down period, the talent assembled from those trades may emerge by 2025, and the next contention window would start around then.
Presumably, that timing would align better to the adjusted timeline of their next new stadium, wherever and whenever that may be (2027? Who knows?).
So where are the fits?
Given all the struggles even the most competitive teams had this year to keep their rotations intact, starting pitchers Montas and Manaea will be of interest to at least half the league.
Olson, too, will interest multiple teams, including the Yankees, Rays, Mariners, Brewers, Padres, and Braves (if Freeman is not re-signed).
Chapman will likely receive interest from the Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, Mariners, Mets, Brewers, and Reds, among others.
On the A’s side, they’ll be looking for young, high-upside prospects who are roughly similar to Soderstrom in age and level, to form the core for their next window. And given all the potential suitors, they should have enough leverage to get that premium talent.
Let the fire sale begin.
Great analysis as usual, John! Not looking forward to this tear down as 2021 might be the final year of contention in Oakland and it’s on the verge of ending without a playoff appearance.
I do wonder if there is any way for the team to creatively (as they did last offseason) make payroll room for one final run with the Chapman/Olson core. Perhaps if they find a way to offload one or both of the Andrus and Piscotty deals they can still field a team next season with Montas, Manaea, Bassitt as the top 3 starters and hold onto the lineup core of Chapman, Olson, Laureano, Murphy.
You’d imagine this would mean Canha, Gomes, Marte, Harrison and others all walking, and either prospects or MiLB deals filling in the roster but if you can get guys like Davis and Lowrie and Guerra to be meaningful pieces of a team for essentially zero cost maybe they can do it again in 2022. I feel like giving it one final shot in 22 with Beane and Melvin and “our guys” is a good plan as long as they are ready to go full 2021 Cubs at the deadline if we’re not going to compete in the West.
Thanks. The give-it-one-more-shot strategy seems like a longshot to me, given all the overarching forces at work, and the fact that other AL West competitors figure to get stronger, not weaker. Texas will start making contention moves, Seattle is a fringe contender already and will start to pull out the win-now stops, and maybe LAA finally gets its act together around Trout and Ohtani. But stranger things have happened.
I don’t expect Chapman and Olson to be gone after 2021, I still think, that they see themselves as a contender next year. Maybe they will trade one of Manaea/Bassitt, but yeah you never know with Oakland. Also don’t forget offseason 2011/2012, I hope the A’s find a way to avoid another 3 year window of losing, but even that won’t be that bad, look at the Angels, Mariners or Rangers.
Or the A’s could trade Manaea Piscotty Andrus and Diekman to the Friars for Gore Myers Pomeranz and cash. Sign Marte for something around 4/50 and Harrison for 3/13(not really sure what he’ll get). Backload both contracts of course and get Rosenthal to pay them for the honor of donning the green and gold. Maybe trade Kemp for a reliever or two and then Olson can be sold next offseason. No rebuild required.
Also they should pay Matt Chapman whatever the hell he wants immediately. If Fisher and Co. can give Khris Davis $17mil/year then there’s enough $ to buyout Chapman’s arb and tack on a couple more years.
While I think a fire sale is coming I think at least one of Chapman/Olson will still be at Oakland on opening day next year and I think they keep Bassitt & Laureano. There is a need to put a solid product on the field next year due to the stadium situation, if they tank then it makes negotiating Howard terminal harder, so if they do a complete fire sale it won’t be until they are confident that’s sorted out and I doubt that will be sorted enough this offseason to be able to sell everyone off.
I think Olson is sold alongside Manea & Montas this offseason, Chapman has had a down year so the team may hold onto him in the hope his stock rises before deadline day. I think Bassitt either signs a longer-term deal this winter with the A’s or is sold on deadline day next year.
I think they try to keep Chafin & Harrison, but Marte & Harrison walk as they will earn more than the A’s will pay them.
I also don’t think this will be a 3 year down period (or at least I think the 3 year rebuild may come at the end of next season), most the A’s front office will potentially be gone in 3 years and I reckon they will want to give it one last big push before they all move on (Beane, Melvin, Forst), that will also potentially encourage them to try and half one last push for a ring especially if the CBA changes postseason to more teams then they will try to hold on to as many of the core as they can for one final push
I doubt the team’s performance will have any effect at all on the stadium negotiations. The bigger issue is that most of the core is expensive and getting more so. The team would not be able to fill all the holes after the free agents leave with a half-measure approach, and with what little budget they have.
I usually play devil’s advocate so why change?
A’s might actually do the reverse because a move to Vegas could add revenues rather than subtract. LV is sitting on one of MLB’s largest TV markets. A common denominator of MLB’s best bankrolled franchises.
Successful TV Entertainment relies on stars & winning, a re-build pushes both of these into the future.
Kaval seems to spend as much time in Vegas as Oakland, maybe more. A hot discussion topic might be which players the new ownership wishes to hold onto and even those they may want to target and add to this roster.
The Fishers are hands off owners leaving operations to others. That wouldn’t change regardless of ownership.
What I would expect to change is the organization in total. We in the bay area /ca see many valid pro sports models. The golden state warriors being one. Part of that franchise and the Dodger’s franchise is Peter Guber. He & LAD are cocooned in the “Guggenheim” corporate entity. Mr Guber was an active component in the GSW move that exploded that franchise’s worth. I imagine seeing the A’s still in Oakland has gotten a thought or two.
Related to all of this is the fact Mr Guber is also a major component of Mandalay.
This is all highly speculative and I don’t mean to waste your time but if you enjoy connecting the dots as much as I it makes sense a Las Vegas MLB Franchise Model will mimic the Guggenheim organization which might also favor Guber/Mandalay becoming involved.
From other sources: The LA Dodgers have been owned by Guggenheim Baseball Management ever since the MLB giants went bankrupt in 2012. Previous LA Dodgers owner, Frank McCourt sold the National League side to Guggenheim Baseball Management, the group that was initially formed to acquire the Dodgers, who spent a whopping $2.15 billion in cash on the purchase. At its inception, the consortium consisted of Guggenheim controlling partner Mark Walter and had investments made by Los Angeles Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, movie producer Peter Guber, baseball team executive Stan Kasten, investor Bobby Patton and former Guggenheim executive Todd Boehly. Tennis great Billie Jean King and her partner Ilana Kloss then joined the Los Angeles Dodgers ownership group in 2018, buying a minority share in the team. Business entrepreneurs Alan Smolinisky and Robert L. Plummer later joined the group in September 2019. Andrew Friedman is the incumbent President of Baseball Operations for the LA Dodgers. According to reports from Statista, the LA Dodgers net worth is a staggering $3.4 billion as of 2020. The rise of the LA Dodgers net worth has been substantial ever since Guggenheim Baseball Management took ownership of the franchise.
In today’s PC climate I would not be surprised at all if ownership included celebrities’ like the LAD/Guggenheim. Wouldn’t inviting Michael Jordan or James Lebron fit Vegas, etc.?
Sorry to go on, …I’m old! lol
So back to the A’s roster: A player walkout by the CBA/Players Union, A mutant coronavirus strain, a Vegas ownership, all of these would affect who the A’s hold onto and who they may target next.
What times we live in!
I’m sorry, I don’t understand your comments about ownership, particularly this one:
“The Fishers are hands off owners leaving operations to others. That wouldn’t change regardless of ownership.”
John Fisher is the owner, and there have been no reports of him considering selling the team. So why speculate on something that has no basis in reality? Further, your comment suggests he would remain a “hands-off” owner, yet sell the team in a “change of ownership”? In your speculation, does he remain the owner or not?
And minority owners of one team cannot also own another team, so I don’t understand why you’re going on about the celebrity minority owners of the Dodgers.
If the team stays in Oakland the attendance will gravitate towards that of previous years without the benefits of additional TV revenues.
If the A’s move to Vegas the TV rights will be sizable and a “Guggenheim-style” ownership structure would help the A’s join MLB’s top revenues franchises. Inviting celebrities with meaningful connections into ownership can expand opportunities when it is someone like Lebron with his sports/entertainment connections. Plus he seems headed towards ownership of a domestic pro sports franchise.
John Fisher involvement in either would likely mimic his current low key style.
Kaval’s numerous meetings in Las Vegas are public knowledge.
When the Fishers bought the SFG & A’s it was basically to have them remain local franchises.
Right, we’re well aware of Kaval’s meetings in Las Vegas. However, it is by no means established that they’re moving, so I would caution against setting 2022 roster strategy based on that assumption. Going a step further to suggest that the ownership structure would change seems a bit beyond the pale at this point.
Still playing Devil’s Advocate…
You wrote a very thoughtful take on the A’s trading their core for younger long term assets.
The A’s are free to stay or leave.
The A’s have not said no to Oakland or Vegas.
Roster strategies will suit those decisions.