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 [65.2] 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 [3.2] 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 [1.1] ”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  will likely decline his side of a mutual option, thus making him a free agent.
Jake Diekman  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 [1.0] 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 [-8.6] and Elvis Andrus [-4.2] 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 [38.4] ). 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.