What if we slashed the A’s payroll?
Editor’s note: This is a guest article written by BTV regular and A’s fan grover
Asking that is a good way to start thinking about alternatives. Because as often as we know how things are going to go… sometimes things happen. We rudely find that the clearly defined path we were on is no longer beneath our feet and we need to find a new way forward. If you planned ahead and considered possible obstacles then it can be easier (if not necessarily easy) to find your way home.
What if Oakland can’t break ground on a new stadium at Howard Terminal?
Well, the short, short answer is there’s a good chance the team gets sold. And it’s a not uncommon practice that when a team is in the midst of being sold that overhead costs get cut. In this scenario… what if the payroll is slashed in half? How would the Front Office be able to reshape a $100 million roster to fit a $50 million budget?
Here are the rules I’ve set for myself to answer that question; because if you’re going to ask a hard question you can’t give yourself an easy way out.
1) $50 million is a hard cap. Deal with it.
2) Contention is going to have to take secondary priority in 2020 but the new owners have made clear they expect to be competitive this year.
3) BTV’s numbers are good but trade proposals have to make sense beyond the numbers; dealing Mike Fiers to a team with a full rotation doesn’t make sense. Trading Khris Davis to the NL doesn’t make sense. I need to craft trades that have a High probability of being agreed upon on both sides.
4) I don’t want to trade the Matts (Chapman and Olson) but I can’t rule it out. (See Rule 1). This could turn a tough situation into a Doomsday scenario.
Trade #1: Mets, Twins, and A’s
METS: Reports are the Mets would consider packaging a young player with Lowrie to clear his salary off the books. He’s owed $9.5 MM in 2020, with another $2.5 MM (from his original signing bonus) due in January, 2021. Their primary needs, besides clearing Lowrie’s contract, are in the bullpen and CF. Fowler was a rising talent in the Yankees’ farm system but he’s stalled since coming to the A’s in the 2017 Sonny Gray deal. He got the bulk of the CF starts while in AAA, although he has experience at all three outfield positions. Fowler turns 25 next season and has a minor league option remaining. Soria carries an $8.5 MM price tag in 2020 but he pitched well in 2019, sans rocket ball. This deal addresses New York’s areas of concern while saving the organization $3 MM over the next 13 months.
TWINS: The 2019 AL Central champs lost three SP to free agency. They’ve filled two of those spots and Fiers could finish the repair work. Owed $8.1 MM in 2020, he’s not going to strike out a dozen when he starts but he’s eaten over 170 IP two years running and quality, bulk innings have value. The Twins also have to replace C.J. Cron, who was non-tendered earlier this month after making most of the starts at 1B in 2019. Smith provides a league minimum, upside play at filling the position. He’s also blocked for the next 5-6 years in NY, so the Mets should be fairly willing to move him.
A’s: The A’s save $7.1 MM in 2020 salary by completing this deal. They also add a SS-capable, LHH in Guillorme and a LHH 4th outfielder in LaMonte Wade. Alexander Ramirez was a $2 MM 2019 J2 signing… my main reason for picking him was to balance out the Mets. The Mets have their middle infield covered with McNeil, Cano, Rosario and while Guillorme would be a quality depth piece I don’t think they’ll pass on clearing Lowrie’s contract to keep him onboard. If there’s an issue, Ramirez can always be dropped from the deal. Wade is a 4th outfielder type, but he isn’t even the 4th outfielder on the Twins’ roster.
Trade #2: Diamondbacks and A’s
Diamondbacks: I realize that at first glance, this deal doesn’t seem to make much sense for Arizona. Robbie Grossman is not the player a team adds in an effort to boost themselves to the next level. No, what Grossman does is raise the level of the floor. He grinds at-bats, he can play any OF position (definitely better in the corners) and he’s used to coming off the bench. Long term, the Diamondbacks need Josh Rojas to blossom. Short term, they need to make sure they’re getting positive contributions from every spot in the outfield.
A’s: Oakland saves $3.3 MM in 2020 salary. Miguel Aguilar is a 28-year-old relief arm who hasn’t pitched above AA in American pro ball. (Arizona signed him out of the Mexican League.) I picked him as the return because he meets one of my default parameters… he has a pulse and throws left-handed. In the event this trade doesn’t go through the A’s can release Robbie Grossman and will only owe him 1/6 his salary, approximately $550,000. Crafting this deal allows me to show my work while subtracting payroll.
Trade #3 exists because I broke the BTV Trade Simulator. (Editor’s note: well, not really, but he did find a bug or two.)
My original thought was to pair Sean Manaea (21.7 AV) with Khris Davis (-21.8 AV) and trade them to the White Sox for Bernardo Flores (0.6 AV); the trade value math works but the Sim coding was opposed. Short version is, I wanted to show my work and this three-team combo was the only way I could get the principle pieces off Oakland’s payroll and to their respective teams.
Reds: Cincinnati has been very aggressive over the past year, trying to improve and contend in the NL Central. Arguably the biggest hole in their 2020 lineup is at SS, and Marcus Semien is probably the best fill-in they can hope for at this point in the offseason. Another area of concern is corner outfield; while Piscotty struggled with injuries in 2019 he’s reasonably priced at $7.3 MM and was a 3-WAR player as recently as 2018. If he can bounce back this becomes a massive boost for the Reds. The pieces they give up weren’t expected to be significant contributors in 2020, allowing them to focus their best effort on securing the NL Central crown.
White Sox: Chicago has been making moves this winter, signing Yasmani Grandal, re-signing Jose Abreu, and pursuing Zack Wheeler to the very end. It was their pursuit of Wheeler that convinced me they’d be interested in acquiring Sean Manaea; the true cost of the transaction would be taking Khris Davis as part of the deal. However… the Simulator nixed the deal. And if you think Nick Lodolo (or Tyler Mahle) would make more sense on Chicago’s side of the ledger… I agree but the Simulator was opposed. It makes sense for Chicago to take a chance on Khrush, as White Sox DHs were horrible in 2019, posting -3.5 fWAR. If Davis reverts back to form that’s a 5-6 WAR flip at DH.
A’s: This trade frees up approximately $37.5 MM from the 2020 payroll. Jose De Leon gives the A’s a guy who can eat multiple innings out of the bullpen, a necessity given the likely innings limits that will be placed on Luzardo and Puk in 2020. Jose Garcia is a toolsy Cuban import, still trying to adjust to a new country and style of play. Bernardo Flores is a southpaw with a pulse who has yet to pitch above AA.
I set pre-arb salaries at $600,000 which gives me a bit of wiggle room in the final tally. I’ve cleared $47.9 MM in 2020 salary, leaving payroll at around $48.75 MM. I don’t think the roster is horrible; with any luck the combination of Mateo and Guillorme will provide competent SS play while Lowrie gets first crack at DH. If a lot of things break right there’s a Puncher’s Chance at a Wild Card spot… but this is probably a .500 team in 2020.