Will Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp both be in the lineup on Opening Day 2015?
The narrative for the Oakland A's under GM Billy Beane has been simple.
The A's front office builds a contender using young and inexpensive stars. Then tears it all down when those youngsters become too costly, and repeats the process all over again. Looking out onto the horizon, however, the story appears to be changing in Oakland.
With a few exceptions, the club's young core of hitters is under team control not just for 2014, but 2015 as well.
So, what will the A's lineup look like on Opening Day 2015?
Familiar faces will occupy nearly every spot. As back-to-back ALDS exits demonstrate, however, the A's are clearly short a bat or two.
The free agent market seems an unlikely solution. The free agent classes of 2014 and 2015 are both underwhelming, as compiled by MLBTradeRumors. That means the stage is set for Beane to execute one of his patented trades as the A's pursue that impact bat to help them take the next step in October.
Here's a preview of what the A's lineup could be like in 2015:
2015 Opening Day Age: 35
Crisp will be back for 2014, but would the front office really extend the injury-prone center fielder beyond that?
"It's going to be tough to find a leadoff hitter like Coco...a guy who has the sort of power, speed, and tracks the ball down like no other. He's going to be tough to replace, so hopefully we don't have to do that."
Reddick is right. There simply aren't that many players who do what Crisp does. Plus, there are even fewer who are in the A's price range.
The 2013 Catfish Hunter Award winner also has a knack for getting timely hits, and sets the tone for his teammates on the field and in the clubhouse. Crisp told John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group that he hopes to stick around:
"I'm hoping they see me as a big part of what's happening here for a little while longer...But that's out of my hands. Let's go with it and see what happens."
At the right price, the table-setter definitely will continue to be a “big part” of the club's future. The A's should extend Crisp for 2015 and 2016 at $8 million per season.
2015 Opening Day Age: 29
If Donaldson is hitting second in the lineup that's because there are some seriously powerful bats behind him.
In his breakout campaign in 2013, the third baseman posted a .301/.384/.499 slash line while hitting 24 home runs and playing stellar defense at the hot corner. Donaldson missed out on a spot in the All-Star game, but he should be a lock to finish in the top five in AL MVP voting.
By 2015, Donaldson very well could have an All-Star honor to his name.
Donaldson “absolutely” wants to be a part of the team's future as he expressed to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
The team would be foolish not to want him, and there's a good chance the deal could get done in the coming months. As Slusser noted, if the A's sign Donaldson that would make him the first position player within the organization to receive a multi-year deal since Kurt Suzuki in 2010.
2015 Opening Day Age: 29
Gomez represents exactly the kind of elite talent that the A's need to acquire in order to get past the aces they keep running into in the playoffs.
According to FanGraphs, the Milwaukee Brewers' center fielder had a 7.6 WAR in 2013, which was tied with Miguel Cabrera for fourth best in all of baseball. On the season, Gomez hit .284 with 27 doubles, 10 triples and 24 home runs. The 2013 All-Star also stole 40 bags.
How does he get to Oakland, though?
The answer starts with Brett Anderson and also includes a boatload of prospects.
For this plan to work, Anderson would need to be healthy and productive, but not an essential part of the rotation. That's not the most likely of scenarios. However, based on the A's starting talent both in Oakland and down on the farm, it's also not impossible
Gomez has played almost exclusively in center field, but in Oakland he would join the rotation at outfield and designated hitter. The outfielder is also reasonably priced. Here are his salaries by year:
- 2014: $7 million
- 2015: $8 million
- 2016: $9 million
Anderson as a centerpiece for Gomez is something of a pipe dream, but the time is right to strike. With nearly all the other pieces in place already, the addition of Gomez would allow Oakland to banish the Game 5 curse.
2015 Opening Day Age: 29
Cespedes loves the big stage.
As manager Bob Melvin explained to Janie McCauley of the AP: “He likes the spotlight, he seems to have a flair for the dramatic at times.”
The skipper was referring to the postseason in particular, but the 2015 regular season will also offer Cespedes a “spotlight” of sorts. Following that campaign the left fielder will be a free agent.
That means the electric slugger will be at the top of his game in 2015 as he looks to earn a major payday. The timing works out perfectly for Oakland.
If Cespedes doesn't clear the 30 home run plateau in 2014, he definitely will in 2015.
2015 Opening Day Age: 31
Moss is definitely the starter at first base. Well, at least against right-handers.
The first baseman and outfielder will go down as one of Beane's greatest free agent signings ever, and he was a minor league free agent at that.
In his first season and a half with Oakland, Moss has crushed 51 home runs. The only catch is that 45 of those shots have come off righties. As long as Moss remains Oakland's first baseman (he can't become a free agent until after 2016), the gregarious veteran will require a platoon mate.
Nate Freiman should do.
In his rookie season, the tall first baseman hit .304 with an .805 OPS off lefties. Not many platoons last for three seasons, but not many duos are as productive as the inexpensive combination of Moss and Freiman.
2015 Opening Day Age: 21
The A's have big plans for Russell.
The shortstop, who Baseball America tabbed as the No. 19 prospect in all of the minor leagues, endured a slow start to 2013. Once he found his bearings, however, he really took off.
For the Single-A Stockton Ports, Russell hit .275/.377/.508 while connecting on 29 doubles, 10 triples and 17 home runs and stealing 21 bases.
For that performance he earned Rookie of the Year honors in the California League. The A's front office rewarded Russell with a three-game promotion to Triple-A Sacramento at the end of the season. The plan is for the No. 11 overall pick in the 2012 draft to start next season at Double-A Midland.
By 2015, his presence will render Lowrie expendable—at least at shortstop.
2015 Opening Day Age: 28
The decision comes down to Reddick and Michael Choice.
Reddick holds the obvious advantage in terms of defense. However, as far as the bats are concerned it's a little more tricky. Both candidates have launched 30 home runs as professionals.
The difference, however, was where they accomplished the feat. Reddick connected on 32 long balls for the A's in 2012. Choice smashed 30 home runs for the Ports in A-Ball back in 2011.
For now, the nod goes to Reddick because he's the one who has proven that he can hit at the big league level—at least at times. He's also the only one who's had the chance, but that could change in 2014. Choice will have the opportunity to to claim the at-bats that previously went to Chirs Young.
However, Reddick will also have the opportunity to re-establish himself in 2014 and beyond. After a pair of DL stints during the 2013 season, Reddick will undergo surgery in the offseason, according to the AP.
His bum wrist was not the only factor in his forgettable 2013 campaign. However, the chronic injury couldn't have helped. For that reason, look for Reddick's production moving forward to be much closer to his 2012 campaign than his 2013 season.
Reddick will win the starting job. However, there will still be plenty of at-bats for Choice as the A's will continue to rotate their outfielders.
2015 Opening Day Age: 26
Norris has some work to do before he locks down the everyday job at catcher.
The young backstop already has developed an excellent rapport with the pitching staff, and is a strong defensive catcher.
The issue is with his bat.
Norris crushed lefties in 2013 as he posted a .320/.410/.580 slash line and a .990 OPS. However, he's been abysmal against righties. In the most recent campaign, he hit .149 off them.
Admittedly, Norris had just 114 at-bats against right-handers. However, until the catcher proves he can manage more than a .445 OPS, Norris will lose out on a lot of playing time to the unheralded but productive Stephen Vogt.
2015 Opening Day Age: 28
The other option for this spot would be Jed Lowrie whose deal will be up at the end of 2014. That's assuming, though, that the infielder would be open to swapping shortstop for second base.
There is a compelling case to be made for re-signing the veteran infielder. Most notably, Lowrie posses the far more explosive bat between the two. Sogard owns the far superior glove.
Ultimately, the edge goes to Sogard for financial reasons.
As a free agent at the end of 2014, it's not unreasonable to think Lowrie will command $10 million per season on the open market. Sogard meanwhile will be entering his first year of arbitration eligibility and should have a price tag under $1 million.
For purely baseball reasons, it's hard to opt for Sogard over Lowrie. After all, the switch-hitter clubbed 45 doubles in 2013, which was the third most in baseball.
This is the A's, though, not the New York Yankees. Lowrie is an intelligent and talented player, but the money would be better spent on extending Crisp.