10 Realistic Moves the Oakland Athletics Should Consider
From 2012 to 2013 the Oakland Athletics kept their roster mostly intact. In both seasons, they went as far as Game 5 of the ALDS. Chances are, they'll keep this roster in 2014 as well, but if they want to get over the hump, there are a few moves worth looking into.
Don't put it past general manager Billy Beane to make a move.
It might not be a wild, Matt Holliday-caliber move. Then again, this close to contending for a World Series berth, maybe he does decide to pull the trigger on a more high-profile player.
This list contains both. There are trade options for a few bigger names. There are smaller moves that can be made. There's a look at free agents the A's should consider spending money on. There are cheap free agent options too. There's even a look at one guy who Oakland could avoid, even though they're considering signing him.
Let's take a look.
Consider Not Re-Signing Bartolo Colon
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle tweeted that general manager Billy Beane considers it "foolish" not to try to bring Bartolo Colon back.
It would be a smart move—on certain conditions. However, if those conditions aren't met, then the A's should at least consider not bringing him back.
First of all, he will be 41 years old next season. According to Slusser, Colon thinks he can pitch three more years. The way he pitched this season was simply outstanding. But to keep that pace, a career-year type pace, will be very difficult to duplicate at this age.
Second, he pitched well enough to plausibly double his $3 million salary, at the minimum. So the question Oakland must at the very least consider is: Is the risk of hoping a 41-year-old pitcher can continue his hot hand for another year (or three) worth $6 million or more?
Again, I'm not saying they dump the guy. I'm simply saying weigh the pros and cons before jumping the gun here.
Lastly, because of the way he pitched, desperate big-market teams may jump into the mix. A $6 million pitcher already (that's a guesstimate on my part), a market for Colon could drive him up to, say, $10 million. The higher his price tag, the more deeply Beane needs to think about passing.
Without Colon, the A's would have Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, Brett Anderson, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone.
Consider a Small Package for Dan Uggla
Hold on, hold on. Before you start screaming at your computer monitor and rapidly type out ".179 BATTING AVERAGE FOOL" in the comment section, hear me out.
Yes, Dan Uggla hit .179 in 2013. That's pitiful.
But maybe that'll help the A's land him really cheap. And yes, he does strike out a ton, but he also has tons of power. Home runs and strikeouts, with the ability to walk a decent amount—he sounds like an Athletic.
Uggla is admittedly risky.
He hit .213 in three years with the Atlanta Braves. But he hit .263 in five with the Miami Marlins. You can make the argument those five years were his prime and now he is past it. Or you can hope he just didn't fit in Atlanta and can benefit from a change of scenery, a change from the National to the American league, a change of coasts.
If the rumors, according to Joe Frisaro, Marlins beat writer for MLB.com, are true, then Atlanta is looking for a team to pick up $6 million of Uggla's current $26 million contract. If the A's could swing a deal for a lower level prospect and take on only $4 million, the risk might be worth the reward.
Again, not a move Oakland must rush out and make to become contenders. It's simply one worth kicking the tires on.
Inquire About Mark Trumbo
There are two factors working against this trade.
First, it's rarely a good thing to trade with division opponents. Second, which pitcher fits is a big question mark. Oakland will not and should not give up Jarrod Parker or Sonny Gray. The Angels likely would balk at Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily or Brett Anderson, unless of course they were part of a bigger package.
Maybe for any other team a bigger package would be OK. But to the Angels? It's not preferred.
Trumbo is a run producer with a ton of power. Even better, the first baseman can play the outfield and third base for a team who is desperate. Imagine him at first with Brandon Moss in right field when Josh Reddick struggles. He'd also be an upgrade at DH too. He hits left-handed pitching well, something Seth Smith does not do.
If it's as easy as Trumbo for Straily, then yes, the A's should heavily consider it. Even if it was Milone and a mid-level prospect, it might be worth it. Anything more though, and no deal.
Take Brandon Belt Instead of San Jose
Let me say right off the bat, a move for Brandon Belt wouldn't be my favorite, but it could make some sense. That said, it might not even make sense for the San Francisco Giants, unless another move happened first.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported the Giants have some interest in catcher Brian McCann.
If San Francisco were to sign McCann, they'd be faced with a major decision. Do they put him behind the plate and move Buster Posey? Do they play McCann at first base? Do they split McCann between the two positions?
If this move happened, and if the A's decided they want more consistency at first base, calling San Francisco about Belt becomes an option. Belt is a career .273 hitter who has gotten better and better in his first three years in the bigs. He has some power, can even steal a base or two and hits fairly well against righties and lefties (better against RHP).
A platoon of Brandon Moss and Belt would be a major upgrade over Moss and Nate Freiman.
Another benefit is Belt's age. He's 25 now and won't even be arbitration eligible until 2015. He made $531, 500 in 2013 according to Baseball-reference.com. Moss is 30, so it remains to be seen if he is still in his prime or about to go on a downhill slide.
Consider Spending Money for Grant Balfour
It sounds like it's an all but foregone conclusion that Grant Balfour pitched his last inning in an Oakland A's uniform. Insiders such as MLB.com's A's beat writer Jane Lee says "it's almost certain."
The A's don't generally spend big money period. And as Lee points out, they especially save money on relievers. However, if there was a time to pony up some cash, it's now.
Two years in a row now, the A's have knocked on the door of the ALCS. One of the most consistent players on the team over the last two years has been closer Grant Balfour. In the last two seasons, he's nailed down a 2.56 ERA, an average of 31 saves and an All-Star nod. Likewise, he averages 28 walks to 72 strikeouts and only six home runs allowed.
But beyond the talent, there's no personality that sparks the fanbase more than Balfour.
Not only does he bring energy and late-inning shutdown to the team, he gets the fans pumped up like no other man in Oakland. Balfour literally may be a cause for hundreds of filled seats in a ballpark that seems to need it.
Steve Adams of MLBTradeRumors.com predicts Balfour will fetch a two-year, $14.5 million deal. If that's true, the A's must jump at that opportunity.
Call About Matt Wieters
One of the weakest positions the A's have is at catcher. Derek Norris has a ton of potential and is young still. John Jaso is a good enough player to platoon. Still, if the A's want to upgrade a position to get them over the hump, catcher could be it.
In thinking about catchers, Matt Wieters could work.
Mark Polishuk of MLBTradeRumors.com points out that the Baltimore Orioles and their catcher could not get an extension done and that it now looks unlikely to even happen at all. For that reason, a swap might work out well for both teams.
Wieters is a short(ish) solution for the A's, and the O's get something for a guy they aren't able to keep. Then Wieters, a Scott Boras client, plays out of his mind and scores a massive free agent deal in 2015.
Or at least one can hope, right?
Wieters will hit 20-plus home runs and near 100 RBI. That's more than double the pop Norris has shown and triple to quadruple the RBI. Currently Wieters is arbitration-eligible, but coming off one of his "worst" years.
Think About Mark Ellis, Ben Zobrist or Omar Infante
There are a few second basemen on the market worth looking at.
Robinson Cano would be awesome to have. But he'll be making more money than the entire A's roster multiplied by five.
Omar Infante could be a more realistic fit. A career .279 hitter, he hit .318 in 118 games this season. However, after Cano, Infante may be the best available second base option and Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com projects Infante to earn a three-year, $25 million deal. That's a bit too pricey and too long for Oakland.
All the A's need is a short-term solution though.
Someone like Mark Ellis could work for a year. He's a career .265 hitter, better than Eric Sogard's .241. But what about the platoon? Well, Alberto Callaspo hits .300 against left-handed pitching, so ideally you'd need a guy who can hit righties. Sogard hits .247, Ellis hits .262. But if Callaspo doesn't hack it, Ellis' .276 average against southpaws is much better than Sogard's .213.
Ellis is an upgrade defensively too.
Lastly, it'd be a long shot but entertaining the idea of Ben Zobrist is a wise choice too. The Tampa Bay Rays would have to not pick up his club option of $7 million and instead buy him out for $2.5 million for Zobrist to be a free agent. And like Infante, he'd plausibly command a lot of attention.
But he'd sure be worth it.
The guy can play all over the field, is healthy and can hit for for both consistency and decent power.
Sign a Shortstop, Slide Jed Lowrie to Second Base
The A's traded for Jed Lowrie last offseason with the intention of using him as a super utility infielder. Ultimately, Lowrie earned a starting role at shortstop. But his defense wasn't the greatest.
Still, Lowrie had a career year with the bat.
What if the A's signed a short-term shortstop and slid Lowrie over to second? With the right move, it could be the one that helps the offense get out of the Division Series round. Here are a few options.
Jhonny Peralta is a free agent after a year in which he sat out 50 games due to suspension. That could help lower his cost. Peralta hit .303 in 107 games, annihilated the A's in the postseason and held his own against the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. He also finished with a .991 fielding percentage.
Or how about bringing back Stephen Drew?
It wouldn't be a major upgrade over Eric Sogard (Drew slides Lowrie to second, bumping Sogard), but Drew brings more power and run production to the table. And his fielding is better than Lowrie's as well.
You can make nearly the exact same argument in favor of Yunel Escobar.
He hits about the same as Sogard, but with just a bit more power and run production. But his glove is an upgrade over Lowrie's. Additionally, in his small sample size of postseason hitting, Escobar showed he can hit in October.
Starting Pitching Options in Case Colon and Anderson Leave
Let's say the A's can't re-sign Bartolo Colon because he goes elsewhere. Let's also say the A's pick up Brett Anderson's option and then ship him to another team. Their rotation would be: Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, A.J. Griffin, Tommy Milone and Dan Straily.
That's a lot of youth. It's also kind of scary.
They'd need someone to plug into the third spot of that rotation and someone with more veteran experience than what the current five listed offer.
Guys like Scott Kazmir and Phil Hughes have potential but have disappointed in the past. Kazmir is coming off a 10-9 record with a 4.04 ERA but largely has been seen as a disappointment since 2009. Hughes has been up and down but 2013 seemed to be the lowest of the lows. That could mean Oakland can nab him for cheap and hope for a rebound back into an upward trend.
Josh Johnson is still only 29 years old, but he's coming off a terrible year. That, and an inability to pitch an entire season consistently during his career means he could be had for cheaper than others. The cost could be low and the potential high, which sounds like a good fit.
It may sound odd, but Colby Lewis fits too.
It seems like every year the A's bring in that veteran pitcher, expected to simply log innings and be a solid mid-to-upper rotational guy. Then if they overachieve, they earn another one-year deal.
Lewis went 6-6 in 2013 with a 3.43 ERA.
Of course this entire slide is based on the assumption Colon leaves via free agency and Anderson is traded. Otherwise, I doubt the A's make a deal for a free agent pitcher.
Relief Options to Fill the Balfour Void
It seems to be Oakland's MO to bring in veteran guys (Chris Resop and Hideki Okajima in 2013) to fight for spots. With nearly 50 options, you can throw out the top 10 most coveted and that still leaves 40. That said, it's anyone's guess really.
Here's a few guys I like.
Bleacher Report's Chris Stephens listed Eric O'Flaherty as the pitcher with the 10th best value on the market. O'Flaherty is coming off Tommy John surgery but is a solid left-handed setup or closing option.
With the Chicago White Sox since 2011, 32-year-old Jesse Crain posted a 0.74 ERA in 2013. Steve Adams of MLBTradeRumors.com breaks down the pros and cons of Crain. Strikeouts would be the biggest pro, while health concerns are the largest deterrent.
Manny Parra, a native of nearby Carmichael, CA could be a nice option. The once starter doesn't have great career numbers, but in 2013 he posted his best ERA to date (3.33). In 57 games he struck out 56 and walked 15.
J.P. Howell, who interestingly enough grew up near Oakland as well, also posted his lowest ERA of his career (2.03). He struck out 54 and walked 23.
Any of these four could complement Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins and Sean Doolittle very well.
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