We need a shortstop!

As you would have seen or heard from out latest livestream/podcast, the news coming out of Oakland is far from encouraging for the 2021 season.

Marcus Semien and Tommy La Stella have joined Liam Hendriks in finding new teams and leaving the A’s as free agents. We all knew that the A’s were unlikely to keep them; however the way things have played out has confirmed our worst fears.

The budget that owner John Fisher has put forward for this year really does mean that the Front Office has hardly any money to play with.

That’s a big concern when free agent departures have created two big holes in the middle of our infield.

Second base a secondary issue?

I’m more comfortable with the situation at second base as that’s a position where we have some mix-and-match options (Chad Pinder, Tony Kemp, Sheldon Neuse, Vimael Machin) and, as we saw in 2020, it’s a spot that you can often find someone relatively cheaply mid-season if needed.

It’s not an ideal position to be in, but it’s manageable.

Short at shortstop

Shortstop is a different story though. Most players would be a downgrade from Semien, yet the current internal choices would be a significant drop-off to the point where they really don’t seem to be a viable option.

I don’t feel Pinder has the game to be a regular at shortstop and rushing prospect Nick Allen to the Big Leagues could really derail his development, something he – like many others – can ill afford after the 2020 Minor League season was wiped out.

We have to bring someone in via a trade or free agent signing. This is a problem as the trade market doesn’t look too inviting outside of the big names closing in on free agency (who would cost us too much in prospects in any case) and – as mentioned at the start – the free agent route is a tad difficult when you can’t offer anything beyond a Mike Fiers bobblehead and a few signed copies of Moneyball.

As far as I can see, there are just two potential candidates that are: a) still on the market, b) decent enough to be worth acquiring, c) likely to command a modest salary.

Brad Miller

Miller has bounced around teams since starting out with the Mariners back in 2013, but that’s partly because he ticks the above boxes. He’s generally no one’s first choice as a starter, yet his utility defence and just-above-average production against right-handed pitchers at the plate make him someone many teams are happy to turn to when they have a gap to fill.

The righty-heavy A’s are always looking for left-handed bats so that would work in Miller’s favour, maybe even in some sort of platoon with Pinder when there’s a left-handed starting pitcher on the mound.

Miller signed a 1-year, $2m contract with the Cardinals for the 2020 season with some performance bonuses on top and it’s reasonable to expect that his market will be for something similar this year.

That’s got to be in the A’s price range, hasn’t it?!

Jonathan Villar

Villar is a difficult player to pin down as he has had two really good seasons – 2016 with Milwaukee and 2019 with Baltimore – but has had his struggles in other years. Historically he’s been a below-average shortstop and he’s more of a second baseman really, so whilst he offers more potential with the bat than Miller (he’s a switch-hitter so can be another bat from the left-side too) it’s not such a good fit.

Admittedly Miller himself played mainly at third base for the Cardinals last season and hasn’t been a regular at shortstop for a few years; however I’d be more comfortable in Miller making the routine plays than Villar and so long as Chappy is back healthy at the hot corner, that’s all we need.

The main “issue” with Villar is that his higher offensive potential is why he signed a 1-year deal for $8m last season with Miami (he was traded to the Blue Jays mid-season). He’s not getting anywhere near that this off-season, but I’d expect him to sign for more than Miller and that may be what decides the matter.

So is it Miller Time?

I haven’t read any specific rumours linking us to Miller, so this is all just conjecture on my part. It seems to make sense though in terms of the A’s needing to fill this gaping hole with an external candidate and Miller being capable enough of doing so at a price that should be within the A’s range.

However, that depends if any price is within the A’s range right now.

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