Pain and Games

The A’s Spring Training began on Friday with a come-from-behind win over the LA Angels. It’s fair to say we all needed some on-field action, even just of the exhibition type, to briefly distract us from the off-field news.

Manaea In A Muddle

The two came together last night in the A’s Cactus League game against the Cincinnati Reds. Sean Manaea took the mound with trade rumours swirling as to whether he would even come out for the assignment pending an imminent trade.

Manaea did pitch, but didn’t pitch well. He only retired one of the six batters he faced in the first inning before Mark Kotsay decided to go get him. Spring Training rules allow a player to come back into a game and the A’s took advantage of this by sending Sean out to start the second inning.

His final pitching line – 1.1 innings pitched, 5 earned runs allowed – still looks ugly, but he looked much more like himself in the second inning.

With one year left under contract, it seems only a matter of time before Manaea is moved on. He’s a favourite of so many of us A’s fans and it will be tough to see him in another team’s uniform; however, that’s a feeling we’re all-too familiar with.

Taking stock

At time of writing, here’s the list of key contributors from last season who are no longer with the team:

Traded: Chris Bassitt, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman

Free Agents signed by other teams: Mark Canha, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, Yan Gomes, Andrew Chafin, Jake Diekman.

The Cot’s Baseball Contracts site currently projects the A’s 26-man Opening Day roster as costing $53.2M, fourth lowest across MLB. That figure includes estimated arbitration salaries of $10M for Manaea and $5.25M for Frankie Montas, so it could fall to as low as $38M in short order.

The total blow-up job the Pittsburgh Pirates are doing means that it somehow still wouldn’t be the lowest in MLB (the Buccos are currently projected at $35.9M), but in any case I wouldn’t expect the A’s to start the season with a payroll quite this low.

Trading Manaea and Montas would leave us with an extremely inexperienced crop of starting pitchers, whilst the bullpen looks equally challenged. There are always free agent pitchers available at this time of year who can be signed to relatively modest one-year commitments, including the likes of Yusmeiro Petit and Sergio Romo who are still without a new team.

Whilst it depends quite how restrictive owner John Fisher is being with the budget, I’m sure the A’s Front Office will be pushing to make a batch of one-year signings once their trading activity is completed.

Every team in the play-off race come the trade deadline will be looking for an extra arm, so it’s worth taking a flyer on some pitchers to use as trade chips at that point. In a structure that doesn’t allow you to trade for draft picks or directly buy prospects from other teams, it’s a very economical way to add more talent to your farm system. I also feel it’s important for the younger players to have experienced heads around them, especially in a season when we’re likely to take plenty of losses.

Chapman’s Choice

The most interesting A’s story this past week came in the wake of Matt Chapman being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays.

In an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Chapman confirmed that the A’s had offered him a 10-year, $150M contract extension at the end of the 2019 season. As one of many A’s fans who have recently highlighted the fact that our biggest contract award came a in 2004 (the $66M extension given to Eric Chavez), it is a noteworthy revelation.

At the time, Chappy had just had an excellent season and it was precisely the point at which teams are increasingly looking to sign young talent to long-term deals. The thought process is that it could ultimately save the team millions compared to what they would otherwise have to pay, yet would still put a guaranteed life-changing sum on the table for the player to be motivated to accept.

The contract would have covered four arbitration seasons and then bought out six free agent years. Given that Chappy is a little older than perhaps you’d assume (he’s 29 at the end of April) and would have been 36 at the end of the 10-year pact, it’s understandable why he decided to bet on himself to earn more money by going through arbitration and then signing a free agent deal.

Even so, it was a very fair offer by the A’s relative to other similar deals, as acknowledged by Chapman in admitting he second-guessed his decision when he had hip surgery the following year. We do need to give the A’s credit for that, including (deep breath!) John Fisher; however the fact that Chappy noted his concerns about how competitive the A’s would be needs to be added to the other side of the ledger too.

Quality players will earn a big contract from one team or another. They would prefer to take it from a team that gives them confidence they’ll be playing meaningful baseball in September most seasons unless you really blow the competition out of the water, as it appears the Colorado Rockies did with their seven-year, $182M contract with Kris Bryant.

The latest A’s blow-up only increases the challenge the Front Office will have in convincing current players and free agents to sign long-term deals with the team, much as that seems a moot point with where the team is right now.

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