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A's Sunday Summary

Draft Lottery Losers

The Winter Meetings in San Diego this past week were very eventful. Even our Oakland A’s got in on the act with a couple of reported free agent signings.

However, the most significant news for the Green and Gold was another disappointment for us to cope with.

Down to Sixth

The first ever MLB Draft Lottery took place on Tuesday and the A’s were the biggest losers coming out of it. Previously a second-worst win-loss record would have meant picking second in the following year’s amateur player draft. Adding the lottery element to it has resulted in the A’s dropping down to sixth.

Although there can be a drop-off from the players available at the very top of the draft, the significance is more in the financial implications and the A’s ability to add more talent to the rebuilding effort via next year’s draft.

Every single pick in the draft is given a guide value. The combined total of the pick values that an individual team has allocated to them defines their overall draft bonus pool budget. The individual signing bonuses are still subject to negotiation, so you can strike a deal at higher or lower than the guide value for that specific pick; however, the total value of all of your deals has to be within your overall bonus pool budget.

The guide values for the 2023 draft are still to be published, but for 2022 the difference between the second overall pick ($8,189,400) and the sixth overall pick ($6,037,500) was $2.1M. That’s not a lot when it comes to the MLB Free Agency market, but it is in the context of the bonus pools, such as the A’s overall budget of $8.3M for the 2022 draft.

First Round Fails

The A’s Front Office will have to get creative once again, not least because their disappointing record with First Round draft picks in recent years has been a factor in the team going into a full-scale rebuild.

After taking A.J. Puk with the sixth overall pick in 2016, they once again picked at six in 2017 and used that to select Austin Beck. Sadly for the A’s, Beck has never shown a consistent ability to make contact across four and a bit Minor League seasons. He split time in High-A and Double-A during 2022 and, although he displayed some power in Lansing (8 HR in 43 games), it’s still questionable if he will make it to the Majors at all, let alone be productive at that level.

The swing-and-a-miss on Beck in 2017, as well as late First Round pick Kevin Merrell, was compounded by the Kyler Murray debacle in 2018.

The A’s used their ninth overall spot to select University of Oklahoma’s two-sport star, came to terms on a $4.6M signing bonus and then allowed him to continue his college football season. He subsequently won the Heisman Trophy as the outstanding college football player of that season, was selected first overall in the NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals and in July this year he signed a five-year contract extension that guarantees him $160M and could be worth up to $230.5M.

It worked nicely for Murray, but the only thing the A’s got out of it was most of their bonus money back. It left a hole in the farm system and that’s one that the 2019 First Round pick hasn’t filled.

College shortstop Logan Davidson was selected with the 29th pick and signed to a $2.4M bonus. As with so many other prospects of that year, Davidson’s development was hindered by the cancelled 2020 Minor League season. The A’s decided to send him to Double-A Midland in 2021 and his struggles there (batting .212/.307/.313) resulted in him being given a repeat assignment at that level this year. The results were better second time around (.252/.337/.406 with 14 HR in 111 games), but still not clearly indicative of someone who will develop into a Big Leaguer of any note.

The A’s left him off their 40-man roster this off-season, exposing him to the other 29 teams in the Rule 5 Draft this week, but nobody claimed him. There’s still a chance he could play for the A’s; however he’s unlikely to push on much further.

The disappointment with Davidson’s development also is now seen with the unflattering comparison to the shortstop taken with the very next pick. The New York Yankees selected Anthony Volpe and MLB.com’s Prospect Rankings currently list him as the fifth best prospect in all of baseball. He is a prospect with All Star potential and he was considered untouchable by the Yankees’ Front Office this summer when the A’s were negotiating a trade package for Frankie Montas and Lou Trivino.

Every team has its successes and failures in the draft; however, the difference between the two is greatly exacerbated when you don’t compete for premium talent – or even very good talent – on the free agent market. With that approach, if you don’t draft a Matt Chapman or Matt Olson, you never have one.

The A’s will have an early pick this year – even if not quite as early as we had hoped – and likely will again next year too. Converting those into impact Major Leaguers could have a strong bearing on how far the next competitive A’s team can go.

Other A’s Notes

Alongside the Draft Lottery, another new feature of MLB’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that we’re seeing for the first time this off-season is the allocation of a $50M fund to the top performing pre-arbitration players (i.e. those in their first three MLB seasons). Sean Murphy is the A’s sole beneficiary this time, earning himself a $700k bonus that pretty much doubles his take-home pay for 2022. There’s no need to worry about A’s owner John Fisher’s art collection budget though, as teams get reimbursed the full cost of the pre-arbitration bonuses from a central MLB fund.

The A’s selected first baseman Ryan Noda from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Rule 5 Draft on Wednesday. By all accounts, there’s a good chance he’ll be a regular at first base for the A’s in 2023. I’ll provide some more detailed thoughts on that selection, and the trade with Colorado that bagged us reliever Chad Smith, in a mid-week blog.

If you haven’t seen them already, you can catch up on my thoughts on the reported signings of Aledmys Díaz and Jace Peterson elsewhere on the blog (they are both pending completion of physicals, so have not been officially announced as yet). The one additional piece of information to add is that Peterson’s contract is reported to be a two-year deal worth $9.5M. That’s a bit higher than I estimated and is part of a wider trend so far this off-season of teams being willing, or being forced, to table offers with a higher average annual value and/or length than initially predicted.

Around The Majors

First: It’s difficult to know where to start with the flood of big money signings across MLB this past week. The eleven-year contracts signed by shortstops Trea Turner ($300M with the Phillies) and Xander Bogaerts ($275M with the Padres) are as good a place as any. Former (and probably future) A’s scourge Carlos Correa is predicted to beat Turner’s deal in the next week or so.

Second: Will Correa be the player to finally take the Giants’ money? For a few hours on Tuesday they thought they had beaten the Yankees to Aaron Judge’s signature, then it emerged that they had pursued fellow outfielder Brandon Nimmo before he decided to take an 8-year, $162M deal to return to the New York Mets. The Giants have managed to sign former Mariner Mitch Haniger, but the Big Star Splash they are desperately trying to make has yet to come off. There’s only a small amount of smirking towards the Giants here: the pain of narrowly missing out after tabling huge offers is a pain us A’s fans would gladly cope with.

Third: As for Judge, well you have to give credit to both the Giants and Padres for making what seemed inevitable be in doubt for a little while. The Yankees would no longer have been the Yankees if they had let their one beloved star leave the Bronx, so the 9-year, $360M pact was a commitment they had to make. The morale boost of keeping him shouldn’t obscure how badly the rest of their offense struggled down the stretch last season, so they’ll need to keep going if they are to be a true World Series contender.

Home: For a guide on this, the Yankees can look towards Queens. The Mets brought back Nimmo at a fair market price, responded to losing Jacob deGrom by signing Justin Verlander and have just added Jose Quintana and Japanese import Kodai Senga to cover for losing Taijuan Walker and Chris Bassitt to free agency (although C-Bass is still unsigned). ESPN’s Jeff Passan has done the sums and estimates that the Mets’ payroll will end up at around $345M, requiring owner Steve Cohen to pay a $76M tax bill for blasting through the various luxury tax thresholds. It’s known as a Competitive Balance Tax, although when one team pays more in tax than some teams will pay their entire 26-man roster (including our lot), it doesn’t seem a very accurate name. How about Free Money for Poor Billionaires Fund?

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A's Sunday Summary

Winter Meetings 2023

Given the way the Oakland A’s 2022 season went, you could almost say that the off-season is going to be more interesting than the action on the field.

MLB’s Winter Meetings get underway today in San Diego. Whilst other fanbases are excitedly dreaming about their team reeling in one of the big free agents, we are left looking up details of prospects on teams being linked with a trade for Sean Murphy.

After the blow-out of the last off-season, Murphy is really our only established Major Leaguer of any great value left to trade, subject to Ramón Laureano recapturing some of his previous form in the first half of the 2023 season to entice offers ahead of the trade deadline.

Amidst all of the other chaos, Murphy quietly put together a very impressive season, mixing a quality approach at the plate with his usual outstanding defence at one of the hardest fielding positions on the diamond. Add in the fact that he has three years remaining under contract and it’s no surprise that every potential contending team that hasn’t already got a good everyday catcher is reportedly flirting with the A’s.

Return of the Winter Meetings

The big difference compared to last year is that the A’s Front Office has more normal trading conditions to work within, rather than the mad rush produced by the protracted player lock-out. A’s General Manager David Forst has spoken in the past about how much more difficult the contracted nature of the 2021/22 off-season made it to fully tease out the potential trade packages from interested parties.

The annual Winter Meetings gathering was one of many things that was cancelled last year. With the key Front Office staff from all 30 teams in one place, alongside the leading agents and hordes of media, everything starts moving much more quickly. Even if a deal isn’t finalised before everyone flies off, you’ll often find that a deal agreed over the coming month or so had its roots in discussions that took place at the Winter Meetings.

The A’s are in no rush to trade Murphy due to his contract length and that there isn’t the pressing need to rid everyone off the payroll as there was last off-season. He is one of only four players presently under contract for 2023 who will be earning more than the league minimum, the others being Laureano, Tony Kemp and Paul Blackburn.

Much as I want to keep our “Big Boy Home Runs” flag flying for a bit longer, it still looks inevitable that he will be on another team by Spring Training, if not by Christmas. Demand significantly outstrips supply right now when it comes to quality catchers on the market. It is less a question of whether an acceptable offer is received, more which team is most willing to put together a trade package that best suits our Front Office’s design (MLB-ready talent, young prospects a few years away etc).

Rule 5 Draft

The return of the Winter Meetings also includes the return of the Rule 5 Draft after last year’s was cancelled.

The Rule 5 Draft gives teams the opportunity to pick and purchase (for $100k) certain eligible players who are not currently on another team’s 40-man roster. The caveat is that you have to keep a selected player on your 26-man MLB roster all season to keep hold of their rights from then on. That can be a struggle if the player is talented but a little over-matched in the Majors right now; however, it’s the type of situation that non-contending teams like the A’s can sometimes take advantage of.

An example of that came in 2018 when the Baltimore Orioles made the first pick to select Richie Martin from the A’s. Martin was a sweet-fielding shortstop with a questionable bat that was not yet ready for the Majors and possibly never would be.

Oakland took a small risk in leaving him unprotected ahead of the Rule 5 Draft, partly because it was unlikely he would hit enough to stay up on the Big League roster for a full season at that point.

As the Orioles were going to lose 100+ games in 2019 anyway, they decided it was worth taking the short-term hit. Sure enough, Martin struggled to a .208/.260/.322 batting line in 120 games, but he stayed on the roster and gave Baltimore the chance to see if he could develop in their system.

Ultimately it hasn’t worked out as Martin appeared in only 37 MLB games in 2021, followed by 13 in 2022, and was released by the Orioles at the start of October. Still, it’s the sort of very-low-risk gamble that a rebuilding team has the opportunity to try and the A’s may take a punt on a similar type of player in the upcoming draft.

The A’s most successful signee in recent years was Mark Canha in 2014. He is a good example of a little trick teams can pull if they know a team picking ahead of them is not interested in selecting someone (usually because their 40-man roster is already full so they have no space to add another player). The Colorado Rockies agreed to select Canha in the draft from the Miami Marlins, then sold him to us for a nominal amount above the $100k rate.

The Rule 5 Draft will take place on Wednesday and the development logjam created by the lost 2020 Minor League season means there are a few more interesting projects available. The A’s are certain to grab at least one player, probably a relief pitcher, this time around.

Draft Lottery

The other main event at this year’s Winter Meetings is going to be the first ever MLB draft lottery. This takes place on Tuesday and will determine the order at the top end of each round of the 2023 Amateur Player Draft in June.

In previous seasons the draft order predominantly has been set by win-loss record in reverse order; however that created the perverse situation in which there would be a race to the bottom to get the Number One pick. Under the old system the Washington Nationals would have had the Number One pick, with the A’s picking second. Of course, it’s very A’s-like for us to go into a rebuild just as that rule changed.

Under the new system, all 18 non-playoff teams from 2022 have a chance at getting the first pick based on a lottery that uses a variety of complicated factors that give different teams a different percentage chance of winning.

Feel free to Google it if you want to know the full ins and outs, but in short the A’s have a 16.5% chance of getting the Number One pick and are guaranteed to get a pick within the first 8.

A’s 2023 Coaching Staff confirmed

The A’s officially announced Mark Kotsay’s coaching staff for 2023 and in doing so confirmed the reports that Brad Ausmus is not returning as the Bench Coach. That position has gone to Darren Bush who served as the team’s Third Base Coach last season.

Other changes in coaching assignments see Marcus Jensen move from Bullpen Coach to Quality Control, Mike Aldrete move from Quality Control to First Base Coach and Eric Martins going from First Base Coach to Third Base Coach.

Scott Emerson (Pitching Coach), Tommy Everidge (Hitting Coach) and Chris Cron (Assistant Hitting Coach) all stay in their previous roles, whilst Mike McCarthy joins the A’s as the new Bullpen Coach. McCarthy was a pitching instructor at the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A team last season.

Hopefully they will have a few new players to coach once they reconvene in February for Spring Training.

Around the Bases

First: The Texas Rangers fired the first shot ahead of the Winter Meetings by announcing on Friday the signing of former Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom. The ex-New York Met has agreed a five-year contract that guarantees $185M and could be worth $222M if an option year gets picked-up. My AUK pals and I were at the Coliseum on September 24th when the A’s knocked him out of the game after just 4 innings having chalked up 5 runs. It was funny at the time, particular with 800 or so Mets fans in attendance, although as we will now see him several times per season the old adage of “he who laughs last …” may come back to haunt us.

Second: The Houston Astros confirmed the signing of first baseman José Abreu at the start of the week, taking him as a free agent from the Chicago White Sox on a three-year, $58.5M contract. Now that deGrom is off the board we may see the pace quicken in the market for fellow elite starting pitcher Justin Verlander. The Astros are keen to bring him back, but they will now have to factor in the New York Mets as a potential bidder for him with their deGrom-shaped hole to fill.

Third: Staying on the Mets theme, they announced this week that former A’s favourite Eric Chavez has been moved to the position of Bench Coach under Buck Showalter. Chavy is earning an impressive reputation as a coach and looks destined to become a Big League manager in the future. The six-year, $66M contract extension he signed with the A’s back in 2004 remains the most lucrative commitment the team has made in a player, which given how significantly revenues across MLB have increased over the past 18 years is yet one more sad fact about the way our team has been run over the past two decades.

Home: Finally, former A’s reliever J.B. Wendelken has found a new home in Japan. The righty departed from the Arizona Diamondbacks as a free agent and has joined the Yokohama BayStars on a one-year deal, with a further year’s option, that MLB Trade Rumors reports could earn him up to $3M.

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Roster moves

Bassitt heads to the Mets

And so it begins …

We all knew the lock-out was merely postponing the inevitable trading away of some of our best players. The fact that we’ve been through this countless times makes it easier to cope with, but no less frustrating.

Overnight, Chris Bassitt joined the long line of A’s players moved on over the years in the hope that the next wave will finally break the cycle and actually be a team that can stick together for a while. The promise of a new ballpark at Howard Terminal gives us slightly more confidence this time, but not by much. Under current ownership, we’ll only believe it when we see it.

Let’s leave the wider context to another time and consider the deal on its own.

The deal

The Prospects

Bassitt has one year left remaining under contract and the return is very typical to what the A’s Front Office tends to look for in this situation.

J.T. Ginn is the higher risk/higher reward element. His talent made him a first round selection in the 2018 draft, but he decided not to accept the deal on offer from the L.A. Dodgers and instead headed to Mississippi State University. Sadly for Ginn, like so many other talented pitching prospects his progress was hit by Tommy John elbow surgery, but his potential was still enough for the Mets to make him a second round draft pick in 2020 and sign him to an over-slot $2.9m bonus.

Ginn showed lots of positives in 2021, logging 92 innings across Low-A and High-A whilst not suffering from the lack of command that pitchers often do in their first stage of Tommy John surgery recovery. The slight knock on his prospect status comes from the fact that he didn’t show quite the blazing fastball that made him a stand-out draft pick; however it is far from uncommon for it to take a couple of seasons after elbow surgery for the velocity to come back.

If it doesn’t, Ginn could still develop into a very decent starting pitcher for the A’s. If it does, he could be an impact starter. Either way, he looks to be a strong addition to our farm system. Indeed, MLB.com has immediately ranked him as our fourth best prospect. He’ll start the Minor League season in either Single-A Lansing or Double-A Midland and, injuries dependent, could make the Majors as soon as late 2023.

Adam Oller is the ‘plug-and-play’ part of the deal, a lower-ceiling prospect but one who has a chance to contribute in the Majors straight away.

Whilst he’s a different type of pitcher to Cole Irvin, he has a similar underdog status that us A’s fans always gravitate towards. He pitched in the Australian Baseball League in 2020 with the hope of trying to get his Minor League career back on track and he impressed enough for the Mets to give him an opportunity. Oller grabbed it with both hands and pitched effectively across 23 starts in Double-A and Triple-A last season.

He’s 27 years old so this seems like a perfect move for him at this stage in his career. Oller would have been firmly on the outside looking in with the Mets, yet he is likely to get a decent look in the Majors this season with the A’s, able to take a few lumps along the way as he develops his craft. It may not pan out for him, but he’s precisely the sort of player that it’s worth the A’s taking a chance with.

Here’s a good profile of Oller’s comeback story:

Farewell Chris

As for the departing C-Bass, I’m sure every A’s fan has nothing but good thoughts towards him. He really had to fight for a Major League career as a starting pitcher and it is always wonderful to see a player like that have their hard work pay off.

He’ll be part of a genuine World Series contender with the Mets this year, able to pick the brains of two of the best starting pitchers of this generation in Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, and has a couple of friends along for the ride in Mark Canha and Starling Marte.

A strong year in a big-media market will set him up to earn a multi-year free agent contract that will set his family up for life. I know it’s stating the obvious, but joining the Mets is a fantastic move for him and I hope he absolutely aces it with them.

Who’s Next?

Matt Olson is the obvious choice to be the next player heading to a new team, with Freddie Freeman’s future rumoured to be resolved in short order. The only delay may come in finalising trade terms given that the A’s will rightly be demanding a very strong prospect return.

Sean Manaea may therefore be the next beloved A’s departure to mourn, fetching a similar two-for-one package to that just received for Bassitt.