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?