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2017 MLB Offseason Preview: Oakland Athletics

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After ending the 2017 season on an encouraging note, should the Athletics make an effort to compete in 2018?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Oakland Athletics Photo by John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Athletics (75-87), 5th in AL West

Free agents: Chris Smith

A’s VP of baseball operations Billy Beane announced that the organization was committed to a full rebuild back in July, a revelation that shouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone who watched Beane and GM David Forst trade away even the most affordable of Oakland’s star players over the past three years. With MLB putting together a plan to gradually eliminate Oakland’s revenue sharing payments over a four-year period, the A’s have been spurred into action—at least to the extent that they’ve selected a site for a proposed new stadium—but it remains to be seen whether they’ll begin putting more effort into fielding a competitive roster this offseason after lowering payroll over two of the past three seasons.

Beane’s rebuilding plan is complicated by the fact that the A’s were quite competitive from August 1 through the end of the season, going 28-28 over that stretch as rookies Matt Olson, Boog Powell, and Matt Chapman thrived when pressed into everyday duty. Obviously Oakland still has plenty of room for improvement, particularly with their young and unheralded pitching staff. But with the Rangers set to undergo a significant makeover this offseason, the Mariners and Angels still struggling to take the next step into sustained competitiveness, and the Astros perhaps facing a drop-off in 2018 after a long, exhausting playoff run this year, it’s worth wondering whether the A’s should accelerate their timeline this offseason.

With the possible exception of an upgrade over Jake Smolinski in center field, it doesn’t look like the Athletics will have much work to do on their lineup this offseason, and they have enough young starters that they could theoretically survive without making any rotation additions. If they’re looking to compete in 2018, though, they should probably add at least one veteran starter and an experienced reliever or two.

Obviously, Beane and his associates have always had a penchant for dumpster dives—there’s a very popular book and accompanying major motion picture about it—but they’ve increasingly relied on the strategy since beginning a multi-year fire sale by trading four reigning All-Stars following the 2014 season. By signing veteran free agents who are coming off poor seasons or have durability concerns—recent examples include Ryan Madson, Matt Joyce, Santiago Casilla, Rich Hill, Trevor Plouffe, and John Axford—the A’s have the potential to add value at an affordable rate while also giving themselves trade chips at the deadline. It remains to be seen whether the front office will continue to heavily utilize this strategy as they embrace a youth movement, but they’ll need to add depth in the bullpen and on the bench this offseason and could consider cheap veteran free agents as they look to fill those holes.

Depending on how the legal process plays out with catcher Bruce Maxwell, who was charged with felony aggravated assault last weekend, the A’s may need to add another major-league catcher. Dustin Garneau and Josh Phegley are the only other catchers on their 40-man roster, so free agents to consider could include Miguel Montero, Alex Avila, Nick Hundley, Jonathan Lucroy, Rene Rivera, and Chris Iannetta.

In a not-too-shocking twist, it sounds as if Beane and company may once again look to trade a controllable position player with a bright future this offseason. According to a report earlier this week from the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser, Oakland is shopping 25-year-old corner infielder/DH Ryon Healy, who has posted a .282/.313/.475 slash line with 38 homers over his first 888 big-league plate appearances and isn’t eligible for arbitration until after the 2019 season. Though Healy might not have a consistent spot in the Athletics’ lineup with Olson at first, Chapman at third, and Khris Davis often serving as the DH, clubs like the Dodgers, Astros, Cubs, and Indians have shown this season that having too many good position players isn’t nearly the problem it once was. While Healy would likely have quite a bit of trade value and could bring back bullpen help for the A’s, it’s very easy to argue that he has greater value for the A’s because of his versatility, affordability, and upside.

If the A’s hang onto Healy, perhaps they could look to move Davis. The outfielder/DH, who will turn 30 next month, is likely pretty close to reaching his ceiling if he hasn’t already. He’s a risky play in left field and realistically should probably be limited to the DH role, and as he heads into his second year of arbitration, he’s likely to become Oakland’s highest-paid player. But with 85 homers over the past two seasons, he’d present a lot of intrigue to clubs like the Red Sox and Angels that are looking to add power this offseason. Moving him would increase Oakland’s lineup flexibility, and they wouldn’t have to worry about losing too much power with guys like Healy, Olson, and Joyce on the roster.

Though the A’s picked up Jed Lowrie’s $6 million option for 2018, it seems possible that they could shop him this offseason. With highly-regarded middle infield prospects Franklin Barreto and Jorge Mateo on the cusp of being ready for full-time major-league duty and Chad Pinder also being an option to bridge the gap at second base, it might be smart for the Athletics to try to get whatever they can for Lowrie, who should have some solid trade value because of his ability to get on base and play multiple positions.