No, really, I’m asking. As things currently sit, the A’s have a payroll of a little over $44 million according to Spotrac, albeit without Kendall Graveman’s arbitration figure added in. MLB Trade Rumors has him projected at around $2.6 million, so it’s not a huge add. With a number of players still pre-arbitration, they’ll be making the big league minimum of $545,000 this year, which won’t add a huge lump sum to the payroll.
The A’s finished with a payroll of around $85 million last season, which means that there is plenty of room to maneuver at the moment. Add in the one-time $50 million payment that each team received for the league’s sale of BAM, and the A’s are looking at getting their players paid before the season even begins or a single turnstile is clicked.
Since Dave Kaval came aboard, the optics for the A’s have been much, much better than they were with Lew Wolff leading the charge. A payroll this low, however, could undo a lot of that progress.
The way I and many A’s fans see it, the team needs some help in a couple of areas. The pitching staff needs some upgrades. The word is that they’re looking for a lefty reliever, but with one of the top two southpaws recently off the market, you’d think that they would have pounced by now if Tony Watson was really someone that they were going to bring aboard. Instead, I have a feeling that if they are to bring on a left-hander, it’ll be more in the mold of a sneaky Dan Otero waiver claim in late March of 2013.
The starting staff is chock-full of talented hurlers, but none of them can necessarily be relied upon to anchor the staff just yet. Their top two options, Graveman and Sean Manaea, both held ERAs (and FIPs) over four in 2017, so that would be the obvious place to upgrade the staff. However, this team is rebuilding and with anywhere from six to nine pitchers vying for a spot in the rotation, this is the season that the A’s will likely give those guys as many looks as they can. Plus, the top rotation options on the market, Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, just aren’t coming to Oakland. The next tier of Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn will command a more Oakland-friendly deal, but with that kind of money on the table, management will be looking for a better bet for a big-time contributor.
That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room.
There is one other spot that could potentially use an upgrade, and that’s left field. Matt Joyce was a 2.4 win player according to FanGraphs and held a wRC+ of 116, meaning he was 16 percent better than league average with the stick. Joyce is making $6 million in the final year of his deal with the A’s, and with the solid year he had last season, he could become a decent trade chip.
Let’s Get Weird
Free agent J.D. Martinez was 50 percent better than Joyce and 66 percent better than league average in 2017. Yes, this idea is a bit crazy, but hear me out. The going rate for Martinez is going to be roughly double the largest contract in franchise history, a six year deal given to Eric Chavez for a whopping $66 million. The common thinking is that Martinez is looking for six or seven years and more than the roughly $100 million offer he received from the Red Sox.
The A’s would be insane to sign any player outside of their young core to a seven-year deal, but the other part they may be able to help with.
With their payroll being so low at the moment, and an influx of young players nearing the majors, the A’s payroll isn’t going to go up by much internally for a couple of years when the Matts (and others) start hitting arbitration. With that in mind, would it be crazy to offer J.D. Martinez a deal with a higher average annual value than he could get elsewhere? While the initial answer may be yes, and that may be the correct answer in the long run, my thinking goes as follows: Offer him a front-loaded deal that sits at $25-30 million in 2018 and deescalates a little each year through the life of the contract. If they sign him to a five year deal and put $30 million on the table for this season, over the life of a $110 million deal, they’d be looking at $20 million salaries for him the final four years, the equivalent of the market value of a two-win player. If they structure it aggressively the first two to three years (30-25-25) they’d owe him just $15 million in each of the last two seasons.
Let’s also keep in mind that Khris Davis will be on the free agent market after 2019 and will likely be making around $15 million through arbitration next year if his production keeps up. Once he hits the market, he’s likely gone, and if Martinez’s defense in left isn’t up to par, then they could talk about moving him to the DH spot. That’s another thing that the A’s have to offer the slugger – playing time in the outfield – which he has expressed an interest in and is part of the reason he isn’t already in Boston.
A middle of the lineup with Martinez-Davis-Olson has some serious home run pop, with each perfectly capable of hitting 40 bombs, which could rival the Yankees’ trio of Stanton-Judge-Sanchez in total homers if you squint really hard.
Obviously this would feel like a win-now move, and most fans can agree that the team is likely a year or two away from contending for a wild card spot. Would this move help push that clock forward a little and see the A’s have some 2012 magic? Maybe. What will be more of a determining factor will be how well the pitching staff throws baseballs. Right now FanGraphs has the A’s projected to give up 4.97 runs per game (ouch!) while scoring 4.70 (less ouch). That’s not a winning formula and lands them a projected record of 77-85. One way to close that gap is to allow fewer runs, thereby inching closer to the .500 mark.
The other way to close that gap is to score more runs, and ladies and gentlemen, J.D. Martinez would help them do that in a big way.
Obviously this would be a huge step for the A’s front office as spending money isn’t necessarily on their list of hobbies, but with the BAM payment, a roster filled with pre-arb players and some goodwill that could be on the line, this may be the time to really shock the system and make a move for the coming years.
There is a 99% chance this won’t happen, but should it? Hit me up on Twitter @ByJasonB or comment below!
Featured Image: 2017 Topps Opening Day