Having already executed the biggest move they’re likely to make in the off-season, it figures to be a quiet few days for the A’s at this year’s Major League Baseball Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla.
That development would not be terribly unusual. In six of the last 10 years, the A’s haven’t made a single transaction at the meetings, including last year when their roster was a lot more unsettled than it is now.
Moreover, the A’s biggest off-season deal may have taken place on Nov. 15, when they traded power-hitting infielder/designated hitter Ryon Healy to the Seattle Mariners on for right-handed relief pitcher Emilio Pagan and shortstop prospect Alexander Campos. The Aís also officially announced Thursday their earlier reported signing of versatile veteran right-handed long man Yusmeiro Petit.
Donít forget, either, that Oakland acquired three top 100 prospects from the New York Yankees in the Sonny Gray swap at last yearís July 31 trade deadline, and healthy outfielder Dustin Fowler is expected to move into a starting outfield spot this spring as a result of that deal. That effectively stands as their 2017 blockbuster.
But itís a team run by Billy Beane, so you can never fully rule out something unexpected or intriguing. Dormancy in 2016 did end a three-year run when the A’s at least demonstrated they were present at the meetings. In 2013, they swapped reliever Jerry Blevins for outfielder Billy Burns. In 2014, they shipped popular Brandon Moss to Cleveland for minor-league infielder Joey Wendle, and in 2015, they signed relief pitcher Ryan Madson to a three-year deal on the first day of the meetings.
But those moves were exceptions to the general rule under Beane’s stewardship. Both Beane and general manager David Forst have stated many times that the meetings are almost more of a distraction to making deals, that the cell-phone era has changed the dynamic of deal-making and that the A’s prefer to use the meetings for preliminary discussions with other clubs to perhaps lay the groundwork for potential future trades in a calmer setting.
Case in point: In 2011, the team did absolutely nothing at the meetings, but a few weeks later made a blockbuster deal with Boston, trading outfielder Ryan Sweeney and reliever Andrew Bailey for outfielder Josh Reddick.
Hence, even if the Aís lay low in Florida, that hardly means Oakland is set to start spring training. They still have some holes and potential problem areas to sort out. Perhaps one or two might be settled during the meetings. Here are few questions worth asking about Oakland heading into baseball’s biggest off-season confab:
How can a team that lost 87 games feel confident enough to basically stand pat?
Simple. The carefully cultivated youth movement started to take hold once the A’s made major commitments to it at the major-league level late in the year. They went 17-7 over their final 24 games, had winning streaks and five and seven games, swept the eventual world champion Houston Astros in a four-game series at home and also went 6-3 on their last significant road trip.
The A’s like their nucleus for the long term at the infield corners with Matt Olson and Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien appears entrenched at shortstop and there are young options at second base to eventually supplant veteran Jed Lowrie, who is coming off a career year.
Again, donít forget that Yankees trade, and the two deals the team has already made this winter for relief help. The addition of Fowler begins that same stabilization process in the outfield. The acquisition of Pagan and Petit are a good first steps toward fortifying a revamped bullpen. too. The starting rotation has three mainstays at this point in Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton and there are numerous candidates to fill the other two slots. Moreover, last year’s top draft pick, A.J. Puk, is probably not that far away.
If moves occur at the meetings, what areas might the A’s be most likely to address?
The A’s could use a left-handed reliever or two. Right now, Daniel Coulombe is the only one on the 40-man roster. The free agent crop isn’t particularly appealing, although there are some familiar faces for A’s fans – Fernando Abad, Craig Breslow and Eric O’Flaherty are among those available. A trade would seem more likely if the A’s zero in on a target, and they do have a surplus of players backed up at a few other positions to possibly make a deal.
Another search for help might come at catcher, where Bruce Maxwell’s recent off-field problems might precipitate the A’s looking for some short-term veteran insurance (and there are plenty of candidates on the market). Beyond Maxwell at catcher, the A’s only have Josh Phegley, who had knee surgery two years ago and an oblique issue last year, and inexperienced Dustin Garneau. Oakland has an appealing defensive-stud prospect moving up in Sean Murphy, but he’s not quite ready.
The A’s would appear to have a glut of outfielders. What’s happening there?
Good question. The trade of Healy helps untangle the logjam a little. It will free up more time for Khris Davis to be the DH, for one. Fowler will assume one of the starting spots presuming he’s healthy and Matt Joyce will likely return to right with versatile Chad Pinder also available. Boog Powell and Jake Smolinski stack up as the center fielders for now, but it remains to be seen if the A’s believe either is a long-term answer. Jorge Mateo, the speedster acquired in the Gray deal, could also be a factor before Oakland would look to the outside, however.
Might the A’s be in the market for a stabilizing veteran starter, a la Bartolo Colon, and might one option even be Bartolo?
Maybe, and if they believe they could possibly contend for a playoff spot in 2018, it might even be advisable. But it’s hard to see that unfolding at the meetings. The A’s simply have too many young candidates vying behind Graveman, Manaea and Cotton. The frontrunners include Paul Blackburn, Andrew Triggs, Daniel Mengden and Daniel Gossett. What’s more, Chris Bassitt could be ready to challenge in his return from year-long Tommy John rehab, and Jesse Hahn is still around, too, with Puk coming fast.
Hence, it’d probably be a no on Bartolo or any other vet at this point, just as itís probably a no that the Aís do anything dramatic at the meetings. Just to be safe, though, donít turn off your Twitter.