The main thing I'm happy about w/r/t1 this post is that I didn't mention Nick Punto in the long list of shortstops (because he's listed as a second baseman on Trade Rumors? Because I missed him? I'm not sure, and he's obviously not on the list anymore because he signed with the A's, so I can't confirm one way or the other) and the main reason I'm happy about that is because I'd probably have shoved him in the "yuck" pile with everyone else and now I'd have to either square my pure excitement that the A's signed him with my prior consignment of said player to said pile or I'd (let's be honest, this is more likely) just pretend I hated him all year.
But like I said, none of this is necessary so I can just be happy and leave it at that. Here are the good things about Nick Punto:
Here's a thing I'd worry about with Nick Punto:
I'm sure he's going to do some maddening things. He's going to make an error even though he's supposed to be a defensive whiz, which is frustrating because even though we know that nobody is perfect, we can get kind of "YOU HAD ONE JOB" with our baseball players. He's going to dive head first into first base instead of running through the bag because it is just what he does. He's going to not hit real good. But it's probably going to be very hard to stay mad at Nick Punto, little dirtball that he is, and if you want to play the amateur General Manager game and really dig in and evaluate this deal, well, it's $3 million guaranteed dollars, which these days is something like half a win's worth of money and even on the A's is about 1/20th their major-league salary budget. Given how many minimum-salary players remain locked in (Freiman, Straily, Norris, Griffin, Doolittle, Donaldson, Sogard, Scribner, Parker, Milone, Cook, i.e. basically half the team, and if you count Choice and Gray, then literally half the team), they don't have to skimp on their utility infielder / platoon second baseman / defensive replacement at shortstop / clubhouse leader / insurance policy for Jed Lowrie / whatever else his role will entail.
I'm okay with it.
Jed Lowrie, trade or no trade
The Cardinals need a shortstop. For all their wealth of talent at the major- and minor-league levels, they don't really have one. They have Pete Kozma. You can tell how good Pete Kozma is because his name is Pete Kozma. Sound it out.
The A's have a shortstop who is entering his last pre-free agent year. That shortstop can hit like the dickens and field like a dick. That shortstop's name is Jed Lowrie. You can tell how good Jed Lowrie is because his name is Jed Lowrie. Sound that one out. He sounds like an Oregonian who went to Stanford.
This is a good match! The A's have something the Cardinals need. (A shortstop.) The Cardinals have something every team needs. (Unbearable loads of young, cheap talent. More than they know what to do with. More than they can reasonable deal with on just one roster.) So let's do a ...
What's that? The A's won 190 games over the last two years and are returning basically the same team in 2014 that took them to the playoffs (and yet another Game Five loss, granted) in 2013? And teams win 94 and then 96 games don't tend to trade their starting shortstops when said starting shortstops are the second-best-hitting shortstops in the league?
And also people in the know are saying "no way"?
please discount any rumblings about the A's trading Jed Lowrie; they don't have another major-league ready shortstop and getting a free-agent shortstop will cost $10-15 million a year for someone like Stephen Drew. Addison Russell might be ready at some point next year, but the A's aren't going to gamble that the 19-year-old is ready to start for a contender out of camp next spring.
Okay so maybe it isn't such a good match. How would a deal work in theory?
The A's would get back some players. Maybe Kolten Wong could be in the deal because he's a second baseman, a position of some moderate weakness in Oakland and some strength in St. Louis. But Wong is a lot to give up. He's the Cardinals' no. 2 prospect by MLB.com's rankings. So maybe it'd be more like some pitchers. "Mace" Tyrell Jenkins. Jordan "Kanye" Swagerty. Seth "..." Blair.
The point isn't who the A's would get back, though, because I'm beyond pitiful at that game -- the point is who the A's wouldn't get back, and who they wouldn't get back is a shortstop who can fit right in to the major-league team. Obviously they wouldn't get that because if that guy were available to the Cardinals, he'd be starting on the Cardinals. Why do I even bring this up? Because the Mark Mulder (for Dan Haren) and Trevor Cahill (for Jarrod Parker) model of deal, where the A's send away a pitcher and get back a young pitcher who literally slots right into the old pitcher's spot and matches said old pitcher pitch-for-pitch, would be fun and amazing and lovely. But aside from the fact that pitching is probably special (at least in the sense that it's treated as special), there are fewer teams willing to overvalue old dudes for the sake of them being old (relatively) than probably at any point in baseball's history up to now. So the whole point of this rambling paragraph is: if the A's traded Lowrie, they'd need to find their shortstop within or without. Their 2014 shortstop would not be part of the trade.
Unless it's Pete Kozma, and we do not want that.
Free agent shortstops! Here's the MLB Trade Rumors 2014 MLB Free Agent List, which states that the available shortstops are as follows, with age in parentheses:
So our hypothetical Jed Lowrie replacement will not be coming from free agency either. This leaves the present organization.
Alright, but what about the hole at second? First, maybe the A's could snag Kolten Wong and then the answer is easy. And if not, there's Nakajima and Parrino along with Jemile Weeks (assuming the A's still believe in his existence) and Scott Sizemore (gosh) (noting that Sizemore could well be nontendered and thus end up with another team this offseason), out of which four guys you can probably hope that one of them turns out to be borderline Sogardian just long enough for Chris Bostick to have a monster year in High-A and put himself in position to be second baseman of the near-future.
Or there's always Mark Ellis.
My sense/guess is that a lot of the Lowrie speculation is driven by the A's being that team that always sells their players when they get close to free agency, but I'd note that Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada both left of their own accord and Eric Chavez was re-signed. It's not entirely beyond the pale to think that the A's would be perfectly happy to make a qualifying offer to Lowrie in the 2014-15 offseason. Yes, the $14.8 million or whatever the number will be is a lot for Oakland, maybe as much as 20 percent of their overall payroll. But it's also a worthy gamble given that Lowrie probably would turn the offer down, giving the A's a free high draft pick and the additional flexibility that more draft bonus pool money brings, and that even if he didn't turn it down, the worst thing you're stuck with is a good second baseman who makes more money than you'd hope because of your overall revenue situation. Hell, he might even be trade-able at that price.
Where did I wind up? I think: Lowrie's not going to get traded, but: it's not inconceivable that someone could knock Billy Beane's socks off with an offer for Lowrie that would make Beane think very hard about plugging Sogard into the shortstop role for three months or a year because that's the flexibility that Sogard gives you, especially if you believe that 2013 represents something like his true batting skill, because if it does, then he's above the league standard in the middle infield and you can live with whatever his lack of elite athleticism costs on defense.
No qualifying offers for A's
The A's officially did not extend qualifying offers to Bartolo Colon or Grant Balfour. In other news, the A's officially did not put in a bid on Robinson Cano.
Snark snarkily snark snark, yes, but this really was that foregone a conclusion. Colon had a great year and he stayed mostly healthy, but he'll be 41 in 2014 and was probably preparing his "YES" button to accept a qualifying offer were the A's to be silly enough to make one. A team might in theory offer Colon two years for something in the eight-figure range, but I don't know whether, even in that case, the total contract would top $14 million. Nobody's going three years, and nobody's going one year at Roger Clemens–rates.
Projecting Colon is probably impossible, of course—we can do the usual work, take a weighted average of the last three years and apply an aging curve and boom we've got a number, but how strong is the aging curve on a 41-year-old? Most players who last that long are either marginal types by the time they get there (Omar Vizquel) or are all-time greats (Clemens). Colon, who's settled into comfortable above-average-ness in his dotage, doesn't have many comparables. PECOTA, for instance, set Colon's 90th percentile for innings pitched at 125, which is hardly unreasonable. You don't take someone who's thrown 150 innings at 38 and 39 and pencil him in for 190 at 40. Which, of course, makes it even harder at 41: he's already violated all the rules, so who's to say he won't keep on doing it?
I hope he's back in Oakland next year, but I hope he's back on a one-year contract worth no more than, say, $7 million. Even that figure makes me anxious—as much as Colon seems reasonably likely to be worth the money on a pure dollars-per-WAR basis (especially if we think the present figure is something like $7 million per win), we're talking about 10 percent of the A's payroll on, again, a 41-year-old starting pitcher. And that's before the $8 million the A's will be paying Brett Anderson, who might throw 175 innings or 175 pitches.
Balfour was in certain ways a more obvious player not to give a $14 million offer to—he's a closer, and not a young one at that—and in certain ways almost maybe sorta a legitimate candidate—he's probably searching around for a three-year-deal with total money maybe in the $20s? So in the latter event, which does not seem far-fetched, if his free-agent value is worth more than the qualifying offer, why not make the offer?
I think the problem is in the relatively small gap between the offer and the market value and the value, or at least perceived value, of a first-round pick. It's not inconceivable that his agent could read the market and determine that with a first-round draft choice attached, nobody's going to sign a 37-year-old closer without a steep discount. So then Balfour might well end up shrugging his shoulders and taking the A's offer. Sure, he hoped for more, but hopefully he can pitch well in 2014 and hit the market again and make up the difference at that point. (He'd only need a 2/$11M to come out exactly the same.) And even if he doesn't, even if he suffers a career-ending injury, he'll still have banked probably $7 million net of taxes and agent fees and all that for 2014, which is not bad and a good base to build the rest of your life on.
The A's, of course, cannot afford $14 million for a closer, especially if said closer is kind of on the team against his will. (Has anyone studied whether, in the NBA, restricted free agents whose contract offers are matched by their original team play below expectations?)
I say all this now to hopefully forestall any ideas come December when Balfour does sign a contract for two or three years worth more than $14 million total that the A's should have made the qualifying offer and thus gotten a draft pick. The attachment of the pick changes the calculus enormously, so we should be careful when we watch the free-agent market play out.
Philip Humber joins
Hi! Remember this?
I think Matt Eddy had it first:
And then, noting the legion of sarcastic and smug responses to Eddy's tweet to the effect of "that was dumb," here's Joe Stiglich:
So it's one of those low-downside deals. The worst that can be said for stashing Humber in Triple-A is that roster spots are finite and it's possible that someone better could fill the same role. If the A's season gets to the point where the team needs more than the eight starters ahead of Humber,1 they're probably screwed whether they signed Humber or someone else2 to the same minor-league deal. Which is to say that this move doesn't make a difference at the major-league level.
What it might do is help Sacramento push for another pennant—the team won its division (though the league plays split halves and so winning one's division doesn't actually mean anything per se in the playoff chase) every year from 2007 to 2012 and hasn't finished lower than second place since 2002. Attendance has fallen off since the RiverCats' peak (over 900,000 in the team's second season at Raley Field, 2001, down to 586,000 in 2012), but if you're going to choose between winning and not, you'd probably rather win.
Humber, who's from East Texas (Nacogdoches and Carthage, the latter having a population well under 10,000 despite being the seat of its county), was a prospect once upon a time (no. 3 overall pick in 2004, top-75 rankings by Baseball America in 2005 and 2007), but he hasn't lived up to his potential, failing to miss bats or keep the ball in the park even in the minors. His 2013 PITCHf/x numbers show a five-pitch mix with a low-90s fastball—in his month and a half in the Astros bullpen at the end of 2013, he was averaging 92 with his fastball rather than the 90 he mustered as a starter. That's not much velocity either way. The slider is Humber's whiff pitch, and it actually was pretty effective in 2013: top quarter in whiffs per swing and near the top 10 percent in swing rate.
The major-league stats were just insanely bad in 2013. Even in his 10 games in the bullpen, he allowed at least one run in eight of them, though to be fair he was used as a multi-inning reliever, throwing more than an inning in nine of the 10 games.
So sure, no, he's not going to post a 3.50 ERA as a Triple-A starter or be a valid middle reliever in a major-league bullpen (much less a fifth starter), but if he manages a 4.50 in the PCL, he can be a piece of another winning team and, in the event of disaster, you'd rather be able to call up Humber than have to add a real prospect to the 40-man earlier than you wanted to.
Injury update now!
(Read the title in John Oliver's voice from The Bugle Podcast.)
Check Susan Slusser and Jane Lee or let me summarize for those without the time, inclination, or love in their hearts required to click: Josh Reddick and Sonny Gray are gettin' cut by doctors, recovery time one month and a few months, respectively (though you won't find Gray's recovery time in those stories—for an "8 to 10 weeks" quote, see Joe Stiglich). Also, Jarrod Parker has a strained forearm and will rest.
From most alarming to least:
Parker being hurt in an area on his pitching arm that we sometimes associate with a precursor to Tommy John surgery (recall Brett Anderson's forearm strain, e.g.) is apt to make us nervous. On the flip side, he threw more than 200 innings (counting playoffs and minors) for the second straight season, and he's not an overly large man, so it's plausible to think that he just wore down at the end of the season, lost his mechanics a little, and put some extra stress on his arm that didn't need to be there. The last game of the season is the perfect time to come up lame with a strain because there's no temptation to come back early to do anything in particular. There's rest built right into the schedule.
Everything I said yesterday about pitching depth in the starting rotation goes right out the window in Parker isn't effective or healthy in 2014 because he's not on the A.J. Griffin / Tom Milone / Dan Straily side of things. The A's need him to be their no. 3 (behind Bartolo Colon and Sonny Gray, and why yes I am wildly optimistic about Gray).
There's a big gap between my worry about Parker's pitching arm and my worry about Reddick's wrist. We've known he's been hurting all year and we've known or assumed that he would have surgery just as soon as the season ended. One might wish, if this is really only going to keep him out a month, that he'd simply had the surgery during the year, let Chris Young play right field, and come back 100 percent in June or whenever. Instead we got a Josh Reddick who could do everything he always did on defense but who had no pop (.153 ISO this year vs. .221 in 2012) to prop up his typically weak batting average and on-base percentage. Reddick's 2012 was overrated by some because of the sexy 32 homers masking his .305 OBP, but in the end, adding in park and totaling everything up, he had a .277 TAv, a bit above average for his position—when you add well-above-average defense to a-tad-above-average offense, you get a very good player. When you add well-above-average defense to a-tad-below-average offense, you get someone who's worth the money he's being paid but isn't a team anchor.
Surgery isn't magic, and one hopes that Reddick didn't get himself into any unfixable bad habits at the plate, approach-wise, but I'm hopeful about the possibility of a .250/.310/.450 offensive season in 2014.
Sonny Gray screwed up the thumb on his glove hand in Game 5. Glove hands are wildly overrated. Ain't no thing.
Beaneball by Jason Wojciechowski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.