News: Arbitration-avoiding deals for Gregerson, Lowrie, Moss, Gentry

By Jason Wojciechowski on January 17, 2014 at 9:53 AM

Joel Sherman presumably has a friend somewhere:

Yesterday, Seth Smith signed with the Padres for $4.5 million, so the A's are paying a $500,000 premium to shorten all games to five innings and play John Jaso at DH vs. having three top-notch relievers rather than four and playing Smith at DH. Smith did provide the A's a tad more flexibility, in a sense, assuming Jaso isn't the backup catcher as well as the DH (must I mention this in every blog I do between now and when the A's actually set their 25-man roster? Yes), because Smith can also play the outfield, if a bit clumsily, while Jaso can't really play any positions. In theory, anybody can play first base, but we all saw Mike Piazza test that hypothesis and suffer a broken wrist for his trouble.

In any event, Gregerson has seen his strikeout rate fall from his 2009-10 heights, but he's also a low-walk, low-homer, low-BABIP pitcher (or appears to be one), so he can afford not to be Ryan Cook with the strikeout rate, especially with the A's outfield defense behind him. (The infield defense, outside of Josh Donaldson, is another matter, but fortunately Gregerson isn't Jim Johnson-like with the grounders.) Anything can happen in one year, including injury or losing 2 mph on the fastball, but focusing on the downside of "anything" means ignoring that Gregerson could just as easily (or maybe even more easily) do what he's continued to do for the last five years or, hell, have a weird year where he walks like 3 percent of batters and gives up two homers total. Relievers are variable. This isn't news. The nice thing with Gregerson, and the reason the A's are willing to add $500,000 to their payroll to employ him, is that even if he's as variable as any other reliever, the center of that variation is very high, easily set-up material, easily backup closer material.

Next!

Jed Lowrie is good at hitting. He's good enough at defense not to completely steal all the value his bat provides. One-win-on-the-free-agent-market salary for a player who has averaged 3.5 WARP over the last two years, even though he didn't even play 100 games in 2012? The A's will take that. This is why pre-arbitration players are worth paying talent for. They save a bunch of money on their shortstop and plow it right back into the team.

At the closer position, but still.

Next!

Good for Brandon Moss. I mean, speaking of "over the last two years," he was a 5.8-WARP player from 2012-13 in 801 plate appearances, so if he were a free agent, he'd get more than this, especially given his positional flexibility -- most first basemen who can slug .522 in Oakland are not also capable of covering an outfield corner when someone gets hurt. Even putting aside salary, but not putting aside age, there's probably very little reason to prefer Nelson Cruz to Brandon Moss at this point. Cruz is out there looking for a five-year deal in the mid/high eight figures. Brandon Moss will take home $4.1 million.

And yet, good for Brandon Moss, because here's his salary history, per Baseball Prospectus's salary box:

  • 2006: whatever the team wanted to pay him
  • 2007: whatever the team wanted to pay him
  • 2008: whatever the team wanted to pay him
  • 2009: $414,500
  • 2010: Unknown, probably similar to 2009
  • 2011: Minor-league contract, spent basically the whole year in the minors
  • 2012: Minor-league contract, spent half of the year in the minors
  • 2013: $1,600,000

Much a pittance as $4.1 million is in baseball terms and for a player who hits like Moss does, it's probably approximately equal to his entire career's earnings to this point. Moss cannot be a free agent until after the 2016 season, so, even though he's an Athletic and even though salary flexibility would help the A's be a winning team, I'm rooting for him to get every cent he can in the next two years, because hitting free agency as a corner slugger heading into your age-33 season is not necessarily the best way to guarantee that you'll Get Paid.

Next!

This was Gentry's first year of eligibility for salary arbitration, he was limited to 287 plate appearances in 2013, and he derives his value from OBP and defense and baserunning. Even by the standards of arbitration, where, unless this has changed, you'd expect a first-year-eligible player to get about 40 percent of his free-market value, this looks like a steal. Gentry would get way way more than $3 million average annual value if he were a free agent, right? I mean, the A's gave up maybe a top-100 prospect, a guy who could very well step in and be an average corner outfielder for the league minimum right now, for the right to underpay him. This is a valuable player. For $1,145,000? Gracious.

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