Edwin Encarnacion just signed a $60 million dollar deal with the Cleveland Indians, which includes a $5 million dollar buyout for the 2020 season. With average annual value (AAV) of $20 million per year, the Indians now have their highest paid player and a shiny new toy for Francona to play with after the likely departure of Mike Napoli.
We all knew there were other offers on the table for Encarnacion, and one of the most intriguing teams in pursuit until the last moment was Billy Beane’s Athletics.
According to quotes surfacing around the deal to Cleveland from Paul Kinzer, the Athletics offered ‘Cespedes-type’ money to try and woo the 42 HR first basemen to the west coast.
This is a team that has only five multi-year contracts on its books, with its two highest earners returning -0.4 combined WAR during the 2016 season (Jed Lowrie, Ryan Madson). A move for E5 would’ve been out of character monetarily for EVP of Baseball Operations and minority owner, Billy Beane, but after failing to reach the 70 win mark in consecutive years, the pressure to turn the Athletics’ fortune around is mounting.
Encarnacion instead took a lower valuation and went to the more appealing American League champs.
I’m left wondering if he would’ve made enough of a difference to push the A’s out of the rut they’ve festered in since 2014.
Looking purely at the depth chart of this team, Encarnacion would have slotted in perfectly. Bob Melvin is currently sitting with a team that signed the underrated Matt Joyce, lost breakout Danny Valencia, and is left wondering how high the wall Sonny Gray ran into last season is.
A bat like E5 would have given Melvin a roster with two of the previous season’s top five home run totals, something no team has accomplished in the last ten years. Dreams of Khris Davis and Edwin Encarnacion hitting back-to-back have faded as quickly as they were speculated upon.
What makes the snub even worse is the gaping hole at first base in Oakland between Yonder Alonso and Mark Canha. Neither player has a bat worthy enough to hold the DH role and neither is good enough defensively to provide a bit of respite for the lack of offense.
The current DH options the A’s possess range from Alonso, Canha, and Vogt to current everyday starters Ryon Healy and Khris Davis. What becomes even more apparent when mentally making positional changes to find a consistent DH is the extreme lack of respectable gloves in the lineup. Moving a liability defensively like Healy or Davis to the DH spot where they can provide solely offensive value creates even more of a hole in the field. Only two of the nine players in the teams potential starting nine have positive defensive rating values according to Fangraphs.com (Vogt and Semien).
After a historically bad defensive season in 2015 where the A’s committed the most errors in baseball since the 2011 Chicago Cubs, an attempt was made to improve. The club jumped from 30th in fielding percentage to 18th from 2015 to 2016, but the club as a whole managed only one more win. They’re passable in the field at the moment, but it’s definitely not a strength as the sun of Arizona slowly creeps up the horizon.
Failing to land Encarnacion has made clear the holes the Athletics have and the only remedy is to move the hole, not fill or even cover it.
This is who they could be trotting out on the field versus the Angels on April 3rd.
The minimal strength that this team does have is in their rotation and bullpen.
Sonny Gray, Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Jahrel Cotton, and Andrew Triggs.
This is most likely what Oakland will see come opening day, and even though the lack of name value is clear, if you want to be excited about one thing as an A’s fan it has to be with the third and fourth starters of this rotation.
That and the fact that any rational baseball fan would think Sonny Gray can’t be nearly as bad as his 4.67 FIP and 1.38 HR/9 metrics say. Forearm in tact, there’s a strong chance fans will be looking at a new set of prospects come trade deadline 2017.
Sean Manaea is a big lefty who logged 144+ innings last season, limiting the 100+ lefties he faced to a .231 wOBA. His last 24 innings of the year in September were stellar as well, posting a 1.13 ERA and holding batters to under .200 against. He relies on his slider and changeup, both plus pitches, to generate his misses, and I don’t think we’ve seen the highest of his K rate yet. Even with hopes of Gray returning to form, I wouldn’t be surprised if Manaea is the A’s ace this season.
One problem with many pitchers, young and old, is handling a lineup a third time through. While some simple lose their command, Manaea had some trouble generating the deception he possessed early in starts. The graph below illustrates pretty well my point. Manaea’s off speed tumbled out of effectiveness as the pencils of scorekeepers dulled late into games. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the swings he can generate from the fifth inning onward in 2017 with these off speed pitches.
Jahrel Cotton is a popular sleeper for fantasy purposes, who may start to garner some press. In under 30 innings last year, Cotton displayed advanced control, walking only 3.6% of the batters he faced. Like Manaea, Cotton has a great slider-changeup combination on which he hopes to build from the right side. Fangraph’s ‘Steamer’ currently has him pegged for a 4.00 ERA with an 8+ K/9 and a slight spike in walks to 3.16 BB/9. While I can see the ERA being above 3.50 for Cotton, I don’t necessarily agree with the spike in walk rate. I know that the major league body of work we have for a sample is relatively small, but something in the 2.5 BB/9 range is sustainable with his profile of pitches and track of development. If he advances as I hope from a control perspective, the A’s could be looking at three pitchers with sub 4 ERAs and strikeout rates approaching the 8 per nine inning threshold. It doesn’t sound too sexy, but keep in mind this is an Athletics team that saw a spike in their starter FIP from 2015 to 2016 (4.01 to 4.58). This could at least be a trend in the right direction.
So we have a defined picture of what the Athletics will be come 2017. A bottom three team in the American League, with a lineup centered around 2-3 players, no DH, and a smattering of defensive liabilities across the field. The unfortunate reality is that I think even adding Encarnacion wouldn’t have been enough to push them ahead of the Angels in their own division, who were a 74 win team last year.
The hope for the Oakland faithful entering 2017 is that the starting unit screenshot I presented a few paragraphs up is outdated, omitting a new addition to at least cover one of the holes that exist.
Shying away from trade speculation, a free agent acquisition doesn’t seem insane to speculate on.
If the Athletics were willing to give Encarnacion ‘Cespedes’ money, I would imagine they’re somewhat interested in paying up for another 40+ HR bat.
Enter Mark Trumbo.
The Orioles retracted their offer for the righty, and the fan favorite landing spot seems to be the Colorado Rockies.The problem here is that Trumbo wants a payday, and with Encarnacion objectively better from an advanced metrics standpoint, the value for Trumbo in annual value terms has to fall into the $16-17 million per year range. Understandable concern may sprout around this number, as Trumbo comes off a year still with his 25% strikeout rate, heading into his age 31 season as a dead pull hitter. This move would effectively be a cloning of Khris Davis, something that in many cases isn’t a bad thing, but not something that would fully make up for the failed attempt at E5, especailly when reorganizing the team defensively with Trumbo present. The ex-Diamondback would also want to play in Oakland, which as we saw with E5, is substantial enough to pass up about $5 million per year. Kinzer, Encarnacion’s agent cited family travel in that opening tweet, but let’s read between the lines and realize that Oakland is simply not too desirable of a location to play in 2017.
MLB Trade Rumors currently has a poll on where Trumbo will go, and after the Orioles listed at 26%, a ‘Mystery Team’ is next at 19%. You can check that out here. The A’s can’t completely be thrown aside in this lottery.
Left in the free agent market around this Encarnacion style profile of hitter is Brandon Moss, Michael Saunders, and the forgotten Chris Carter.
Moss is coming off a strong year with the Cardinals where he hit 28 home runs, but he struggles to generate power against lefties and won’t fix either the defense or contact problems currently embedded in the A’s. Chris Carter is even more of a liability when it comes to strikeouts, but has been extremely consistent with his power numbers. I would gather that the Brewers gamble on Eric Thames signals the potential market for a hitter like Carter.
Michael Saunders is probably the option I would prefer most in the current free agent pool, but the addition of Joyce early in the offseason, Saunders doesn’t seem rational. Another corner outfielder with enough life left that making him a full time DH isn’t the most efficient use of his skill set. The likelihood Carter becomes at least a part-time DH is easier to bet on.
The reality is that whatever way the A’s go, they will feel the loss of not signing Encarnacion. The pieces left in the market just don’t fit as well as E5 would have. It’s a hard sell, but I could see one of these players moving to the west coast for a 1B/DH role. If you want to look at this scenario with an optimist’s lense, the Athletics were willing to dish out what seemed to be around $25 million average annual value. Let your mind swirl on who else they might try to pay for in the near future, who might help out even more then Encarnacion would have.
Keep your eye out for prospect Franklin Barreto, but in the interim, I wouldn’t be too excited for 2017 in Oakland.
Photo via the Flickr creative commons, thanks to Keith Allison for the shot.
Statistics all from Fangraphs and Baseball Savant.
Screen captures of tweets from respective individual’s twitter pages.
Brooks Baseball chart can be found here.
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