Ever since the Athletics let manager Bob Melvin pack his bags and go to San Diego, it has seemed like a long and dark winter would be ahead for the franchise and its fans. The skipper still had one year remaining on his contract but was allowed to sign on with the Padres without compensation, as Oakland seemed content with saving the roughly $4M he was going to make. Since then, the questions surrounding the A’s have largely been about exactly how far they will go in stripping down the roster.
In a recent piece from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, he relays that it is unlikely they will bottom out to such a degree that their payroll drops as low as $40M, a level that even the low-budget Athletics haven’t seen in 20 years. While that might sound like good news to A’s fans at first, it doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be selling, as Rosenthal reports they are still “likely to trade almost every player with value on their roster” but could then patch the holes on the club “by signing a bevy of free agents to one-year contracts.”
As to how this would work, Rosenthal points to the 2014-15 offseason. At that time, the Athletics were coming off a third consecutive winning season, yet they embarked on a massive roster overhaul that included trading away Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Jeff Samardzija for prospects. This led to three straight years of basement dwelling in the AL West while acquiring big leaguers — such as Ben Zobrist, Rich Hill, Ryan Madson — who would later be flipped for further prospects. Despite all of that selling, the payroll didn’t significantly drop in those losing seasons. Per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, it hovered in the vicinity of $80M from 2014 to 2017.
As to who is expected to move, Rosenthal lists many players who have previously popped up in rumors, such as Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt and Frankie Montas. All of that group have been speculated to be trade chips due to their arbitration raises and shrinking team control. However, Rosenthal also says that “their available parts include even catcher Sean Murphy, who is a year away from arbitration,” and later adds that Murphy “will be a hot commodity in a market starved for catchers.” It has been certainly been noticed, including by MLBTR, that the free-agent catching market in indeed weak this year, with the best option being 34-year-old Yan Gomes. Murphy, who just turned 27 and has four remaining years of control, would certainly be more appealing than any option on that list. In 182 career games so far, he has hit 28 home runs and slashed .222/.321/.431, a wRC+ of 109. When combined with his excellent defense, he’s produced 5.4 fWAR.
Jason Martinez of Roster Resource currently pegs the club’s 2022 payroll at $85M, including arbitration estimates. Shipping out all the aforementioned players would subtract around $45M and leave it sitting around the $40M mark. But then, under this theoretical scenario, the club could then reallocate that money toward short-term deals for free agents.
Even if the A’s do decide to put this plan into action, it won’t be soon. As Rosenthal notes, most of their potential trading partners are preoccupied with trying to sign free agents before the CBA expires on December 1, which is widely expected to lead to a transaction freeze shortly thereafter. Despite all that, he reports that the Athletics have been “bombarded with trade interest in their players” and are “still gathering and organizing information.” That means any sell-off, whatever its eventual scope, will likely be crammed into the window between the thawing of the transaction freeze and the beginning of the 2022 season.