Athletics

Beane: Signing A's young core long-term is already being discussed

Beane: Signing A's young core long-term is already being discussed

OAKLAND — Judging from the comments of Billy Beane and David Forst during their season-ending press conference Monday, it’s obvious the A’s top two baseball officials are pleased with the long-range direction their club is headed.

That plan definitely includes locking up some of their young cornerstone players with long-term contracts at some point, and Beane says those conversations already are happening.

“First, we want to make sure we’re identifying the right guys,” said Beane, Oakland’s executive VP of baseball operations. “I’ll just say it’s probably a conversation we’ve already started. We’ve had that discussion already. It’s going to be important for us to do it.”

Surely such talk is music to the ears of A’s fans who have grown accustomed to watching the team’s top players either get traded or sign with other teams in free agency. Signing multiple young players to long-term deals would represent a shift in organizational philosophy.

But that’s exactly what A’s president Dave Kaval, the front office and manager Bob Melvin have been talking about throughout this past season — there’s a commitment that things will be run differently and the A’s will try to retain some of their best talent moving forward.

However, the execution will be tricky given the team isn’t planning for its new ballpark to open until 2023, and that’s assuming no hurdles delay the project. Beane talks about the need to have a competitive team stocked with homegrown players ready by the time the A’s move into that ballpark. But how can the team start making a financial commitment to players when that anticipated ballpark is still so far down the road?

“When you’re talking about building a club for a stadium that’s six years off, and if you’re talking about locking them up, then you’re looking to have to lock them up for a long time,” Beane said. “So that’s sort of the trick and the balance that we have to address this offseason, if we’re going to embark on that.

“I think right now we’ve just got to operate that (the ballpark) is going to happen (on time). The other option is one we’ve done my entire career here, which is constant churn. I’m churned out.”

The young players that figure to warrant consideration for long-term deals include, but aren’t relegated to, designated hitter Ryon Healy, third baseman Matt Chapman, first baseman Matt Olson and utility man Chad Pinder. And it’s not like they all have to be inked right away.

Healy, Olson and Pinder won’t even become eligible for salary arbitration until the winter before the 2020 season. They’ll be due for free agency heading into the 2023 season, and Chapman’s timeline is a year behind those three. On the flip side, the earlier the A’s can get guys locked up, the more team-friendly those deals are likely to be from a cost standpoint.

It’s the young core of position-player talent, and the belief that other top prospects (pitchers and hitters) aren’t far away from the bigs, that drives the A’s optimism. A 17-7 finish put a positive spin on a 75-87 overall record and another last-place finish in the AL West.

One area the A’s will certainly look to address this offseason is their starting rotation, which could use a veteran innings-eater. But Beane and Forst were pleased with how several of their young prospects emerged and complemented productive veterans such as Khris Davis, Jed Lowrie and Matt Joyce.

“We have a long way to go, but anytime you have young players, you have a chance to get better,” Forst said. “I don’t think we put any ceiling on that. I think we wait and see where it goes. But these guys believe in themselves. They have a manager that believes in them, and they have talent. So all of those things go a long way toward getting better.”

A's trade former 2B prospect Joey Wendle, who never got a chance to blossom

A's trade former 2B prospect Joey Wendle, who never got a chance to blossom

The A’s swung a trade on the first day of the Winter Meetings, but it wasn’t the type of swap that’s been anticipated.

Oakland dealt second baseman Joey Wendle to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday for a player to be named later or cash considerations. The storyline for the rest of the week is whether the A’s complete a deal for their biggest target— a right-handed hitting corner outfielder.

They weren’t involved in heavy dialogue Monday as the four-day Winter Meetings opened at the Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla. But they’re on the lookout for an outfielder that will allow them to shift Khris Davis from left field to designated hitter.

Billy Beane, the A’s head of baseball operations, reiterated to reporters that the team ideally wants to acquire an outfielder who’s under team control for multiple years. The Cardinals’ Stephen Piscotty fits that bill and is known to be a primary target, but the A’s have been linked to others too, including Miami’s Marcell Ozuna.

If a trade doesn’t pan out, Beane didn’t rule out the possibility of signing a free agent outfielder, but the focus is trading for one who’s signed to an affordable contract. Beyond that, the A’s seek a left-handed reliever to continue fortifying a bullpen they’ve already added to this offseason.

“We were pretty specific with who and what we want, whether it be a free agent or a trade,” Beane said of the team’s approach to the meetings. “There’s a few free agents we have interest in, a trade here and there. And if we don’t get them, we’ll just wait for the offseason” to continue.

Wendle, who saw slices of big league time in 2016 and 2017, was originally acquired from Cleveland for Brandon Moss during the 2014 Winter Meetings. He drew some comparisons to Mark Ellis for both his style of play and work ethic but found himself blocked at second base despite an impressive big league debut in September 2016.

He hit .260 that month in 28 games, and though that average doesn’t stand out, he impressed defensively and proved to be a spark plug hitting leadoff, drawing praise from manager Bob Melvin. But a shoulder injury cost the 27-year-old Wendle valuable time in spring training last season and extended into the regular season. It didn’t help his cause that Chad Pinder emerged as a second base option and valuable utility man, and that Franklin Barreto — the A’s top-rated prospect — also arrived on the big league scene for stretches.

In addition, the A’s think highly of another up-and-coming second base prospect, Max Schrock. Acquired from Washington for reliever Marc Rzepczynski in August 2016, the 23-year-old Schrock opened the eyes of Melvin’s staff last spring and hit .321 for Double-A Midland in 2017.

Jed Lowrie, of course, is the A’s veteran incumbent at second base but is a logical trade candidate at any point given Barreto’s inevitable full-time arrival in the majors.

Despite stadium uncertainty, Beane stands by long-term plan for A's youngsters

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USATSI

Despite stadium uncertainty, Beane stands by long-term plan for A's youngsters

The deterioration of ballpark talks at the Peralta site won’t affect the A’s grand plan on the baseball side of things.

At least that’s what vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane told reporters Monday as the Winter Meetings opened in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

The A’s promoted a number of highly regarded minor leaguers last season who showed promise that they could be future foundation pieces. Along those lines, Beane and his staff planned to target some of those youngsters for long-term contract extensions, with an eye toward generating momentum as a new ballpark was built near downtown Oakland.

The A’s will still look to lock up some of those players, Beane said, even after last week’s news that the Peralta Community College District board halted negotiations for the team to build a new ballpark on land that sits near Laney College.

“I think it’s still a strategy we try to embark on,” Beane said of signing young players.

Consider third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson, who both entrenched themselves last season as rookies, as two obvious candidates for long-term deals at some point. But they aren’t the only two.

When could the first deals come?

“Realistically, the sooner the better,” Beane said. “Certainly we’ve got between now and spring training to introduce the idea. But probably more sooner than later.”

It’s an uncertain time for this franchise. Will the A’s look elsewhere to build in Oakland? They don’t seem thrilled with the idea of revisiting the current Coliseum site or Howard Terminal as possible locations. Could majority owner John Fisher consider selling? And if so, does that open the door to the franchise leaving the Bay Area? It doesn’t seem any scenario should be counted out right now.

No one representing the club, including team president Dave Kaval, has spoken publicly about ballpark plans since the Peralta talks abruptly ended Wednesday.

As far as baseball operations go, it only makes sense to continue down the path that they recently committed to. The only bad course of action for the A’s is not to take any action at all.

Beane and general manager David Forst need to stay the course and continue their commitment to young players, crossing their fingers that the business side of the operation can pivot and find a new direction for building a ballpark.