The baseball offseason is still in its infant stages, but the A’s find themselves in a very familiar position: Smack dab in the epicenter of some of the juiciest trade rumors circulating.
The A’s will reportedly entertain offers for any of No. 1 starter Sonny Gray, catcher Stephen Vogt and reliever Sean Doolittle, or perhaps all three, according to a piece from Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.
The A’s always stay tight-lipped with their public comments regarding such speculation, so it was no surprise that general manager David Forst declined to comment Friday morning. But it’s worth a review of what A’s officials have said, on the record, since the regular season ended in early October.
This from executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane, the day after the season finale...
“Let’s be frank, we’ve got a lot of ground to make up. If you just look at run differential and look at what you need to quantitatively make up, we’ve got a lot of ground to catch up on. What I will say is I think the pillars for a really good young pitching staff are potentially there. (But) we have a lot of ground to make up offensively.
“In some cases, we’ve got some young players we think highly of that may not necessarily be ready, at least at the beginning of the year. I think it’s the position players, that’s where a lot of ground needs to be made up. And that’s gonna take some time.”
That comment suggests a belief that the A’s will be hard-pressed to contend in 2017, making the idea of trading Gray, Vogt and/or Doolittle more realistic to at least consider.
Just when you thought the A’s couldn’t possibly round up any more name-recognition players to send packing, right?
Of the three, Gray’s trade chances appear toughest to gauge. He’s coming off a poor 2016 in which he posted a 5.69 ERA and landed on the disabled list twice, including for a late-season forearm issue.
The A’s face a decision of keeping him as an anchor for a promising but otherwise inexperienced rotation, or dealing him and capitalizing on the lack of quality free agent starters available. Likewise, teams pursuing Gray must judge whether the 27-year-old can regain his Cy Young-caliber form, or whether there are too many question marks to give up a king’s ransom for him.
Vogt would be a difficult player to part with, no so much for his on-field production — which is noteworthy — but his presence as the heart and soul of the A’s clubhouse. He’s an incredibly popular player and the team’s leader. But the A’s saw rookie Bruce Maxwell emerge as a left-handed hitter who possesses defensive upside. If Josh Phegley returns full strength from knee surgery, the A’s might be convinced they’d still have a productive left-right catching platoon even without the 32-year-old Vogt, who like Gray enters his first year of salary arbitration this winter.
Doolittle would seem perhaps the most likely to be dealt. He’s signed for the next two seasons at a total just north of $7 million, with club options for 2019 and 2020. That’s quite affordable for a hard-throwing lefty that could be an excellent low-cost alternative to high-priced free agent relievers such as Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon. His low price tag could persuade teams to overlook the shoulder problems that have plagued the 30-year-old for the past two years.
A couple things to remember here, and the first you don’t need to be reminded of...
When the A’s make offseason trades, they often do so in bundles. Two winters ago, they shipped off four All-Stars — Josh Donaldson, Jeff Samardzija, Brandon Moss and Derek Norris — in one three-week span. Following the 2011 season, they traded Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey in one burst of activity.
Second, and it’s just as important: The A’s haven’t thrown in the towel even during offseasons when they have made house-cleaning trades. They signed Yoenis Cespedes leading into 2012 and wound up winning the AL West. Two years ago, as fans were reeling from the departure of Donaldson and Co., the A’s still swung a deal to acquire Ben Zobrist and spent big on free agent Billy Butler (though we know how that turned out).
That may not generate much optimism for a fan base that’s grown numb by now to all of the big-name players who have been sent packing in recent years.
At the very least, the A’s look primed to be one of the winter’s most talked-about teams -- a status they know quite well.