The 2018 Winter Meetings were mostly uneventful, with just a handful of significant trades and free agent signings. But the players who did agree to contracts earned big money, signifying a hotter market than last year.
Outfielder Andrew McCutchen inked a three-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies despite a modest 20 home runs and 65 RBI last season. Relievers Jeurys Familia and Joe Kelly each got three-year contracts worth $30 million and $25 million, respectively.
The starting pitcher market, where the A's are most interested, appears to be especially strong. Patrick Corbin got a six-year contract worth a staggering $140 million from the Nationals. Nathan Eovaldi received four years and $67.5 million from the Red Sox, despite posting similar numbers to Trevor Cahill.
Even Tyson Ross earned $5.75 million from the Tigers following a season in which he recorded a 4.15 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, both significantly worse than Cahill and Edwin Jackson.
So what does all of that mean? Essentially, it suggests the A's will have to spend more money than they would like in order to be competitive in free agency.
Of course, in previous years, Billy Beane and David Forst have been successful finding diamonds in the rough for more affordable price tags. They say they will stick to their plan.
"We don't really get to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak," Forst said. "We kind of set our price. We know what we can do within the confines of our payroll and try to stay on that."
That might be a little more difficult this year, based on the early contract numbers in free agency. While the A's try not to let other teams' deals affect their negotiations, it's hard not to take notice.
"Any time a player comes off the market, whether it's a free agent or a trade, that's one fewer guy that you can put in place," Forst said. "So you kind of have to take that into account. We're not playing in a certain stratosphere with the starting pitcher market, so those don't really affect us, but you do have to keep it in mind. There are only so many guys out there."
The A's typically prefer to wait until late in the offseason to find free agents who fit their price range. That tactic worked well last year with Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Jonathan Lucroy.
"We have sort of targeted conversations, free agents, and trades, and kind of go at our own pace," Forst said. "I don't know that any external forces are going to change that."
Oakland will have to hope a few quality free agents slip through the cracks again.