Athletics

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.

Breaking down where the A's 2019 payroll stands ahead of free agency

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Breaking down where the A's 2019 payroll stands ahead of free agency

The A's entered the 2018 season with the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball at about $63 million. That number increased to around $80 million by the end of the season.

Heading into 2019, there is plenty of uncertainty, with only two players officially under contract. With that in mind, we take an early look at the 2019 payroll: 

Guaranteed contracts

Stephen Piscotty: $7,333,333
Yusmeiro Petit: $5,500,000

Retained salary

Brandon Moss: $1,000,000

Club options

Fernando Rodney: $4,250,000 ($250,000 buyout)
--- Assuming the A's buy Rodney out, that adds up to just $14,083,333 in guaranteed payroll for next season.

Arbitration

Here are the players on the A's 40-man roster eligible for arbitration, along with their projected arbitration number from MLB Trade Rumors:

Khris Davis - $18.1M
Mike Fiers - $9.7M
Marcus Semien - $6.6M
Blake Treinen - $5.8M 
Sean Manaea - $3.8M 
Kendall Graveman - $2.5M 
Cory Gearrin - $2.4M 
Liam Hendriks - $2.1M 
Mark Canha - $2.1M 
Chris Bassitt - $1.6M
Ryan Buchter - $1.3M
Josh Phegley - $1.2M 
Ryan Dull - $900K
--- If the A's keep all of these players, their projected cost would be $58.1 million. If the A's choose not to bring back Graveman, Gearrin, Bassitt, Phegley, and Dull, that number would go down to $49.5 million, bringing the total up to about $63.5 million.

Pre-arbitration

The following players on the 40-man roster are not yet eligible for arbitration and will likely make somewhere between $500,000 and $600,000:
Matt Olson
Matt Chapman
Franklin Barreto
Nick Martini
Ramón Laureano
Chad Pinder
Dustin Fowler
Jharel Cotton
Andrew Triggs
Paul Blackburn
Daniel Mengden
Daniel Gossett
Frankie Montas
Emilio Pagan
Lou Trivino
J.B. Wendelken
--- These salaries should end up around $9 million, bringing the total payroll to about $72.5 million.

Unrestricted free agents

Here are the A's unrestricted free agents, along with their 2018 salaries:

Jeurys Familia: $7.925M
Jonathan Lucroy - $6.5M
Jed Lowrie - $6M
Matt Joyce - $6M
Shawn Kelley - $5.6M
Edwin Jackson - $1.5M
Brett Anderson - $1.5M
Trevor Cahill - $1.5M
--- If the A's re-signed Lucroy, Lowrie, and Jackson, it would likely cost them somewhere around $15 million, bringing the total payroll close to $90 million. And that's without adding any free agents.

Clearly, Oakland will have some difficult decisions to make.

Evaluating A's arbitration in 2018 MLB offseason: Josh Phegley

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Evaluating A's arbitration in 2018 MLB offseason: Josh Phegley

(Over the next week, we will be examining each of the A's arbitration-eligible players to determine whether they will return in 2019.)

Josh Phegley served as the A's backup catcher in 2018, slashing .204/.255/.344 with two home runs and 15 RBI in 93 at-bats. Oakland performed extremely well with him in the lineup, going 20-7 in games he started.

Phegley, 30, is a career .223 hitter in six big-league seasons. His best year came in 2015 when he notched a career-high nine homers and 34 RBI in 73 games. 

Phegley earned $905K last season and is projected to get $1.2 million in arbitration, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

Why he might be a bargain

Phegley has proven to be a reliable backup catcher. He is solid defensively and can handle himself at the plate as well. He is also well-liked by his teammates, and knows how to manage Oakland's pitching staff.

Even if the A's re-sign starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy, Phegley could provide a nice insurance policy.

Why he might be too pricey

The projected number of $1.2 million could be a bit high for a backup catcher, especially with Beau Taylor in the mix for less money, and prospect Sean Murphy tearing it up in the minor leagues. If the A's do re-sign Lucroy, Phegley could become expendable.

Verdict

Phegley has done everything asked of him over the past four seasons in Oakland, but $1.2 million seems a bit high for a backup catcher, especially when Taylor would cost less than half that.

Murphy, who just turned 24, slashed.288/.358/.498 in 68 games with Double-A Midland last season and figures to be the A's catcher of the future. With both Taylor and Murphy in the mix, Oakland can probably afford to let Phegley go at that price tag.