Next Steps: Complete Offseason Guide, Predictions for the Oakland A's
Back-to-back ALDS losses to the Tigers, despite fighting hard and forcing each series to the maximum five games, could force the A's to re-evaluate whether they have enough impact talent to get deeper into the playoffs.
The continued development of a talented and young starting rotation, including Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily, could push them to the next level. But it's likely that general manager Billy Beane will try and add impact talent while the the core of the team remains in their prime and the window of contention is still open.
Beane has added plenty of offense over the past few winters, including Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick prior to the 2012 season and Jed Lowrie last offseason. We'll see if he continues that trend or goes after a No. 1 starter to replace Bartolo Colon, who is eligible for free agency. Or maybe he can manage to add both.
Here's everything you'll need to know before Beane and the front office get started.
With just over $33 million of guaranteed salary committed to five players, including a team-high $10.5 million to Yoenis Cespedes (pictured), another $2.15 million in buyouts to Kurt Suzuki and Chris Young, and approximately $22 million to the six players expected to be offered salary arbitration, the A's would probably be a few million dollars over the $61,964,500 payroll from Opening Day 2013, according to Baseball Prospectus, if they had to start next season by filling out the remainder of their roster with players making the minimum salary or slightly above it.
Since that's highly unlikely, expect the A's to get a boost in payroll so Billy Beane can make some moves. Their 22,337 home attendance average, according to ESPN, isn't exactly going to motivate ownership to add significantly to the payroll, though.
On the bright side, they've jumped from last in the majors in attendance just two seasons ago to 23rd, so they're trending in the right direction. It might just be taking A's fans some time to realize that their team has been one of the best in baseball since last June.
Hosting six playoff games over the past two seasons also helps, but it's uncertain whether ownership will wait for the fans to show up before spending money or whether they'll spend money in hopes that the attendance will rise.
The A's only have four players likely headed for free agency—Kurt Suzuki and Chris Young are expected to have their club options declined; Coco Crisp is expected to have his exercised—but that group includes their No. 1 starter, Bartolo Colon, and closer Grant Balfour (pictured).
Despite their ages—Colon will be 41 next May; Balfour will be 36 in December—both players were highly productive in 2013 and should get contracts with significantly higher salaries this winter. Colon could at least triple his $3 million salary while Balfour should get a multi-year deal in the $7 million-9 million per season range.
Both players can be replaced in-house, however. The A's can fill out their rotation with Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, Dan Straily and either A.J. Griffin or Tommy Milone, while Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle each deserve an opportunity to close.
The pitching depth would take a hit in either case, though, so unless payroll needs to be cut, it's hard to see the A's stand pat if Colon and Balfour depart.
Holes to Fill
With prospect Michael Choice (pictured) seemingly ready to step into Chris Young's fourth outfield spot, it's hard to find any gaping holes on the roster, aside from finding a late-inning reliever to replace either free agent Grant Balfour as the closer, or either Ryan Cook or Sean Doolittle in a setup role should either move into Balfour's role.
The rotation should have enough to where there isn't a significant drop-off if Colon leaves as a free agent. But if the goal is to take the next step and become legitimate World Series contenders, then finding a No. 1 starter could be on the agenda.
Any other moves to fill a need would likely be necessitated by a preceding trade—they could have enough depth at catcher, outfield or the rotation to make a deal—while any other Billy Beane acquisitions would be depth-related.
Potential Free-Agent Targets
The A's were quiet in free agency last offseason with the re-signing of Bartolo Colon the only significant move while a two-year, $6.5 million deal for Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima didn't work out as he spent the entire season in the minors.
Finding an inexpensive replacement for Grant Balfour, who should get a nice payday elsewhere after two strong seasons as the A's closer, might be at the top of the priority list this time around.
Here's a list of potential free agents the A's could target this winter.
Josh Johnson, SP: Pitchers hoping to rebuild their value won't find too many better destinations than Oakland, where they'd get to pitch a majority of their games at spacious Oakland Coliseum and several others in the pitcher-friendly ballparks of the division rival Angels and Mariners.
Johnson, after posting a 6.20 ERA in 16 starts with the Blue Jays while allowing 15 homers in 81.1 innings, could be the potential high-reward value the A's are looking for to replace Colon.
Jesse Crain, RP: If Balfour's price tag is too high for Oakland, then so will the price for fellow free agents Joaquin Benoit, Edward Mujica, Joe Nathan, Fernando Rodney and Brian Wilson. Crain (pictured), on the other hand, could come at a reduced rate because he missed half of the season with a shoulder injury and he has never been a closer during his career.
The 32-year-old, who was pitching as well as any reliever in baseball until the injury, could also give a discount to any team willing to offer him a closer's job.
Ryan Madson, RP: The 33-year-old has missed two full seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery due to several setbacks along the way. Prior to the injury, he had established himself as a reliable closer, posting a 2.37 ERA with a 2.4 BB/9, 9.2 K/9 and 32 saves in 37 chances for the Phillies in 2011.
But after wasted seasons with the Reds and Angels, teams willing to give him a closer's job could be few and far between. The A's are one of a handful of small market teams, however, that could be willing to take a flyer on Madson.
Freeing up some payroll space could be on the agenda in Oakland, although two of the highest-paid players on the team, outfielders Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes, are the offensive catalysts on the team and aren't easily replaceable.
Instead, expect them to shop starter Brett Anderson (pictured), who is set to make $8 million in 2014 before he can become a free agent after the season. The 25-year-old also has a $12 million club option for 2015 with a $1.5 million buyout.
Teams aren't likely to want the injury-prone lefty at that rate (guaranteed $9.5 million), but if the A's can unload $5 or $6 million of his contract and get something of value in return, it could benefit both sides. Anderson was considered one of the better young pitchers in the game early in his career but he hasn't been able to say healthy for a full season since his rookie year of 2009.