Recently, I put together a round-up of the most note-worthy deals to have been struck so far during the offseason.
Conspicuous by its absence was any mention of the deals that have been made by the Oakland A’s though.
While other teams have set about retaining their most important free agents and finding ways to strengthen the roster in spite of those that have left – for example, the Mets lost one of, if not, the best pitcher in baseball, Jacob deGrom, and still managed to improve their bullpen – a good argument can be made that the A’s, who held the second-worst record in the MLB last season, have somehow emerged from the first salvos of free agency and trading with a weaker roster than last season. Some solid veteran free agents in Aledmys Diaz, Trevor May and Jace Peterson have been added to complement the team’s young core, but the stats, in terms of home runs, on-base percentage (OBP) and runs batted in (RBIs), do not add up to what has been lost since the end of the 2022 season.
The most upsetting loss of all was Sean Murphy being traded to the Atlanta Braves as part of a three-team trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. As outlined in my 2022 end-of-season review, Murphy was arguably our best player alongside Seth Brown last season, leading the team in batting average (BA), OBP, doubles and walks, and was second only to Seth Brown in home runs and RBIs. I said it would be “spectacularly dumb” to trade Murphy away given that he was now a veteran who provided leadership on what is a very young team while also still being under contract until the end of the 2025 season on a sub-£1m/year salary. Trade him away, the A’s did though.
What made the trade even dumber is that Murphy was under team control for another three seasons, and was not agitating for a move or causing trouble in the clubhouse, thus meaning the A’s did not have to make a move. This can also be seen in analysts’ opinions too, as, in their assessments, no one thinks that the A’s have ‘won’ this trade. R.J. Anderson at CBS Sports and David Schoenfield at ESPN have both expressed how much better the Braves and Brewers have done out of the trade compared to the A’s, for example.
Frankly, you could start a fire from the heat generated by Braves and Brewers fans rubbing their hands together in glee, and, while there is a logic to making Shea Langeliers the starting catcher and trading Murphy while he still had years on his contract in the hope of getting the best possible return, we aren’t going to know if the ‘return’ of pitching prospects Freddy Tarnok and Royber Salinas was worth it for a few years yet, while the impact Kyle Muller – admittedly the Braves’ No.1-ranked prospect – and Esteury Ruiz can have at the major league level isn’t clear yet either. Of the players the A’s received, the only one we know is at the big league level is Manny Pina, and while he is good and will fill the role Stephen Vogt had last season as the veteran back-up catcher that can work with what is generally still a young bullpen, even Pina would probably acknowledge his at-bats are not as strong as Murphy’s.
The A’s continuing to trade away its best players for prospects doesn’t make sense either; as things stand, the team will be leaving the Oakland Coliseum at the end of the 2024 season and moving to a new stadium. Whether that new stadium keeps the team in Oakland, or moves it to somewhere in Las Vegas, continues to still be up in the air though. Either way, the A’s will need to fill the stands of that new stadium for it to economically make sense to move from a stadium Rob Manfred and MLB rightly or wrongly considers to be “not a viable option for the future vision of baseball”.
The best way to attract fans is by putting a team on the field that plays good baseball and, at the very least, is competing for a playoff spot. In a division – the AL West – which features the current World Series champions (the Astros), a team that has both Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani (the Angels), the free-spending Texas Rangers and an improving Seattle Mariners team that just added All-Star Teoscar Hernandez to a roster that made the playoffs last season.
Surely then, it would make sense for the A’s to commit some money and offer longer-term contracts – opposed to the one-year deal given to Trevor May or the two-year deals handed to Peterson and Aledmys Ruiz – to one or two established ‘stars’ now? Let’s be clear; the A’s were never going to be able to compete for the likes of Aaron Judge or Trea Turner, but there’s no reason why serious offers couldn’t have been made to one to two of the slightly-less-sought-after free agents this offseason. That way, a team with a good chance of building a winning record and competing for a playoff spot that fans want to come and see could be built around them and the young core ahead of the move to elsewhere in Oakland or Las Vegas. Where, it has to be said, the team would also be competing for fans’ attention with two other sports teams – the NHL’s Golden Knights and the NFL’s Raiders – and a myriad of other entertainment options.
Evidentially, the A’s ownership and upper management don’t see it that way though. One of the upsides of the A’s strategy is that young players know they will receive opportunities to play in the major leagues if they are part of the A’s organisation. The problem is, once those young players have shown their talent and established themselves in the MLB, the A’s do not then offer them competitive money and tie them to long-term contracts in the way that other teams do. To this point, it should be highlighted that the Braves have already signed Murphy to a six-year contract extension, meaning he is now earning over $12 million per season.Embed from Getty Images
Instead, the A’s continue to be a shop window for other teams, where players demonstrate how good they are, and are then either traded away for prospects or go to a team in free agency that is prepared to pay them what they are worth, the amount Murphy is now earning at the Braves compared to when he was with the A’s being a prime example of this.
That is the way it has been for over 20 years now, and we know that’s the way it is as fans of the team, but it makes it no less frustrating.
All that being said, Carlos Correa still hasn’t signed a deal with the Mets, and is reportedly in negotiations with at least one other team again.
There’s hope yet, fellow A’s fans… 😉
Featured image – Michael Zagaris for Getty Images Sport
Brett is BFN’s Oakland Athletics correspondent and be found on Twitter @BrettChatsSport.