Dare to dream of the $80 million payroll

At once insane and tantalizingly possible, the Oakland Athletics are buyers this offseason. Any questions about Billy Beane’s M.O. were answered swiftly when word came this afternoon of the first big winter trade (Winter? I was wearing shorts on a 71 degree sunny day today.). Middle infielder Cliff Pennington and prospect Yordy Cabrera were traded to Arizona for former All Star CF Chris Young and $500,000 cash. Cabrera was later sent to Miami for reliever Heath Bell, but we’ll ignore that for the time being.

Young will earn $8.5 million this year and $10 million in 2014 if the A’s pick up his option. If not, the buyout price is $1.5 million. Coco Crisp, the A’s current CF, makes $7 million in 2013 with a $7.5 million 2014 option ($1 million buyout). That puts the A’s investment in four outfielders – Crisp, Young, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick – at $24 million, nearly half the 2012 payroll. Even with that kind of money, the four players combined for 13.6 WAR in 2012, making the 2013 expenditure pretty good value any way you slice it.

When the news was first released, the most prominent immediate fan reaction was to wonder what would happen to Crisp. It was Crisp who was re-signed only nine months ago, and many fans wondered if that was a wise decision considering the number of nearly ready young outfielders in the A’s farm system. Once Cespedes signed with Oakland in February, it seemed as though Crisp’s days were numbered. When the A’s had their nine-game losing streak at the end of May, Crisp’s name surfaced as trade bait, despite his struggles throughout the first two months of the season. Yet Crisp got himself right in June, perhaps because he got the starting CF job back. His energy and skill at the top of the order made him arguably the most dangerous weapon in the A’s lineup by the All Star Break. Now Crisp seems almost indispensable among many fans, at least judging from reactions on Twitter. It’s a remarkable story that stands among many on the A’s squad. Crisp does have a lengthy injury history, though this year he was out at times because of illness (flu, pinkeye) rather than a muscle or joint problem.

If anyone is likely to be moved or non-tendered, it’s Jonny Gomes, Seth Smith, or both. Both contributed nicely in a DH+occasional OF platoon situation. Smith will hit his second arbitration year, and his value is strictly in that platoon role vs. RHP. Gomes is the opposite, mashing against lefties and coming in very cheap with a $1 million salary for 2013. Both players will command around $3.5 million, and both will want multiyear deals if possible and more plate appearances – which may be few and far between if the “Four Horsemen” stay healthy and get their 550-600 PAs. Young assumes Gomes’ role, which is a shame because Gomes is such a likable guy and a local, but that’s how the business works. Beane has already said on a conference call Saturday that Gomes would be affected by the Young acquisition.

I’ve put together a spreadsheet showing the A’s projected 2013 payroll. It makes certain key assumptions about the makeup of the A’s roster:

  • Stephen Drew’s $10 million mutual option is picked up. Drew showed improvement late in the season and appears healed from his ankle injury troubles. That’s not going to make the A’s or anyone commit to a really rich deal, no matter how much Scott Boras pushes for one.
  • Seth Smith is retained. I don’t think this is a given because of the reasons previously defined. If he stays it’s probably for $3.5 million. If he is replaced by someone in the A’s system like Collin Cowgill or Shane Peterson, the A’s will save $3 million in the process. Keep that in mind for future payroll projections.
  • Brandon McCarthy is re-signed. The elder statesman of the pitching staff, he’ll never reach 35 starts in a season because of lingering shoulder problems. But he is very effective when healthy and is a great clubhouse leader and spokesman for the club, and his (and his wife’s) media presence helps put a face to a team that might otherwise go relatively anonymous. He should be affordable to keep, and worth it.
  • Brett Anderson is not traded. If Anderson had not suffered elbow trouble that resulted in Tommy John surgery, Anderson might already be elsewhere. Having come back late in the season, he looked very good in limited action. He has ace-quality stuff, which as we’ve seen in the playoffs, can be pretty important.
  • No other big trades or free agents signings are done. This is the A’s we’re talking about, so nothing’s for certain when it comes to personnel. I’m keeping it like this to illustrate what the the payroll looks like now and to show how much headroom remains.

Minimum salary for 2013 is $490,000 per CBA. Specific salary estimates are based on previous published salaries for players with similar service time and/or performance.

All told, the payroll is as much as $65 million. Brandon Moss should have Super Two status, so he may earn more than what is listed. Without Smith (and Gomes), the payroll is only $62 million. The pattern for the A’s has been to respond to an encouraging season (2006, 2010) by bumping up payroll. In 2007 the A’s came off an ALCS appearance and boosted payroll to $79 million, with $46 million devoted to five players: Jason Kendall, Eric Chavez, Mike Piazza, Mark Kotsay, and Esteban Loaiza. None of those five produced in any meaningful way for various reasons, and all except Chavez were off the team during or shortly after the end of the 2007 season.

The 2008 season showed promise, with a solid young core and a .500 record. Payroll was bumped for 2009 from $48 million to $62 million. We know how 2009 went: Matt Holliday produced well but not like a superstar he was advertised to be, and Jason Giambi proved that you can’t go home again. So we know how this could play out if the team flames out. The A’s could easily spend another $10-15 million without much trouble, but if the team is 10 games back by July trading deadline, we could very well see another selloff. The Marlins tailed off in the NL East by the end of June, resulting in the trades of Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Gaby Sanchez, Edward Mujica, and Heath Bell. Not even a new ballpark could keep the fans from leaving in droves, forcing the directive for Larry Beinfest to cut costs posthaste.

It’s not by accident. This is a script all low-revenue teams have to work with. The A’s pulled in 1.6 million fans this season. Say they brought another 400,000 fans in to bring the 2013 total to a cool 2 million. At $30 a person, that translates to $12 million in extra revenue, about half of that going to payroll. The annual winter revenue sharing payment should also help. Success has cascading effects, as there’s also a lower percentage of no-shows and greater revenues from media and sponsorships. It’s a snowball effect. We’ve seen it run positively in the last few weeks, and negatively in recent years.

That makes a $62-65 million payroll something of a jumping off point. The A’s could support an $80 million payroll if things continue to go well. $80 million isn’t still in the bottom third of MLB, but it’s a good deal of extra budget to play with. However, we know that free agent spending has yielded mixed results, and that cost per win can be very difficult to pin down at times from a GM standpoint. Fortunately the team is strong in the outfield and pitching staff, making the weak spots easier to live with. How should Beane and Forst use $15-18 million of headroom? They could stand pat. They could make another trade or pick up a free agent (or two). They could go into the international market as they have in the past (Cespedes, Iwakuma, Ynoa) to bid on a young arm like Japanese high school phenom Shohei Otani. They could save it for some midseason deadline deals. Whatever way the front office chooses to go, the possibilities are practically endless. The future is bright, it’s ahead of schedule, and the A’s world – from owner to fan and everything in between – can’t be anything but happy about it.

17 thoughts on “Dare to dream of the $80 million payroll

  1. personally would have young in cf and crisp as the dh. young is a great defender, doesn’t have the greatest of arms when you compare it to both cespedes/reddick but it’s a heck of a lot better than crisp’s.

    if drew is brought back then the biggest question marks are 2b where you probably will see a spring training battle with the likes of weeks, sizemore, and green. sizemore if he shows anything close to what he did in 2011, then i could see the a’s choosing him to be the starter at 2b to begin 2013. weeks and or green very well could be used as trade bait though don’t know how much other teams value either of them. weeks has a hugely disappointing second season and green at this time is still a hitter without a true position even though 2b should be the position he plays if he does become a starter in the bigs as his bat will play the best there and defensively he’ll probably be average at best at 2b but it’ll be better than what he’d remained at either ss or cf.

    the money the a’s could have available imo could go get a catcher if the a’s front office doesn’t feel norris is ready and kottares at this point is a backup and imo a solid one. i don’t know if there are any international c out there to be had, is there a cespedes type c somewhere in cuba ready to defect?

    there are “name” fa mlb catchers available this offseason.

    napoli-i don’t know why tex wouldn’t resign him. he’s a perfect fit for that team and as deep as their minor league system is not like they have a mlb ready catcher prospect waiting in the wings. they did trade for soto from the chc but he wasn’t anything to write home about. napoli was the type of player norris was projected to be in recent years according to “experts”.
    ….
    pierzynski-had a huge season in 2012. you do wonder if he can repeat what he did last season at his age. also he played a bandbox in us cellular and against some pretty bad pitching in his own division which greatly helped him.

    ruiz-he has playoff experience with phi. not that young but phi probably views themselves as contenders next season and the seasons after that so don’t know why they wouldn’t want to bring back one of the best offensive catchers in the game.

    wilson-doesn’t look like the nyy will bring him back but will he be too expensive from the a’s standpoint? last three seasons he’s averaged 5.3 million in salary and during that time he’s been pretty much an average catcher in the bigs according to WAR. he actually hit better in 2012 on the road than in yankee stadium which is a offensive friendly yard but struggled really bad against the al west division.

    shoppach-this would be the unsexy type of signing. actually was having a pretty good year with bos putting up a near .800 ops before being dealt to the nym during the season where he struggled. never has had those consecutive good seasons, mainly been a backup, even though he had a pretty good 08 season with cle when he hit 21 hr and a .862 ops in 352 at bats.

    some trade options would be tor’s arencibia as their org has possibly the top catching prospect that is mlb ready in d’arnoud. def has some serious power averaging 20 hrs in 400 at bats the past two seasons but not gonna hit for much of an average and not gonna take a walk much either. i’ve read some a’s fans who has thrown the name of cle’s santana around. cle is a LONG WAYS from being a contender. they’ll likely lose their all star of chen as a free agent and really they have only two players that are worth a damn imo with santana and cabrera the shortstop. cle just signed him to a reasonable 5/21 deal at the start of the 2012 season so he’s pretty cheap. don’t know if they’d trade a player who they probably felt would be one of their building blocks unless they’re really blown away with an offer, an offer i’m not sure the a’s front office will want to offer up.

    other than that could see maybe the a’s addressing the pitching staff. i do think the bullpen is pretty deep but you never know what beane will think. i mean he did add balfour back before 2011 when the a’s had a bullpen of bailey, ziegler, breslow….all who closed games the previous season. rotation also looks pretty good granted anderson and hopefully a resigned mccarthy have had issues staying healthy. could beane look to sign a under the radar type vet like he did the past two offseasons signing mccarthy and colon. a couple of veteran lhsp could be j.sanchez who always had the talent but is a headcase but maybe c.young who is the best pitching coach in all of the biz could help him out. another is wolff who was briefly linked to the a’s last season before bal picked him up during their playoff push.

  2. That’s a heck of a lineup. Four power hitters in the middle (5 if Donaldson doesn’t slip) and no automatic outs.

    The options at OF and DH have to be among the best in the bigs and having two players with the range that Yong and Smith do as your backup options in the field is a luxury. Drew, Donaldson, and Sizemore/Weeks is easily the best hitting infield since Crosby won ROY and we still had high hopes for Chavez.

    I don’t see bringing back McCarthy for that kind of money. With such a young rotation, I’m all for having good depth but not for 7.5 million.

    And lastly, I’d like to see another arm in the bullpen because you can simply never have enough.

  3. Another excuse for hating ownership is gone (think Poole, LGO, etc. will write about this?! :X). And I doubt that anyone on the A’s roster is untouchable at this point. Beane will trade any and everyone without a moment’s hesitation if the right deal comes about. THe question will now turn if we can pick up some quality FA’s without overpaying, unlike in year’s past (see Beltre). We definitely need another quality innings-eater arm (Haren part deux?), a good catcher, and maybe a reliever. Otherwise, for the first time in a long time, we can look forward to a team without much roster turnover! :)

  4. I keep thinking the A’s won’t fork out the 10million for Drew. Seems like a high price for someone with his career numbers. He did play better as he got more time. Unfortunately we don’t really have anyone to step into that role. I think with Boras as Drew’s agent, it complicates matters. I think getting the SS situation should take priority.

    awesome breakdown ML.

  5. It’s time to begin. The window is open and Billy is going after it. I have always liked Stephen Drew. I’d love to see him around, maybe a three year deal that guarantees 25M will keep him around until Addison Russell is ready to take over.
    .
    At the last game of the regular season ML, my brother and I had one of our usual rambling exchanges that started about Pennington and ended up being about how the A’s could combine five players to make a second base Voltron… My pick for Black Lion was Scott Sizemore. I love Jemile Weeks, but the notion that the A’s could feature a line up where every position player has something like 20 HR pop (imagining Young in CF) is pretty insane. For that to be a reality, there’d need to be a different catcher.. But still, it’s easy to see how CY becomes a strategic move that changes where everyone fits on the chessboard (though I prefer playing Risk to Chess).
    .
    Hold on to your hats my fellow A’s fans… There will be at least one move that will have us all scratching our heads and will give Monte Poole something to whine about. But in the end, I think BB just set us all up for at least two more years of being in it, and didn’t lose any of his ability to extend that window.

  6. Mike2, Addison Russell has a lot organs in the scouting ranks. I’d expect him to finish the year at Midland next season, probably starting in Stockton. I don’t expect him to be in Sacramento until the following season. That’s why a three year deal for Drew makes sense. The problem is I think Scott Boras has a different view of what Drew is worth than I do. Not sure what Billy is willing to do to keep him around, but Adam Rosales isn’t going to cut it as anything but a utility man.

  7. Hate to see Pennington go. Definitely an A’s type of player and versataille.Is Melvin trying to get his old D-back team back? just kidding.Arizona tends to give up on players quite often.Young is a great outfielder, but I wish they had kept Pennington.

  8. @Jeffrey
    I agree with you, Peter Gammons actually said the same thing you said a few weeks ago on MLB tv. Russell should be ready in 2-3 years unless he has a monster season in the minors this year. Don’t expect to see him at SS when he comes up, he will prob be on one of the corners or the outfield when he does.

  9. I expect Russell to stick at SS for his first few seasons at least. He seems pretty committed to sticking, anyway.

  10. realistic best case scenario would be russell who i think will remain at ss to arrive maybe late 2014? he’ll likely start 2013 at stockton and maybe like head did, if he does very well be promoted and finishes up next season in the minors at aa midland. could start 2014 at aa and midway move up to aaa sacramento and be a late sep callup and again everything goes well challenge for the starting ss job in 2015 spring training. can’t remember the last position prospect the a’s drafted and got to as great of a start as he did this past sesaon and not only are a’s fans excited, those who follow the ins and outs of the minors are excited about russell’s potential too. i don’t know when any new a’s park is built here locally and who knows if any of the current a’s players on the big league team will even be with the team when that park opens but whenever it does i’d think russell will be one of the faces of the org. course most a’s fans thought the same of weeks after 2011 and look where he is now at a point where his future with the org is a huge question mark.

  11. I would think the way to add payroll with the most talent per dollar would be through trades in the mid 2013 season. Flush with tv revenues, there will be serious buyers remorse over the contracts that teams sign this winter, and due to the distribution of said revenue around the league, it will be more than just the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels making these poor decisions. Alternatively, the way young talent has recently been valued around the league, if teams decide to lock in there core players arbitration years, this could also makes teams around the league look to move veterans in order to get well payed young players more playing time. I imagine Atlanta signing several young arms long term, taking a step back to start the season, and trading us Hudson for little return. This would make me happy.

  12. My favorite Cliff Pennington story is being at a Bay Bridge game at AT&T Park and the scoreboard read “Chris Pennington.” The final image of Pennington in an A’s uniform will be a post-game interview courtesy of TBS follow ADLS Gm 5. The onscreen graphic says Jerry Blevins.

    So long, Chris… I mean Cliff… wait, no… Jerry… no,yah… Cliff. Clifton Randolph Pennington.

  13. He was a very forthcoming interview at the blogger press conference during fanfest last year. I’ll miss him for that, but his on the field contribution won’t be missed all that much.

  14. Great post. Would agree with letsgoa’s that Catcher is a potential upgrade. With ML’s clearly-laid-out budget projection, I could squint and see the A’s pushing payroll to nearly $80M with all the offseason moves he’s suggested and the addition of a free agent catcher, pushing Norris (the youngest player on the 40-man roster currently) back to AAA for awhile.

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