The Athletics are firmly in the mix for the second wild card of the American League and with six remaining games against the first-placed Astros still on the schedule, they are still alive in the division hunt in the American League West. Oakland are currently four and a half games behind Houston so with 28 games left, there is time for a climb to overtake the current leaders.
Oakland’s proximity to a division title and their status (then) as a team second wild card certainly encouraged the team to give it a try at this year’s close of trading. The acquisition of Andrew Chafin was a solid addition to an already solid bullpen, but it was the team swap Starling Marte that really made the headlines. That’s partly due to Marte’s status as one of the more prominent names in the summer retail market, but also to the fact that Oakland ditched a longstanding top prospect Jesus Luzardo – five years of control over him, to be precise – in exchange for a loaner who will be a free agent at the end of the season.
At the time of trading, I touched on this a bit, but it’s a concept that is a little more detailed. The Athletics have every reason to be aggressive on the trading deadline this summer as, aside from a significant spike in the team’s typically frugal payroll, this could be something of one last hurray for the current Oakland core.
The A’s don’t have much on their payroll next season – just Elvis Andrus $ 14 million salary (of which the Rangers pay $ 7.25 million) and Stephen Piscotty‘s salary of $ 7.25 million. The A’s have a $ 4M club option Jake Diekman that also comes with a buyout of $ 750,000. Most clubs would likely pick that up given his strong season, but it’s at least feasible that the A’s could do without it given the upcoming salary crisis outlined here shortly.
Those minimal contractual guarantees look nice at first, but athletics has an enormous arbitration class on the horizon – and it’s not just big in terms of volume. It’s a talented and experienced group of players with most of Oakland’s most recognizable names: Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, Ramon Laureano, Frankie Montas, Lou Trivino, Chad Pinder, Tony Kemp, Deolis Guerra, Burch Smith and (depending on his final tenure numbers) maybe Adam Kolarek. From this bunch, Manaea and Bassitt are ready for their final arbitration raises – the former as Super Two players. Chapman, Olson, Montas and Trivino get their second raise.
I wanted to better find out how expensive an athletics course is going to be, so I reached out to MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for help. Matt developed MLBTR’s arbitration projection model, and I asked if he would be able to put together some projections for the track and field class based on previous seasons. Matt did just that, taking into account each player’s projections for the remainder of the season from the steamer projection system to its actual production to date and creating the following projections:
- Matt Olson: $ 11.8 million
- Sean Manaea: $ 10.1 million
- Matt Chapman: $ 9.8 million
- Chris Bassitt: $ 8.9 million
- Frankie Montas: $ 4.8 million
- Lou Trivino: $ 3.0 million
- Ramon Laureano: $ 2.8 million
- Chad Pinder: $ 2.7 million
- Tony Kemp: $ 1.8 million
- Burch Smith: $ 1 million
- Deolis Guerra: $ 900K
- Adam Kolarek: $ 800K
(One caveat on the projections themselves: these increases are determined using the 2021 model and standard inflation for the 2022 season. Major League Baseball and the MLBPA agreed not to use arbitration increases as a precedent for 2021 due to last year’s anomaly in shorts .)
Overall, it’s a projected grand total of $ 58.4 million. Add that to the combined salaries of Andrus and Piscotty, and the A’s go up to $ 72.4 million – $ 76.4 million when exercising the option on Diekman. They only owe that to 15 players. There are a few possible non-tenders (Smith and Kolarek, certainly), but for the most part, all major names should be expected to be written out in full. We don’t know exactly what the minimum wage will be next year due to the expiring collective agreement, but even filling out the list of players who deserve this year’s minimum would bring them to nearly $ 80 million – roughly $ 6 million. Dollars less than their current payroll.
Of course, we know that you can’t just add pre-arbitration players to this group as the rest of the current roster is not made up of pre-arb players. The A’s are currently losing not only Marte, but also Mark Canha, Yan Gomes, Yusmeiro Petit, Sergio Romo, Jed Lowrie, Mitch Moreland, Josh Harrison, Mike Fiers and Chris Davis to the free agency. Replace that group with readily available, in-house options, and you probably don’t have a playoff team on your mind – least of all with the Mariners, Angels and Rangers looking to upgrade their roster this winter, leading to even tougher competition within the country Division leads.
The A’s have never had an opening day payroll of more than 92 million.Part of that crisis could be mitigated by trying to find a taker for Andrus and / or Piscotty, although postponing one of the players could potentially result in that who pay A part of the freight (or enter into a lesser contract in return). As mentioned earlier, some non-tenders could also lower the bottom line number.
Also, it’s always possible that the property will just bite the bullet and pay off for a franchise-record payroll. We haven’t seen this level of spending in the past, however, and this is the same team at A that only agreed to pay their lower division players a weekly stipend of $ 400 a week after significant public relations backlash during the pandemic last summer – a move that only cost them about a million dollars. The A’s also let the Marlins pay the bill for all of Marte’s remaining salary. Perhaps this was in preparation for a raise this winter, but that would be a rather benevolent interpretation if history and precedents tell us this is a team that is already advancing the upper levels of its comfort from a payroll standpoint.
All of this is to say: athletics definitely looks like a team that has to make some tough decisions this winter. You can either take payroll to a new level, move Andrus and / or Piscotty (which would likely mean binding a prospect and further exhausting a thin farm), or listen to offers for a few names that have become permanent fixtures on the list are.
It would be difficult to part with a starter like Manaea or Bassitt, but both are set to become free agents after the 2022 season. Both Chapman and Olson have two arbitration increases left, which means that both will have one increase in addition to this already sizeable arbitration projection after the ’22 campaign. Both are on their way to salaries in excess of $ 15 million in 2023 – especially if Chapman is able to maintain his recent surge on the plate and return to his offensive pre-hip output output.
Whichever path athletics ultimately choose, the organization and its fans will change a lot this winter. That could mean changes to the payroll or changes to the make-up of a core group of players who have been quite successful since they got together a few years ago. Regardless of which route they choose, it is understandable that the A’s decided to be aggressive by this year’s deadline; With Canha, Marte, and several aides set up for free representation, and a huge arbitration class that could force some financially motivated trades, this looks like the current group’s best, and perhaps last, chance to make a deep playoff run together .