MLB free agency is underway, and Sonny Gray is already off the board, signing a three-year, $75 million deal with the St Louis Cardinals. Gray is a needle-mover on the market, his decision being one with ramifications all around the league, as those teams not named the Cardinals who had their eyes on him move onto their Plans B to find front-line quality starting pitching.
Conversely, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, there are Gray’s former team, the Oakland Athletics. With no hope of contention in 2024 and not even any real idea yet of where they are going to be playing from 2025 onwards, the A’s are instead limiting themselves to signing the Osvaldo Bido types.
After all the selling-off, cost-cutting, bad trades and limbo surrounding the team’s future, there is not a chance in a million that the Athletics will spend any meaningful money this offseason. Even if they wanted to, those worthy of the significant money will have other suitors, and much more desirable situations to choose from.
To make any free agency splashes, however minor, the A’s will have to overpay, and as was seen with Trevor May, Aleurys Diaz, Jesus Aguilar and Tony Kemp last season, overpaying means not being able to resell the players anyway. Replacement-level players or below, on short term deals, for a team with no short term goals whatsoever. It is just dead money. They therefore both could not compete in the market even if they wanted to, and also do not want to.
None of this is meant as a slight towards Bido, who is exactly the type of player the floundering A’s should be targeting. A talent who has not quite pieced it together at the MLB level yet, he merits a look, and redraft/reclamation projects are the way for Oakland to go during this extended doldrums period. They might find some more Brent Rooker and Ryan Noda types for cheap. It beats getting more Aguilars.
That said, even for the low-revenue-lower-payroll A’s, there is still some money to spend, and some incentive to do so. This becomes doubly true if Major League Baseball instructs/urges the A’s to spend the hefty amount of money they receive via the Collective Bargaining Agreement’s revenue sharing provision on player salaries, as some hope they will. Ownership’s many decisions not to spend money does not mean that the money is not there.
Perhaps, then, they can spend it more creatively.
Called up midway through last season, rookie infielder Zack Gelof immediately became the team’s best position player, and the breath of fresh air sorely needed amid another nothing season. Because his call-up came concurrent with his addition to the 40-man roster, his service time clock is almost as close to zero as possible; it will be several years before he even gets to the arbitration stage, and several more on top before he is through into the wider market.
Such a more is definitely not unprecedented, and is the sort of move that the similarly low-payrolled Tampa Bay Rays have done more than once. It worked incredibly well with Evan Longoria, who poured in many good years as arguably the best player in the franchise’s history (when factoring in longevity) before the back end of his second deal proved to be too expensive. And it was on the way to working with elite prospect Wander Franco, before the investigations into his off-field allegations put everything on an indeterminate hold.
Offering a package that gives Gelof an immediate pay bump above the minimum salary in exchange for a discount in years five and six – and potentially with options attached thereafter, so as to avoid any Shin-Soo Choo-esque situations – would be a creative and productive use of whatever money there is to spend. It gives Gelof the big payday with which to shape the rest of his life, gives the A’s a potential discount that can be reinvested elsewhere in the future, and provides security for both parties. And there has been scant little of that surrounding the Athletics franchise of late.
This vehicle could, of course, also be used on others deemed possible future cornerstones. There just are not that many who meet that level. Best then to use it on the one hitter who is.