Now that Madison Bumgarner is going to stop grabbing all the headlines, which should happen any day now, the clock is up and running on the 2015 season for the A’s, and for everyone else.
The A’s had visions that starter Jon Lester would have the same kind of impact on Oakland’s October as Bumgarner did for San Francisco’s. Lester, after all, had the second-best World Series ERA, 0.43, in history before Bumgarner’s MVP performance against the Royals lowered his career World Series ERA to 0.25, pushing Lester to third.
Now Lester is all but gone from the A’s. He said he loved his time in Oakland, and the A’s would like to have him back, but the money doesn’t work. Lester is going to get a contract in the range of $150 million from someone – the Red Sox, the Yankees and the Cubs lead the list of the usual suspects – that would all but break the bank in Oakland.
Players are under contract for the next four days, after which time free agents will be allowed to file for the right to move onto the open market. The A’s have six of those plus Lester, and it’s possible, maybe even probable, that none of the seven will return.
Fellow starter Jason Hammel won’t command anywhere near the same cash outlay that Lester will, but he, too, will command serious money and seems unlikely to return, and the same is true for outfielder Jonny Gomes and infielder Alberto Callaspo, both of whom seem to have had their time in Oakland played out.
As for the other three, shortstop Jed Lowrie, setup reliever Luke Gregerson and catcher Geovany Soto, there are spots available for the first two if they are willing, while it’s not clear given the state of the A’s catching corps that the A’s will grant Soto’s expressed wish to return.
The A’s were riding high mid-2014 until Stephen Vogt and John Jaso got hurt and the A’s had to overload their third catcher, Derek Norris with work. The Jaso injury led to Oakland picking up Soto, but if all three will be back, it’s hard to see Soto returning as well.
But the A’s will have to make a decision on Jaso, who has had concussion issues the second half of the last two seasons. He’s been an offensive force at times, but there is at least a chance he’s going to be a DH only because of the concussion. If that’s the case, then the return of Soto becomes more likely.
The A’s don’t have obvious in-house options at shortstop if they don’t resign Lowrie. Oakland does have Nick Punto, who was the backup in 2014. But he’s going to be 37 and he’s averaged just 85 games per season the last five years. Daniel Robertson had a nice season at Class-A and was just name the Arizona Fall League’s Player of the Week, but in the wake of trading Addison Russell mid-season, the A’s don’t have a big-league ready shortstop in the minor leagues.
They did promote Tyler Ladendorf Friday, putting him on the 40-man roster, but he only played 38 games at short for Triple-A Sacramento (and another 38 at second base) while hitting .297. A right-handed batter, he could be a platoon option should the A’s choose to go that way.
And there isn’t much out there in terms of free agency. Shortstops joining Lowrie in free agency are defensively tailspinning but otherwise expensive Hanley Ramirez, Asdrubal Cabrera, who wound up playing the second half of the season at second base after going to the Nationals in a trade, and Stephen Drew, who has been with the Red Sox and Yankees since leaving the A’s a couple of years ago.
Lowrie isn’t an elite defender. None of those options is, either. The A’s do like the defense they get from returnees Punto and Andy Parrino, but they’d like the option for more offense than they’re likely to get to either. They promoted
Gregerson proved to be solid (5-5, 2.12, three saves) in the eighth inning in setting up for Sean Doolittle. The A’s would like to have him back, but this is his first chance to test free agency, and he’s going to test the waters.