Remember how Brad Pitt, playing Billy Beane, described the Oakland A’s low-revenue predicament in the 2011 film “Moneyball?”
“The problem that we’re trying to solve is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams,” Pitt said. “Then there’s 50 feet of crap and then there’s us.”
If it was 50 feet then, let’s not even try to estimate how many it is now. Yet the two newest members of the A’s, veteran pitchers who were friends and teammates with both the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, are actually excited to take the plunge for what likely will be the franchise’s final season in Oakland.
Left-hander Alex Wood chose to be with the A’s, joining them on a one-year, $8.5 million free-agent contract. Right-hander Ross Stripling arrived in a trade from the Giants on Friday, the same day Wood’s deal became official. The A’s took on $9.25 million of Stripling’s $12.5 million salary.
The Giants last season removed both pitchers from their roles as full-time starters. The A’s plan to restore them as regular members of their rotation, and both are eager to seize the moment while also mentoring younger members of the Oakland staff.
Asked why he signed with the A’s, Wood, 33, said, “I’d say the biggest thing was re-solidifying my role as a starter. Our game is so much what have you done for me lately that two years in a row potentially of doing the same type thing I did last year would’ve probably been how I’d be viewed for the remainder of my career.”
Stripling, 34, added that both A’s general manager David Forst and manager Mark Kotsay “were very forthcoming about expecting me and Alex to anchor the rotation as veteran starters. Which was great to hear. I’ve always strived to get the opportunity to get the ball every fifth day with an extended leash to see what I can do. This definitely feels like that opportunity.”
Not that Stripling is taking anything for granted. The Dodgers traded him at the 2020 trade deadline before going on to win the World Series. As he put it, “No one knows better than me how things can change throughout a season.” Acquired from the Giants for minor-league outfielder Jonah Cox, he knows that if he pitches well, he easily could be moved again. The same, of course, goes for Wood.
“I’ll cross the bridge when we get to it,” Wood said. “My only focus in the near term is being the best player I can be for the A’s and helping contribute to the culture and clubhouse that ‘Kots’ is building.”
Wood praised the way Forst recruited him, calling him “super straightforward and honest.” He also sounded intrigued by the idea Forst broached about him setting an example for younger pitchers such as JP Sears. “I take a lot of pride in sharing my own experiences with other guys in hopes it gives them something they can take away to become the best possible version of themselves,” Wood said.
For all of the A’s faults, both on and off the field, they are an organization that consistently gives players chances they otherwise might not receive. Whether it’s Scott Hatteberg playing first base in the “Moneyball” era or Brent Rooker becoming an All-Star last season after arriving on a waiver claim, the A’s have little choice but to do things differently.
By Oakland standards, using Wood and Stripling as starters is not that different. Forst, though, is grateful Wood accepted the A’s offer, and pleasantly surprised that his trade for Stripling reunited two friends.
“Alex chose to come here, which we never take lightly. Anytime someone is open to coming to Oakland, that’s an important part of the equation,” Forst said. “I knew of his and Ross’ history together. I can’t honestly say I knew they were tight and there was going to be this sort of synergy right away. But they are both really excited about the other.”
Zack, come back!
Free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke, 40, wants to return for a 21st season, according to two sources briefed on his thinking. He just needs to find the right fit, and the Royals’ signings of right-handers Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha almost certainly will preclude him from returning to Kansas City.
Why wouldn’t Greinke just retire after finishing 2-15 with a 5.06 ERA last season? Even for those close to him, trying to read his mind is futile. But Greinke is only 21 strikeouts short of becoming only the 20th pitcher in major-league history to record 3,000 strikeouts. He also has three sons under 10 who enjoy watching him play.
Greinke’s Hall of Fame case likely will not be affected by whether he chooses to retire now or at some point in the future. His candidacy is somewhat similar to that of Mike Mussina, who was elected on his sixth try in 2019. He is not as much a lock as Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. But he certainly appears worthy.
In addition to winning the 2009 AL Cy Young Award, Greinke has made six All-Star teams and earned six Gold Gloves. He and Verlander are the only active pitchers who have worked more than 3,000 innings. Kershaw, with 2,944, is the only other active pitcher even close to 3,000 strikeouts. Next on the list: Chris Sale at 2,189 and Gerrit Cole at 2,152.
That White Sox pen… avert your eyes
— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) February 3, 2024
Eno isn’t wrong: The five relievers who made the most appearances for the White Sox last season — Aaron Bummer, Kendall Graveman, Reynaldo López and Keynan Middleton and Santos — have all been traded since last year’s deadline. The reliever who had the sixth-most appearances, Bryan Shaw, is a free agent.
The White Sox are not completely barren in the bullpen, though. They signed right-hander John Brebbia and left-hander Tim Hill as free agents, and for five years of Santos acquired righty Prelander Berroa along with outfielder Zach DeLoach and the 69th pick in the draft. Lefty Garrett Crochet will be stretched out as a starter after missing nearly all of last season, first while completing his recovery from Tommy John surgery, then while dealing with shoulder inflammation. But he still could end up closing.
Even if the bullpen proves too thin, the trades of Bummer and Santos this offseason are the kinds of deals first-year GM Chris Getz should be making with a team coming off 101 losses. Bummer’s three years of club control brought back five players from the Braves, including three former first-round picks, pitchers Michael Soroka and Jared Shuster and infielder Braden Shewmake.
The point of those moves, along with the White Sox’s other trade with the Diamondbacks on Saturday for outfielder Dominic Fletcher, was to raise the team’s floor. Fletcher and DeLoach will join a right-field mix that includes a third left-handed option, Oscar Colás, and veteran Kevin Pillar, a right-handed hitting non-roster invitee.
The goal of the trade the White Sox have yet to make, the one involving ace righty Dylan Cease, will be to raise the team’s ceiling. Three top position prospects, shortstop Colson Montgomery, third baseman Bryan Ramos and catcher Edgar Quero, are expected to open at Double A or Triple A. Left-hander Noah Schultz, the team’s first-round pick in 2022, could reach Double A this season.
Surround those players with high-end prospects from a Cease deal, whether before Opening Day or at the deadline, and the White Sox might be onto something.
Padres still in need of outfielders
The trade of Juan Soto and Trent Grisham to the Yankees left the San Diego Padres with only two – two! – outfielders on their 40-man roster. One is Fernando Tatis Jr., a Gold Glove winner in right last season. The other is José Azocar, who has a .633 OPS in 318 major-league plate appearances.
The signing of a free agent such as Michael A. Taylor is still possible. So is a trade with a team deep in outfielders like the Milwaukee Brewers. But neither option seems particularly likely, making it quite possible the Padres will spend the spring auditioning young players such as Jackson Merrill, Jakob Marsee and Graham Pauley.
Merrill, the game’s No. 12 prospect according to The Athletic’s Keith Law, will play both shortstop and outfield in spring training. Marsee, the MVP of the Arizona Fall League, last season became the first minor leaguer to produce a season of 15 homers, 90 walks and 40 stolen bases since at least 2005. Pauley, like Merrill, was drafted as an infielder but played outfield in the Fall League and in the minors the past two seasons.
Merrill was the 27th pick in 2021 out of Severna Park (Md.) H.S. Marsee was a sixth-rounder out of Central Michigan in 2022 and Pauley was a 13th-rounder out of Duke the same year. Their college backgrounds and Fall League experience could give them the ability to move quickly.
One other note on the Padres: They continue to draw significant trade interest in second baseman Ha-Seong Kim, according to sources briefed on the discussions. Kim is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, but he was among the Padres’ best players in 2023, so the acquisition cost would be high.
Marlins: Still looking at short
The Miami Marlins, exploring the free-agent market for shortstops, are mulling over a group that includes Tim Anderson, Amed Rosario, Adalberto Mondesi and Nick Ahmed, according to a source briefed on their pursuits.
Like the A’s with Wood and Stripling, the Marlins can offer opportunity. Jon Berti, currently Miami’s leading candidate at short, is 34 and more of a utility man. So if Anderson, for example, wants to remain at the position, the Marlins likely could give him 500 plate appearances.
The question is whether Anderson or even Rosario would view the Marlins, the only team yet to sign a major-league free agent, as the best vehicle to re-establish their respective values.
Anderson, 30, played second base for Team USA in last year’s World Baseball Classic before crashing with the White Sox during the regular season, in part due to a knee injury he suffered in early July. Rosario, 28, played more second than short after the Guardians traded him to the Dodgers at the deadline.
Teams value such versatility, but to this point no club has seen Anderson and Rosario as a worthy investment either at short or in a super-utility role.
Who will be on third in Milwaukee?
Ortiz, No. 58 on Law’s list, could be part of that mix, or he could slide over to shortstop if the Brewers trade Willy Adames.
The Brewers’ other possibilities include Andruw Monasterio, who had a .330 on-base percentage but only a .348 slugging mark last season; Owen Miller, who also is challenged offensively; and Tyler Black, the 33rd overall pick out of Wright State in the 2021 draft.
Black can hit, as evidenced by his combined .930 OPS at Double A and Triple A last season, but his defense is a question. The Brewers have another third-base prospect, Brock Wilken, the 18th overall pick out of Wake Forest last year, coming behind him.
Tigers’ Keith: A sizable presence at second
Players come in all shapes and sizes, but the Detroit Tigers’ Colt Keith, signed to a pre-debut, six-year, $28.6 million extension, is rather large for a second baseman. Keith, No. 36 on Law’s list, is listed at 6-foot-2, 211 pounds, but according to The Athletic’s Cody Stavenhagen, he was about 6-4 and 230 pounds when he arrived at camp last spring.
DJ LeMahieu and Matt Carpenter are recent examples of infielders who are 6-foot-4 and played regularly at second. Keith has spent the past two offseasons working on his agility and flexibility, and his body is tapered through his lower half, somewhat similar to the 6-foot, 215-pound Matt Chapman. Even if he proves only average at second, his offensive potential makes him a strong bet to succeed.
The Tigers prefer Keith at second rather than third to lessen the load on his shoulder; he missed the final four months of 2022 with a labrum injury. Andy Ibáñez, Zach McKinstry and Matt Vierling will compete at third in spring training. But by the end of the season, the Tigers could turn that position over to another top prospect: Jace Jung, the younger brother of Texas Rangers third baseman Josh Jung.
Top 100 MLB prospects 2024: Keith Law’s rankings, with Jackson Holliday at No. 1
(Photo: Nick Cammett / Diamond Images via Getty Images)