Breaking down the Beckett deal

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With nothin’ but night games and not enough of the season behind us for it to have yet created its own newsy momentum, today is a bit slow. So let’s go back to yesterday and look a bit more closely at the Josh Beckett deal. Pfun Pfacts:

  • The team had asked Beckett to include a medical
    contingency clause
    in his contract that would have, presumably, slashed his salary in the event that he later got hurt, thereby transferring the risk of injury to the player rather than the team. As I wrote back in February, this is the Red Sox’ new m.o.  They did it with John Lackey and J.D. Drew. They tried it with Bay, but he wasn’t having it. The team would have to offer more money to the player for it, but I have this feeling that players like their guaranteed money too much to respond kindly to these offers. Gambling is illegal for ballplayers, after all.
  • Also, Beckett’s initial demand to the Sox had apparently been for Carlos Zambrano money: five years $91.5 million deal with vesting options.  This comes from WEEI’s Rob Bradford. I hope that Bradford used Zambrano’s name first for comparison purposes and not Beckett’s agent for negotiating purposes, because you’re not going to go very far in life trying to get people to do for you what the Cubs did for Zambrano.
  • Finally, the Red Sox are clever: by waiting until after Opening Day to announce the deal, the Red Sox
    avoided having the extension count towards this year’s luxury tax, saving the team around $4 million for those purposes in 2010. Of course, it just pushes the full $16 million of it on to next year, but presumably David Ortiz and Mike Lowell won’t be on the books next year, so the sunlight between the Sox’ payroll and the luxury tax threshold will be much greater. If Ortiz and Lowell are still hanging around at luxury tax-threatening salaries, someone call the cops, because Theo Epstein will have been abducted by the pod people. Or maybe Brian Sabean.

I’m late to the assessment party, but a good deal for the team, I think. Probably a good one for Beckett too given that he could post another 2006 or 2008 kind of season and see his market diminish considerably this offseason.

2018 Preview: Oakland Athletics

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Oakland Athletics.

The A’s have finished last in the AL West for three straight years. If you believe the folks at Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus and anyone else who makes projections, they’ll either finish in last again or come within a game or two of it. There’s not a lot of suspense to my prediction here — I’ll end up picking them to finish fifth — but the prediction is not really what a preview is about. It’s about the shape of the team and what we can expect in broad brushes.

While I can’t foretell greatness for the 2018 Oakland Athletics, I can’t say the broad brushes are bad. At least if you grade on a curve. It won’t be a good team, but they’ll be worth watching because they have a lot of good, fun and interesting players who are likely to be on that next good Oakland A’s team in the way Stephen Vogt and Brett Lawrie were not.

Their lineup is pretty spiffy for a second division team. Khris Davis, Matt Joyce and new acquisition Jonathan Lucroy are known commodities both inside and outside A’s fandom, but people who don’t pay much attention to the goings on in Oakland may not be fully aware of just how good and promising Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are. Olson hit 24 homers in 59 games last year. That’s not a sustainable pace — the league will figure him out to — but even regression from that will be fantastic. Chapman hit 14 in half a season and played superior defense at third base. He also struck out 92 times in half a season but who’s counting? [editor: everyone counts everything in baseball]. Hey, look, dingers! Yonder Alonso and Ryon Healey are gone from last year’s crew and Stephen Piscotty is new in town. Marcus Semien is a decent bat for a shortstop. All-in-all that’s a lineup that will play, and play very, very well if Chapman and Olson are what they’ve shown themselves to be thus far.

At the risk of criminal understatement, allow me to observe that the starting pitching is not as promising. Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman are at the top of the rotation. On good teams they’d be in the middle or the back. The rest of their rotation options — Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs, Paul Blackburn, who will miss the start of the regular season with a sore forearm — are less-than-impressive. They just signed Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson from the scrap heap hoping, I guess, to recreate some of that, uh, 2010 magic? 2010 was a long time ago!

Jharel Cotton would’ve been in the mix but he’s now out for the year for Tommy John surgery. A.J. Puk, the A’s top prospect would be a nice midseason upgrade, but he’s hurt. Not seriously, but the A’s will probably be more careful with him now than they would’ve been, which still would’ve been careful. All-in-all, there was a lack of quality arms to begin with, but with the injuries mounting, starting pitching could be a trash fire for the A’s.

The bullpen has a new look with newcomers Ryan Buchter, Yusmeiro Petit and Emilio Pagan joining 2017 in-season additions Blake Treinen and Chris Hatcher. That’s a pretty good and pretty interesting group which was going to see a lot of innings as it was in our new bullpenning era, but now that the rotation looks shaky as hell, they’ll see even more. If you’re curious about the limits of leaning on a bullpen, postseason-style are, Oakland will be running a pretty fun experiment to that end in 2018.

I look at this club’s bats — especially the young guys upon whom its so very easy to project so much promise and optimism, because I’m a sucker for hitting prospects — and think that they can outperform those statsy projections and be better than the Rangers and Mariners. Then I think about how the upside — UPSIDE! — for the rotation is 380 innings from Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson and I sorta wanna cry.

If the A’s get some breaks and some unexpectedly good (or average) pitching performances, they could certainly finish above the cellar. Perhaps well above the cellar. For now, though, I’m guessing that they’ll be in 80-win territory at best and finish last in a division that does not have any teams totally punting, making for a competitive and, subsequently, tough year.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL West