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Yes or No? Oakland’s Arbitration Eligible Players

November 5, 2012’s Ben Nicholson-Smith today shared his offseason outlook for the A’s. Included in that was the arbitration projections for the A’s arbitration eligible players. I’ve found that these have typically been quite spot on so let’s make some decisions regarding the A’s players eligible for arbitration.

Daric Barton, the A’s frustrating first baseman is eligible for a second time and projects to earn $1.1M this upcoming season. In 2012, he posted a .204/.338/.292 slash line with one home run. His 0.5 WAR was largely aided by his very strong defense at first base. For years Barton has mystified. He has drawn a great level of walks, but has had a frustrating lack of power for a first baseman. While I strongly fall on the “you don’t need to have power, you just need to get on base” side of the argument that not all offensive contributions need to fit a certain type, Barton just hasn’t been strong in any offensive categories. He looks lost at the plate, I feel he is an ultimate headcase, and a change of scenery likely does him well. I think the A’s are best served non-tendering him, though a sign and trade could be somewhat beneficial it seems sort of needless. Time to cut bait on Barton.

Jerry Blevins is projected to earn himself $1.0M in his first trip to arbitration. The lanky lefty has consistently the past two seasons put together ERAs far lower than his FIP (in 2012: 2.48 ERA to a 4.21 FIP), while there are questions as to whether or not he can keep that up, I think at $1M Blevins is a no brain retain. He likely will improve a bit from this season where he put together 7.4 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 and 1.0 HR/9 though on the flipside will likely see his 2.48 ERA rise as the .224 BABIP and 84.4% strand rate are totally unsustainable. A lefty who can appear in 63 games, who can have a mid-3.00 ERA? Sign me up.

George Kottaras, acquired midseason in a trade that sent Fautino De Los Santos to Milwaukee, is eligible for a second time and projects to earn $1.1M. Kottaras wasn’t much to write home about after coming to Oakland, posting a .212/.280/.471 slash line (where did that .409 OBP he posted with Milwaukee go?) in 93 plate appearances. Derek Norris is not ready to be a full-time catcher, Kottaras who earned 0.4 WAR in 27 games will more than earn himself $1.1M in the screwed up economics of Major League Baseball. He should be tendered a contract.

Brandon Moss is eligible for the first time for arbitration. He absolutely should be offered a contract. He may be a flash in the pan, finally realizing his potential after being a super-prospect for so long, as he posted a .291/.358/.596 slash line with 21 home runs in just 296 plate appearances for 2.4 WAR. The season he put together in such limited plate appearances (partially because he was used in a platoon against righties) was incredible and easily ranks among the top reasons Oakland won the division. At $1.4M it is worth the risk the glass slipper falls off and he never is the Moss of 2012 again. Best case scenario: the A’s strike it rich again.

Pat Neshek was another savvy signing by Billy Beane that paid pretty decent dividends. The sidearmer, who heroically pitched in the ALDS in Detroit after losing his newborn son, was worth only -0.1 WAR as FIP did not like his season (4.52). Surely his .137 BABIP and his 100.0% strand rate will not be where they were, but Neshek projects to earn $900K in his third trip to arbitration. $900K is next to nothing for baseball and for a reliever who put together 19 2/3 innings of 1.37 ERA, 7.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 1.4 HR/9 baseball, I say why not? To me the A’s bullpen seems a lot weaker than the depth they have in the rotation so despite the signing of a similar pedigree’d Mike Ekstrom can’t ever have too many of these pieces.

Adam Rosales currently looks to be the A’s starting shortstop. This situation will not last for long, remember there was a time the A’s outfield last offseason projected to by Ryan Sweeney and no one else. Rosales, who is best used as a utility player, is eligible for a second time and projects to earn $700K. Rosales put together a .222/.297/.333 slash line in 111 plate appearances in 2012 splitting his time between Oakland and Sacramento. The 0.1 WAR campaign was came on the heels of his -1.0 WAR campaign in 2011. I was surprised Rosales was retained in 2012, but this year with fewer shortstop options it might not be the worst person to offer arbitration to and then cut loose if need be in spring training just like the A’s did with Landon Powell last season.

Finally we come to the A’s biggest arbitration commitment, second-time eligible Seth Smith who projects to earn $3.3M in arbitration. He could be a trade piece for the A’s who have a clogged outfield/DH situation, but I like Smith. I think he is a better defender than people give him credit for (advanced defensive metrics think he is a bit above average but nothing memorable) and he has proven to be a solid hitter putting together a .240/.333/.420 season with a .325 wOBA and 107 wRC+ with 14 home runs in 441 plate appearances. He is a keeper.

All in all the A’s should tender contracts to all of their arbitration eligibles with the exception of Barton. Barton’s time with Oakland has been infuriating at times as I do think he has a lot of talent, hopefully he can latch on elsewhere and enjoy some success. I think the leashes for a guy like Rosales should be short with Neshek’s leash not too much longer either.

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