In both my business and personal life, when confronted with a challenge, I often think of Brad Pitt’s line from Moneyball – “If we try to play like the Yankees in here we will lose to the Yankees out there.” It’s a simple reminder to think outside the box, no matter how unorthodox it might seem to someone else. After reading Joseph DeClercq’s article discussing Oakland’s needs for 2017, I started to think about some of the less obvious players whom the A’s might be able to acquire this offseason. Without further ado…
If you’ve never heard of Munenori Kawasaki you’re in for a treat. Kawasaki is a character in every sense of the word, one full of unabashed joy and candour.
Here he is breaking down his diet:
And here he is giving us his thoughts on what we call a non-repeating phantasm, or a class-5 full roaming vapour.
After spending 11 seasons in Japan, where he slashed .294/.345/.378, Kawasaki made his major league debut in 2012 with the Mariners. The following year he joined the Blue Jays where he showed flashes of brilliance offensively and a sturdy glove in the field as he shuttled between AAA and the bigs. He quickly became a fan favourite north of the border, known for his energetic and entertaining interviews (I’ve spent more than one afternoon just watching YouTube clips of this guy). Upon leaving Toronto at the end of the 2015 season, he was promptly snapped up by the Cubs, making his first trip to Wrigley as cover when Schwarber went down. He spent most of the year in AAA Iowa where he posted a line of .255/.352/.312 in 102 games. While he’s never done much more than provide infield cover, his career MLB numbers are serviceable at .237/.320/.289. “Kawa” can confidently play short, second and third, which is probably why he’s never been a free agent for very long. Having a guy who can play three of four infield positions provides a GM with a little more flexibility when it comes to filling out his active roster. But Kawasaki shouldn’t be thought of as just a utility infielder. While any clubhouse animosity may have been eliminated with the departure of Billy Butler, the fact that something like that (his run in with Danny Valencia) transpired in the first place is a cause for concern. Kawasaki is a great ‘clubhouse guy’ who has injected morale and plain old happiness into every club he’s played at.
As far as games played goes, the A’s top infielders in 2016 were Semien (159), Valencia (130), Lowrie (87) and Healy (72). With the hasty progress made by rookie stalwart Healy and with Semien pumping out dingers at a league leading rate for middle infielders, the left side of the infield looks to be in safe hands for the foreseeable future. Regrettably, with the tear-jerking departure of fan-favourite Eric Sogard, the infield looks a little light on big league experience heading into 2017. As a group, the five remaining infielders (excluding first basemen) played 183 games and posted a slash line of .170/.260/.224. Kawasaki can cover all of these positions and has a career line of .237/.320/.289. Muncy, Walsh and Wendle are all 27+ years of age so I’m not sure we can truly say that they’re still developing. Pinder however is 24 and, while he could one day progress into an everyday player, being stuck behind Semien, Healy and Lowrie isn’t going to do him any favours. Perhaps the answer is to let Pinder continue to develop by playing every day in AAA Nashville, where he posted a line of .258/.310/.425, while Kawasaki acts as infield cover until the next wave is well and truly ready for regular big league duty.
No matter how you break it down, this guy would be a huge boost to team chemistry, something every big league ball club (especially one that loses close to 100 games a season) needs. Seriously, can you imagine the hilarity that would ensue should Kawasaki and Vogt team up? That’s something I would gladly trade all of my government cheese vouchers to see. As a 35 year old utility infielder who had just 21 at bats for the Cubs last year, he shouldn’t be difficult to acquire.
Yes you read that correctly. Before you say something uncouth or tweet me some sad emoji’s, hear me out. While A-Rod’s stats are underwhelming to say the least, he is still one of the greatest hitters to play the game. Juice or no juice, the guy can swing a bat. His 2016 slash line was .200/.247/.351. He hit a home run every 25 at bats and struck out once every 3.35 at bats. One could make the argument that as his at bats were sporadic at best, it’s quite possible that he could get into a rhythm once he’s getting regular plate appearances again. Let’s not forget that when he was playing regularly in 2015 he hit 33 bombs, drove in 86 runs and posted numbers of .250/.356/.486. His lack of playing time this past season could have more to do with the rift between him and Brian Cashman than his diminishing skills. His potential salary (likely the league minimum or there about) could also be appealing to a team attempting to boost ticket sales.
With the departure of Billy Butler, the A’s have room for a designated hitter / specialist pinch hitter on their roster. Remember, he wants to get to 700 home runs. He is currently on 696. The A’s get a veteran presence in the clubhouse who can work with some of the younger hitters and A-Rod can chase his 700th homerun with impunity. Who knows, he may even hang ‘em up as soon as he reaches the historic milestone. All in all it’s not like the A’s are going to be a whole lot better next year, so they might as well take the boost in ticket sales and veteran tutelage A-Rod will provide while these youngsters continue to develop.
Veteran backstop A.J. Ellis will bring a plethora of experience to whichever team snags him this off-season. After serving as Kershaw’s battery mate since as early as 2007, when the two were teammates in double A ball, Ellis was traded to the Phillies this past season after being displaced by Yasmani Grandal. So great was the loss that many Dodgers openly admitted to crying upon hearing the news that Ellis was heading to Philadelphia (whether or not they worked out afterwards is unknown).
The A’s catchers combined for a .253/.308/.394 slash line in 2016 and the younger members of the group require a little more seasoning to say the least. Maxwell showed promise albeit over just 92 at bats while Vogt, who did most of the heavy lifting last year (490 AB’s), struggled to post numbers of just .251/.305/.406. Maxwell and Phegley make a solid platoon combo so Vogt could be on the bubble this off-season. If any one of these three is not on the 25 man roster, adding a catcher as cerebral and experienced as Ellis could be a no-brainer.
Between MLB and the minors Ellis has never caught more than 131 games in a season (2012) and as a result, has less wear and tear than most 36 year olds. He caught Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter in 2014 and carries a career slash line of .239/.340/.351. Ellis led the league in 2015 when he cut down 45% of would-be base stealers, so he’s no slouch behind the plate either. Add to that the fact that he allows a passed ball just once every 157 innings and you’ve got a good, solid backstop that can help shape some of the A’s young hurlers. He has a proven track record of working with and helping to develop elite pitchers which is something none of the A’s current pitch-callers can lay claim to.