MadBum a Snake? What Is The World Coming To?

It’s hard not to feel bad for Giants fans after losing the one player fans most associate with post-season success – Madison Bumgarner. To make matters worse, Bumgarner signed with divisional rivals, the Arizona Diamondbacks, so the fans get to see him in a not-Giants uniform trying to make the Giants lose, and all San Francisco got for him was a draft pick. That has to sting. I know for Giants fans it will be hard to look at their roster for a few weeks, but eventually they will be ready to face reality and when they have grieved, this article will be sitting there like a hug from your best friend after a bad breakup. Who in the name of God will start games for the Giants in 2020, you ask? I’m here for you, man.

There are reasons to despair if you are a Giant’s fan, but there are reasons to hope as well and things are legitimately not as dark as they seem when it comes to the starting rotation. Try to keep in mind that the Giants are in the middle of a “soft rebuild”. They are trying to build a team that will stay out of the cellar and be worth watching, that is building for the long run without tearing it down to the studs. That means looking for bargains and taking short term risks on guys for reasonable costs who could completely flame out, but since they are on short deals, they don’t burden the team moving forward – enter Kevin Gausman. The former “Ace in Waiting” of the Orioles was available in part because of his 5.72 ERA in 2019. There are a couple of things that indicate that this might be a smart signing for the Giants. First of all, even though Gausman has been around a while he will only turn 29 in January. His fastball still sits around 94 and his control is good as indicated by his career walk rate of 2.72 per nine. Two more indicators of a possible brighter future for Gausman is the disparity between his ERA and his FIP – 5.72 versus 3.98 – portending a return to a reasonable ERA. Also, his BABIP was .344 which was 30 points above his career average – another indicator of possible bad luck contributing to his craptastic 2019. Where Gausman gets in trouble – and it has always been this way – is the long ball. His career rate of 1.26 homers per nine is up there, but he is leaving a hitters park in Atlanta and moving to an extreme pitcher’s park where the park and the weather both help to suppress offense. Even if he doesn’t pitch significantly better (which he probably will), his numbers should improve quite a bit. He is not an ace, but as the A’s have shown over the last couple of seasons you can get by without an ace if you can get average pitching and lots of depth. Gausman is a good signing on a one year deal – $9 million, and if he likes pitching in SF he might be a good candidate for an extension at mid-season.

That Johnny Cueto pitched at all last season after missing most of 2018 with a blown out elbow, which finally required Tommy John surgery, was a positive for the Giants. Cueto could not hit water from a boat with his pitches in his short stint at the end of 2019, but with a normal off-season and spring training he should be fine in 2020 – fine for an old guy. He will be 34 in 2020 so Giants’ fans shouldn’t expect prime Cueto, but he has always used deception and variation in his delivery to keep hitters perpetually annoyed, and that skill ages well. I also would not anticipate Cueto to break 200 innings like he did every season from 2012 through 2016. Still, it would be reasonable to expect Cueto to get 30 or so starts and be league average or maybe better because of his sneaky goodness – a mid-rotation starter. Welcome back, Johnny Cueto!

Tyler Beede finally made it up to the bigs and stuck in the rotation in 2019 making 22 starts and striking out 8.69 per nine. But to be more than an innings eater, Beede needs to find the strike zone more often (3.54 walks per 9 in 2019) and keep the ball in the yard as his 1.69 home run per nine rate is untenable. Beede’s ERA and FIP were so close – 5.08/5.03 – and his BABIP was .312 indicating that he got what he deserved. It wasn’t pretty, but even small improvement and continued health would make him valuable as a guy who can get them 30 starts with an ERA under 5.00. Projections see his home run rate stabilizing, but his walk rate being pretty poor and still managing a FIP in the mid-fours. The Giants would gladly take that. Beede works with a four pitch mix including a fastball that averages around 94 MPH. Maybe some work with his pitching coaches will help him maximize his stuff through changing his pitch mix or sequencing. Whatever happens, the Giants need Beede to turn into something useful, and he is already close.

After Tommy John surgery and a suspension for PEDs, Logan Webb is one the Giants couldn’t have been clear on, and to be fair, they probably are still a bit unsure after watching only eight starts in the majors. But Webb’s peripherals show promise that in spite of the 5.22 ERA there might be something of value there. Webb struck out just over eight batters per nine and walked just over three showing fringy control and good strikeout ability. His ground ball rate wasn’t quite as high (48.8%) as what the Giants might have expected from his time in the minors. He had multiple stops with ground ball rates of better than 60%. Webb allowed a few too many homers – 1.13 per nine – but it wasn’t as bad as some of his rotation mates. If he could induce a few more grounders like he did in double-A and triple-A, then the homer rate should come down. If he can manage that while keeping his other rates about the same as last season, then his ERA might even beat his 2019 FIP of 4.12. With a fastball that averages around 93 (even higher from the pen) and a four pitch mix, Webb, who is only 23, could turn into a solid 4 or maybe even a 3 with some growth. There could still be some growing pains, but the Giants have something to build upon with Webb.

It is difficult to be too optimistic about what the Giants have in Jeff Samardzija. He is 34 so any talk of potential is silly at this point. He is not an ace or even a number 2. His ERA last season was 3.52 but his FIP was 4.59. He is no longer a strikeout pitcher (6.95 per nine last season) with a fastball that averages a tick under 92 MPH, but he has good control (2.43 walks over nine) so there’s that. If he induced a lot of ground balls then that might be a sustainable approach, but at just over 36% in 2019 in the launch angle era, that seems like a tough profile to predict anything but decline and volatility. He gave up 1.39 home runs per nine last season which seems appropriate since he gives up so many fly balls. He gave the Giants 181.33 innings last season and that has value, but he is more a back of the rotation guy now who will cost the Giants just north of $18 million. Oh Shark – what could have been!

If any of those five starters falter, there are other guys – pitchers with some serious question marks and a bit of potential to provide value – waiting for a chance. Conner Menez is 24 and gets batters to strike out quite a bit – over 10 batters per nine at each of three stops last season including San Francisco. What Menez also did last year as he climbed through the system was walk more batters as he moved to a higher level starting with 3.02 per nine at double-A, then 4.40 at triple-A, and finally 6.35 in 17 innings in the majors. That dog don’t hunt. The fastball isn’t particularly hard, but the lanky lefty generates well above average spin with it. Unless Menez can get his walk rate down to the mid to low threes, he will probably be a quad-A pitcher or move to the pen. Guys with high spin rates get lots of looks in this age of data so look for him to get a few shots as openings appear.

Dereck Rodriguez had a rough first half and a rougher second half, but at 27 and with two good seasons in a row under his belt before 2019, he should be an early option if the Giants need a starter. His home run rate exploded last year to 1.91 per nine and moving to the bullpen didn’t fix him or even turn him into something useful. His walk rate didn’t increase as much as his homer rate, but he doesn’t dominate, so another half a walk per nine might be enough to turn him from effective back of the rotation option to a quad-A, break glass only in case of emergency kind of guy.

Andrew Suarez, like Dereck Rodriguez, took a big step in the wrong direction in 2019 after showing promise in 2018. He also saw his home run rate explode (1.93) and his walk rate jump (by more than a walk per nine). Suarez is also 27 and doesn’t have a pitch that really separates him from the pack. What he did have before last season was good to excellent control. The Giants didn’t give him much of a chance after he started the season on the IL – he only started two games with the big club – and he wasn’t particularly effective at triple-A in 2019 (probably why they didn’t hand him a rotation spot). Still, a lefty who can throw strikes should get some chances, so watch for reports of health and effectiveness in Spring Training because Suarez could sneak back into the rotation if he reverts to his form from 2018.

It would be worth watching Tyler Anderson’s progress in Spring Training too. The former rotation survivor for the Rockies made five starts in 2019 and was shut down for the rest of the season with something called chondral defect which is short for “his knee was screwed up”. It includes cartilage and possibly bone damage of the knee, which as you can imagine makes it hard to pitch. Anyone who can fashion an ERA in the mid fours over 32 starts in Coors Field (which he did in 2018) deserves lots of chances to see if he can get healthy and recapture that. Mr. Anderson is a tall lefty with excellent control – a career strikeout to walk ratio of 8.32 to 2.81 per nine. There’s a lot to like about this signing assuming he can get past his knee injury, which sounds like a pretty big if for a starting pitcher. This is a very low risk and potentially very high reward move for the Giants since they signed him for $1.78 million on a one year deal. Anderson still has a minor league option left, so if he needs more time to make adjustments once he is healthy, the Giants can give him some time in the minors. Here’s hoping health to Tyler Anderson and a return to form which could turn his signing into an enormous coup for the Giants rotation, where he could slot in as a two or three.

The 2020 Giants seem to be following a similar path to the 2018/2019 A’s in their rotation construction – get a bunch of arms, chuck them at the nearest wall, and see what sticks. In spite of their brief run last season, the Giants aren’t ready to compete, so this strategy makes a lot of sense. I would expect them to do something on the free agent market that will excite Giants fans in 2021 once the Shark’s contract and Johnny Cueto’s even bigger contract is off the books. They are improving their minor league system, and with some luck their ship will begin to turn around in a couple of years. They don’t have an ace anymore now that Madison Bumgarner is gone – he hasn’t really pitched like an ace since 2016 anyway. Their rotation looks to be a collection of threes, fours, fives, and some sixes (which really isn’t a thing). With some luck one or two of the young arms will turn into something more than a rotation filler as they build to their next competitive window. They might also hit on a reclamation project like Tyler Anderson. It is hard to say goodbye to links to your glory days like Mad Bum, but it is the right thing to do when it is obvious that you don’t have enough to chase down the Dodgers and Diamondbacks or even the Padres in 2020. They will find another window to compete with their combination of money and the draw of their beautiful stadium. Don’t despair Giants fans; your day will come!

 

The Forecast For San Diego’s Outfield in 2020 – Is There a Chance of Rain?

It is an exciting time to be a Padres fan. They have possibly the most thrilling position player in baseball in Fernando Tatis Jr., and a potential ace in Chris Paddack. They also have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball including a slew of great young arms. So yeah – if you are lucky enough to live in San Diego and you like baseball, your life is good and it’s about to get better. Of course not everything is rose-colored as the Padres haven’t tasted the playoffs since 2006 and they have never won the World Series. So as the Padres try to massage their roster into a team that can contend, we should look at the impact of their latest trades on their outfield. Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, and Franmil Reyes (before he was traded) received most of the playing time in 2019, but Reyes and Renfroe are gone now and Trent Grisham and Tommy Pham are the newest Friar outfielders. What does all this reshuffling mean for the Padres in 2020?

Wil Myers is neither dead, nor the worst baseball player in the league. In fact he is only slightly below average. But don’t tell that to Padres fans who see him as a train wreck. And to be fair, he is kind of a train wreck when you consider that at 28 and with three years left on his six year, $83 million contract, he might have a hard time earning a starting outfield job, and has virually chance of winning a corner infield spot on a team that lost 92 games last season. That’s the thing about money though – when you pay a guy a lot of cash you are more likely to give him too many chances to prove that you didn’t screw up when you handed him that contract. So will Wil get another chance to start somewhere for the Padres in 2020? It is unlikely that he will see more than the odd start on the infield corners, but much more likely that if he is still on the roster in 2020 (and there is no way anyone will take on his contract unless he is packaged with some great prospects), he will get starts in the outfield. If he gets roughly 500 plate appearances then he should deliver something in line with his career slash line of .257/.327/.436. That comes with 20 or so homers and 15 or so steals. It also comes with decent defense if he is in an outfield corner and poor defense if he is anywhere else like centerfield, first base, or third base. Can the Padres live with that for now? Sure! Can they win championships with that kind of output from a position that usually provides superior offensive output? Probably not.

Manuel Margot was an exciting prospect at one point. The Padres got him in the 2015 trade with the Red Sox for Craig Kimbrel.  Margot is 25 and has basically three full seasons in the majors and a career wRC+ of 84 after a 2019 wRC+ of 82. Margot is still all kinds of toolsy, but after 1526 plate appearances he looks like he just won’t hit enough to hold down a starting spot. He will still have value off the bench as a pinch runner, defensive replacement in all three outfield spots, and spot starter, but if the Padres were to continue on with him as the starter in center, their offense would have to carry him. What Margot looks like now is an excellent use of a bench spot and I don’t mean that as a knock on him. He would be a valuable 4th outfielder because of his glove and his speed, and it would allow the Padres to take one last look at him in case there is something left in his development.

Hunter Renfroe can hit the ball pretty far and has started to walk more, but his hit tool is not good, so he ends up with on base percentages a notch below .300 (career .294). He has a cannon arm and put together a good defensive season based on UZR/150 and DRS last season. In fact his numbers put him right near the top of all right-fielders in baseball, but this is the first season of positive defensive numbers, so we will have to see if he can repeat that in Tampa Bay where he was just traded. At 27, and with 1450 plate appearances Renfroe doesn’t look like a starter in an outfield corner on a contending team. He has yet to break the 2.0 WAR mark (career high WAR of 1.9 set last season with a big bump from his defense), but a little more improvement at the plate might push him over the edge assuming his walk rate continues to improve and he repeats his stellar defensive season. It was clear that the Padres needed a different answer in right field and now Renfroe is a question to be pondered by the Rays.

It is unclear what the Padres have in Franchy Cordero aside from a dude with a cool name. He could make a push for the center field job based on his speed and good work at the position in two small auditions, but it isn’t clear that he is ready to hit major league pitching. He is a 70 raw power guy who looked like he was starting to get to some of that projection in his last full season – 2017. But at 25, Franchy looks fringy and raw and with more talented outfielders in the fold, he is going to have to step up now or be pushed aside. His minor league career slash line of .270/.335/.434 shows a hitter who needs a high average to have a healthy enough on base percentage to deserve a lineup spot. If he enjoys a power spike and can walk even 10% of the time, then he might be someone. If not, then the Padres would be better off handing his spot to someone like Manuel Margot who is better with the glove and has gotten to more of his power than Cordero at this point, if not to one of their new acquisitions.

Josh Naylor is only 22 but put in a half season in the majors in 2019. He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t horrible either. His wRC+ of 89 combined with his poor defensive numbers in the two corner outfield spots equalled a -0.2 WAR. Ok, maybe he was pretty bad. But 22 is young, and there were positives about his season that probably make the Padres think they might be onto something. Naylor drew enough walks in the minors and in his half season in San Diego to show that he will probably walk enough to turn him into a positive offensive contributor. His raw power is evident just by looking at him and he has begun to reach some of it – 18 homers in 2019 between triple-A and the majors. It is reasonable to project him to something like a slash line of .260/.330/.450 or maybe even more slugging once he accesses more of his power. That’s enough to start if his defense doesn’t erase all of his offensive production. Naylor was a first baseman until 2018 when the Padres started his conversion to the outfield. San Diego already has an expensive first baseman in Eric Hosmer, so the conversion makes sense if Naylor handles the outfield. He is quite slow – a 20 runner on the 20 to 80 scouting scale – so he won’t be running balls down in the corners. If he can get good jumps and run smart routes he might get to the point where he doesn’t hurt the team with his glove. From here that seems like a big if, but there is no DH in the NL so for him to start that will have to be the calculus. Naylor has some tough competition after the two trades the Padres made so let’s look at who else the Padres are likely to try in the outfield.

San Diego will enter Spring Training with a handful of younger outfielders who will push for a chance soon, if not in Spring Training, and some young outfielders who have yet to fulfill their promise. The recent trade that netted them Trent Grisham will more than likely reshape their outfield in 2020. Grisham was a first round pick for the Brewers and had been viewed as a disappointment until last season when he finally found the power stroke the Brewers had believed was possible. Grisham has always had the ability to get on base because his walk rates were quite high ( in spite of his marginal batting average – a minor league career slash line of .255/.376/.415). He also has shown some speed in the minors to go with his developing power. In his brief major league debut last season he posted good defensive numbers in right field and center showing that he could probably start in either spot. If Grisham wins the starting spot in center for the 2020 Padres, his bat will play there if his defense is enough for him to stick. He will probably be a low batting average, high walks hitter with some speed and power. Grisham is only 23 so it is possible the former first round pick could turn into at least a solid starter.

After getting Grisham, the Padres went and traded for Tommy Pham. With speed, power, and the ability to get on base, Pham will likely be the starter in left even though he has played center and right as there are younger options to play the other outfield spots. His numbers have declined each of the last two seasons, but he is still a 3 to 4 WAR player. Pham’s defensive numbers have bounced up and down with last season being a low point in terms of WAR but with some disagreement from other defensive metrics. Soon to be 32, Pham probably isn’t the long term answer, but he won’t be a free agent until 2021 so the Padres will get two good seasons out of the athletic Pham before they have to make any tough decisions.

The Padres have two potential star outfielders toiling away in the minors in Edward Olivares and Taylor Trammell. When Olivares arrives he will bring with him excellent speed and burgeoning pop in a well-rounded package. Olivares will start the season as a 24 year old, has played center and right field, and has mastered double-A. If the Padres need him he could be ready by mid-season if he shows he can handle triple-A. Taylor Trammell was rocketing toward the majors until an injury marred mess of a 2019 slowed him down. He finished strong after a trade to the Padres and his tools still make him look like a potential superstar. If he gets off to a strong start at triple-A, it could mean a fast track to San Diego where he will show off both speed and power. There are more outfield prospects lower in the minors like Tirso Ornellas and Jeisson Rosario, but the Padres have a lot of young players already at or near the majors to sort through and Ornellas and Rosario are still pretty raw in spite of their tantalizing tools.

The Padres will have decisions to make about guys like Manuel Margot, Franchy Cordero, and Josh Naylor, as well as veterans like Wil Myers, but with newcomers Trent Grisham and Tommy Pham they have already made improvements on defense and in the lineup. Pham will take one of the outfield spots – probably left field. Grisham showed platoon splits last season that would indicate they should at least initially give him days off against lefties. That would give Myers starts in right field against lefties to show if he should get more time, assuming he is still on the roster when the season starts (pretty likely). That means Cordero might get a chance to show that he can hit enough to start in center and allow Margot to hit his way into more playing time spelling Cordero in center – at least until Trammell or Olivares start pushing on them from the minors. Naylor will hit, but he hurts them enough on defense in the outfield that I would send him back to the minors to work on left field defense, where he is insurance in case of injury. If he sticks in San Diego, then he takes time from Pham in left or Eric Hosmer at first – both unlikely scenarios. They could also trade him as some team will be better situated to use his bat. That would allow the Padres to play the far superior defender Margot in all three outfield spots thereby improving their overall outfield defense. The Padres have a lot of moving parts in the outfield and depth is a good thing to insure them against injury and disappointing performances. It is 72 and sunny in San Diego, and yes – I mean that literally AND metaphorically.

The Middle of the Brewers (Infield)

The Brewers just made a pretty interesting trade so it seems like a good time to talk about the implications for their lineup, and some of the questions they will need to answer in 2020. Milwaukee sent Trent Grisham and pitcher Zach Davies to the Padres for middle infielder Luis Urias and pitcher Eric Lauer. We won’t talk about the pitchers in this post – what is interesting is how this impacts the Brewers lineup and middle infield next year. Before the 2019 season began it looked like Orlando Arcia and Keston Hiura were the keystone combo for Brewers teams of the foreseeable future. This trade puts that combo into question so let’s take a look, eh?

Keston Hiura was the Brewers first round pick in 2017 – 9th overall – based on his tremendous bat. His elbow in his throwing arm was a mess and there were questions as to whether he would be able to do anything but DH, otherwise he would have been a top 3 pick instead of going 9th to Milwaukee. But Hiura avoided surgery, zipped through the minors, and made his major league debut in 2019 and hit a lot while not really disproving the doubters who said he should only DH. A natural outfielder, Hiura is fairly new to second base and it shows. Still, Hiura made it clear that he was ready to hit major league pitching and should be starting somewhere. After slashing .329/.407/.681 at triple-A San Antonio (155 wRC+), he slashed .303/.368/.570 in Milwaukee (139 wRC+). Hiura crushed 38 homers split evenly between triple-A and the majors, so his power has clearly arrived. Looking back at his half season in the majors, there were two areas of concern in regard to his hitting. First, he struck out 30.7% of the time, almost 8% above league average, so big-league pitchers were able to find some holes in his swing. Hiura walks enough that he should still get on base if his K rate stays that high, but it is something to keep an eye on. Second, the 23 year old former UC Irvine Anteater had an unsustainably high BABIP (.402) indicating a likely drop in his batting average in seasons to come. He has carried a high BABIP most of his career (but not THIS high) and he hits the ball really hard so that accounts for part of the high BABIP – still he was at least a bit lucky. Even if his average comes down some, he will be an excellent hitter with power who hits for a good average and walks enough.

Hiura has only played second base as a professional even though he was an outfielder in college. There are those who doubt that Hiura can handle the position defensively. Neither DRS (-4) nor UZR/150 (-18.9) – two commonly used defensive metrics – liked him at second. Inside Edge Fielding breaks chances into six categories of difficulty with the three easiest being “routine”, “likely”, and “even” respectively. Granted, the numbers are based on a very small sample size, but on balls rated as “likely” to be turned into outs, he managed to succeed only 50% of the time and on balls rated as “even”, he succeeded 66.7% of the time. His arm isn’t a big concern at second base but if it is as bad as advertised what it might do is limit him to three positions: second base, first base – a position he has never played, and DH, which brings us back to the Brewers last move.

Luis Urias is a 22 year old above average defensive second baseman who has hit everywhere he has played – except the Majors (in 302 plate appearances). In the minors he has looked liked a prototypical leadoff hitter with his .308/.397/.433 career slash line who would help defensively at second and not hurt the team at short. He even added some pop at triple-A in 2019 banging 19 homers in half a season, but the questions still remain about his ability to hit major league pitching as indicated by his career slash line of .221/.318/.331. The Brewers think they know the answer to that question, and Urias is only 22, so it isn’t like he is finished baking. I have written this about Urias before and I will write it again – Urias has starter potential. But, where to play him on the Brewers?

If Hiura is locked into the second base spot it would seem that the Brewers plan on playing Urias at shortstop, which would mean the their defensively gifted but offensively disappointing starter from the last three and a half seasons, Orlando Arcia, becomes a bench glove with some pop. At 25, Arcia might be the victim of a high bar he set for himself as a 23 year old in 2017 when he hit .273 with 15 home runs to go with his excellent glove work. The glove work hasn’t gone away, but his bat has not developed as expected. His 86 wRC+ in 2017 was his peak with last year’s 61 being more the rule than the exception. Arcia still exhibits power and gets hot on occasion but his offense really drags down his WAR which has only seen the positive side of the line once in 2017 when it was 1.4. With 1676 plate appearances in the majors it isn’t like the Brewers haven’t given him a chance, but it is hard to give up on someone with Arcia’s tools. The Urias trade indicates that the Brewers are about to do just that – at least as their starting shortstop.

To review, the Urias deal leaves the Brewers with two starting second basemen and two shortstops (in 3 players), one of whom can’t hit enough to carry his excellent glove (Arcia), one who is a fringy shortstop and a good second baseman who hasn’t hit enough in the bigs to start anywhere (Urias), and one player who is probably best suited to DH where he’d be great at it (Hiura). If the deal works out and Urias breaks out with the bat, then the Brewers have an offense-first middle infield that will probably only hurt them a little with the gloves. Additionally, if the universal DH hits the National League in the next year or two then they are set at DH and second with a glove first shortstop if all breaks well. It’s a lot to juggle for the Brewers but Urias is definitely worth the gamble and Hiura’s bat looks elite already so it isn’t a horrible problem to have.

The A’s Have Options At Second But Their Most Intriguing Prospects At The Position Don’t. What To Do?

What a problem to have – stars at all the infield positions, except one. That’s where the A’s are with Chapman, Olson, and Semien locking down the two corners and shortstop to the tune of 17.6 WAR in 2019 even with Olson only playing part of the season due to an injury in Spring Training. It seemed that Oakland had solved second base too when they acquired Jurickson Profar in a three team trade with the Rangers and Rays. He was coming off his best season to date with a 107 wRC+, 2.8 WAR, and was only 25 at the time. It was an exciting move but it just didn’t work out last year. Profar played good defense and still hit 20 homers but his wRC+ dropped to 89 and he finished with a  slash line of .218/.301/.410. The 2019 version of Jurickson Profar disappointed from start to finish.

Heading into 2020 the A’s look to break through the Astros choke hold on the West and earn a postseason series – none of this one and done stuff! So this off-season the A’s will have some tough decisions to make with one of the toughest being who gets the starting spot at second. Profar was very unlucky with a BABIP of .218 where league average was .298. He also retained his improved hard hit rate from 2018 while slightly improving his walk and strikeout rates. And while he mostly played second base for the A’s, he retained his positional flexibility as he has now spent time (at least 38 games) in the outfield and at every infield position but catcher and pitcher. Profar is an excellent candidate for a bounce back season in 2020 if he stays healthy. There is no way he will be as bad as he was in 2019, but that won’t necessarily win him the job because the A’s have other options – two of whom are super talented and out of options, putting their GM in an interesting spot.

One of the other options to play second base, Franklin Barreto, was the top prize in the trade that sent Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays. He has appeared on A’s top 10 prospect lists but has yet to take a major league job from anyone yet, and he is now out of options. The A’s must keep him on the big league roster, expose him to waivers where he will almost certainly be claimed by another team, or trade him to someone willing to keep him on their big league club. He turns 24 shortly before the season starts and has had over 200 plate appearances in the majors, but in spite of his tools and his minor league resume, he hasn’t hit a lick in Oakland. Barreto can play second, shortstop, and was tried in left and center at triple-A last season so, like Profar, he also has positional flexibility in his tool kit.

The other prospect who is out of options, Jorge Mateo, is a tool kit all by himself with freakish speed – 80 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale – and some pop. The A’s have to fish or cut bait with the young Dominican middle infielder because, at 24, he has no options left. 2019 was Mateo’s second try at triple-A and he showed off his speed and power hitting 14 triples (he has averaged 16 for 3 seasons in a row now), and slashing .289/.330/.504 while playing mostly shortstop, and some second base. Mateo had been tried in center field in 2017 but not since. So the A’s would most likely have to play him at second base or use him as a reserve middle infielder and pinch runner unless they choose to revive the center field experiment at the major league level. Is there more left in the tank? Maybe – he is only 24, and if there is more growth, then the A’s might have a star on their hands. Mateo has yet to sip even a cup of coffee in the majors so, unless he dominates Spring Training, it would be quite a leap of faith to commit to him sticking on the roster – much less starting him at second base for a contending team.

I have mentioned Profar’s positional flexibility and using him basically everywhere as a multi-tool while starting someone else at second might be a possible solution for the A’s logjam at second. There is however already someone in that spot – Chad Pinder. Pinder, who is much cheaper and can’t become a free agent until 2022 also has power but doesn’t walk as often as Profar. Pinder’s career average is about 10 points higher than Profar’s, but projections have them about even there.

And there is still more! Sheldon Neuse only played second base after he was called up to the A’s in 2019 but has played shortstop, 3rd, first, and the outfield in the minors. In 61 plate appearances in Oakland Sheldon slashed .250/.295/.304 after slashing .317/.389/.550 with 27 homers at triple-A. Neuse probably has the most power of all the second base options but realistically would be limited to the corners and second base where he has put up solid numbers in the minors. That still makes him a good multi-tool kind of guy although the A’s would probably only give Neuse the roster spot if they planned on making him the starter at second.

So now that you know the actors how should the story play out? The A’s will likely only have room to keep either Mateo or Barreto. One of them probably gets traded to a non-contending team for less than their value because of their lack of options. Neuse has options left so, unless he fights the starting spot at second away from the other candidates, he will likely return to triple-A. Pinder was in the outfield rotation in 2019 and probably returns as the designated multi-tool, while Profar gets another shot to be the starter where he should be at least an average hitter and better than average second baseman. Pinder is a year older than Profar and probably is done growing whereas Profar still has a bit of star potential left so there’s that to consider along with the roughly $6 million in price difference between the two men.

There is another way this could go with the A’s deciding to trade Profar if someone is banking on Profar’s remaining star potential. He will play as a 27 year old in 2020 and is in his last year of arbitration eligibility after which he will be an unrestricted free agent. He has played all the infield positions plus left field and the metrics have at times looked favorably upon him at every position, so another team might decide that he should be their starting shortstop where a return to league average as a hitter would make him quite valuable. If the A’s traded him away to open up a roster spot for Mateo and Barreto, or Neuse steals the job away, then Oakland’s second base position would be an interesting and potentially tumultuous situation to watch at the start of the 2020 season.