The A’s have been busy, but only relatively speaking

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The A’s keep on making moves this offseason, with the latest of them a trade of reliever-turning-starter A.J. Puk to the Marlins for sophomore outfielder JJ Bleday. It’s something of a challenge trade, since Puk converted to the bullpen in the minors and hasn’t made a start in the bigs, while Bleday’s rookie season didn’t approach his Triple-A production, but the thing I mostly want to note is that the A’s have been busy, but they haven’t exactly been putting in full effort. Again.

Bleday is projected to be their starting left fielder. They signed Jesús Aguilar to a one-year, $3 million deal to be their starting DH. Jace Peterson (two years, $9.5 million) is the A’s new starting third baseman. Esteury Ruiz, acquired from the Brewers in December, will be their center fielder — he’s still a rookie, so he’ll be making the minimum if he in fact does make the roster. Their projected bench is almost all new faces, too, with Manny Piña, Ryan Noda, and Aledmys Diaz, and Cristian Pache joining up through trade, Rule 5, and free agent signing, respectively. (Diaz might end up starting instead of on the bench, but Roster Resource currently projects Nick Allen to be the shortstop instead. Diaz is making the second-most on the team, but that’s just $6.5 million, so it’s still bench money if he ends up being a utility guy or Allen insurance of some kind.)

Drew Rucinski is new to the rotation via the KBO, on a $3 million deal. Shintaro Fujinami came by way of Japan, for $3.25 million. Trevor May and Chad Smith are both new to the bullpen, with May the highest-paid player on the entire team: he’s making $7 million in 2023, and is on a one-year deal.

That’s a ton of players brought into the organization, and the grand total of the team’s salary now sits at just over $54 million: less than $7 million ahead of last year’s Opening Day salary. They have $157 million in space between their current salary and the first tax threshold, per Cot’s Contracts’ reckoning: the Rockies, 15th in spending, are at $158 million. There’s nothing special about what Colorado has chosen to spend, and yet, it exceeds how much cushion the A’s have put between themselves and the first layer of luxury tax penalties.

Oakland is obviously working toward having a better team than the one they put on the field in 2023, but it also doesn’t take much to do that, considering the team went 60-102 after jettisoning anyone on the roster who cost any money despite knowing there were revenue-sharing funds coming in at season’s end thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement. We just went over what they actually spent those revenue-sharing dollars on above, and it isn’t much: it’s probably more accurate to claim that the above is what they’ll claim they spent revenue-sharing money on, in order to avoid drawing the ire of the MLBPA once more. Remember, there’s still an active grievance out against the A’s (and Rays, Pirates, and Marlins) for failure to spend revenue-sharing dollars in the past, so Aledmys Diaz’s signing and presence might have a third function beyond “potential starter” and “potential utility player.”

The A’s have problems that could be solved with money, but they have chosen not to go that route. They don’t seem to care all that much what people think of them, and are mostly interested in operating right up to the point where they’ll get in trouble. Hence the awful treatment of minor-league players — whether it was trying to bail on paying them during a canceled season, or feeding them anything that could constitute a meal, or not being able to afford to play home games, or the org being one of the final holdouts for paying players during extended spring training — and raising ticket prices after dealing away anyone on the roster of note a year ago. And the aforementioned grievance for pocketing revenue-sharing dollars instead of using those funds for their intended purpose, the extended campaign to get the city of Oakland to give in to every single taxpayer-funded stadium demand the team has… the list goes on.

So, all of this shuffling of the roster isn’t about being smarter than everyone else and not needing to pay the rates every other team is for good baseball players. The A’s, clearly, have a pretty good track record for identifying talent and developing it, but they’re just as likely to bail on that talent to bring in new projects and prospects rather than actually winning anything — or even attempting to win anything — with it. The busy 2022-2023 offseason has probably made the A’s better, but again, not hard to do, considering where they were this time last year: the main goal was to be able to say they were doing something, while maintaining their policy of doing as little as possible. They want to seem even poorer than they are because they believe it makes them seem even more desperately in need of a new stadium. They don’t want to spend money, even when they have revenue-sharing funds coming in to help them do that very thing without it also being a hit on the money they pretend to be limited to, so they aren’t.

They get away with a whole lot because we’re used to it, and because they still have Billy Beane kicking around to let people assume they’re simply smarter than everyone else and know what they’re doing, but the A’s are mostly kings of grift in a league full of teams that are good at that very thing.

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