|Photo pilfered from Jason Miller|
Alex Anthopoulos has a few options internally for most of those spots-- Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar, Dalton Pompey and Steve Tolleson can all play the outfield, Brett Lawrie and Maicer Izturis will be back, along with Tolleson, Ryan Goins and Danny Valencia, who can man infield spots, and there are various young-ish, cheap arms in the organization that can probably come out of the bullpen and stick a thumb in the dam until something better comes along.
But that's kind of been the strategy for the last couple years, and it hasn't seemed to work, so perhaps it's time to look outside the organization to fill at least some of the holes. We'll start with 3B, since that's the position that is immediately the most interesting to me. For the sake of the exercise, I'm using Fangraphs' leaderboards and MLBTR's list of 2015 Free Agents when I mention anything about how good people are at baseball or how free agenty they are.
Josh Donaldson (Trade)
Buster Olney wrote yesterday that he thinks Josh Donaldson gets traded this offseason. I think that's a complete crock of horseshit and he's only saying that because the A's lost their wild-card play-in game, and therefore have to break the whole fucking team apart. Donaldson was a 6.4 WAR player in 2014, making somewhere in the range of $500k. He's arbitration eligible for the first time this year. I'd guess that he'll make $5MM or so this trip through arbitration, but it could certainly be less, given that a good chunk of that value is defensive.
Donaldson is going to get expensive fast, so the A's may decide to move him at some point, but I really don't think that it's this year. He'll still be plenty affordable even in 2016, and the A's are still good. They opted to spend about $25MM on a bullpen this year, including $10MM on Jim Johnson that they eventually just ate. This isn't the Moneyball Oakland A's anymore, and even if they were, there are probably more likely to trade the handful of guys on the team making $5MM+ who aren't worth 6WAR.
Having said all of that, if they do trade Donaldson, it would be for a huge haul. Three cost-controlled years of an elite 3B, in an offensively starved era of baseball, would take a shitload of good prospects/major league ready players. I'd guess one of Stroman, Hutchison, Lawrie or Sanchez would need to be involved, and that's definitely just the start. Remember the pricetag for Samardzija this year? That, plus more. I'm suddenly afraid that Boston has the prospect depth and the need at 3B.
Pablo Sandoval (Free Agent)
Brian Sabean tends to hang on to his players, so I wouldn't at all be surprised if the Giants re-signed Panda over the next couple months. If not though, he'd be worth a decent look. His 5 WAR (i.e. skinny) days are probably behind him, but that doesn't preclude him from being a useful regular with some upside.
He's been an above-average player the last three years (as in "above-average but not excellent" for those three years, excellent before that), has remained reasonably healthy for the duration of his career, is alright defensively, and will be 29 years old on opening day. I can see plenty of reason why he'll be sought after by several teams, which probably means that he gets a qualifying offer if he leaves SF. It will probably take a 3 or 4 year deal, at $13-16MM per to get it done, but I can think of worse people to have in the middle of the Jays' lineup.
Chase Headley (Free Agent)
Headley was traded mid-season from San Diego to New York, which means that he'll be the only 4 WAR 3B on the market, and without a compensation pick attached. He's also a switch-hitter, an elite defender, and has a career walk-rate above 10%. 2015 will be his age-31 season, so he's not old by any stretch, and he clearly has some good baseball left in him, based on the .262/.371/.398 line and +12.8 runs of defensive value he put up post-trade (58 games) this year. Sure, that's playing in Yankee Stadium, as opposed to pitcher-friendly Petco, but still... 4.4 WAR, and no comp pick sounds mighty tempting.
Trevor Plouffe (Trade)
I have no idea if the Twins would be willing to move Plouffe, given his excellent 2014 and relatively cheap contract, but I think it's worth a stab. The Twins are still pretty bad, and are probably going to tread water at best until their farm system delivers. They have Miguel Sano in the woodwork, but Plouffe can play all over the diamond (albeit not very well), so there are certainly ways to get both in the lineup if Sano even stays at 3B.
Plouffe, for his part, hit .258/.328/.423 in 136 games this season, with 14 HR's and a 9% walk rate. Somewhat pedestrian, until you remember that he's playing half of his games outdoors in Minnesota, where I'm pretty sure it snowed at least once this baseball season. Adjusted, that's a 112 wRC+. You could do worse. He's going to hit arbitration for the 2nd time this offseason, and will get something like $4MM. If Minnesota is willing to listen, I think this is realistic. Minnesota seems to think they can contend every year though, before ultimately losing 95 games.
Todd Frazier (Trade)
This one is a longshot, and hinges on the Reds breaking it down entirely. Frazier hits arbitration for the first time this offseason, and was worth 4.7 WAR in 2014, so that's some cheap production. The Reds definitely don't need to trade him, as they can probably trade a bunch of expensive, soon-to-be free agents and build it back up before Frazier's team control is up, but if they do decide to move a bunch of their starters (Latos, Cueto and Leake are all free agents after 2015), they may want to break the whole thing down and get value for Frazier, instead of have him be good on a terrible team. Frazier will be a cheaper, slightly-worse-but-still-very-good version of Donaldson and would cost a shitload (he's basically Donaldson without the defense).
The only other real quality option I see is Aramis Ramirez. He and the Brewers have a $14MM mutual option on 2015, but those rarely get exercised. Ramirez was roughly league average this season over 133 games. His power numbers are down, he's becoming worse defensively, and he's missed time in three straight years. He'll also be 37 midway through the season. Might be worth a shot on a 1-year deal, though I'd worry about the turf. He is Dominican though!
Other than that, I don't really see a whole lot else. Fortunately, Brett Lawrie can also play 3B, which means that the pool of available associates can grow to include 2B as well, which is next up. 2B is not exactly swimming with available talent though, so maybe moving Lawrie to 2B is the best way to improve the team.
I think Plouffe and Headley are probably the two best ideas here. Headley will be sought after and might be able to leverage his way in to a nice contract, but it's one that probably won't go too far south given how good he is defensively. Plouffe is a bit more risky, in that he really only has one good season under his belt, from a WAR perspective. He'll only cost prospects though, which is obviously a bonus if there isn't a whole lot of money to spend, and his offensive skillset translates really well to the dome. He can play the outfield or 2B in a pinch, which could help against lefties (i.e. getting Tolleson in the lineup) if we see a situation where Anthony Gose is the regular CF and Melky leaves or something.