On the one hand, the moves made by Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane this winter seem out of character for a team that had a payroll of $61.9 million in 2013. The team has spent money to bring in an experienced closer in Jim Johnson and also signed free-agent starter Scott Kazmir.

The $32 million dollars of investment may not sound like a lot when it is compared to the spending of the New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers this winter. But two of those teams reside in the AL West with the A’s and will likely continue to spend this season and next. 

What Oakland has done again is look at the market of players and their potential values.

The Baltimore Orioles viewed Johnson as too expensive an option for a team looking to save money this winter. Johnson is projected by MLB Trade Rumors’ Tim Dierkes to make $10.8 million this season through arbitration and then become a free agent. Johnson was traded to the A’s in a deal reported by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.

Instead of viewing Johnson’s one-year commitment as a negative, Beane has chosen again to view it as a strength. Johnson could be the piece to push the A’s over the top this season or he could be the piece to dangle at the trade deadline and get a huge return.

Oakland will be losing Grant Balfour and they are replacing him with a better pitcher. The cost was only Jemile Weeks, a player who never reached his potential in Oakland after a strong beginning in 2011. 

Selling a closer who has thrived in the tough AL East during his career and would only require a team to pay the remaining $5 million or so on his contract makes Johnson an extremely valuable commodity this summer. Six to eight teams could be in the market for someone like Johnson at the deadline. 

The 30-year-old Johnson is coming off of two seasons of 50-plus saves for the Orioles and should benefit moving into Oakland’s spacious stadium.

Signing Kazmir was first reported by ESPN’s Jim Bowden. The deal allowed the A’s to trade Brett Anderson to the Colorado Rockies in a move that was reported by Fox Sports’ Rosenthal.

Any move done by Oakland is done in conjunction with another move in mind. Anderson was a risk due to his injury history and his remaining $9.5 million salary. Trading Anderson now let Oakland get from underneath the majority of Anderson’s remaining salary, allowing the A’s to spend that money on the more dependable Kazmir. 

Kazmir pitched almost as many innings last season (158) as Anderson has pitched over the past three seasons (163). It is easy to understand why Oakland would want to move Anderson’s contract, especially after having spent $10.25 million over the past three seasons with very little return. Kazmir has had his injury struggles as well, but his fastball velocity seemed to return last season. 

Acquiring Kazmir also means that Oakland might be able to flip him during the the two-year contract, something the A’s always seem to be open to doing if it makes the team better.  

It’s not that Oakland is constantly looking to save money. The A’s are just looking to spend money on players who are more likely to return that investment. It’s how Oakland has managed to stay one step ahead of the MLB landscape. 


*Information used from Cot’s Baseball Contracts/Baseball Prospectus, Tim Dierkes/MLB Trade RumorsKen Rosenthal/Fox SportsBaseball Reference, Jim Bowden/ESPN

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