Earlier this off-season, ESPN’s David Schoenfeld wrote an article to the effect that older sluggers like Brandon Moss were having trouble finding contracts because teams were looking for the next Brandon Moss, i.e. minor league players past the age of 27 who could give a team a few productive seasons at a very low price. At the time, I opined that the failure of these players to sign so far this off-season had more to the do with these players coming to terms with what teams were willing to pay them, rather than teams trying to find the next player of this type, because. as a practical matter, the next Brandon Moss isn’t so easy to find.
Ultimately, the St. Louis Cardinals gave Moss $12 million for two years, roughly ten times what the next Brandon Moss found now would cost his team in 2017 and 2018.
Schoenfeld’s article also drew attention from fangraphs, which wrote a piece on who would most likely be the next Brandon Moss in 2017. Not surprisingly, about half of the players fangraphs identified will be playing in Japan or South Korea next year, because they are the kind of no-longer-prospects that NPB and KBO teams look for each off-season.
I still like 27 year old Jabari Blash, whose .914 OPS in 646 AAA at-bats suggests he’s a major league player, even if he hits .220 at the MLB level. However, the Padres successfully passed him through waivers in January, so my opinion is apparently not shared by any of the other 29 major league teams.
Anyway, it’s all got me thinking about these kinds of players and the team, the Oakland A’s, that has made them famous. What follows is a list of the players at least 28 years old the year they broke out in MLB, whom the A’s obtained for essentially peanuts in the last 25 years.
1. Geronimo Berroa (28 years old in 1994; signed as free agent). Berroa is the first of these players I remember the A’s finding. He had three and a half terrific seasons for the A’s in which he hit 87 HRs with an on-base percentage well over .350, before the A’s traded him to the Baltimore Orioles.
2. Matt Stairs (28 in 1996; free agent). Stairs had one of the great major league careers for a player who didn’t have even 200 plate appearances in a season until his age 29 season. In four and half seasons with the A’s, Stairs hit 122 HRs and posted the high on-base percentages the A’s were hoping for.
3. Olmedo Saenz (28 in 1999; free agent). Saenz was never an every day player in his four seasons with the A’s, but he was a valuable bench player who posted an OPS over .800 in three of his four seasons with the team and who could play 3B when needed.
4. Marco Scutaro (28 in 2004; claimed off waivers from Mets). Scutaro wasn’t a power hitter by any stretch of the imagination, but he was an older, undervalued minor league player whom the A’s acquired for peanuts. He gave the A’s four strong seasons in what turned out to be a long and successful major league career.
5. Jack Cust (28 in 2007; cash purchase from Padres). Cust was perhaps my favorite player of the bunch, mostly because he was such an extreme example (at the time) of what the A’s recognized as an undervalued player. Cust didn’t hit for average, and he struck out a hell of a lot; but in his four seasons with Oakland, he slugged 97 HRs and walked 377 times. Only a decade later, this type of player is common in MLB, to the extent that teams can find them. There were so many one dimensional sluggers who had a hard time finding contracts mainly because none of them drew walks like Cust, Stairs or Berroa.
[I don’t know what the A’s paid the Padres to get Jack Cust, except that it was peanuts by MLB standards.]
6. Brandon Moss (28 in 2012; free agent). Moss is actually the least representative player on this list, as he played regularly, if unproductively, at the major league level in 2008 and 2009. When he finally put it together for the A’s, he hit 76 HRs in three seasons, before the A’s traded Moss to the Indians.
7. Stephen Vogt (28 in 2013; cash purchase from the Rays). It’s somewhat difficult to know whether catchers count, since this is the non-pitching position at which players tend to develop at the latest age. Even so, he was past the age 27 when the A’s acquired him, he’s hit 45 HRs in his four seasons with the A’s, and he likely cost the A’s peanuts to acquire.
Honorable Mention. Frank Menechino (29 in 2000; selected from White Sox in minor league portion of Rule 5 Draft 12/97). Menechino had only one season as an every day player for the A’s (2001), and he hit only .242. However, he was a 2Bman with a little pop and a .369 OBP that year. The A’s won 102 games in 2001, so one has to assume that Menechino had to have done something right.