Pop quiz: Who is the Oakland Athletics' highest paid player this year?
If you guessed Chris Young, you spend more time on Cot's Baseball Contracts than I do. I'm not sure what is more remarkable, that Chris Young is the highest-paid player on a team, that $8.7 million is the highest salary on any major league team, or that the team in question leads its division by 4 1/2 games with two weeks to play in the season.
Watching the A's jump out to a big lead against the Texas Rangers on Friday night to extend their division lead, I couldn't help but marvel at how this team was built. The game ended up being a lot closer than it probably should have been, but it doesn't diminish how the A's were built. Not only do they not spend a lot of money on free agents, but they haven't even had much success in the draft in recent years.
In fact, according to Baseball Reference, A.J. Griffin has by far the highest WAR of any player on the club that was drafted by the A's (2.1), and that is tied for 6th.
Basically, the A's have found a way to build a winning club via mid-level trades and low-cost free agents. Josh Donaldson, Josh Reddick, Derek Norris, Jed Lowrie and Jarrod Parker (among others), were brought in via trades that featured the likes of Rich Harden, Andrew Bailey, Gio Gonzalez, Chris Carter and Trevor Cahill. Some good players, to be sure, but whose production was replaced at a fraction of the cost.
As for free agents, the A's spent "big" on Yoenis Cespedes, but even his four-year, $36 million deal is modest by today's standards. Meanwhile, Coco Crisp, Grant Balfour and Bartolo Colon have been huge free-agent bargains.
And it's not just the front office that deserves credit, as the field staff has done a remarkable job of getting the most out of these guys. By aggressively using platoons, Bob Melvin has been a Strat-O-Matic player's dream. He does a fantastic job of putting his players in position to succeed, something that not all managers are able to do.
At this point, it appears the A's are going to win the AL West for a second straight year without spending a lot of money -- their payroll is barely north of $60 million -- and without drafting well -- their best first-round pick of the last decade is Huston Street, and it's not all that close.
In recent years, it has seemed like there are two ways to build a good team: spend a lot of money (Yankees, Dodgers) or accumulate draft picks and hit on them (Rays, Cardinals). As a fan of the game, it's refreshing to see a team succeed with a method of team-building that is truly unique. And if you're a fan of a franchise that thinks the path to success is throwing a lot of money at the best available free agent, just look at the A's and know that there is another method.