With pitchers and catchers reporting next month, it’s time to reflect on what the Seattle Mariners’ divisional rivals have done to improve their respective rosters thus far. It’s important to emphasize “thus far” because there’s still time to make deals, especially with several notable names still on the free agent market.
First up are the Oakland Athletics, coming off their second consecutive last place finish. With the exception of the bullpen, the club struggled in every facet of the game. Position players ranked last in the AL in fWAR, defenders and base runners were rated worst in the majors, and the starting staff’s ERA ranked number-26 in the majors.
Out of contention by July, Oakland made several trades to either recoup value for players set to walk as free agents or to turnover their roster. Last season’s parting gifts included Rich Hill, Josh Reddick, Marc Rzepczynski, Coco Crisp, and Billy Burns.
Needs: CF, RF, 1B, SP
The left-handed hitting Joyce belted 13 home runs and slashed .242/.403/.463 in a platoon role with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. Considering his lifetime .574 OPS against southpaws, the 32-year-old is best suited for a similar role with Oakland.
While it appears Davis will patrol center field for manager Bob Melvin, it’s worth noting he registered a below-average -5 DRS during 595 innings in center field with the Cleveland Indians last season. Still, the 36-year-old provides an element of speed Oakland sorely lacked last season. He swiped 43 bags, while his new club stole 50 — over half coming from players traded away.
Joining Davis and Joyce in the outfield are holdovers Khris Davis, and Jake Smolinski. The club recently signed Alejandro De Aza to minor league deal, who’ll compete to be a left-handed complement off the bench.
Another free agent addition is infielder Trevor Plouffe, who hit 12 home runs and slashed .260/.303/.420 for the Minnesota Twins during an injury-shortened 84-game season. Plouffe primarily played third base and some first base in Minnesota. He’ll likely man the hot corner in Oakland too. The former shortstop ranks tenth in DRS among big league third baseman since 2014.
Forst added bullpen depth and versatility by signing Santiago Casilla, who’s spent his entire 13-year career in the Bay Area with either Oakland or the San Francisco Giants. The right-hander has logged 50-plus innings during the last five seasons and was the Giant’s closer during the 2014 World Series. But, the 36-year-old fell on hard times seeing his importance diminish after losing his closer gig last season.
Staff ace Sonny Gray was plagued by injuries and ineffectiveness last season, but the Vanderbilt University alum appears to be healthy and is just one season removed from finishing third in AL Cy Young award voting.
Last season’s most durable starter was Kendall Graveman, who came from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Josh Donaldson deal. The right-hander was the only Oakland pitcher to make 25-plus starts or pitch over 150 innings last season.
In the mix to fill out the rotation are a cadre of young hurlers with varying degrees of experience and upside. Sean Manaea posted a 3.86 ERA in 24 starts during his rookie campaign and appears to be a lock. Jharel Cotton — acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Hill/Reddick deal — pitched well during five late-season starts. But, his small frame may eventually lead to a bullpen role.
Another pickup in the Hill/Reddick deal was hard-throwing Frankie Montas. The 23-year-old has topped 100-MPH on the radar gun, but he’s struggled with command and controlling his weight. It’s possible he’ll eventually become a reliever, but management intends on giving him every chance to stick as a starter.
Paul Blackburn came over from Seattle in the Valencia deal and projects as a back-end starter. More than likely, the 23-year-old starts the season in the minors. But, he could be a factor in Oakland as a starter or reliever in 2017.
Right-hander Daniel Mengden had a combined 1.46 ERA at the AAA/AA levels, however he struggled during 14 starts with Oakland — opponents had an .819 OPS against the 24-year-old. Dillon Overton also scuffled during his brief big league debut. The 2013 second round pick had a solid year with Class-AAA Nashville, but surrendered 12 home runs in 24.1 innings with Oakland.
Considering that Oakland had just three starters toss over 100 innings, adding a veteran arm would help stabilize the rotation and give their youngsters more time to develop.
Former Athletic Jason Hammel would help, but he may prove too pricey or require a longer than desired commitment. If that were the case, signing a cheaper short-term alternative — Doug Fister, Jake Peavy, or even Jered Weaver — would help.
First base appears to remain unsettled. The incumbent — Yonder Alonso — ranked last among qualified major league first basemen in home runs, OPS, and fWAR. Still, the club’s roster is loaded with right-handed hitters. Retaining Alonso’s lefty bat would give their lineup some semblance of balance.
Sophomore Ryon Healy — 13 home runs and .305/.337/.524 slash-line in 283 plate appearances — has normally played third base throughout his professional career. But, he does have minor league experience at first base and may see more time there. Whether Healy can continue at his torrid 2016 pace is unknown. His .352 BABIP suggests the 25-year-old may have benefited from a degree of luck during his rookie debut.
If Forst isn’t satisfied with his internal options at first base, he could go outside the organization. According to Jim Bowden of ESPN.com, the club pursued Edwin Encarnacion before he signed with Cleveland. Remaining free agent options include Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, and former Athletic Chris Carter.
Forsaking “the now” for future success makes sense for an organization, especially for a low-revue one like the Athletics. Unless Oakland is more competitive than expected, Forst will be selling once again next summer as their long-term roster rebuild continues.
If Gray bounces back, he’ll be a hot commodity thanks to his career 3.42 ERA, low $3.5 million salary, and being under team control through 2019. Other potential chips include Rajai Davis and John Axford — both free agents after 2017 — or relievers such as Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle.
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