Spring Training is underway, meaning it’s time for offseason recaps on the Seattle Mariners’ division rivals. We’ve already discussed the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels. Let’s turn our attention to the Oakland Athletics.
As we move forward, please remember there’s still time for clubs to improve their rosters. Especially with so many free agents still available and with teams having players with no minor league options remaining.
The A’s surprised the baseball world by going on a 61-29 tear after Father’s Day. In total, the club won 97 games – its eighth best win total since moving to Oakland in 1968.
As a result of their unexpected success, the A’s earned entry into in the AL Wild Card game. Unfortunately, the team would fall to the Yankees in the one-game playoff.
Here’s a snapshot of the club’s offensive and pitching production last year.
|Athletics 2018 Team Stats|
Offensively, the lineup was a juggernaut finishing top-5 in many categories. The team had seven players with a wRC+ greater than the league-average mark of 100: Matt Chapman, Khris Davis, Stephen Piscotty, Jed Lowrie, Matt Olson, Mark Canha, and Chad Pinder. Only Lowrie doesn’t return this season.
Davis led the majors with 48 home runs and four of his teammates had 20-plus bombs. Only the Dodgers and Yankees had more players surpass the 20-home run mark.
Defensively, Olson and Chapman won Gold Gloves at first and third base respectively. Marcus Semien, once considered a below average defensive shortstop, was a Gold Glove finalist.
The rotation was battered by injuries, yet the replacements pitched admirably. Helping bail out the staff, a deep and overpowering bullpen with Blake Treinen leading the way. Treinen was one of the best closers in baseball and a top-6 finisher in AL Cy Young Award voting.
The main focus of general manager David Forst was adding pitching and catching depth. Now that the smoke has cleared, it’s tough to conclude the A’s roster has significantly improved since they lost the AL Wild Card in October.
|Jurickson Profar (2B)||Mike Fiers (SP)||Marco Estrada (SP)|
|Joakim Soria (RP)||Chris Herrmann (C)||Jerry Blevins (RP)|
|Tanner Anderson (RP)||Parker Bridwell (SP)||Brett Anderson (SP)|
|Nick Hundley (C)||Robbie Grossman (OF)|
Jurickson Profar played every infield position and in left field for Texas last year. With Oakland, he projects as their second baseman, although he could move around the diamond, if the need arose.
Last season was the first time Profar played 100-plus games since making his MLB debut in 2012. The 25-year-old delivered outstanding results: 20 homers, 35 doubles, 6 triples, and 10 stolen bases with a .254/.335/.458 slash.
Starter Marco Estrada saw his ERA balloon to 5.64 with Toronto last year. But the 35-year-old has averaged 30 starts and 172 innings over the last four seasons. That kind of availability means something for an organization that’s struggled to muster enough healthy pitchers for their rotation.
August acquisition Mike Fiers re-upped with Oakland after an effective stretch run. Entering his age-34 season, Fiers isn’t a front-line starter and won’t strikeout tons of hitters. However, his 1.9 BB/9 was fifth best in MLB last season and he held hitters to a meager .211 average in nine starts with Oakland.
Veteran reliever Joakim Soria joins an already stout bullpen. Soria may be 34-years-old, but he continued missing bats (11.1 SO/9) with the White Sox and Brewers last year.
Southpaw Jerry Blevins endured a difficult 2018, but the 35-year-old does possess a long record of success against lefty bats.
Chris Herrmann, a hit-first catcher, slashed a solid .237/.322/.421 in 86 plate appearances with the Mariners last year. Herrmann also offers a measure of versatility with 55 career starts in the outfield and limited exposure (27 innings) to first base.
Management previously stated they were comfortable with starting the season with Herrmann and Josh Phegley as their catchers. But the recently added Nick Hundley deepens the position giving the club more options.
Lefty Brett Anderson re-signed with Oakland this week after making 17 starts and posting a 4.48 ERA with the club last season. Injuries have dogged Anderson throughout his 10-year career, but the 31-year-old does represent a semblance of depth for a thin rotation.
The team signed outfielder/designated hitter Robbie Grossman this week. The six-year veteran rates a below-average defender, but he’s adept at reaching base.
The infield is set at the corners with Olson at first base and Chapman defending the hot corner, while Semien returns at shortstop.
With Profar guarding second base and under club control for two seasons, 22-year-old prospect Franklin Barreto may be the odd man out; at least for now.
In the outfield, the same cast of characters return along with Grossman. How manager Bob Melvin utilizes Grossman is yet to be determined, but the switch-hitter has enjoyed more success against southpaws (118 wRC+) than righties (98 wRC+).
One thing is certain, Grossman won’t be playing right field. That territory belongs to Piscotty.
Left field is Grossman’s most likely position requiring a glove. Joining him in the mix are Pinder and left-handed hitting Nick Martini, plus Canha and Fowler.
It’s worth noting Canha started games at every field position except pitcher and catcher in 2018. His versatility certainly factors into roster decisions.
As already noted, Hundley’s presence makes it a three-horse race with Herrmann and Phegley for two catcher spots. Prospect Sean Murphy is the catcher of the future, but likely continues honing his craft at Triple-A this year.
Since 2016, the right-handed hitting Hundley has thrived against southpaws with a 127 wRC+ in 333 plate appearances (100 wRC+ is league-average). Conversely, he had a 60 wRC+ in 592 match-ups with righties. Hundley and the lefty bat of Herrmann would create an intriguing platoon.
An important roster item to consider; Herrmann and Phegley have no minor league options remaining. Here are other A’s in the same predicament.
|No Minor League Options
|Jurickson Profar||Josh Phegley||Chris Herrmann|
|Daniel Mengden||Frankie Montas||Chris Bassitt|
|Liam Hendriks||Aaron Brooks||Parker Bridwell|
One of the most unlikely aspects of Oakland’s success was its injury-ravaged rotation. It took unlikely characters such as Anderson, Trevor Cahill, and Edwin Jackson to buoy the staff. Entering this season, it’s more of the same with the starting staff.
The only pitchers seemingly guaranteed to make the rotation are Fiers and Estrada. After that, it’s diverse group of youngsters and veterans in the conversation. The most notable are Anderson, Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas, Parker Bridwell, Aaron Brooks, Paul Blackburn, and Tanner Anderson.
Perhaps 21-year-old prospect Jésus Luzardo is available too, but he likely starts the season in the minors. There are other notable young arms, but they’re on the mend. A.J. Puk and Jharel Cotton are recovering from Tommy John surgery, while ace Sean Manaea may miss most of the year after shoulder surgery.
Once again, the bullpen will be a strength for the Athletics, Behind Treinen, a talented crew will compete for the remaining spots: Soria, Yusmeiro Petit, Lou Trivino, Fernando Rodney, Ryan Buchter, J.B. Wendelken, Liam Hendriks, Andrew Triggs and Ryan Dull.
The offense seems set and the bullpen is formidable. However, the club used 15 starters last year. Adding more rotation depth would be a good thing.
The low-revenue A’s probably won’t add a costly free agent like Dallas Keuchel. But perhaps the club could arrange a reunion with Jackson or convince former Athletic and National Gio González to take a one-year deal.
Something else to consider; what if Oakland can’t repeat their 2018 success?
If that were case, Forst could be dealing potential free agents before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
|Pending Free Agents|
|Khris Davis||Yusmeiro Petit*||Fernando Rodney|
|Marco Estrada||Nick Hundley||Brett Anderson|
|* Club option for 2020|
If management opts to sell this summer, pending free agents may not be only players on the trading block. That may not sit well with A’s fans, but it could make sense for the team. And let’s face it, Oakland fans are used to these kind of moves.
The logjam created by Grossman’s arrival may prompt Forst to move an outfielder now or during the season. Perhaps the Harvard alum initially makes room by sending players to the minors. All but Grossman have minor league options.
After making $1.3 million last year, Piscotty’s salary jumps to $7.3 million in 2019 with the club owing him over $30 million through the 2022 season. At some point, the former Stanford Cardinal may be too pricey for the A’s and become expendable.
Semien has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining before becoming free agent eligible. If the club falls out of contention, would they consider moving him this summer? In theory, Profar could slide over to shortstop with Barreto takng second base.
Then again, if the A’s actually continue last year’s success, they could package prospects such as Fowler and Barreto to get help for a postseason push. (Think starting pitching!)
Because their rotation is chock full of uncertainty, it’s tough to gauge the A’s. Last year, most observers – including me – believed the team was destined for another losing season as they continued rebuilding.
Having said that, catching magic in a bottle twice may be too much to ask. History suggests the team will play hard for Melvin and their potent offense and robust bullpen will keep them in games.
What we don’t know in mid-February is whether that’ll be enough to propel Oakland to another 90-plus win season. One thing is certain though, the A’s will be a fun watch.