Pitchers and catchers report within weeks. That means it is time to review the offseason moves of the Seattle Mariners and their division rivals. First up are the Oakland Athletics, occupants of the American League West cellar for three consecutive years.
Once again, Oakland’s defense rated near the bottom of the majors. Based on defensive runs saved (DRS), corner outfielders Khris Davis and Matt Joyce were among the worst at their respective positions. The same applies to Marcus Semien, ranked number-25 of 26 shortstops with 700-plus innings.
Injuries and the mid-season trade of Sonny Gray left the rotation with just three starters with 100-plus innings pitched. The bullpen ranked just below average, which is impressive considering the team also traded top relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle in July.
At the all-star break, Oakland hitters ranked in the bottom third of the league. But the club experienced a power surge finishing the season with the league’s fifth best OPS. Moreover, their 109 home runs in the second half tied for most in the majors.
Out of contention by the all-star break, the front office followed a familiar pattern by flipping valuable veterans and pending free agents near the July non-waiver trade deadline. Exiting the Bay Area along with Gray, Doolittle, and Madson were infielders Adam Rosales and Yonder Alonso.
Looking to improve his bullpen, general manager David Forst signed free agent Yusmeiro Petit to a two-year/$10 million deal. The 32-year-old led the majors with 87.1 relief innings as a Los Angeles Angel last season. He even made a four-inning spot start last July.
Forst also acquired Emilio Pagan from Seattle. As a rookie, the right-hander went two-plus innings in 12 of 34 appearances and posted the seventh best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the majors. Oakland maintains control over the 26-year-old for six years, plus he has two minor league options remaining.
To improve the outfield; the club acquired Stephen Piscotty from the St. Louis Cardinals. The 27-year-old’s eight DRS tied for fifth best among right fielders with Joey Rickard of the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle’s Mitch Haniger.
Last offseason, Piscotty inked a six-year/$32 million extension with a $15 million club option for 2023 — his age-32 season. Unfortunately, his 2017 power numbers and batting average plummeted.
Despite those struggles, Piscotty maintained a top-50 OBP in the National League. The reason? A 13-percent walk rate that ranked fifteenth among hitters with 400-plus plate appearances.
Most of Piscotty’s experience is in right field, although he does have 385 innings of left field time. His presence should permit manager Bob Melvin to use Davis as his primary designated hitter.
Blanco’s speed and athleticism are his best attributes, while his hit tool is suspect. The 25-year-old had 900-plus professional plate appearances in Cuba, but did not play last year. He likely starts the season in the minors.
Fowler suffered a ruptured patella tendon during his major league debut with the New York Yankees in late-June. Regardless, Forst accepted him as part of a package for Gray. The 23-year-old is viewed as Oakland’s center fielder of the future and anticipates being ready for Opening Day. If setbacks occur, fallback options include Powell, Smolinski, and Canha.
Most of Oakland’s starters are unproven or have an injury history. Sean Manaea is clearly their best starter, but has missed time due to left shoulder and bicep strains since debuting in 2016.
Sophomore Jharel Cotton made 24 starts and logged 129 innings in his first full season, but the 26-year-old had the fourth worst HR/9 in baseball.
Like most teams, Oakland would benefit from another proven arm. Free agent candidates remain available on the market, although management does not appear inclined to act.
Currently, bullpen candidates include Petit, Pagan, closer Blake Treinen, Chris Hatcher, Liam Hendriks, Daniel Coulombe, Santiago Casilla, Raul Alcantara, Frankie Montas, and Ryan Dull. As with the starting staff, another established reliever would help. Furthermore, Coulombe is the only lefty reliever on the 40-man roster.
In April, projected starting catcher Bruce Maxwell has a trial date for felony charges stemming from an October incident. While the 27-year-old may make a plea deal to avoid a trial, MLB will likely suspend him once legal proceedings conclude.
Betting on Piscotty to rebound makes sense, although his price tag may hasten his departure from Oakland. He is earning a relatively inexpensive $1.3 million in 2018. However, his salary jumps to $7.3 million next year. Only Davis ($10.5 million) earns more than $7 million this year.
With Oakland not expected to contend this year, pending free agent Jed Lowrie may be on the move this season. The 33-year-old is still productive at the plate and a capable middle infielder and third baseman. Skills generally in demand at the deadline.
If the club opts to move Lowrie, they could turn to top prospect Franklin Barreto. The 22-year-old has come through the farm system as a shortstop, but has 500 innings of experience at second base. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Barreto will start the season with Class-AAA Nashville.
Other pending free agents potentially on the trading block include Casilla and Joyce. Three players with just one year of club control remaining after this season — Davis, Petit, Hendriks, and Hatcher — may also draw interest from contenders this summer. That assumes each player has a productive first half.
While flipping talent at the deadline may frustrate Athletics fans, it is a logical approach that permits the low-revenue team to continuously reload. This is especially critical while the organization attempts to secure a new ballpark.
Eventually, the Athletics will be July buyers. Unfortunately, 2018 does not appear to be that year.