The Athletics have received some unwelcome injury news in the past 12 hours or so, as general manager David Forst revealed prior to Tuesday’s game against the Mariners in Tokyo that top pitching prospect Jesus Luzardo will be shut down for four to six weeks due to a strain in the rotator cuff of his left shoulder (link via the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser).
That’s not all, however, as Oakland announced following today’s game that first baseman Matt Olson exited the game due to discomfort in his right hand. He’ll be further evaluated when the team returns to the United States. As Slusser reports (via Twitter), however, there’s some cause for genuine concern regarding Olson, who felt pain when fouling off a pitch and is now having difficulty gripping a bat.
Luzardo, 21, had emerged as a candidate to break camp in the Athletics’ rotation on the heels of a strong spring in which he allowed one earned run with a 15-to-4 K/BB ratio in 9 2/3 innings. Regarded as one of baseball’s elite pitching prospects by Baseball America, MLB.com, Fangraphs, ESPN and Baseball Prospectus, Luzardo reached Triple-A as a 20-year-old in 2018. He skyrocketed across three levels in the Oakland system, pitching to a collective 2.88 ERA with 10.6 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9 in 109 1/3 innings of work.
Slusser further reports that the A’s were in touch with righty Edwin Jackson about a reunion earlier this spring and suggests that the Luzardo injury could rekindle those talks. At present, the Oakland rotation consists of Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, Brett Anderson and some combination of Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas and Aaron Brooks. There’s depth in the form of recently optioned Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn and Tanner Anderson, but the A’s could be without top starter Sean Manaea all season following a September shoulder procedure. Other rotation options, including Jharel Cotton, Daniel Gossett and top prospect A.J. Puk are still mending from 2018 Tommy John surgery.
Beyond Jackson, there are still a few recognizable names who’ve yet to sign for the 2019 campaign. While few would expect Oakland to make a splash of Dallas Keuchel magnitude, none of Bartolo Colon, James Shields or Yovani Gallardo have signed yet. There will also be several veterans who took minor league deals this winter opting out of those deals in the coming days if they’re not assured a 25-man roster spot, and the A’s could opportunistically look to bolster their depth by exploring that market.
As for Olson, any sort of fracture or other significant injury would be a huge early-season blow to the A’s. The 24-year-old (25 next week) hit .247/.335/.453 with 29 home runs and 33 doubles while playing all 162 games for the A’s in 2018. He also won a Gold Glove Award in his first full MLB campaign, tallying 14 Defensive Runs Saved and recording an 11.6 Ultimate Zone Rating.
Mark Canha could step into regular at-bats should Olson require a short-term trip to the injured list, though if Olson is expected to be out for a longer period of time, the open market does still have a few notable first-base options. Lucas Duda opted out of his minor league deal with the Twins yesterday and would represent a logical platoon partner for Canha, while veteran Logan Morrison remains unsigned after undergoing season-ending hip surgery last year.