While this season represented another year in which the Athletics fell short of the ultimate goal, it would still be difficult to call it anything but a success. The low-budget franchise overcame multiple key injuries in its rotation to amass 97 wins for the second straight year and earn its second consecutive playoff berth. Unfortunately for Oakland, it once again couldn’t get past the wild-card game. The A’s will return the vast majority of their important contributors in 2020, however, and even though they’re probably in for a somewhat quiet winter, there’s a good chance they’ll remain among the AL’s most talented teams next year.
- Khris Davis, DH: $33.5MM through 2021
- Stephen Piscotty, OF: $22.5MM through 2022 (including $1MM buyout for 2023)
- Joakim Soria, RP: $8.5MM through 2020
- Mike Fiers, RHP: $8.1MM through 2020
- Jurickson Profar – $5.8MM
- Liam Hendriks – $5.5MM
- Marcus Semien – $13.5MM
- Josh Phegley – $2.2MM
- Blake Treinen – $7.8MM
- Robbie Grossman – $3.3MM
- Mark Canha – $4.9MM
- Ryan Buchter – $1.8MM
- Sean Manaea – $3.5MM
- Chris Bassitt – $2.8MM
- Chad Pinder – $1.8MM
- Jharel Cotton – $800K
- Non-tender candidates: Profar, Phegley, Treinen, Grossman, Pinder
- Jake Diekman, RP: $5.75MM mutual option or $500K buyout
- Yusmeiro Petit, RP: $5.5MM club option or $1MM buyout
- Brett Anderson, Homer Bailey, Tanner Roark, Marco Estrada, Brian Schlitter, Dustin Garneau, Beau Taylor
As was the case in 2018, this year’s Athletics overcame a rotation that wasn’t anywhere close to full strength to book a trip to the playoffs. Emergent ace Frankie Montas’ breakout year all but ended in late June because of an 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs; Sean Manaea barely factored in after undergoing shoulder surgery in September 2018; and promising young starters Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk and Jharel Cotton missed most or all of the season with injuries. When Luzardo and Puk were healthy enough to pitch toward the end of the year, they worked exclusively out of the A’s bullpen.
Going forward, the A’s can likely expect Montas, Manaea, Luzardo and Puk to occupy four of five spots in their season-opening 2020 rotation. Cotton could vie for a spot, but he doesn’t seem to stand as strong a chance to win one. If healthy, though, he could be a solid depth piece for an Oakland staff that’ll also have Mike Fiers and Chris Bassitt among its main options. The sudden overflow of capable-looking starters means the A’s probably won’t pursue starters with much gusto over the winter. Brett Anderson and in-season additions Homer Bailey and Tanner Roark each helped spur the A’s most recent playoff season, though they all appear likely to walk in free agency. Even Anderson, a longtime and much-respected Athletic, seems to think his time with the franchise is done because of the copious amount of viable starters they have on hand.
Oakland seems to be facing a larger number of questions in its bullpen, where it’ll have to decide on a couple options before getting to other business. Rejecting lefty Jake Diekman’s $5.75MM option in favor of a $500K buyout seems as if it’ll happen; meantime, it appears to be a straightforward call to say yes to workhorse righty Yusmeiro Petit’s $5.5MM option. Assuming Petit sticks around, he’ll stay in a group that’ll also return the suddenly superb Liam Hendriks, Joakim Soria, Ryan Buchter and Lou Trivino. After that, the unit’s makeup doesn’t seem to be set in stone. Some member(s) from the A’s overflow of starters may be part of the group, as could J.B. Wendelken. Blake Treinen had an all-world season in 2018, but he fell off a cliff during an injury-limited ’19 and now looks like a strong non-tender candidate. All that said, adding to the bullpen (for what figures to be a low-cost, short-term contract) may be a priority this offseason for the A’s. Bear in mind that they have brought in at least one free-agent reliever on a guaranteed contract in each of the past few winters (Petit, Soria, Santiago Casilla, Ryan Madson and John Axford since 2016).
Meanwhile, the A’s position player alignment looks set for the most part. Third baseman Matt Chapman, first baseman Matt Olson and shortstop Marcus Semien are bedrock in the infield (the only question is whether any of them will land contract extensions). Designated hitter Khris Davis’ production plummeted during an injury-affected season, but the money left on his contract means he isn’t going to vacate his role. Underrated standouts Mark Canha and Ramon Laureano make for two-thirds of a starting outfield, though it’s not yet clear where they’ll mainly line up next season.
Either Canha or Laureano could be the A’s No. 1 center fielder or wind up starting in a corner in 2020. Stephen Piscotty (whom Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle has suggested may be a trade candidate), Robbie Grossman (potential non-tender), Chad Pinder (another possible non-tender), Seth Brown, Skye Bolt and Dustin Fowler might also be in the mix for spots. However, the A’s could go out of house for what they deem to be a more appealing choice. Slusser and Melissa Lockard of The Athletic have named lefty-hitting center fielder as a potential priority for the club, which may mean adding someone like Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton or Jon Jay in free agency or even swinging a trade for Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr. (though he might be too pricey for Oakland). In the corners, while free agents-to-be Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos will likely be too rich for the A’s blood, though the team might be able to afford Yasiel Puig, Corey Dickerson, Kole Calhoun, Avisail Garcia or Brett Gardner. And let’s not forget ex-Athletic Ben Zobrist, who’d be able to help fill their 2B/OF needs in one fell swoop.
Whether they come away with Zobrist or someone else, second base does look like a position Oakland may choose to address from outside. Jurickson Profar’s probably on the outs, whether by trade or non-tender, after he fell flat in 2019. Free agency looks as if it’ll feature several affordable players who could prove to be upgrades over what the A’s got from Profar this year. Aside from Zobrist, Starlin Castro, Brian Dozier, Scooter Gennett, Brock Holt, Howie Kendrick, Jason Kipnis, Jonathan Schoop, former Athletic Eric Sogard and Neil Walker should all sign affordable short-term deals. Otherwise, if the A’s pass on that group (and if they don’t keep Profar or make a trade), they’ll have the option of handing the reins to some combination of Pinder, Sheldon Neuse, Franklin Barreto and Jorge Mateo.
The last spot we’ll address is the catcher position, which looks as if it’ll belong to Sean Murphy going forward. One of the majors’ highest-ranked prospects, the 25-year-old Murphy thrived at the Triple-A level in 2019 and did the same in the bigs after a September call-up. At least offensively, Murphy was far more productive than any catcher the A’s used regularly, including No. 1 choice Josh Phegley. The team’s now facing a decision on Phegley, whom it could non-tender now that Murphy – also a right-handed hitter – is in the fold. If Phegley does go, it would make sense for the A’s to pursue a lefty-swinging backup to pair with Murphy. There will be a few available in free agency in ex-A’s favorite Stephen Vogt, recent A’s target Matt Wieters and Alex Avila.
With Oakland already pushing up against this year’s $92MM-plus opening-day payroll, it doesn’t appear the club’s in for an especially active offseason. However, A’s executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst don’t necessarily need to oversee an aggressive winter. They’ve already built a quality roster that looks as if it’ll contend again in 2020.