The Athletics won 97 games and earned a wild-card berth for the second straight year in 2019. They weren’t all that active over the winter, but with the AL West rival Astros engulfed in turmoil, the talented A’s may be in position to take over the division this season.
Major League Signings
- Jake Diekman, LHP: Two years, $7.5MM
- Total spend: $7.5MM
- Yusmeiro Petit, RHP: One year, $5.5MM
Trades And Claims
- Acquired C Austin Allen and OF Buddy Reed from Padres for 2B Jurickson Profar
- Acquired INF/OF Tony Kemp from Cubs for INF Alfonso Rivas
- Acquired cash considerations from Cubs for RHP Jharel Cotton
- Acquired INF Vimael Machin (Rule 5 pick) from Phillies for cash considerations
- Acquired RHP Burch Smith from Giants for cash considerations
- Claimed LHP T.J. McFarland from Diamondbacks
Notable Minor League Signings
- Ryan Goins, Ian Gardeck, Lucas Luetge, Jaime Schultz, Zach Lee, Donnie Hart, Ronnie Freeman, Dillon Thomas, Jordan Weems, Carlos Perez, Nate Orf, Brian Schlitter
- Profar, Cotton, Blake Treinen, Tanner Roark, Homer Bailey, Brett Anderson, Ryan Buchter, Josh Phegley, Matt Harvey
For the second consecutive year, Oakland managed to weather a slew of injuries in its pitching staff and establish itself as one of the majors’ elite teams. The A’s received little to no contributions from Sean Manaea, A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo – three ultra-skilled southpaws who, if healthy, should be prominent parts of their rotation this year. Puk has been battling shoulder issues and didn’t seem likely to be ready for Opening Day as of earlier this week. However, with the coronavirus delaying the start of the season by at least two weeks, it’s possible Puk will be OK by Game 1. Should that be the case, he and the other two aforementioned lefties would probably be in line to join righties Frankie Montas and Mike Fiers in the A’s starting five. On paper, that’s a promising group – albeit one that lost three legit starters in Tanner Roark, Homer Bailey and Brett Anderson during free agency.
Oakland didn’t augment its starting staff during the offseason (maybe it didn’t need to), but it did spend on its bullpen. The club kept a couple of its 2019 relievers in lefty Jake Diekman and righty Yusmeiro Petit, who will cost a combined $13MM this season, and claimed southpaw T.J. McFarland from the Diamondbacks.
Diekman wasn’t especially productive after he joined the A’s in a late-July trade, walking 16 hitters and yielding 11 earned runs in 20 1/3 innings with the club. But the A’s are banking on the hard thrower’s high-strikeout, high-groundball ways paying dividends over a full campaign. He and McFarland, who struggled mightily to prevent runs in four of the past five seasons, are the top lefties in a bullpen that said goodbye to Ryan Buchter over the winter. McFarland’s like Diekman in that he induces plenty of grounders. Conversely, he’s not much for velocity or strikeouts. And McFarland has typically experienced difficulty versus right-handed hitters, which isn’t going to fly in a league that’s now imposing a three-batter minimum rule.
The acquisition of McFarland isn’t the only change the A’s bullpen underwent in recent months. The team cut ties with righty Blake Treinen, formerly a lights-out closer who trudged through a dreadful 2019. For the most part, the A’s bullpen was a strength then, but Treinen’s unexpected drop-off certainly didn’t help matters. Based on his numbers from last season, Treinen won’t be missed. Moreover, the Treinen-less A’s still look fairly set from the right side with the durable and effective Petit, closer Liam Hendriks (who was just about untouchable last season), Joakim Soria and J.B. Wendelken comprising their go-to late-game options, and they’ll hope Lou Trivino can return to his 2018 ways after falling flat as a sophomore.
Meanwhile, the A’s position player cast went largely unchanged in the past few months. Their most notable move was to trade second baseman Jurickson Profar to the Padres in a deal for Austin Allen, who will back up the touted Sean Murphy at catcher. The Athletics had high hopes for Profar when they acquired him from the division-rival Rangers entering 2019, but his lone year in an A’s uniform was a failure.
The A’s could have replaced Profar with any number of affordable, well-known options via the open market (Starlin Castro, Brian Dozier, Cesar Hernandez, Wilmer Flores and Brock Holt are some who come to mind). They even had interest in a reunion with old friend and current Met Jed Lowrie, though it’s probably fortunate for the A’s that didn’t happen, considering Lowrie’s lofty salary and ongoing injury troubles. In the end, Oakland came away with Tony Kemp in a minor trade with the Cubs. It remains to be seen, though, whether Kemp will even crack the roster. He doesn’t possess much of a track record, has no minor league options and, before MLB’s spring training shutdown, was competing with three younger second basemen in Jorge Mateo, Franklin Barreto and Rule 5 pickup Vimael Machin. There’s no sending any of those three to the minors, either (at least, not without risking losing them), and they likely have higher upside than Kemp. However, the A’s could platoon the lefty-hitting Kemp or Machin with one of the other two.
Second base aside, there weren’t many A’s positions ripe for upgrade over the winter. Their hitters did, after all, rank fifth in the majors in fWAR, fifth in wRC+ and eighth in runs last season. Most of that unit’s back, including their three best players in third baseman Matt Chapman, shortstop Marcus Semien and first baseman Matt Olson. There has been talk of extensions for all three over the past couple years, but nothing has materialized to this point. Barring a change in the coming months, it could be the last season in Oakland for Semien, a free agent-to-be who – if he comes close to replicating his jaw-dropping 7.6-fWAR effort from 2019 – will be one of the most coveted players on the open market next winter.
Fortunately for Oakland, it’s not in immediate danger of losing Chapman or Olson, standouts who still have another season of pre-arbitration eligibility. They and Semien are supported by some strong complements in outfielders Ramon Laureano and Mark Canha. Designated hitter Khris Davis also deserves mention; that is, if he can revisit his usual form after an injury-marred 2019. But one of the A’s three outfield spots does look somewhat iffy. While Stephen Piscotty was terrific two years ago, he fought multiple health problems and didn’t perform well last season. He’s now battling another injury – an intercostal strain – though perhaps he’ll have enough time to recover by Opening Day if the game’s coronavirus-caused moratorium lasts long enough. If not, the A’s may turn to the switch-hitting Robbie Grossman, who’s adept at getting on base but doesn’t offer that much else. Of course, if Piscotty’s problem is serious enough, there’s a case Oakland should look to the No. 1 free agent left – outfielder Yasiel Puig – though that seems improbable.
Clearly, it was not an exciting offseason for the low-budget Athletics, whose Opening Day payroll should check in south of the $100MM mark yet again. Despite the team’s lack of spending power, though, executive vice president Billy Beane and general manager David Forst have once again built a roster that looks as if it will contend. That appears all the more likely with the Astros – the back-to-back-to-back AL West champions – besieged by a sign-stealing scandal, a regime change, the loss of Gerrit Cole and an injury to Justin Verlander. Even with all of that adversity, the Astros still look talented enough to continue their reign in the division, but the A’s should at least nip at their heels and push for a third playoff berth in a row.
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