Tomorrow is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, but enough about the 2015 A's bullpen. It's starting to come across like the A's front office has decided "Reddick extension be damned, LF be damned, rotation depth be damned -- we are NOT going through THIS again!"
Of course the additions of Liam Hendriks, Mark Zhep-sin-ski-is-it?, and Ryan Madson to the Oakland bullpen, the pursuit of Darren O'Day, and rumors that the A's might not even be done rebuilding the pen, do not in fact signal that the A's are overlooking other pieces. There is still payroll flexibility and David Forst has emphasized, numerous times, that payroll is not a limiting factor right now.
What does this lead me to conclude, with Oakland's payroll currently sitting around $75M, additions in LF, SP, and possibly a Reddick extension, still at play? It tells me that the highly competitive A's front office was somewhat embarrassed by how 2015 unfolded and is on a bit of a rampage to right the ship but quick even if it means pushing the limits of how they perceive their payroll ceiling.
As a fan I can't help but like this mindset. It's not as if Oakland has yet parted with a top prospect or its presumed 2016-19 core, and it's not as if the front office has yet backed away from an addition they would like saying they just can't afford it. No, the A's have, so far, kept improving the 2016 team while walking the walk of not compromising the future core.
So how do things actually look at the moment? With a presumed $15M or so still to play with, there is no reason to think the A's can't add a LFer, if the opportunity is there, and a SP, considering that the total cost of a pair like Hyun-Soo Kim and Bartolo Colon would run less than $15M annually and that so many quality SPs are on the market this off-season that some very appealing SPs ought to wind up being available in the A's price range.
However, those possible pieces have not yet been added so let's look at the team's strengths and weaknesses as they currently stand...
I do think the bullpen has been sufficiently addressed, with a trio of Hendriks-Madson-Doolittle being a worthy combination to lock down the late innings starting as early as the 7th. There is also depth with Fernando Rodriguez and Ryan Dull no longer needed to pitch in the highest leverage and with Mark Rzepczynski, Sean Nolin, and Felix Doubront providing options from the left side.
Evan Scribner, with his historic 64/4 K/BB ratio, is a bounce back candidate despite 2015's extreme gopheritis, and there is always a chance that common sense will set in to allow Jarrod Parker to do his best Madson imitation as a fastball-changeup reliever. Overall, I don't think it's unreasonable to think that the worst bullpen on the planet will be above average, perhaps even a real strength, in 2016.
I don't see the A's adding a front-of-the-rotation SP and as a result, until Sean Manaea comes up there is little chance of any sort of "Big 3" at the front. It is in the 3-5 spots that Oakland may especially thrive (even more so if they do add another SP for the middle-to-back of the rotation) and those spots are important too.
Right now it looks like Gray-Hahn-Hill-Bassitt-Graveman with depth of Nolin-Brooks-Doubront-Manaea, and maybe Parker, and I would characterize that as solid, but not spectacular. So much hinges on Hahn's health, which is concerning, but perhaps Hahn will stay healthy longer than Manaea needs in the minors to be ready for prime time.
The offense, similarly, looks "solid but not spectacular" at the moment. Right now you would pencil either Mark Canha or Coco Crisp in LF with some starts against LHPs from Smolinski, with Yonder Alonso, Jed Lowrie, Marcus Semien, Danny Valencia, a combo of Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley, Billy Burns, and Josh Reddick, rounding out the every day players. This assumes a trade of Brett Lawrie, which is what the word on the street suggests the A's are committed to doing.
That's a good lineup, if not a great one, that could pleasantly surprise if Canha and Semien break out as I hope they will, and which could disappoint if Lowrie picks up where he left off late last season and Vogt regresses as some fear he will. As currently constituted this lineup is unlikely to crack the top 5 in runs scored but is also unlikely to struggle unduly.
Where I am currently most concerned is defense, specifically infield defense. For all the attention on the bullpen for last year's collective meltdown, the A's porous defense contributed mightily to the club's demise. What I fear, for 2016, is that an infield with Valencia at 3B, Semien at SS, and Lowrie at 2B is going to have very little range.
Semien's range was the subject of some eyeball disagreement last season, and one hopes that with more off-season work with Ron Washington the A's SS will continue to improve in all aspects of the defensive game. What is less controversial is that Valencia and Lowrie are far better at fielding what they can get to than they are at getting to a lot of balls.
Alonso is really the only member of the current infield that has the reputation of being good defensively, and against LHPs you could conceivably see an infield of Valencia-Semien-Lowrie-Canha. If I'm Kendall Graveman I'm a bit nervous about pitching to that defense. If I'm an A's fan I like that quartet's offensive potential but could see it giving quite a bit back on defense.
So I put that out there as a concern, even though I am fully in favor of moving Lawrie and his seemingly uncoachable hacktastic hitting style. That's a worrisome infield defense to me, one that could undo some of the gains of Hill's arm, two power relievers, Lowrie and Valencia's bats. But I do like the team now a lot better than I liked it a month ago, and the off-season is still young. Let the Winter Meetings begin!