In spite of a rough start and a brutal ending that I have already scrubbed from my mind and now pretend did not happen, 2018 was a fantastic season for the A’s. Without taking long-term risks and while looking ahead to the future, the team was able to make the postseason on the strengths of a youthful core. Mission accomplished.
Ahead of schedule, the A’s have opened their playoff window and climbed on in. What’s the next step?
Just how aggressive the A’s can be is dictated in large part by their roster which is already looking rather full. That’s a good thing coming off a playoff berth; the A’s have a lot of good players they want to keep around.
A reminder of who’s already looking like a good bet to make the roster. Of course, injuries, trades, and options play a factor but the folks below are some of the likely options for the roster, with the number in parenthesis indicating the likely number of spots already locked down.
Starting pitchers (3ish)
Jesus Luzardo, Mike Fiers, Daniel Mengden, Frankie Montas, Paul Blackburn
Ryan Buchter, Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino, Yusmeiro Petit, JB Wendelken, Fernando Rodney, Emilio Pagan
Franklin Barreto, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Marcus Semien
Chad Pinder, Stephen Piscotty, Ramon Laureano, Dustin Fowler, Nick Martini, Mark Canha
The A’s need to find a catcher, a few starting pitchers, and finalize their final infield slot between now and Spring Training. There are sure to be other roster moves that don’t seem like necessities too. There are options in house for all the needs. At which positions should the A’s look at free agent or trade candidates?
The A’s should go for it
The A’s have a generational talent just getting started, a dangerously handsome power threat helping him out, and talent all over the field. There is no time like the present to further bolster the roster, take advantage of a Wild Card that looks imminently take-able while taking another run at the impressive but not infallible Houston Astros.
If the A’s plug holes with the right guys, another Wild Card berth is very possible all while keeping the slightly longer term goal of overcoming the Astros. And who knows! 2018 taught us that anything can happen if you put talent on the field and things break right.
The A’s should probe the free agent market at catcher, starting pitcher, and consider trading some future prospects for win-now talent because if Blake Treinen can carry an entire pitching staff, he can carry a World Series MVP trophy too (with just a little bit of help).
The A’s should be cautious in their moves
The A’s are unequivocally a team a contending team who should remain in the hunt for years to come. But there are still question marks that need sussing out before the A’s make longer term commitments like how Franklin Barreto will settle in as a full-time player. Additional points of concern!
-The A’s were second in baseball in terms of reliever innings behind only the Rays who utilized an opener all season long (and thus have some wonky numbers). The A’s numbers are wonky too, of course, but there’s no doubt the A’s relied on their bullpen as much as any team.
Bullpens are infamously finicky. Blake Treinen was the third and seemingly forgotten piece of a major trade just a year before becoming the most dominant reliever in the game last season. A flip like that isn’t rare, and not to be an alarmist, but could conceivably happen to that same guy again. (Here’s why you shouldn’t be taken by that awful idea).
It’s unlikely that all of the A’s relievers will turn into pumpkins, and it’s unlikely they’ll all replicate their collectively great 2018 campaign. So in addition to needing a whole battalion of starters, the A’s will probably need some new relievers but won’t really know who to jettison until the randomness of the regular season informs us all.
-The A’s are the Matts’ team, bolstered by other youngsters like Piscotty, Semien, and more who will be good for years to come. That said, it’s unlikely the A’s make the playoffs without a Jed Lowrie or a Khris Davis, the former who looks like he’s as good as gone and the latter who is a question mark in spite of my undying love for his every move.
The likely outcome here is the former leaves town while the latter stays and provides similar production to his 2018 season. That leaves a big hole!
There are options galore to fill Lowrie’s slot, as both Chad Pinder and Franklin Barreto have the tools to do so. Will they? Hard to say.
-Luck is a part of every successful team, and the A’s certainly were lucky in some regards in 2018. The bullpen is the first piece of the puzzle that you might expect to put up worse numbers in 2019, but it’s not the only question mark. In center field you have Ramon Laureano, heartthrob and defensive wizard who also had a .388 BABIP with a 28.8% strikeout rate. Can he succeed going forward? For the sake of baseball, the answer better be yes as Laureano is a walking highlight but the reality is Laureano is not a sure thing. It’s a pessimist’s point of view, but the A’s are surely aware his bat can regress.
Those question marks don’t prevent the A’s from competing or even being aggressive, they just mean the A’s might have to wait and see what they have before they target upgrades.
What say you?
How aggressive are you if you’re running the A’s?