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Oakland A’s roster: Preview for 2018, outlook for 2019

Taking a look at the State of the Team entering 2018 and beyond.

The new face of the lineup?
Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

For the last three years, the Oakland A’s have finished in the cellar of the AL West. They made three straight trips to the postseason in 2012-14 but didn’t advance past the ALDS in any of them, and then their window of contention slammed shut faster than anyone expected. The collapse was so stunning that it took at least a year before the rebuild truly began, causing the process to take longer than it needed to, but they did finally shift their focus to building a new winner from within.

Now, entering 2018, the tough times are beginning to pay off. After all the stars and fan favorites who were traded for prospects, and all the high draft picks earned by summers of nonstop losing, the A’s are finally on the rise once more. They probably aren’t quite ready to contend, but several pieces of The Future have already arrived and there are more preparing to make the jump this summer. The young core of the next good Oakland squad is developing in front of our eyes, and they played around .500 ball after the All-Star break last year.

2018 Opening Day roster

The A’s lineup has made more progress than their pitching staff as we enter 2018. In fact, the lineup is downright good already, maybe even playoff-caliber — last year they ranked fourth in MLB in homers and tied for fifth in wRC+, and they’ve almost certainly improved since then.

  • C Jonathan Lucroy
  • 1B Matt Olson
  • 2B Jed Lowrie
  • SS Marcus Semien
  • 3B Matt Chapman
  • LF Matt Joyce
  • CF Dustin Fowler
  • RF Stephen Piscotty
  • DH Khris Davis
  • UT Chad Pinder

Oakland’s youth movement is already apparent in that group. The centerpieces are Olson and Chapman, who each exploded onto the scene last year. Both are budding two-way stars, with Olson’s bat and Chapman’s defense in particular standing out as elite in their debut summers. There’s also Pinder, who is being groomed into a modern super-sub and figures to see plenty of playing time wherever needed.

Joining them in 2018 is Fowler, one of the prizes from the Sonny Gray trade last July. He’s got the most to prove in the entire group, as he’s coming off a major injury and still looking forward to his first big league plate appearance, but he’s got the chance to contribute on both sides of the ball. If he falters, then fellow youngster Boog Powell is waiting in the wings to help carry the load.

Surrounding those initial fruits of the farm are a collection of veterans, but these aren’t mere stopgaps. Khrush is coming off consecutive 40-homer campaigns, Lowrie put up 3-4 WAR last season, and Joyce was a productive hitter as well. Semien is the longest-tenured player on the team, dating back to 2015, but he’s only just entering his prime years and is still a breakout candidate in his own right.

To complete the puzzle, the A’s made two shrewd additions this winter. Both struggled through off-years in 2017, which is what made them affordable for Oakland, but there’s plenty of hope that they can bounce back. Piscotty shores up the corner outfield and allows Khrush to hide his exploitable throwing arm in the DH spot, and like Semien he’s still young enough to be looking forward to his peak rather than back on it. Catching remained as the final weak spot, but the last-minute addition of Lucroy fills that void with a recent All-Star and pushes backups Bruce Maxwell and Josh Phegley down the depth chart.

Not only does the offense look strong, but Oakland’s defense is improving quickly as well. They were arguably the worst fielding team in the sport over these last three rebuilding years, but that won’t be the case anymore. The middle infield is only average at best, but it’s not a glaring weakness anymore and several other positions are now potential pluses.

Unfortunately, the pitching is lagging far behind the lineup. There is plenty of promise in the starting rotation, but they’re light on track record and suffered their share of injuries last year. This is the area of the team most likely to hold them back from contention for the time being.

  1. Kendall Graveman
  2. Sean Manaea
  3. Daniel Mengden
  4. Andrew Triggs
  5. Trevor Cahill
  6. Paul Blackburn
  7. Daniel Gossett

There’s no ace, until or unless someone steps up to take that mantle, and they all went on the DL in 2017 except Gossett. They already lost Jharel Cotton for the year to Tommy John surgery, and even with the addition of Cahill the immediate depth is still questionable. But the A’s worked hard to put this group together, mostly through trading yesterday’s stars, and there is breakout potential up and down the list. Manaea in particular has top-of-the-rotation upside, though Graveman is scheduled take the mound on Opening Day for the second year in a row.

Meanwhile, the bullpen is stronger than the rotation but still lacks a true closer. Blake Treinen will take that role to begin the year, but he’s probably best cast as a setup man. Behind him are a few new additions in Yusmeiro Petit, Ryan Buchter, and Emilio Pagan, none of whom are household names but all of whom are exactly the kinds of under-the-radar performers you’d expect Oakland to collect — the trio quietly combined for a 2.91 ERA and 4.4 K/BB last year.

More help on the way

In the big picture, 2018 is a bridge year for the A’s as they transition from doormat to contender. That process has already begun with the young players mentioned above, but more top names are scheduled to arrive throughout the year.

The most significant of those reinforcements is pitcher A.J. Puk, a consensus Top 30 prospect nationally. The big lefty was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2016 draft, and he’s already knocking on Oakland’s door after just one full season in the minors. He’s almost certain to debut this year, maybe even in the first half, and he eventually profiles as the best bet to take the vacant role of ace starter.

There’s another consensus Top 100 guy in middle infielder Franklin Barreto, the last remaining hope of salvaging the otherwise disastrous Josh Donaldson trade. Barreto debuted last summer at age 21, and he could be ready to take over midseason if a spot opens up via injury or trade.

There are other prospects on the way, but those two stand out because they’re the best and the closest. The farm will help fill in at other positions this year too, perhaps in the form of slugger Renato Nunez or high-octane reliever Lou Trivino, but Puk and Barreto are the ones most likely to move the needle in the long-term and we should see them both sometime this summer.

2019 and beyond

The top priority for this 2018 team is to gain experience and establish as many young stars as possible. A Cinderella run to the postseason would of course be a welcome surprise, but this year can be a success simply by setting the scene for 2019 and beyond.

One way or other, three members of the lineup will be gone next season. Lowrie, Lucroy, and Joyce will each be free agents, which also makes them all midseason trade candidates depending on the team’s standings and the progress of the youngsters below them. Those positions will have to be filled anew in 2019.

Fortunately, there are plans in place to replace each. Barreto is the top candidate to take Lowrie’s spot, but speedster Jorge Mateo provides another dynamic option in the middle infield. Lucroy is keeping the catching spot warm for top-notch defender Sean Murphy, a 2016 draftee who reached Double-A last year. And there are several possibilities for replacing Joyce, such as moving bat-first infielder Sheldon Neuse to the outfield or calling on up-and-comers like Ramon Laureano, Tyler Ramirez, or B.J. Boyd.

The pitching staff has something to look forward to in the near-term as well, even beyond the aforementioned Puk. Grant Holmes is another top name who will open in Triple-A, just one breakout away from earning a promotion, and Frankie Montas is still trying out as a starter with his power arsenal. Others like James Kaprielian, Daulton Jefferies, and Logan Shore will look to work their way up the system this year after being slowed by injuries, with plenty more promising lotto tickets behind them.

Look even deeper down the system and you’ll find a whole other wave of high-ceiling talent in the lower minors. Pitcher Jesus Luzardo made national Top 100 lists this winter, outfielder Lazaro Armenteros was a big-ticket international signing, and outfielder Austin Beck was the No. 6 overall draft pick last summer out of high school — atop a 2017 draft class full of intriguing names.

The presence of all those young reinforcements is crucial, because Oakland might not have a lot to spend. Their payroll currently stands at around $70 million — that’s a drop from previous years, likely because they are being weaned off of the revenue sharing they used to collect. A hefty chunk will come off the books from those free agent hitters plus reliever Santiago Casilla, but most or all of those savings will be eaten up by arbitration raises and an uptick in Piscotty’s salary. They’ll need the prospects to step up and fill in because they won’t have much money to throw at their problems next winter.

It all starts with this 2018 squad, though. How much progress will the young core make, and how many more prospects will graduate and begin gaining MLB experience? Will they leave the cellar and move up the standings, or will we enter 2019 talking about another bridge year? Will there be constructive news about a new stadium, and the financial security that could come with it? One way or other, for the first time in years the A’s should finally be interesting this summer.

40-man roster preview

Here’s a look at the current 40-man roster as well as the likely Opening Day arrangement, though there are a couple spots that aren’t quite decided. The players who are unlikely to make the 25-man cut are in italics, and players with asterisks** have suffered spring injuries that may interrupt the beginnings of their seasons. There are actually 41 players listed, because Cotton is on the 60-day disabled list.

Pitchers Hitters

Kendall Graveman (R)
Sean Manaea (L)
Daniel Mengden (R)
Andrew Triggs (R)
Trevor Cahill (R)
Paul Blackburn (R)

Daniel Gossett (R)
Frankie Montas (R)**
Jharel Cotton (R) (DL)**


Blake Treinen (R)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Ryan Buchter (L)
Emilio Pagan (R)
Chris Hatcher (R)
Liam Hendriks (R)
Santiago Casilla (R)

Raul Alcantara (R)
Ryan Dull (R)**
Danny Coulombe (L)
Chris Bassitt (R)
Lou Trivino (R)

Jonathan Lucroy (R)
Bruce Maxwell (L)

Josh Phegley (R)**
Dustin Garneau (R)


Matt Olson (L)
Jed Lowrie (S)
Marcus Semien (R)
Matt Chapman (R)
Chad Pinder (R)

Franklin Barreto (R)
Renato Nunez (R)**
Jorge Mateo (R)


Khris Davis (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Matt Joyce (L)
Dustin Fowler (L)
Jake Smolinski (R)

Boog Powell (L)
Mark Canha (R)
Ramon Laureano (R)**