clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Oakland A’s offseason additions beginning to heat up

Some of the offseason moves are finally paying dividends.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s offseason did not go the way most fans expected. Coming off a 97-win season and a playoff berth, folks generally assumed that they would look to stock up for an even stronger push in 2019, with the rotation as a particular area of need that could be addressed with a splashy move. Instead, to much criticism from the fanbase, the club mostly stuck with what they had and filled in the blanks with cheap gambles and stopgaps.

There were logical reasons to stand pat, especially with a loaded Triple-A team looking ready to spit out more impact youngsters at any moment. But still, it was easy to feel disappointed by an offseason in which the big move never really came. These were the largest transactions (not a complete list):

Hello Goodbye
Free Agency
RHP Joakim Soria (2/$15m)
RHP Marco Estrada (1/$4m)
OF Robbie Grossman (1/$2m)
C Chris Herrmann (1/$1m)
C Nick Hundley (minors)

RHP Tanner Anderson (from PIT)
IF Jurickson Profar (from TEX)
Free Agency
RHP Trevor Cahill (to LAA)
RHP Jeurys Familia (to NYM)
RHP Shawn Kelley (to TEX)
C Jonathan Lucroy (to LAA)
2B Jed Lowrie (to NYM)
OF Matt Joyce (to ATL)

RHP Emilio Pagan (to TBR)

Making matters worse, virtually every player brought in over the winter got off to a terrible start once the season began. Jurickson Profar was lost on both sides of the ball, Joakim Soria blew three games in March/April alone, Marco Estrada landed on the IL after just five starts, and so on down the line. The quiet offseason was beginning to look like a missed opportunity to bolster a potential contender.

However, things have changed quickly in May. Not everyone has turned around their fortunes, as Estrada is still on the shelf and catcher Chris Herrmann hasn’t yet played a game due to knee surgery. But some of the other moves are beginning to pan out, helping the A’s dig out of an early hole and get back to the .500 mark at 25-25.

Jurickson Profar, 2B

Profar opened the season about as poorly as a player can. By the end of April he was batting .165 with a 33 wRC+, and on defense he completely fell apart. A case of the yips had him throwing the ball all over the place, even botching short flips to second base for routine double plays — he made seven errors in total that month, plus a couple more misplays that probably should have counted too. He was reaching a point of becoming unplayable.

Profar, Apr: .165/.223/.272, 33 wRC+, 2 HR, 6.3% BB, 14.3% Ks

And then the calendar flipped, and everything changed. Profar began hitting the ball with authority and producing at the level he’d shown during his 2018 breakout in Texas. In 18 games in May:

Profar, May: .254/.342/.507, 126 wRC+, 5 HR, 7.9% BB, 13.2% Ks

That’s the player we thought the A’s were getting. And it’s not just a matter of hits starting to fall in, either — Statcast had his xwOBA at a paltry .286 through end of April, but in May he’s got an excellent .371 mark, among the best on the team this month. He’s legitimately hitting the ball better than he was during his slump.

His defense has settled down too. His throws are still shaky, but his last error came on May 3, after averaging one every four games up to that point. Granted, part of the improvement is surely due to the return of Gold Glove first baseman Matt Olson, who came back on May 7 and is among the best in the business at corralling wild throws. But one way or other, Profar’s defense is no longer costing the team games.

Profar had big shoes to fill, replacing All-Star Jed Lowrie, and this month he’s finally succeeding in that endeavor. He’s hitting like 2018 Lowrie, and his defense hasn’t been a problem for weeks now. The sad part of this story is that Lowrie hasn’t yet played this year, as knee and hamstring issues have kept him out of his age-35 season so far, but that kind of risk is presumably one reason why the A’s chose not to gamble on paying to keep him. Instead they moved on with a younger, cheaper option, one with his prime ahead of him instead of behind him, and Profar is finally making that look like a smart decision.

(Just don’t look at Emilio Pagan’s numbers.)

Joakim Soria, RHP

In an offseason in which the rotation seemed like the biggest area of need, the team’s biggest free agent contract went to a reliever. A really good reliever! But still.

In his third game of the season, Soria entered in a tie and allowed four runs to lose it. Two weeks later, he entered with a three-run lead in the 8th, and again allowed four runs to lose it. He blew another save shortly after that thanks to a leadoff walk to literally Jeff Mathis, and fans were beginning to wonder whether he could still be trusted in the late innings.

However, it turns out he’s just fine. He had a rocky few weeks, as pretty much all relievers experience from time to time, but he’s settled down since. He did lose another extra-inning game a couple weeks ago, but that was mostly attributed to him being called on for extra work while the bullpen was worn out. Here are his numbers going back to April 16:

Soria, since 4/16: 1.65 ERA, 16⅓ ip, 17 Ks, 5 BB, 6 hits, 0 HR, 2.11 FIP

Again, it’s not just lucky results. His xwOBA in that span is .217, the best on the team. Soria is dealing, just like he usually does, and all we had to do was wait a few extra weeks.

Mike Fiers, RHP

He was on the team last year, but technically Fiers was still an offseason addition. He was non-tendered, hit the open market, and then re-signed as a free agent. This was the winter’s big rotation addition, or at least non-subtraction.

Through his first six starts, Fiers was getting torched. He had two scoreless outings, but the bad games more than made up for it:

Fiers, 1st 6 gms: 8.28 ERA, 25 ip, 20 Ks, 10 BB, 6 HR, 33 hits, 6.05 FIP,

And then he settled down. He tossed seven strong against a Blue Jays team that Oakland can’t seem to beat, and then a couple games later he threw a no-hitter. His last five starts have all been either quality, or one inning short thereof.

Fiers, last 5 gms: 2.53 ERA, 32 ip, 21 Ks, 9 BB, 4 HR, 17 hits, 4.43 FIP

The real Fiers is probably somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, but the point is that he’s still the viable mid-rotation starter that we hoped he’d be. And that’s all Oakland needs from him, with other prospects and breakout candidates vying to help at the top of the rotation.

Robbie Grossman, OF

This may have been the biggest head-scratcher of the offseason. Grossman is a solid role player, but he seemed to be redundant on a roster that already included Nick Martini. Even when Martini got hurt at the beginning of the spring, there would have been other options to fill the spot.

After a slow start, Grossman is beginning to show signs of life:

First 15 gms: .232/.306/.321, 74 wRC+, 9.7% BB, 19.4% Ks
Next 26 gms: .211/.345/.394, 104 wRC+, 17.2% BB, 17.2% Ks

Even as his batting average has dropped, his OBP has still jumped way up, because he’s racking up walks at his customarily rapid pace. Those walks and OBP are his calling card, so they’re the first thing to look at when judging his performance. As for the decrease in average, that’s mostly luck, as the 40-point drop in BABIP in the more recent split has no basis in exit velocity nor liner rate, both of which have held steady. Believe in the increase in walks and OBP, and ignore the drop in AVG and BABIP.

Meanwhile, Grossman is chipping in with more than just walks. He’s hit a few homers, including one as a pinch-hitter. He leads the team with five steals, and has only been caught once. He even has an outfield assist from LF. None of those are supposed to be areas of strength for him, but clearly he’s not a total zero in terms of power, speed, or defense.

In the long run, Grossman probably profiles best as a fourth outfielder. But he’s got a lot to offer as role player, and he’s been quietly showing those skills lately.

Nick Hundley, C

Signing Hundley was more of a minor depth move, but the injury to Herrmann helped open a permanent spot for him in the majors. Unfortunately, he began the year in a horrid slump.

Through the end of April, Hundley was 8-for-42 with just one extra-base hit and one walk. Meanwhile, he had already bounced into five double plays, many of them critical rally-killers. His wRC+ stood at 21, and it fell down to 18 a week later.

It only took three games to completely turn all that around. In his last three starts, Hundley has gone 5-for-10 with two homers, a triple, a double, and a walk. That’s raised his wRC+ all the way up to 85, just shy of his career mark of 89, and roughly average for a catcher.

Here’s what Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle has to say about the resurgence:

“I think I was just really bad the first weeks, month of the season, April,” Hundley said. “I just wasn’t a very good baseball player, I was doing a lot of things wrong. It’s time to do things right.”

Hundley worked with hitting coach Darren Bush and assistant hitting coach Mike Aldrete on getting his legs back into his swing; he had no power behind his stroke in April, but now he’s driving the ball the other way, as he did on his second-inning homer. “Whenever I’m called upon now, I feel like I can do damage,” Hundley said.

It’s only three good games, but it’s a level of play that didn’t seem possible from the guy that we watched in April. Hundley has clearly turned a corner from his early slump, and hopefully the A’s now have a second viable catcher to pair with the hot Josh Phegley, while they wait for Herrmann and top prospect Sean Murphy to return from injuries.

Stay tuned

Not every offseason move has panned out. Estrada and Herrmann are yet to pay dividends, and the return of Fernando Rodney has been a disaster. The failure to pick up a second lefty reliever also looms large.

But the whole thing is looking a lot better for Oakland than it did initially. These five players are starting to pull their weight, and the re-sign of Brett Anderson has provided competent innings to a rotation that has ranged between average-to-better. Furthermore, some of the top names who departed are scuffling with their new teams, from Trevor Cahill (6.43 ERA, 6.41 FIP) to Jeurys Familia (6.16 ERA, 5.09 FIP, 3 blown saves) to the unfortunate injury problems for Lowrie, not to mention rookie infielder Richie Martin who was nabbed in the Rule 5 draft (34 wRC+, 32.7% Ks, negative defense).

There are still nits to pick with the offseason moves. Estrada was always a curious choice, Jonathan Lucroy has bounced back at the plate in Anaheim on a bargain contract, and Shawn Kelley is dealing in Texas for half of what Rodney is making. And of course there’s plenty of time for any of the newly hot A’s to turn right back into pumpkins and go cold again. But overall, for now, the whole package is turning out pretty well after all — and we haven’t even seen the top prospects begin to arrive yet.