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Predicting Oakland A’s 30-man roster for 2020

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What might the 2020 Opening Day squad look like in late-July?

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics
Chapman, Semien, Olson, Pinder
Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

The 2020 MLB season has been officially announced, with Opening Day scheduled for a month from now on July 23 or 24. We’ve spent the last few months of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown looking back at Oakland A’s history, playing trivia, and following the draft, but now it’s time to talk about actual real-live baseball. This is not a drill.

To start, a simple question: Who’s actually on the A’s right now? It’s been a while since we’ve thought about the current roster, so let’s refresh our memory. Here’s the 40-man squad as it stands today, though teams can begin making transactions again on Friday at 9 a.m. PT. Note that there’s a 41st man, pitcher Daniel Mengden, on the long-term injured list. Players in italics have not yet debuted in MLB.

Oakland A's 40-man roster
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Frankie Montas (R)
Sean Manaea (L)
Mike Fiers (R)
Chris Bassitt (R)
Jesus Luzardo (L)
Paul Blackburn (R)
Daniel Gossett (R)
--Grant Holmes (R)
--Daulton Jefferies (R)
--James Kaprielian (R)


Relievers

Liam Hendriks (R)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Joakim Soria (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
J.B. Wendelken (R)
Jake Diekman (L)
T.J. McFarland (L)
A.J. Puk (L)
Burch Smith (R)


60-day IL

(Daniel Mengden) (R)
Catchers

Sean Murphy (R)
Austin Allen (L)
--Jonah Heim (S)

Infielders

Matt Olson (L)
Marcus Semien (R)
Matt Chapman (R)
Tony Kemp (L)
Franklin Barreto (R)
Sheldon Neuse (R)
--Vimael Machin (L)
--Jorge Mateo (R)


Outfielders

Khris Davis (R)
Mark Canha (R)
Ramon Laureano (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Robbie Grossman (S)
Chad Pinder (R)
Seth Brown (L)
Skye Bolt (S)
Dustin Fowler (L)
--Luis Barrera (L)

Note: Mengden had minor elbow surgery in February and was placed on the 60-day IL at the beginning of spring. But his recovery timeline was only a few months, and indeed by late-May he’d deemed himself “about 95 percent,” so presumably he’ll be ready to go and will need to be activated from the IL this weekend (and thus someone else will need to be removed from the 40-man to make space).

Every team will have 60 players eligible for the 2020 season. That pool includes the 40-man roster, plus 20 more non-roster players from within the organization. There won’t be any minor leagues this year, so having that taxi squad on hand will give clubs somewhere to draw from when extra reinforcements are needed. Teams must finalize their 60-man lists by Sunday afternoon.

Active rosters were already scheduled to grow from 25 to 26 this year, but they’ll bump up even further to accommodate the weird season and abbreviated training camp. Teams will start Opening Day with 30 players (out of the overall pool of 60 to choose from), then after two weeks they’ll drop down to 28, and after two more weeks they’ll settle at 26.

Under normal circumstances, the A’s were going to have some tough decisions to make at the end of spring training. There’s a logjam in the infield that includes a few prospects who can’t be sent down to the minors, leaving the possibility that someone might be lost from the organization, and there are a couple of solid pitchers in the same position. With four bonus spots to work with, though, the team should get some extra time to make those calls and even some real regular season games to assess the youngsters.

Here’s one guess at how the A’s 30-man roster might look on Opening Day, barring any injuries or positive tests that remove anyone from consideration.

Starters

  • Frankie Montas (R)
  • Sean Manaea (L)
  • Mike Fiers (R)
  • Chris Bassitt (R)
  • Jesus Luzardo (L)

The top three are locks, and Luzardo probably is too, especially now that there’s no need to worry about an innings limit on his arm. Bassitt could potentially end up in the pen, but he certainly did enough in the rotation last year to earn this nod.

Bullpen

  • Liam Hendriks (R)
  • Yusmeiro Petit (R)
  • Joakim Soria (R)
  • Jake Diekman (L)
  • T.J. McFarland (L)
  • Lou Trivino (R)
  • J.B. Wendelken (R)
  • Daniel Mengden (R)
  • A.J Puk (L)

How many relievers will the A’s carry? Part of the point of the expanded roster is to give teams some extra pitching help, so surely there will at least be a ninth arm. Perhaps there will be even more, but it helps that two of these guys are actually surplus starters who could provide multiple innings if needed (and some of the other pure relievers can too).

You could argue for Puk in the rotation over Bassitt, but the important thing here is they will both definitely be on the roster — arrange the staff however you want beyond that. I put Puk in the pen because he already had one injury scare this spring and there’s just no need to push him. The lefty can be a great weapon as a high-octane reliever while gaining MLB experience, and anyway Bassitt is perfectly fine as a starter so there’s no pressing need for Puk in the rotation. We’ll see how the team decides to play it.

As for Mengden, as noted above he will presumably be activated from the IL when transactions unfreeze. But he’s out of minor league options and can’t be sent down, so unless there’s a last-minute trade this weekend, I’d be shocked if he’s not on the roster. Wendelken is also out of options, which should guarantee him a spot if he didn’t have one already. Among these nine names, only Trivino and Puk have options remaining.

Catchers

  • Sean Murphy (R)
  • Austin Allen (L)

Two catchers, or three? I don’t see any reason for a third. If there’s an injury, they can always call up someone new, as they would in a normal season. Just because the roster is bigger doesn’t mean there needs to be a third catcher, and anyway the extra spot will be needed in the next section.

Murphy is the obvious starter. The one change I could envision would be if the A’s want to sign a veteran lefty backup to pair with him, instead of using the relatively untested Allen. After all, Murphy and Allen have combined to play 54 MLB games in their careers — adding a bit of experience to the group wouldn’t hurt, with Allen as the first man up in case of injury.

Infielders

  • Matt Olson (L)
  • Tony Kemp (L)
  • Marcus Semien (R)
  • Matt Chapman (R)
  • Franklin Barreto (R)
  • Vimael Machin (L)
  • Jorge Mateo (R)

The top of the list is the four starters, around the horn from first to third, with Kemp penciled in at second base as the only experienced major leaguer for that position.

After them come the three prospects. Normally there would only have been room for one or two out of this trio, which might have come in the form of one righty (Barreto or Mateo) to platoon with Kemp at 2B and then perhaps one of the remaining two as a utilityman. The problem is, whoever didn’t make the cut would be lost entirely — Barreto and Mateo are out of options, and Machin is a Rule 5 pick who would need to be returned to his old team.

Now that tough decision can be kicked down the road a bit. Barreto and Mateo in particular are highly rated talents who could still pan out into quality players, and it would be a bummer to have to give up on one and dump him for cheap/nothing. Instead the expanded roster provides a bit of wiggle room for the first few weeks, giving time for someone to step up and seize a job, or for an injury to clear more space for everyone to stay longer. (Or, there’s still a chance one of them could be traded during training camp.)

Outfielders

  • Khris Davis (R) (DH)
  • Mark Canha (R)
  • Robbie Grossman (S)
  • Ramon Laureano (R)
  • Chad Pinder (R)
  • Stephen Piscotty (R)
  • Seth Brown (L)

Even after burning extra spots on the infield, there’s still plenty of depth out here. Canha, Grossman, Laureano, Pinder, and Piscotty give them five strong options for three positions, and there’s still space for Brown as an extra lefty bat. Piscotty was going to miss the start of the season in late-March due to an oblique injury, but he’s back to health now.

In a normal year, Brown would surely have opened in the minors, waiting for an opportunity to come up and build on his nice 2019 debut. Now there’s room to squeeze him in, for a couple weeks at least. However, if you prefer a 10th reliever or a third catcher, then Brown is the most expendable hitter from the list because he still has options remaining.

***

With four extra spots to work with, I’ve added a ninth reliever, held on to two worthwhile prospects who can’t be sent down, and put an extra lefty bat on the bench of a team that leans heavily to the right. The exact names are tougher to peg, since we don’t know who would have made the cut for the first 26 spots, but it could turn out to be something like Trivino, Mateo, Machin, and Brown.

These picks are more than just theoretical, too. In real life back in March, the A’s had already pared their 40-man roster down to 31 (plus Mengden), optioning the other nine to the minors. Those decisions aren’t necessarily set in stone anymore, but they show what the pecking order was before the shutdown, and there’s no reason to think anything has changed since then with no games being played.

The extra two names that weren’t yet optioned were pitcher Burch Smith and catcher Jonah Heim, but I’d bet against either of them being in the picture. Smith is my guess to DFA when Mengden is activated, and Heim barely even has experience at Triple-A, so he wouldn’t help the greenness in the catching corps. If the A’s were to go with three catchers, then I’d be most surprised if the third one wasn’t a new veteran signing, with Allen then serving as a lefty bench bat (in the role where I currently have Brown) and Heim waiting on the taxi squad.

So there we have it, a possible setup for the 30-man Opening Day roster. There could be a couple tweaks around the margins, but for the most part this is who we can expect to be watching this summer, unless or until injuries shake things up or further trades or signings are made.