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AL West 2020 preview: Oakland A’s are legit contenders

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Offseason moves, 60-man player pool, and season outlook

A full season of Montas should help anchor the A’s rotation
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The 2020 MLB season is just over a week away from finally starting, coronavirus pandemic willing. The offseason feels like it was years ago, so let’s remind ourselves of what the division looks like.

We’ve already covered all four of the AL West rival clubs, which you can revisit below:

May as well take a look at our own team as well.

Oakland A’s

2019 record: 97-65 (finished 2nd in AL West, won top Wild Card)

Quick season review: Mostly a success! A deep postseason run would have been nice instead of another disappointingly immediate Wild Card Game exit, but the A’s did successfully repeat as a playoff team, proving their 97-win breakout from the year before hadn’t been a fluke. That elevated them from promising newcomer to established contender.

Along the way, they got some promising individual performances as well. Marcus Semien turned into a full-on star, placing third in the MVP voting, and Frankie Montas pitched like an ace for half the season before a PED suspension. Mike Fiers stepped up to lead the rotation the rest of the way, and when elite closer Blake Treinen faltered, Liam Hendriks elevated his game and essentially replicated the former’s historic 2018 campaign. Meanwhile, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson continued being franchise cornerstones on both sides of the ball, especially on defense where they each repeated as Gold Glove and Fielding Bible winners, and we got September previews of several top prospects.

There were a few downsides, too. Beyond Montas’ suspension, they also got nothing from the usually consistent Khris Davis nor from new 2B acquisition Jurickson Profar. Treinen and setup man Lou Trivino disappeared after being 2018 stars, and Stephen Piscotty got hurt. But the ups outweighed the downs, especially with role players like Mark Canha and Yusmeiro Petit putting out many of those fires with huge years.

The A’s entered 2020 without much to do. There were some departing free agents, but most of the answers were already set to come from in-house. Here’s a quick look at their offseason moves from last winter.

Hello Goodbye
Free Agency
LHP T.J. McFarland (waivers)
IF Vimael Machin (Rule 5)


Trades
UT Tony Kemp (from CHC)
C Austin Allen (from SDP)
RHP Burch Smith (from SFG)
Free Agency
LHP Brett Anderson (to MIL)
RHP Homer Bailey (to MIN)
LHP Ryan Buchter (to LAA)
RHP Tanner Roark (to TOR)
RHP Blake Treinen (to LAD)
C Josh Phegley (to CHC)

Trades
2B Jurickson Profar (to SDP)
RHP Jharel Cotton (to CHC)

They lost three good starters but didn’t need to add anyone to replace them. With Montas back from suspension, Sean Manaea back from injury, and prospects Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk ready to join the crew, all joining holdovers Fiers and Chris Bassitt, there’s already more than a full rotation on the roster. They did replace the lefty reliever Buchter, but Treinen was already effectively out of the picture last summer, with Hendriks in his old job.

It’s the same idea with the hitters. Phegley is out because prospect Sean Murphy is ready, though they did also pick up another young option in the lefty Allen to pair with him. Profar is out and they made only minor additions at his old position, because they already have Franklin Barreto hunting for playing time there.

Perhaps there’s more they could have done to maximize a couple details, but money was tight and the depth chart was already packed with either stardom or star potential in all areas. It was a quiet offseason because there was no need to make noise.

Here’s the player pool, which is at maximum capacity with 60 names. Players with asterisks** are the favorites to make the Opening Day 30-man roster, in my speculative opinion. Players in --italics are not on the 40-man roster, which currently stands at 39 players until pitcher Mengden is activated from the injured list.

Oakland A's 60-man pool
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Frankie Montas (R)**
Sean Manaea (L)**
Mike Fiers (R)**
Chris Bassitt (R)**
Jesus Luzardo (L)**
A.J. Puk (L)**
Paul Blackburn (R)
Daniel Gossett (R)
--Daniel Mengden (R)**
Grant Holmes (R)
Daulton Jefferies (R)
James Kaprielian (R)
--Tyler Baum (R)
--Parker Dunshee (R)
--Brian Howard (R)


Relievers

Liam Hendriks (R)**
Yusmeiro Petit (R)**
Joakim Soria (R)**
Jake Diekman (L)**
T.J. McFarland (L)**
Burch Smith (R)**
Lou Trivino (R)**
J.B. Wendelken (R)**
--Lucas Luetge (L)
--Jaime Schultz (R)
--Jordan Weems (R)
--Wandisson Charles (R)
--Miguel Romero (R)
Catchers

Sean Murphy (R)**
Austin Allen (L)**
Jonah Heim (S)
--Carlos Perez (R)
--Kyle McCann (L)
--Tyler Soderstrom (L)


Infielders

Matt Olson (L)**
Marcus Semien (R)**
Matt Chapman (R)**
Tony Kemp (L)**
Franklin Barreto (R)**
Vimael Machin (L)**
Sheldon Neuse (R)
--Eric Campbell (R)
--Ryan Goins (L)
--Nate Orf (R)
--Nick Allen (R)
--Logan Davidson (S)
--Robert Puason (S)


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)
Luis Barrera (L)
Dustin Fowler (L)
--Brayan Buelvas (R)
--Greg Deichmann (L)
--Buddy Reed (S)

Even standing pat last winter, this is still a top-notch roster that can contend for a title.

The rotation doesn’t have the track record to compare with some of the other top units in the majors, but they have the potential to finish the year among the best. That’s a huge upgrade from the patchwork groups of the last two summers, and the biggest reason for renewed optimism in both the division race and the playoffs. Montas, Manaea, Luzardo, and Puk all have the stuff to be stars, especially in a short season where they don’t have to pace themselves or worry about innings limits after small 2019 workloads. And we’ve seen how steadily productive Fiers can be.

The bullpen has a couple lockdown names at the top and some strikeout and/or grounder potential in the middle innings, which is all you can ask for in such an unpredictable area of the game.

The infield has three studs, including the sport’s best defenders on each corner and a Gold Glove finalist at short, all with potent bats. The fourth infield spot features a recent Top 100 prospect hoping to break out. The catcher is a preseason Rookie of the Year front-runner. The outfield is deep, with multiple quality options at all positions and a couple of them capable of 4+ WAR. The DH is known for hitting 40+ homers every year like clockwork (though the clock did break last summer). There’s enough talent to account for a few things going wrong, and if everything goes right they could be legendary.

None of that means the 2020 season will be easy. The team they’re chasing in their division, the Astros, happens to be arguably the best in the majors, and catching them will be a tough task. But for the first time it seems like a completely possible task, as this A’s team is even more loaded than the last two 97-win editions, and still improving. Their schedule looks fairly favorable, with most of their games against Houston coming at home, and some extra dates against the weak Giants.

Anything can happen in a 60-game season, and one big slump can quickly become insurmountable, but the A’s are strong and appear primed for a big summer — and hopefully a big October after that.

Oakland opens the 2020 season on July 24, at home against the Angels.