Likely to be many people’s sleeper pick in 2018, the team in that other city by the bay has been quietly getting better. Though the Oakland Athletics have spent the past three seasons dwelling in the cellar of the AL West, the team does feature a core of young talent that the organization is hoping will grow and mature together, as well as a farm system that was ranked as the tenth best in baseball.
The sun will definitely be shining in Oakland in the coming years, even if this isn’t the season the A’s make a playoff run.
2018 Oakland Athletics Season Preview
The A’s were (as usual) fairly quiet this off-season. The team has been very open that they have no interest in chasing after high priced free agents. But that’s not to say that they didn’t make any off-season moves.
The A’s did exercise the contract option for fan favorite second baseman Jed Lowrie for $6 million. They traded Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Bay Area native Stephen Piscotty. The move was especially important for Piscotty, who was anxious to return home in order to be closer to his mother, who was unfortunately diagnosed with ALS last year.
Oakland also brought back Brandon Moss when they traded Jesse Hahn and Heath Fillmyer to the Kansas City Royals for Moss and LHP Ryan Butcher. In an attempt to bolster the bullpen, the A’s signed Yusmeiro Petit to a two-year, $10 million deal. They also extended the same offer to Brian Duensing, who instead opted to take $3 million less with the Chicago Cubs. And finally, the A’s also made an unsuccessful attempt to sign Austin Jackson, but Jackson ended up signing a two-year deal with the San Francisco Giants. It may not have been a blockbuster off-season for the A’s, but these moves have quietly made the team better as they head into the 2018 season.
And hey, they finally got Billy Butler off their payroll.
It will come to the great shock of no one that the weakest part of the 2018 Oakland Athletics will likely be their starting rotation. While Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea will most likely be the number one and number two starters, the rest of the rotation is up in the air. The likely candidates to round out the rotation are Jharel Cotton, Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn, Andrew Triggs and Daniel Gossett.
If the A’s are going to be competitive this year, it goes without saying that they are going to need a strong middle and back part of their rotation. Cotton, who is likely to be the team’s third starter, was outstanding with the A’s after being called up in late 2016. Cotton had a fantastic 2.15 ERA and picked up a nice 2-0 record along the way. But he was unable to continue that success in 2017. He finished the season with a 9-10 record and a 5.58 ERA.
The rest of the rotation is unknown at this time, but of the likely starters (Graveman, Manaea, Gossett, Cotton, and Triggs) none are projected to finish the year with an ERA south of 4.40.
With any luck, Oakland’s bullpen will be stronger this year than in seasons past. Last year, the A’s bullpen had a 4.57 ERA and had the disadvantage of losing Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson midseason. Additionally, veteran arms struggle for the green and gold. Liam Hendriks had a 4.22 ERA and Santiago Casilla had a 4.27 ERA and seven blown saves.
The A’s will certainly be hoping that the addition of Petit will help right the ship that is Oakland’s bullpen. Last year with the Los Angeles Angels, Petit had a career-low 2.76 ERA while pitching in a career-high 60 games.
The A’s were certainly planning to enter the 2018 season with Bruce Maxwell as their number one catcher. That is of course until Maxwell was arrested in late October for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon when he allegedly pointed a gun at a food delivery person. The A’s have remained vocal that they still intend to pencil in Maxwell as their everyday backstop, despite that it was recently reported that Maxwell has not yet reached a plea agreement.
With Maxwell potentially out, the A’s will turn to Josh Phegley behind the plate. Phegley will be entering his fourth season in Oakland and has slashed .225/.265/.375 in his time there.
Olson (1B), who was ranked as the A’s eighth-best prospect heading into last year’s season, did well with the A’s in 2017. Though he had a moderate .259 batting average, he hit 24 bombs in 59 games and finished the year with outstanding 1.003 OPS. Chapman (3B), has been no slouch himself. He hit 80 home runs in a little over three seasons in the minors as well as 14 with the A’s and finished the season with a 110 OPS+. Oakland’s current number one prospect, Barreto (SS), will likely see more time with the A’s this season. With the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, Barreto hit .290 with 15 home runs and 15 steals. Needless to say, the young talent in Oakland will certainly be fun to watch in the coming years.
Oakland’s designated hitter, perhaps one of the most underrated players in baseball today has been quietly destroying balls in the East Bay for the past two years. Though Khris Davis has yet to make an All-Star team, he has managed to hit 85 jacks in his time with Oakland, and in the Bay Area, that’s considered fairly difficult to do. With 43 home runs in 2017, Davis hit the second most dingers in the America League last season behind only Aaron Judge.
While it’s obvious that the A’s are only getting better, they still play in the undesirable AL West, where the Houston Astros are likely to reign for the foreseeable future. But like Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, the A’s could be contenders, if not this season, then soon.
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