The Oakland A’s watched some of their biggest personalities and team leaders sign contracts with other teams this offseason and didn’t see new additions until just weeks prior to spring training.
The front office quickly upgraded every lost piece from the 2020 team but had fans concerned for months on who they would add and when they would add them. Even players like Mark Canha were worried at one point:
“The hole at shortstop was a little unnerving for a while. A little scary thinking, ‘gosh, we kind of need a shortstop’ so when we signed Elvis [Andrus] it was a sign of relief even though I was sad to see my buddy KD [Khris Davis] go.”
|Who’s in||Who’s out|
|RHP Trevor Rosenthal||RHP Liam Hendriks|
|RHP Yusmeiro Petit||LHP Joakim Soria|
|RHP Mike Fiers||LHP Mike Minor|
|RHP Sergio Romo||LF Robbie Grossman|
|LHP Adam Kolarek||2B Tommy La Stella|
|1B/DH Mitch Moreland||DH Khris Davis|
|SS Elvis Andrus||SS Marcus Semien|
|C Aramis García||C Jonah Heim|
|INF Jed Lowrie||INF Jake Lamb|
The A’s acquired two-time All-Star veteran shortstop Elvis Andrus and catcher Aramís García from the Texas Rangers in exchange for designated hitter Davis and catcher Jonah Heim. Andrus struggled with back pain in 2020 but feels good in camp. A healthy Andrus is a more experienced Marcus Semien, two shortstops who work with the community, can play every day, and lead off.
In Bob Melvin‘s 11 seasons managing the Oakland A’s, the current spring training bullpen options is the best he’s had, “as far as depth.” A lot of experienced additions were made and Ramon Laureano said he liked all the moves the front office made:
“I think it’s better. Obviously we lost some key pieces but it is what it is and they replaced it with great pieces. We already had a good core group of guys so it’s not like we lost, well we lost significant guys but we feel pretty comfortable with the group that we have here.”
Liam Hendriks signed with the Chicago White Sox just a couple of months after throwing the third strike to advance the A’s past his new team during the Wild Card series. The A’s had one of the best bullpens in baseball last year, and adding veterans like Trevor Rosenthal, Sergio Romo, and bringing back Yusmeiro Petit only made it stronger.
Jesús Luzardo is expected to be a top of the rotation starter headed into his first full regular season, and is happy to have Petit back:
“I think signing Petit was huge. It means more to us than I think a lot of people know… I think when he signed and the news broke, we were all extremely happy about that. So we are glad to have him back, glad to have a veteran back in the bullpen. Someone you can rely on and pick their brain a little bit.. I’m just extremely happy about it.”
Petit is a guy you can trust to take the mound at any point to stop the bleeding. J.B Wendelken is the younger version of Petit and also benefits from having the veteran back. Having Petit and Wendelken locked back in the A’s bullpen is reassuring. Romo brings experience and the Hendricks personality, and Rosenthal makes up the Hendriks ninth-inning arm. Wendelken would agree a big personality was lost but another was gained:
“He gets everybody going, he keeps the energy light and yeah, it’s a Liam Hendriks vibe actually. It’s one of those things where not only is a guy like that an amazing pitcher, he’s also a great personality which is lining up everything that we do as a team. You can’t have a bad day with guy like that around. Every time you turn around something is said that makes you laugh.”
Davis led the league in homers in 2019 but struggled the previous two seasons. Mitch Moreland has had great success at the plate and historically tends to do well in Oakland. He’s a Gold Glove first baseman who halfway through the 2020 season was traded to the San Diego Padres to designated hit. He has been in the big leagues for a decade and quickly adapted to strictly batting and not playing in the field, learning to stay loose and engage batting off the bench.
Moreland explained his successful transition, and said he plans to continue the success he had in that role the year with the A’s:
“I kind of treated [DH} like a pinch-hit. It seems like when I pinch hit, I have always been able to get myself ready for that one at-bat. I felt like when I broke it down that way, it would help me. I think it took me a while to get that mindset but towards the end, that’s kinda the way I treated it.”
2020 Rookie of the Year catcher Sean Murphy suffered a collapsed lung and underwent two surgeries within a couple days in late January. He arrived to camp late and is expected to be fine, just a delayed start. The A’s top priority will be replacing catcher Heim this spring and with Murphy currently unavailable to play in early games, a lot of young players will get reps.
Melvin explained his plans for the catchers:
“We will rotate [catchers] and try to get everybody involved. [Aramís] García, [Austin] Allen and [Carlos] Perêz will probably get most of the starts but everyone else will get a chance.”
García was drafted in 2014 by the San Francisco Giants and spent time learning from veterans like Buster Posey and Yasmani Grandal. García played a big role in the Khris Davis trade with the Rangers, and the A’s were confident knowing what he brings when they agreed to the trade. Austin Allen was on the A’s 2020 taxi squad and watched a team he spent half the season with play in postseason. Carlos Perêz is a non-roster invite who arrived to camp late due to Visa issues but is also in the race for the backup catcher spot. They will get a lot of reps this spring with Murphy’s schedule delayed.
Second base is up for grabs. The A’s have a lot of infielders who can play multiple positions as well as a lot of young talent. Jed Lowrie hasn’t played a full season since 2018 when he was with the A’s. He underwent knee surgery, feels good and is a strong option for second base despite being a non-roster invitee on a minor league contract. Tony Kemp, Vimael Machín, and Chad Pinder are also options.
Melvin made it clear Pinder will most likely continue to play in the platoon role:
“I think the plan again is potentially move him [Pinder] around some. Very few guys are able to do what he can. A lot of it depends on health, a lot of it depends on depth. What the team looks like when we leave, if there is an opening, he can fill it at just about any spot.”
Pinder can play just about anywhere including the outfield. Machín played every infield position last year and is an adaptable, multiple-option player to have on the bench. Kemp didn’t get very many reps last year but is known to draw walks, so if he does play second he could also be a possible leadoff option or back in the No. 9 spot like we saw when he did start in 2020. It is reassuring to know three different players can play anywhere on the field. The question is, how many of those guys do you need?
All five starters from last season are returning for 2021. Mike Fiers signed a one-year 3.35 million dollar contract late into the offseason. Melvin expects Luzardo to be a top of the rotation starter soon. Depending on how Puk performs in the spring post shoulder-surgery, they may have a six-man rotation but it’s likely he will pitch out of the bullpen if he can prove he is healthy.
Melvin already made it clear it makes more sense to keep 13 pitchers rather than 14 so we can slim down who has a strong chance and who is a locked in man for the Opening Day 26-man roster.
With thirteen open spots and five going to the starting rotation, we can take a look at the eight open spots in the bullpen. Petit, Romo, Rosenthal, and Wendelken are locked in and all right-handed relievers. Adam Kolarek is a locked in lefty leaving three options open. If Puk can prove his health, that is another slot filled as a southpaw but still remains tentative.&nbsp;
Jake Diekman and Lou Trivino are two returners. Trivino and Puk will have to outwork guys like Burch Smith and young pitchers who were on the roster at one point last season. Smith and Trivino could be neck and neck for the final spot if they do go with another righty. Diekman is an experienced lefty and has more wiggle room compared to other left-hand options.
Trivino has been working on all his pitches and thrown hard so far. His curveball improved over the years and Melvin believes it’s less about Trvino’s arm and more about his confidence:
“It’s just about getting him confident. I often said, ‘If you had the opinion we do.’ The ’18 guy obviously had a fantastic year. Then you have a little bit of a tougher year and sometimes the psychology takes over… the stuff is the same. We just look forward to getting him off to a good start and don’t overthink it, just do your thing.”
Melvin briefly spoke to Canha and Laureano about possibly leading off this season. He mentioned a healthy Andrus and Kemp are potential options:
“I am just now having these conversations with these guys just to alert them that it is something I am looking at. We do like to get guys at the top of the order who have the best chance to get on base and Mark Canha is one of those guys. Even though he has some power, he can make a pitcher work, he gets on base, there are some variables there that would suggest he might be a candidate for it… But Ramon is definitely another guy and certainly Elvis has the most experience doing it.”
Canha spent majority of his rookie year batting in the two hole and is open to the idea. Throughout his career, he’s noticed starting pitchers tend to get settled later into games which makes batting in the first inning and appealing option. His on-base percentage last year ranked fifth in the AL and he’s led his team in that category for two straight seasons. Canha has the power to drive in runs and would benefit having guys hit ahead of him but with more volume in the potential starting lineup, the option remains.
When it comes to position players, majority are returning. 1B&nbsp;Matt Olson, 2B Jed Lowrie, SS Andrus, 3B Matt Chapman, C Murphy, RF Stephen Piscotty, CF Laureano, DH Moreland, LF Canha. Obviously Pinder will make the roster along with whoever earns the backup catcher spot leaving two open spots and guys like Jed Lowrie, Vimael Machin, Tony Kemp, Seth Brown, and Luis Barrera.
Outfield depth has been a bigger issue than pitching for the A’s this spring. Most teams invite a lot of pitchers due to low pitch counts the first couple months of games or will play less innings. Melvin explained the outfield situation headed into the first game of spring training:
“[Kemp] is going to play second base [Sunday] but we will have him in the outfield too. We have some guys. We are a little banged up in the outfield. Ka’ai Tom is not able to play yet. Luis Barrera still hasn’t gotten through all the protocols. Skye Bolt got a little thing going on that he is not going to be able to play yet so we are a little behind as far as outfielders go. Tony will get some of that.”
Bolt has been dealing with a shoulder issue but Melvin hopes he is only days away from playing. Dustin Fowler was a 40-man roster outfielder and possible backup outfield option but was traded to the Pirates to make room on the roster for Moreland. Barrera is a lefty who can hit against lefties and is not intimidated. He arrived late to camp due to Visa issues but should get a lot of at-bats this spring.
Melvin has not started evaluating players yet. It is one thing to watch guys throw bullpens or hit in the cage and its another thing to play in games. A lot can happen in spring training, health wise, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions.
Murphy’s is mainly doing machine work and conditioning right now. Matt Chapman was cleared to play baseball on Jan. 6 and feels better than ever post hip surgery. LHP A.J Puk feels like he has a brand new shoulder and looks to make the 2021 season the year he becomes a bonafide big leaguer. Frankie Montas arrived to camp late due after being placed on the Covid list but he is good to go.
What to watch for
How Chapman and Andrus communicate, and the infield chemistry with a new shortstop. Who does well at second base? Who is getting on base and could lead off? Back up catcher Garcia or Allen? A’s Ace: Bassitt or Luzardo? Are Lowrie, Chapman, and Puk truly healthy and feeling better than ever?
Simone McCarthy is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @SimoneMcCarthy0 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.