Offseason Preview: The Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Athletics enter an offseason with more question marks than answers and is seemingly at a crossroads for what direction the front office takes the franchise. With their stadium deal still in limbo, the A’s are struggling to bring certainty to both players and fans. Despite this hurdle, the A’s have advanced to the playoffs in each of the past three seasons but have fallen well short each time. Let’s take a quick look back and then a detailed look forward of where the A’s go from here.  

2014 Season Recap

The Oakland A’s entered the 2014 season as one of the top contenders after two straight AL West divisional titles. The starting pitching looked strong, the bullpen seemed solid, and the A’s offense had more than enough firepower in it to do some damage.  

Oakland got off to a rocket start, leading the majors in run differential and in the W-L columns. That strong start led to the A’s leading the majors in All-Star representatives. Billy Beane told the league that he was all-in on a championship when he traded the A’s #1 prospect, Addison Russell, to the Cubs for Starting Pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Unfortunately for the A’s, and as documented in our full season recap, everything came crashing down after the All-Star break and the acquisition of Jon Lester for Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline.  

For the third straight year, the A’s exited the playoffs much earlier than hoped. After falling apart in August and September, the club crawled into the one game Wild Card playoff, losing to the Kansas City Royals in a barn burner of a game. The A’s continue to invent new ways to rip the hearts out of their fanbase.  

The 2015 A’s Clubhouse

The A’s enter the offseason with a number of question marks and how/where they will spend their limited resources. After trading for costless-agent-to-be Jon Lester and losing the last year of Yoenis Cespedes’ contract, the club could decide to blow things up and start over. They could also try to push all the chips in one more time, add a bit to the total payroll and see what happens.  

Here are the players currently under contract for the 2015 season - including those up for player arbitration. The A’s have very few players in the clubhouse that have guaranteed contracts for the 2015 season. Those five players are highlighted below in bold.  

Starting Pitchers:

  1. Sonny Gray
  2. AJ Griffin
  3. Scott Kazmir
  4. Drew Pomeranz
  5. Jeff Samardzija
  6. Jesse Chavez
  7. Jarrod Parker

Relief Pitchers:

  1. Fernando Abad
  2. Ryan Cook
  3. Sean Doolittle
  4. Eric O’Flaherty
  5. Dan Otero
  6. Evan Scribner

Infielders:

  1. Kyle Blanks
  2. Josh Donaldson
  3. Nate Freiman
  4. John Jaso
  5. Nick Punto
  6. Derek Norris
  7. Eric Sogard

Outfielders:

  1. Billy Burns
  2. Coco Crisp
  3. Sam Fuld
  4. Craig Gentry
  5. Brandon Moss
  6. Josh Reddick
  7. Stephen Vogt

The crossroads mentioned before come for the A’s when thinking about what to do with the impending costless agency for a number of players that were on this past season’s roster and/or finding replacement players that will fit under the salary restrictions the club puts on itself. Here is a list of A’s costless agents:

  1. Adam Dunn (retiring)
  2. Jon Lester
  3. Jason Hammel
  4. Jed Lowrie
  5. Luke Gregerson
  6. Jonny Gomes
  7. Alberto Callaspo
  8. Hiroyuki Nakajima
  9. Geovany Soto
  10. Daric Barton

Team Needs

There are a lot more questions than there are answers right now for the Oakland A’s - more so than probably any other year under Billy Beane’s tenure with the club.  

The starting rotation faced injuries and tired arms towards the end of the season. You can pencil in Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir for the A’s in 2015. Beyond this, the questions quickly arise, making starting pitching a “need” for the A’s, but something that will very likely work itself out before the season starts.

  1. Will the club try to flip Jeff Samardzija?
  2. Can either AJ Griffin or Jarrod Parker return from Tommy John surgery?  (Note: this is Parker’s second TJ surgery and a return to his prior self is almost unprecedented)
  3. Can the team get a full season out of Jesse Chavez and/or Drew Pomeranz?

The bullpen was a perceived strength heading into the 2014 season but that perception fell apart pretty quickly. Jim Johnson was signed to be closer and failed miserably during his short tenure in Oakland. While Sean Doolittle, Fernando Abad, and Dan Otero were solid, the remainder of the bullpen can be called into question moving forward. The front office must decide if Doolittle can be counted on as a closer and no matter who said closer is in 2015, who in the bullpen can bridge the gap between him and the starting rotation.

Oakland’s offense was on a tear for the first few months of the 2014 season but hit the ground with a thud after the break. For what seems like the fifth straight year, the A’s must find another bat for the upper third of their lineup. They need someone that can consistently be called upon to get the critical hit and drive in runs at critical times. There are a number of avenues to address in the lineup and in the field:

  1. Middle infielders are the top priority for the A’s as Eric Sogard is a black hole in the lineup and regressed defensively at 2B, while SS Jed Lowrie had a below par 2014 season. The A’s must find someone that contribute both offensively and defensively in at least one of these two positions if they want to continue to contend in 2015.
  2. The additional power bat needs to be found in LF or 1B. While Brandon Moss had a strong first half of the season, the A’s need another bat around him and Josh Donaldson in the lineup.  
  3. The A’s also can’t continue to count on getting ~150 games out of Coco Crisp. Whether or not Craig Gentry is his eventual replacement remains in question.  
  4. Finally, Billy Beane must decide on what to do behind the plate. Derek Norris is a good offensive Catcher, but mightily struggles to throw out runners defensively. John Jaso’s battle with concussions likely means his time behind the plate is (or should be) over. Stephen Vogt and/or Costless Agent Geovany Soto are or would be decent platoon options, but an upgrade at the position is needed in the long term.

Where do the A’s go from here?

Billy Beane must decide what direction he wants to take his club. He may decide to try and make one or two big splashes in costless agency. However, if those efforts fail, Beane could just as easily flip the switch and decide it is time to blow up the roster and build for 2017 and beyond. The A’s farm system took a major blow with the trade of Addison Russell and really could use a shot in the arm through a few trades. It certainly feels like a pivotal offseason for the future of the Oakland Athletics.  

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