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What moves should the Oakland A's make before Opening Day?

The Oakland A's have been busy this off-season, but there is still plenty of work left to be done on the team's 2016 roster. We take a look at the remaining items on the A's off-season checklist.

With the off-season hitting the halfway mark, the Oakland A’s have been busy, as expected. Since the end of the regular season, the A’s have traded, released or had leave via free agency 17 players from their season-ending 40-man roster. Only two of those players remain in the organization as non-roster players. Oakland has also been busy adding players, signing three major league free agents and acquiring five players on the 40-man roster via trades.

While the A’s have been busy, there is still more left for the front office to do if the team hopes to improve upon its dismal 2015 record.

Off-Season 40-man Roster Changes Chart

Players removed and added to the 40-man roster since the end of the 2015 season (note: Jose Torres and Joey Wendle are not included in this chart since they were added to the 40-man roster after the end of the season.)

LOSSES

GAINS

Brett Lawrie

Jed Lowrie

Drew Pomeranz

Rich Hill

A.J. Griffin

Ryan Madson

Jesse Chavez

John Axford

Ike Davis

Yonder Alonso

Evan Scribner

Liam Hendriks

Fernando Abad

Marc Rzepczynski

Craig Gentry

J.B. Wendleken

Pat Venditte

 

Cody Martin

 

Jason Pridie

 

Bryan Anderson

 

Dan Otero

 

Barry Zito (retired)

 

Edward Mujica (free agent)

 

Carson Blair (still with organization)

 

Daniel Coulombe (still with organization)

 

Remaining Off-Season To-Do List

Solidify the Rotation

The bulk of the A’s moves this off-season have involved pitchers coming and going. While the A’s have added significant experience to their bullpen, Oakland has thinned their depth in their starting rotation by dealing away Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz and waiving A.J. Griffin and Cody Martin. Chavez and Pomeranz accounted for 66 starts for the A’s over the past two seasons, while Griffin started 47 games from 2012-2013. With those pitchers gone, the A’s now have exactly one pitcher who had made more than 25 starts for them in any of the past two seasons – Sonny Gray.

Behind Gray, the A’s have plenty of options to fill the four remaining spots in the rotation, but not a lot of guaranteed stability. Kendall Graveman, Chris Bassitt and Jesse Hahn all had periods of success in the rotation for the A’s last season, but all three also had some injury issues. The injuries to Graveman and Bassitt shouldn’t linger into 2016, but Hahn’s elbow injury was troubling given his history of arm trouble. Newcomer Rich Hill brings a veteran presence to the A’s rotation, but he has thrown 100 innings or more in a major league season just once in his career.

Sean Nolin, Felix Doubront, Aaron Brooks, Jarrod Parker and minor league free agent signing Eric Surkamp represent the next wave of A’s starting pitching depth. Nolin and Parker are both pretty big question-marks coming off of injury. Nolin had off-season groin surgery before last season and his velocity was down all last year, diminishing his effectiveness. If that velocity returns, he could leapfrog several on the A’s depth chart, but the A’s will have to wait and see what they have with him come the start of spring training. Parker had a significant set-back in his return from Tommy John surgery last year. That he is still on the A’s 40-man roster at this stage in the off-season is a sign that the A’s feel his recovery is going well, but, even if he is healthy, his innings are going to be limited.

Doubront and Brooks were acquired midway through last season and both spent time in the A’s rotation with mixed results. Doubront can pitch in the rotation and the bullpen. As a lefty, he may fit better in the A’s bullpen, which currently has only two left-handers (closer Sean Doolittle and LOOGY Marc Rzepczynski). Brooks had a 6.71 ERA in 51 innings for the A’s last season. He is likely to be Triple-A depth for the A’s unless he has a surprisingly good spring training. Surkamp was a top SF Giants’ prospect a few years ago. He has been healthy since an elbow injury cost him the 2012 season. Surkamp is only 27. A soft-tossing lefty with good command, he is the type of pitcher the A’s have had success with over the years, but he will need to beat out several players with more established big league success this spring to make the big league team.

Prospects Sean Manaea and Dillon Overton are both on the A’s non-roster invitee list for spring training and should start the year in Triple-A. Depending on how they fare and the A’s needs during the season, both lefties could make their big league debuts in the A’s rotation at some point in 2016.

This is all a long way of saying that the A’s could use a reliable veteran innings-eater to pair with Gray. Given the rising cost of signing a free agent starter, the A’s are probably more in the market for a back-end starter than a guy like Scott Kazmir, who is one of the top pitchers left on the market now that the Giants have signed Johnny Cueto.

In many ways, veteran Doug Fister would be an ideal fit for the A’s. The Merced native is coming off of a down year with the Nationals and could be looking to rebuild value with a short-term deal. He is 31, but has a track-record of being a reliable arm every fifth day. He isn’t a strike-out pitcher, but he has great command and generally works deep into games. Fister also has plenty of experience in the American League, having pitched for Seattle and Detroit from 2009-2013. Bartolo Colon, Wei-Yen Chen, Ryan Vogelsong, Mike Minor and Aaron Harang are others who might draw interest from the A’s, depending on their asking prices.

The A’s could also go the trade route to acquire a starter, although given the cost of free agent starters right now, it is definitely a seller’s market for starting pitching. The A’s have never been afraid to pay a big price to get a player they like, but Oakland should be looking to hold onto their top prospects at this point given how much talent they have traded away the past few years.

Find a Left Fielder

In theory, the A’s have plenty of left fielders on their current roster. Coco Crisp, Sam Fuld, Mark Canha, Jake Smolinski and Andrew Lambo are all options to see time in left for the A’s. Oakland left fielders hit a combined .199/.268/.338 last season, by far their least productive position. While it isn’t hard to imagine production improving from that spot even with the current cast of characters (I mean, how could it get worse?), the A’s still don’t have a clear-cut everyday left fielder.

Part of the problem, of course, is the big contract for Crisp. Crisp is owed $11 million for next season, so the A’s are going to try to find a way to get him into the line-up. However, he was only healthy enough to appear in 44 games last season and he hit only .175/.252/.222 in 139 at-bats. He is 36 and isn’t likely to rebound to previous form, but the A’s simply can’t eat that much of their payroll. If Billy Butler wasn’t ensconced at DH, the A’s could work Crisp in at that position, but Butler is owed $10 million and will be given every opportunity to play his way back from his poor 2015 season.

Because of the A’s financial outlays to Crisp and Butler and the A’s history of smaller budgets, they aren’t likely going to be able to sign a free agent outfielder. The A’s were linked in overseas reports to Korean free agent LF Hyun-Soo Kim earlier this off-season, but there hasn’t been much reported about that possibility recently. The A’s have always liked free agent Steve Pearce, who is coming off of a down year with Baltimore and can play the outfield and first base. However, he is a poor fielder and offers a similar offensive skillset to Canha.

The trade route will likely be the A’s best course of action if they want to upgrade in left. The ideal player would be someone who has some service time remaining (or is under contract for a few more years) and can be mixed and matched in several spots in the line-up and on the field. The A’s don’t currently have a ton of power in their projected outfield. Josh Reddick and Canha are the only two A’s outfielders to hit more than 10 homeruns last season. Acquiring an outfielder with power should be high on the A’s wish list.

Improve the Infield Defense

This item may be the most difficult one for the A’s address this off-season given their current roster make up. The A’s infield defense was sub-par last season, but much of that unit is set to return unless the A’s make a significant trade that impacts a big part of the roster. Shortstop Marcus Semien led the major leagues in errors with 35, although he did improve defensively as the season went on. The question still remains whether he can be an everyday shortstop in the big leagues, but as the roster stands now, he is far-and-away the best option for the A’s at that position.

Back-up Eric Sogard is a decent defender at short, but his best position is second base and his offense isn’t up to Semien’s level. Jed Lowrie, re-acquired in a deal with Houston, has much less range than Semien at short and is better suited for second or third base. Tyler Ladendorf is the most talented defensive infielder on the A’s 40-man roster, but he missed much of last season with a broken ankle. Still, he could overtake Sogard for the main back-up spot with a strong spring. Ladendorf can play every infield position except first base and is a natural shortstop.

The A’s don’t have a lot of immediate help on the horizon at shortstop from their minor league system. Chad Pinder is their most advanced shortstop prospect, but he has yet to play a game at the Triple-A level and is still learning the position himself after spending the 2014 season at second base. Franklin Barreto and Yairo Munoz will be making their Double-A debuts this season. If Semien falters, the A’s will likely have to look outside of the organization for help at short in 2016.

The A’s are currently looking at Lowrie getting the bulk of the playing time at second base and Danny Valencia getting the bulk of the playing time at third base. Both project to be solid offensively, but neither is known for his glovework. Sogard is currently the primary back-up at those spots with Ladendorf as another option, although the A’s do have a few more options in Triple-A for second and third base with prospects Joey Wendle and Max Muncy at that level.

One area of the infield the A’s have improved defensively is at first base with the addition of Yonder Alonso. Alonso has been an above-average defensive first baseman each of the past three seasons with San Diego and should be an upgrade over Ike Davis with the glove. Unfortunately, Alonso has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career and doesn’t hit left-handers well. The defensive options beyond Alonso at first are not particularly strong. Canha, Butler and Stephen Vogt are below-average defenders at first and Lambo has limited experience at the position.

Rangel Ravelo is a decent defender at first. He missed the first half of last season with a wrist injury but had a solid second half after returning from injury and is currently having a monster winter ball season in Venezuela. The right-handed hitting Ravelo could be a wild card at first base for Oakland this spring. Muncy could also factor into the A’s first base situation – as that is his natural position – although he is a left-handed batter like Alonso. Top first base prospect Matt Olson is an excellent gloveman, but he needs more development time in Triple-A after playing his first season at Double-A last year.

Given all of these factors, there isn’t a clear-cut solution for the A’s to improve their infield defense significantly between now and Opening Day. It would be good to see the A’s add to their middle infield depth by bringing in someone who can play shortstop as well as second base, but unless the A’s deal one of their projected starters, they are likely going into spring training with infield defense as a continuing area for concern.


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