Beane: Signing A's young core long-term is already being discussed

Beane: Signing A's young core long-term is already being discussed

OAKLAND — Judging from the comments of Billy Beane and David Forst during their season-ending press conference Monday, it’s obvious the A’s top two baseball officials are pleased with the long-range direction their club is headed.

That plan definitely includes locking up some of their young cornerstone players with long-term contracts at some point, and Beane says those conversations already are happening.

“First, we want to make sure we’re identifying the right guys,” said Beane, Oakland’s executive VP of baseball operations. “I’ll just say it’s probably a conversation we’ve already started. We’ve had that discussion already. It’s going to be important for us to do it.”

Surely such talk is music to the ears of A’s fans who have grown accustomed to watching the team’s top players either get traded or sign with other teams in free agency. Signing multiple young players to long-term deals would represent a shift in organizational philosophy.

But that’s exactly what A’s president Dave Kaval, the front office and manager Bob Melvin have been talking about throughout this past season — there’s a commitment that things will be run differently and the A’s will try to retain some of their best talent moving forward.

However, the execution will be tricky given the team isn’t planning for its new ballpark to open until 2023, and that’s assuming no hurdles delay the project. Beane talks about the need to have a competitive team stocked with homegrown players ready by the time the A’s move into that ballpark. But how can the team start making a financial commitment to players when that anticipated ballpark is still so far down the road?

“When you’re talking about building a club for a stadium that’s six years off, and if you’re talking about locking them up, then you’re looking to have to lock them up for a long time,” Beane said. “So that’s sort of the trick and the balance that we have to address this offseason, if we’re going to embark on that.

“I think right now we’ve just got to operate that (the ballpark) is going to happen (on time). The other option is one we’ve done my entire career here, which is constant churn. I’m churned out.”

The young players that figure to warrant consideration for long-term deals include, but aren’t relegated to, designated hitter Ryon Healy, third baseman Matt Chapman, first baseman Matt Olson and utility man Chad Pinder. And it’s not like they all have to be inked right away.

Healy, Olson and Pinder won’t even become eligible for salary arbitration until the winter before the 2020 season. They’ll be due for free agency heading into the 2023 season, and Chapman’s timeline is a year behind those three. On the flip side, the earlier the A’s can get guys locked up, the more team-friendly those deals are likely to be from a cost standpoint.

It’s the young core of position-player talent, and the belief that other top prospects (pitchers and hitters) aren’t far away from the bigs, that drives the A’s optimism. A 17-7 finish put a positive spin on a 75-87 overall record and another last-place finish in the AL West.

One area the A’s will certainly look to address this offseason is their starting rotation, which could use a veteran innings-eater. But Beane and Forst were pleased with how several of their young prospects emerged and complemented productive veterans such as Khris Davis, Jed Lowrie and Matt Joyce.

“We have a long way to go, but anytime you have young players, you have a chance to get better,” Forst said. “I don’t think we put any ceiling on that. I think we wait and see where it goes. But these guys believe in themselves. They have a manager that believes in them, and they have talent. So all of those things go a long way toward getting better.”

Melvin: Strong finish should help A's 'hit the ground running' next season

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Melvin: Strong finish should help A's 'hit the ground running' next season

ARLINGTON, Texas — Morale understandably could be rock-bottom for a last-place club by the time game 162 rolls around.

Contrast that with the energy and vibe in the A’s clubhouse following a 5-2 victory over the Rangers that closed out the 2017 season. Though the A’s finished last in the American League West for the third consecutive season, there’s a feeling that better times might finally be on the horizon for 2018.

Oakland (75-87) finished the season with a flourish, going 17-7 over the final 24 games. Over the final 79 games starting July 4, or roughly the entire second half of the regular season, the A’s played better than .500 ball at 40-39.

Will it mean anything by the time Opening Day 2018 rolls around? Manager Bob Melvin thinks it should.

“I think we’ve accomplished enough to have a good feeling going into next year,” he said. “I want guys, when they come to spring training next year, to be in a different mindset than we’ve been. We want to hit the ground running next spring. The timeliness of getting some of those younger guys here, the success they’ve had, would lend to a different atmosphere for us next spring and certainly some different expectations as a group.”

One of those young guys, starter Daniel Mengden, was late to the party. Having been hampered by a fractured foot, and later a strained oblique, Mengden was recalled from the minors Sept. 5 and proceeded to go 3-1 with a 1.54 ERA over five starts to close the season.

That included a sterling seven-inning effort Sunday, when he held Texas to four hits and no runs, striking out eight. For a rotation that saw Sonny Gray depart via trade, Kendall Graveman suffer shoulder issues and Jharel Cotton and other young starters endure struggles, Mengden’s performance was a late-season revelation.

“That’s the best work we’ve seen from him,” Melvin said. “And to come out of the pack, so to speak, like he did and perform as well as he did, at a time we were struggling a little bit in our rotation … He put himself right back up there in the pecking order going into next season. I don’t have enough good things to say about him.”

Mengden got ahead of hitters with his fastball, and that helped make his changeup and slider more effective.

“It’s a huge amount of confidence for me, for our team. The last month we played really well,” he said. “It boosts the confidence a lot, coming in here doing what I did. I’m looking forward to next year.”

Khris Davis hit his 43rd homer to establish a new career high. But it’s another veteran who constitutes the first order of business for Oakland this offseason.

The A’s hold a $6 million option on second baseman Jed Lowrie with a $1 million buyout. They're thinking strongly about bringing Lowrie back after a productive — and healthy — season that included an Oakland-record 49 doubles and solid defense.

“This is a young team that has a lot of talent,” Lowrie said. “The option is completely out of my control, but I like playing with these guys.”

Expect the A’s to look to bolster the pitching staff, both the rotation and bullpen, over the winter, to complement a promising core of position players that Melvin hopes will continue to develop and provide the foundation for a rise up the standings.

“I think it brings a little hope for next year,” Davis said of the A’s strong finish. “Hopefully we can remember this in the winter and have some dog piles next year.”

Gossett targets mental game as area of focus looking ahead to 2018

Gossett targets mental game as area of focus looking ahead to 2018

ARLINGTON, Texas — Daniel Gossett had trouble putting things all together on the mound in his rookie season. At the very least, however, he’s got a firm grasp on what he needs to work on leading into 2018.

“I think I’m letting mental things get in the way of my pitching,” he said following the A’s 8-4 loss to Texas on Saturday. “It’s something to learn from. You’ve got to work on that as much as the physical stuff.”

The right-hander gave up four runs and lasted just 1 2/3 innings against the Rangers, the shortest of his 18 career starts in the majors. The long ball has been a primary problem — Gossett allowed 21 home runs over 91 1/3 innings this season. Entering the night, his 20 homers allowed were second most in Oakland history by a pitcher over the first 17 games of his career.

Missed location is the obvious culprit any time a young pitcher watches the ball fly over the fence. But Gossett believes that what he needs to correct is just as much between the ears as anything else.

“I’ve just got to let myself pitch and trust myself to pitch,” he said. “I know that I’m a better pitcher than what I’ve been showing lately.”

Despite a 4-11 record and 6.11 ERA, the 24-year-old Gossett still will arrive at spring training next year as a legitimate contender for a starting role. That’s the plain truth of Oakland’s rotation. Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea are locks for two of the five spots. Beyond that, there’s a long list of possibilities. In alphabetical order, they go: Raul Alcantara, Chris Bassitt, Paul Blackburn, Jharel Cotton, Gossett, Jesse Hahn, Daniel Mengden and Andrew Triggs, and that’s just the group from the 40-man roster.

So competition will be wide open and opportunities there for the taking. Gossett, a second-round pick in 2014 who just completed his third full season of professional baseball, impressed the big league staff during spring training, and that put him near the front of the pack when reinforcements were needed from the minors. Gossett found that the learning curve was steep. The key now is to draw from that experience and apply it next season.

Manager Bob Melvin said he thought Gossett ran out of gas a bit over September, but added: “He’s got to get ahead, have better command of his breaking stuff. Usually when his fastball’s down and he’s ahead in the count, he’s got enough pitches to keep you off balance. But when he gets behind it’s a little bit of a tougher time for him.”

Despite getting an extended taste of the majors this season, Gossett knows that doesn’t guarantee anything once spring training rolls around.

“I had a couple good starts here and there, but the bad starts outweigh the good starts, so I’ve still got something to prove,” he said. “Come in with that attitude. A little chip on my shoulder couldn’t hurt.”

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Right fielder Matt Joyce, who hit his 25th homer in the game, exited late after tweaking his left hamstring. Melvin said Joyce won’t be in the lineup for Sunday’s season finale.