Joe Stiglich: Five things on every A's fan's wish list
A wishlist filled with wants
The A’s have already made numerous roster moves as they try to distance themselves from a last-place finish in 2015. Surely, more changes will come before spring training arrives in mid-February. All we can roll with right now is the current cast of players on the 40-man roster. And with the holiday season upon us, here’s a look at five things that should be on the wish list for every A’s fan. (Let’s leave off such items as a new ballpark or a $130 million payroll, since neither will be shipped down from the North Pole anytime soon.)
5) Country Breakfast, served often
Barring an unlikely trade or release of Billy Butler, the A’s will welcome back their designated hitter and hope the sequel is better than what they viewed in his disappointing first season with Oakland. Butler posted his best numbers from Sept. 1 on, providing some hope that maybe he found something that will carry over into the 2016 season. The A’s will add newcomers Yonder Alonso and Jed Lowrie to complement a core group of hitters that includes Billy Burns, Stephen Vogt, Josh Reddick and Mark Canha. But any way you slice it, Butler figures prominently. His primary value centers on run production. If he improves on last year’s 65 RBI and .251/.323/.390 slash line, the heart of the order looks a lot more imposing.
4) New results from a new bullpen
The A’s quickly got to work rebuilding a relief corps that needed some fresh blood. They traded for Liam Hendriks and Marc Rzepczynski (though the cost was Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz). They spent a combined $32 million on free agents Ryan Madson and John Axford. The aim is to improve a bullpen that posted the American League’s highest ERA and served up the second-most homers (74) in franchise history. More than anything, the A’s need to define set roles for their back-end relievers. That should be easier if closer Sean Doolittle is at full strength. And though the A’s need a different storyline from their relievers, they would prefer …
3) More of the same from Burns and Canha
Billy Burns was a revelation in 2015 as a speed-burning leadoff man with a penchant for outstanding catches in center field. Mark Canha forced his way into regular playing time whether at first base or left field and led AL rookies with 70 RBI. The A’s need both to build on things in their second season and continue developing into cornerstone players. Burns can manufacture a scoring rally any time he reaches base, and Canha provides needed pop from the right side for a lineup that lacks a superstar-quality bat.
2) The emergence of GHGH
OK, so that acronym lacks pizazz. It stands for Gray, Hill, Graveman and Hahn in the rotation. If that foursome can develop into an effective starting pitching core, a quality nickname will follow. Pencil Sonny Gray in for All-Star caliber results. But what unfolds after him? Free-agent signee Rich Hill is 35, but he’s an unknown quantity due to lack of starting experience. Is Jesse Hahn fully recovered from a forearm injury? The A’s, justifiably, don’t seem to take that for granted. And not only must Kendall Graveman prove he’s recovered from an oblique injury, he needs to show consistency over 28 to 30 starts. The A’s have enough fifth-starter candidates to lock down that spot, including Chris Bassitt and Jarrod Parker. But the key is whether the entire supporting cast behind Gray gives the A’s a chance to win on a daily basis.
1) Upward mobility in AL West
It’s not so outlandish to wish a team to climb out of fifth place in a five-team division, right? Well, the A’s have their work cut out in a very competitive AL West. Texas, the surprising defending division champs, will welcome back ace Yu Darvish sometime early in 2016. The Astros are young and talented, and now they have some playoff seasoning. The Mariners have made a flurry of moves under new general manager Jerry Dipoto, and the Angels have Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, which is never a bad starting point. For the A’s to be competitive in 2016, they first need the pack to stay close to them coming out of the gate in April. Then they need some of the above storylines to play out in their favor. But that’s the beauty of December for a Major League team. Anything seems possible. Happy Holidays to all …