Athletics

A's position outlook: Gray holds the key for rotation

A's position outlook: Gray holds the key for rotation

The 2016 stats show how frustrating of a season it was for the A’s starting rotation, but out of that mess came signs of promise.

Kendall Graveman took a big step forward in his second big league season and led Oakland’s staff in victories and innings pitched. Sean Manaea improved over the course of his rookie campaign and showed flashes of why the A’s are so high on him. Jharel Cotton, in his September audition, positioned himself well to win a spot in this year’s rotation.

Those developments were the positives to be salvaged for a starting staff that posted the second highest ERA in the American League (4.84) and threw the second fewest innings in Oakland history.

Surely, the biggest question for the rotation is whether Sonny Gray can regain the form that made him an All-Star and Cy Young finalist in 2015. Injuries and command issues dropped Gray to a 5-11 record and 5.69 ERA last year.

“Everybody’s going to go through a down season if you’re around long enough,” manager Bob Melvin said. “I think it just kind of snowballed in the wrong direction for him last season … It was just a very tough year for him, but I think the really good ones take that and learn from it. Maybe take a half-step backward and move forward. The talent level is still there. I know he’s looking forward to bouncing back and being the ace again.”

STARRING CAST:

Gray worked with a personal trainer this offseason. He says his legs are stronger and he likes the way his delivery has felt in recent sessions off the mound. How he fares in the World Baseball Classic pitching for Team USA might shed light on whether he’s ironed out some of last year’s issues.

Between Gray’s storyline and the talk of Oakland’s young starters, Melvin thinks Graveman goes a bit unnoticed. Certainly his strides last season were big for the A’s, as Graveman (10-11, 4.11, 186 IP) was the only regular starter to avoid the disabled list. Things clicked once he found the feel for his sinker and began throwing that pitch more often and with conviction. A bump in velocity also aided Graveman’s cause. He’ll be looked to for veteran leadership and stability.

Can Manaea make the jump and become a front-of-the-rotation starter? The 6-foot-5 lefty struggled to a 2-4 record and 6.02 ERA over his first nine major league starts. But after spending two weeks on the D.L. in June for a forearm strain, the rookie came back a different pitcher. From June 29 on, Manaea went 5-5 with a 2.74 ERA over his final 16 games (15 starts). That ERA following his D.L. stint was fifth-best in the AL.

CAMP COMPETITION:

Cotton, the first of three young right-handers from the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill trade to crack the A’s roster, shined in his September stint, posting a 2.15 ERA and .185 opponents’ batting average over five starts. That gives him an inside track on a starting spot. As for the fifth starter, there are no shortage of candidates.

The A’s feel Andrew Triggs, a waiver claim last spring who pitched well when pressed into starting duty, has the repertoire to succeed in the rotation. A wild card is Jesse Hahn, who failed to make last year’s Opening Night roster after a disappointing spring and was sidetracked by injuries later in the year. Melvin is straightforward in saying Hahn has lost ground to others as the A’s have improved their pitching depth, but the lanky right-hander possesses good natural stuff when healthy, so he can’t be counted out. Raul Alcantara got a brief look in the rotation last season but needs to improve his breaking ball to go with his fastball and changeup.

Daniel Mengden made a splash in his initial call-up last season before eventually being sent down, but if he can take that experience and make adjustments, he’ll be in the mix. Hard-throwing Frankie Montas, another pitcher from the Hill/Reddick trade, will get a chance to start in the minors, but don’t be surprised if he eventually earns a promotion to the bigs as a reliever.

PAY ATTENTION TO: How Chris Bassitt and Felix Doubront proceed in their Tommy John rehabs. Both broke camp in the A’s rotation last season before suffering season-ending elbow injuries. Neither is expected to be ready at the start of the season, but a healthy return from either or both would be a big boost to the A’s starting depth.

Ryon Healy trade has domino effect

khrisdavis-healy-ap.jpg
AP

Ryon Healy trade has domino effect

The A’s wasted no time making their first major move of the offseason, and it has a domino effect on how their 2018 lineup will take shape.

The trade of young slugger Ryon Healy to the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday paves the way for left fielder Khris Davis to start getting heavy at-bats as the designated hitter, the spot left vacant by Healy.

It also points to another move the A’s want to pull off — acquiring a right-handed hitting corner outfielder who presumably can eat up those defensive innings that Davis spends as the DH.

It’s a series of moves that isn’t all that surprising given the A’s roster makeup right now. Healy, who hit .282 with 38 homers in 221 games over his first two big league seasons, is capable of playing either first or third base. But Matt Olson and Matt Chapman secured those spots, respectively, with their solid showings as rookies last season.

“We’ve obviously talked a lot since the end of the season about adding to the bullpen,” A’s general manager David Forst said on a conference call Wednesday night. “At the same time, with the emergence of Matt and Matt, on the corners, maybe Ryon needed to be somebody we might have to move ...”

It makes sense for Oakland to find a way to shift Davis from being the everyday left fielder while still keeping his 40-homer bat in the lineup. Opponents have routinely taken extra bases the past two seasons on Davis’ throwing arm, and whether they add a newcomer to play left or shift Joyce or someone else there, chances are they can benefit from better defense in left.

The A’s also feel they got an important chip back from Seattle to help bolster a bullpen that ranked 13th in the American League last season with a 4.57 ERA. They received right-hander Emilio Pagan (along with minor league shortstop Alexander Campos), and figure that the 26-year-old Pagan is someone the A’s have pegged to be an immediate contributor in their ‘pen.

A 10th round draft pick in 2013, Pagan made his big league debut in 2017 and posted a 3.22 ERA over 34 games spread over four stints with Seattle. He endured a rocky first couple of outings but, after being called up for good in the second half, eventually worked his way into a late-inning setup role. Pagan struck out 56 and walked just eight in 50 1/3 innings, numbers that surely popped out to Oakland’s front office.

He’ll likely be called upon in middle relief to help set the table for Chris Hatcher and closer Blake Treinen, as the bullpen currently looks.

Campos, just 17, spent this past season in the Dominican Summer League, and Forst said the A’s were eyeing Campos last summer when they eventually traded Yonder Alonso to the Mariners. Oakland wound up getting center fielder Boog Powell back in that deal.

Did the A’s rake in enough for Healy? As with all trades, it will take time to judge. But it’s fair to say that Healy’s departure will be felt in a clubhouse that is characterized by the emergence of many young position players, and he was a part of that group. In fact, when Healy was called up in July 2016 — knocking Danny Valencia out as the regular third baseman — he became the first of several promising position-player prospects to establish himself in Oakland’s lineup.

He rented a house in the East Bay and eventually took in Chapman, Olson and Chad Pinder as roommates. There’s a fiery side to Healy’s on-field personality that was a positive for the A’s, and watching him play Oakland as a member of an AL West rival will make for entertaining theatre.

Another storyline is how Davis takes to being a regular DH. Forst praised Davis’ approach to his game and doesn’t anticipate any problems, adding that the A’s still want to get Davis some time in the outfield.

A's trade Ryon Healy to Mariners for two players

healy-yellow-usatsi.jpg
USATSI

A's trade Ryon Healy to Mariners for two players

The rumors were indeed true. Ryon Healy was on the trade block.

And now Healy has been traded...to the Mariners.

The two teams announced the trade Wednesday evening.

Oakland will receive right-handed pitcher Emilio Pagan and shortstop Alexander Campos.

Healy burst on to the scene in 2016 with 13 home runs and 37 RBI in 72 games. This past season, he finished second on the A's with 25 home runs and 78 RBI. But he had become the odd man out in the A's lineup with Matt Olson and Matt Chapman solidifying the corner infield spots.

The 25-year-old is familiar with the Pacific Northwest as he attended the University of Oregon.

Pagan, 26, made his major league debut during the 2017 season. In 34 relief appearances with the Mariners, he posted a 3.22 ERA and struck out 56 batters in 50.1 innings. Against the A's, Pagan allowed one run in 5.1 innings over three outings. A native of South Carolina, Pagan was drafted by the Mariners in the 10th round of the 2013 MLB Draft.

Campos appears to be the prize of the trade, though he's a bit further away from reaching the major leagues. Just 17 years old, Campos signed out of Venezuela in 2016 and made his professional debut this past season. In 59 games for the Mariners' Domincan Summer League team, Campos hit .290/.413/.367 with 10 doubles, two home runs and 26 RBI.

MLB Pipeline ranked Campos as Seattle's No. 15 prospect.