Athletics

Analysis: Are A's prepping for flurry of winter trades?

Analysis: Are A's prepping for flurry of winter trades?

The baseball offseason is still in its infant stages, but the A’s find themselves in a very familiar position: Smack dab in the epicenter of some of the juiciest trade rumors circulating.

The A’s will reportedly entertain offers for any of No. 1 starter Sonny Gray, catcher Stephen Vogt and reliever Sean Doolittle, or perhaps all three, according to a piece from Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.

The A’s always stay tight-lipped with their public comments regarding such speculation, so it was no surprise that general manager David Forst declined to comment Friday morning. But it’s worth a review of what A’s officials have said, on the record, since the regular season ended in early October.

This from executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane, the day after the season finale...

“Let’s be frank, we’ve got a lot of ground to make up. If you just look at run differential and look at what you need to quantitatively make up, we’ve got a lot of ground to catch up on. What I will say is I think the pillars for a really good young pitching staff are potentially there. (But) we have a lot of ground to make up offensively.

“In some cases, we’ve got some young players we think highly of that may not necessarily be ready, at least at the beginning of the year. I think it’s the position players, that’s where a lot of ground needs to be made up. And that’s gonna take some time.”

That comment suggests a belief that the A’s will be hard-pressed to contend in 2017, making the idea of trading Gray, Vogt and/or Doolittle more realistic to at least consider.

Just when you thought the A’s couldn’t possibly round up any more name-recognition players to send packing, right?

Of the three, Gray’s trade chances appear toughest to gauge. He’s coming off a poor 2016 in which he posted a 5.69 ERA and landed on the disabled list twice, including for a late-season forearm issue.

The A’s face a decision of keeping him as an anchor for a promising but otherwise inexperienced rotation, or dealing him and capitalizing on the lack of quality free agent starters available. Likewise, teams pursuing Gray must judge whether the 27-year-old can regain his Cy Young-caliber form, or whether there are too many question marks to give up a king’s ransom for him.

Vogt would be a difficult player to part with, no so much for his on-field production — which is noteworthy — but his presence as the heart and soul of the A’s clubhouse. He’s an incredibly popular player and the team’s leader. But the A’s saw rookie Bruce Maxwell emerge as a left-handed hitter who possesses defensive upside. If Josh Phegley returns full strength from knee surgery, the A’s might be convinced they’d still have a productive left-right catching platoon even without the 32-year-old Vogt, who like Gray enters his first year of salary arbitration this winter.

Doolittle would seem perhaps the most likely to be dealt. He’s signed for the next two seasons at a total just north of $7 million, with club options for 2019 and 2020. That’s quite affordable for a hard-throwing lefty that could be an excellent low-cost alternative to high-priced free agent relievers such as Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon. His low price tag could persuade teams to overlook the shoulder problems that have plagued the 30-year-old for the past two years.

A couple things to remember here, and the first you don’t need to be reminded of...

When the A’s make offseason trades, they often do so in bundles. Two winters ago, they shipped off four All-Stars — Josh Donaldson, Jeff Samardzija, Brandon Moss and Derek Norris — in one three-week span. Following the 2011 season, they traded Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey in one burst of activity.

Second, and it’s just as important: The A’s haven’t thrown in the towel even during offseasons when they have made house-cleaning trades. They signed Yoenis Cespedes leading into 2012 and wound up winning the AL West. Two years ago, as fans were reeling from the departure of Donaldson and Co., the A’s still swung a deal to acquire Ben Zobrist and spent big on free agent Billy Butler (though we know how that turned out).

That may not generate much optimism for a fan base that’s grown numb by now to all of the big-name players who have been sent packing in recent years.

At the very least, the A’s look primed to be one of the winter’s most talked-about teams -- a status they know quite well.

How A's can benefit from rare season without major roster turnover

How A's can benefit from rare season without major roster turnover

The A’s are used to significant roster turnover. It’s normal on a team trying to compete with a lower payroll, solid player development and a penchant for trading stars over extending them.

The front office generally has managed to field quality teams under those circumstances, but even successful execution of the A’s strategy has its drawbacks.

Team chemistry starts from darn close to scratch this time every year.

The spring training, however, was not your typical meet and greet.

It was a reunion.

“This is one of the first years where you show up in the spring and you basically know everyone,” right-handed pitcher Chris Bassitt said. “That in itself has been so great. We obviously added some pieces, but everyone on the pitching staff knows each other well. The hitters do, too.

“We usually have a significant amount of turnover here. We didn’t have to revamp the starting rotation or the bullpen or the infield. It has been awesome because there’s so much talent and we know exactly what to expect from each guy. We show up as good friends confident in what each other can do.”

The Athletics feel they’re starting this spring a step ahead due to rare continuity in the clubhouse even over recent seasons. Only 10 members of 2018’s Opening Day roster remain from a club that won 97 games. There were 13 returners – we’ve included a few who started the year hurt – who opened 2019 with the club.

This year? The A’s could bring 18 back, using NBC Sports California A's reporter Jessica Kleinschmidt’s recent 26-man roster projection as a guide. There’s an extra roster spot available over previous years, but 18 of the 26 is a strong total. Fortifying it even further, only four of Jess’ projected group are brand new to the organization. The other four spent time with the A’s down the stretch.

“Pretty much since I’ve been here, it has been a new team every year,” first baseman Matt Olson said. “This year we have the same dudes coming back. There are some new faces here and there and that’s part of the business, but it’s awesome knowing the guys you’re playing next to. You don’t have to meet a ton of new guys and build chemistry from scratch. Hopefully, it translates to us hitting the ground running.”

A pair of 97-win clubs weren’t able to do that. The 2018 team was 14-14 in March and April. The 2019 team was 14-18 in that same span. Those are the only two monthlong stretches --  “monthlong,” in this instance, adds the few March games to April totals -- where the A’s finished at or below .500 in the last two years.

“We’re way ahead of where we are in the past,” Bassitt said. “People may look at our struggles to start the year, but it’s hard when you’re trying to learn about the guys you’re playing with. That’s just the reality of it. I don’t think we’ll stumble out of the gates. It’s an exciting time from that standpoint.”

Continuity isn’t the only reason why the A’s expect to improve on 97-win seasons. Returners are established, feature MVP-caliber players in Marcus Semien, Matt Olson and Matt Chapman, and six projected starters with more than 20 home runs last year.

The rotation’s full of frontline starters, including Sean Manaea, Mike Fiers and Frankie Montas. Phenom pitchers A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo and catcher Sean Murphy are seen as significant upgrades.

All that’s why optimism is so high. The clubhouse culture is well established, and this spring’s focus is on refining quality performance and, above all else, staying healthy.

That’s clear to Tony Kemp, a veteran newcomer who has played with the Houston Astros and  Chicago Cubs.

“You can see how the positive mentality just flows throughout the clubhouse,” he said. "I feel right at home with these guys. Everyone is working toward the same goal. Everyone is focused on getting better each day. You can see that.

“Building bonds and quality relationships is so important over a long season. It’s cool to see the transformation of this organization over the past couple years. Now being here, so can see exactly why this team is on the right track.”

[RELATED: How Sean Manaea is taking on leadership role with A's, in rotation]

A tight clubhouse has its benefits. So does continuity between players and the coaching staff.

“I’ve had some of these guys for a while now and, when you get to this point, you can take things to the next level,” hitting coach Darren Bush said. “Every year you’re trying to grow as a hitter and expand what you’re learning. Each guy is working on something individually, and with all the continuity on the team, I feel like I know where everybody is and what their goals are. There’s a level of trust here that takes time to build, and it puts us in a great position to make progress.”

Whether the A’s can maintain continuity over a longer haul is a story for another day. Meeting sky-high market values for Semien, Chapman and others soon owed new deals will be tough on a franchise historically unwilling to break the bank. Those problems come down the road.

The A’s enjoying this moment right now, as they try to best previous seasons with a stacked and familiar roster.

“I think we handled [expectations] well last year, and now we’re looking to do more,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We welcome the expectations placed upon us. That just means that we’re in a really good place right now.”

Everything you need to know about Cal Olympic swimmer Abbey Weitzeil

Everything you need to know about Cal Olympic swimmer Abbey Weitzeil

Abbey Weitzeil came to Cal with plenty of pedigree. 

She arrived in Berkeley in the fall of 2016, soon after competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Weitzeil had two Olympic medals -- a silver in the 400-meter freestyle relay and gold in the 400-meter medley relay -- before she swam a single race for the Golden Bears. 

Now, Weitzeil is eyeing a ticket to Tokyo. She can seal her spot on the 2020 United States Olympic Swimming Team at the Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Neb. in June. 

Here's everything you need to know about the Cal star swimmer. 

Bio

Name: Abbey Weitzeil
Age: 23
Sport: Swimming 
College: Cal

Olympic History

Weitzeil won a gold medal as part of the United States' 400-meter medley relay team, swimming the freestyle leg in the preliminaries to secure the Americans' spot in the final. She also anchored the 400-meter freestyle relay team in the final of that race, earning a silver medal in the process.

The Saugus, Calif. native also swam in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events, finishing seventh and 12th, respectively. She and Simone Manuel, who silvered in both, were the only Americans who swam in those races.

Fun Facts

Weitzeil originally started swimming as a 9-year-old, and only because her sisters did it. She wasn't a fan of weekend practices, either, and briefly gave up on the sport. 

"It just wasn't for me at the time and I didn't like it, so I quit," she said told NBC Sports in the feature story embedded in this piece. "And then I immediately was like, 'You know what, I miss it -- for some reason, I don't why.' So I went back to it, and when I started dedicating myself and going to all the practices and everything, that's when I started to take off and really realize that I like it."

It's safe to say she made the right call. Here are some more facts about Weitzeil. 

  • She set the American, U.S. Open and NCAA record in the 50-meter freestyle (21.02 seconds) in March 2019 and broke her own record in December (20.90 seconds) at the Minnesota Invitational. Weitzel became the first woman to cross the 21-second threshold.
  • Her national team experience has only gotten more extensive since Rio. She silvered in the 400-meter freestyle relay at the 2019 FINA World Championships in South Korea, and she represented the United States at the 2017 Worlds in the 50-meter freestyle.
  • Weitzeil originally committed to Cal in 2014 and would've started at Berkeley in 2015 had she not competed in the Olympics. She is a public health major. 

Social Media

Twitter: @abbeyweitzeil
Instagram: @abbeyweitzeil