In the last two seasons, there has been one team in the way of the A's winning the AL West: The Houston Astros. Led by Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander and more, they have been the cream of the crop in the division.
They also have been crowned the kings of cheating. The Astros on Monday were handed some of the harshest penalties in MLB history for their part in using technology to illegally steal signs during Houston's 2017 championship season.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Lunhow have each been suspended without pay for the 2020 season. Houston also forfeits its first- and second-round picks for the 2020 and '21 MLB Drafts. The Astros also have been fined $5 million -- the highest allowable fine under the Major League Constitution -- and former Astros assistant GM Brandon Taubman has been placed on baseball's ineligible list through the end of the 2020 World Series.
Shortly after the penalties were levied, the Astros announced that they have fired Hinch and Lunhow. Bench coach Joe Espada is expected to serve as interim manager.
A's pitcher Mike Fiers, who was on the Astros' World Series-winning team but didn't pitch in the 2017 playoffs, found himself in the center of Houston's scandal. In a November report from The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drelich, Fiers was the first player to confirm the Astros used technology to steal signs.
“I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they’re going in there not knowing,” Fiers said.
Hinch has finished in the top five of AL Manager of the Year voting the last three seasons, and has led the Astros to a 311-175 regular-season record in that span. The Stanford alum surely will be missed on the bench in Houston's dugout.
The Astros have been quiet this offseason and have yet to make any big moves in free agency. We might now know why. It's clear Lunhow had other things on his mind while he polished his World Series ring, and staying low was probably a pretty good idea.
Despite the choice, Murray, the A's first-round pick (No. 9 overall) in the 2018 MLB Draft, believes if he were given a one-calendar year, he would be able to play both sports.
"Athletically, I think yeah, I could do it," Murray told The Arizona Republic's Bob McManaman.
Murray added it's something he's done his entire life and "would love to add that to my resume."
The guy is a heck of an athlete, that's for sure. He ended up being the No. 1 overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2019 NFL Draft and became the first player ever drafted in the first round in both the NFL and MLB.
He started 50 of his 51 games in a baseball uniform as an Oklahoma Sooner, hitting a .296 average with 10 home runs and 47 RBI.
As a member of the Sooner football team, he threw for 4,361 yards and rushed for 1,001 scoring a combined 54 touchdowns. That was tied for the ninth-most in NCAA Division 1 history and he sealed his college campaign with a Heisman Trophy.
It was a difficult pill to swallow for A's fans that looked forward to seeing him in action. Both from a playing and marketing perspective.
When he made the decision to be an NFL player, he had to return a chunk of his signing bonus money ($4.66 million total) to the A's and would forfeit the remaining $3.16 million due that March.
The A's retained Murray's rights, but the team did not get a compensatory draft pick.
"I'm a pretty vibrant person," Reed told NBC Sports California. "I feed off other people's energy and I like others to feed off my energy. For the most part, I try and I like to stay as positive as possible."
That energy was apparent the moment he got the call from Padres general manager A.J. Preller that he would be joining the same organization as his roommate and former Florida Gator teammate A.J. Puk.
Reed and the A's No. 2 prospect have been living together since the two were drafted in 2016.
"A.J. was working out and I was trying to wait until he got home, but I just was like 'Yo, I got traded,' and we just started screaming and yelling."
The two reminisced about going to school together and Reed began to think about watching Puk blossom in his own journey.
"To be put on the same team as him and to see him thrive as he did coming off of Tommy John and then to get to the big leagues so fast -- it was really cool to see that and it's going to be even cooler, hopefully, if the cards are right -- to play with him and join him in an outfield position in the major leagues," Reed said.
Reed's transition to a new club won't have the typical "new kid on the first day of school" feeling. He's been facing the A's minor league teams for years.
While with Double-A Amarillo, he saw members of the A's organization more often than you might think. The Texas League possesses only eight teams so with the matchups being plentiful, he found himself facing the Midland Rockhounds often and developed friendships rapidly.
"Just from playing against the A's at pretty much every level and meeting the guys, seeing those over and over again, I definitely feel like I'm going to blend well with the group of guys I come to meet," Reed said.
He also hopes he repeats some of the same numbers he put up in the minors, specifically during his High-A run.
With the Lake Elsinore Storm in 2018, the outfielder slashed .324/.371/.549 with 102 hits and 12 home runs with a .921 OPS.
During his time with the Sod Poodles last season, Reed didn't put up the numbers at the plate he would have liked, but his offseason training in Tampa, Fla. has him looking forward to 2020.
"Both sides of the ball are really important," Reed said. "I always continue my outfield work and then from a hitting standpoint, it's getting back to where I was when I was in High-A -- one of my best years in the minors. Obviously I was very fortunate enough to go to the Future's Game and things like that -- that was all a credit to what I was doing on both sides of the ball -- hitting, stealing bases, making plays in the outfield and throwing guys out."
In 121 games in Double-A last season, Reed's .228/.310/.388 numbers show what he needs to target for improvements.
He's been focusing on the video element present time baseball technology has gifted us in order to get back to those High-A numbers. It sounds easier said than done, but he wants to keep his approach as simple as possible.
"When your brain starts going off on all different things, it's really difficult to bring it back to center," Reed said.
"I just want to be productive -- whether it's a productive out or a productive guy in the box, on offense -- I wanna show what I can do so defense as well."
MLB Pipeline's Jonathan Mayo complimented Reed's glove capabilities, telling NBC Sports California he's "one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball."
Now that Reed will be a member of the Green and Gold, he'll have plenty of talented guys to learn from on every part of the game. He currently trains at the same facility in Tampa as A's center fielder Ramón Laureano and mentioned him a few times who he looks forward to hopefully playing alongside.
And of course, the corner infielders.
"Matt Chapman and Matt Olson," Reed quickly said. "Just how they go about things hitting-wise because they're obviously really good offensively and produce a lot for the A's as well as defensively. Chapman is probably one of the best third basemen in the league so I think it would be interesting to watch those guys."
He would obviously love to be reunited with Puk, but this time, on a big-league field.
Reed knows pitchers Brian Howard and Parker Dunshee from his time in the minors as well who can keep him company until that dream takes place. Reed also knows former A's minor leaguer Richie Martin who lives with him and Puk at the moment if he needed any additional info on the A's.
"It's a pretty interesting little thing we have going on," Reed quipped.
I asked Reed what A's fans need to know about the new guy coming to the organization.