Athletics

Bob Melvin confident in A's options to replace Jed Lowrie in batting order

Bob Melvin confident in A's options to replace Jed Lowrie in batting order

There are few certainties in life. Death and taxes are two of them, as the cliché reminds us. A's fans enjoyed another last year: Jed Lowrie batting third in the lineup.

The infielder hit third in 146 of Oakland's 162 games last season. He and designated hitter Khris Davis formed a destructive tandem which anchored the entire A's lineup all year.

That will change this season. Lowrie signed a two-year, $20 million contract with the New York Mets this offseason, leaving the A's in search of a new No. 3 hitter.

"It's going to be a little bit of a work in progress," A's manager Bob Melvin recently told reporters in Arizona. "That spot might turn over a little bit depending on (whether we face) a right-handed pitcher or left-handed pitcher. At this point, I don't have anybody I'm penning into the number three spot like we had in the past with Jed and KD three-four. But you look up and down our lineup, it's still going to be a very productive lineup throughout."

Melvin will have plenty of options to experiment with. Stephen Piscotty, Matt Chapman, and Jurickson Profar are a few of the names who come to mind, though Chapman figures to remain in the two spot, where he enjoyed massive success last year.

Profar is an intriguing possibility because he would essentially allow the rest of the lineup to stay the same as last season. Melvin prefers that type of consistency.

"The way it played out last year, obviously Jed was important in the three spot, which allowed KD and then Oly to have his back, and Piscotty to have his back, and it worked pretty well," Melvin said.  "So I want to take a look at that. It doesn't necessarily mean (Profar) is going to get there, but if he does, it would allow everybody else to be in the same spot as they were last year."  

Another option is moving Davis up from the cleanup spot, though Melvin is hesitant to mess with his recent success.

"I think he's most comfortable (hitting fourth). We had talked a little bit about third earlier on, but I think he's pretty comfortable in the four spot. He's had some pretty good years in the four spot recently," Melvin smiled.

[RELATED: Five surprise candidates who could make A's roster]

Piscotty and Profar figure to earn the first cracks at the No. 3 slot. Both players are coming off career years, and possess many of the tools that made Lowrie so successful.

As Melvin mentioned, his lineups will likely vary based on the opposing pitcher. Either way, the A's offensive depth should make them a highly productive group once again.

A's GM David Forst says bullpen improvement main priority for 2020

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USATSI

A's GM David Forst says bullpen improvement main priority for 2020

MLB's hot stove season has been lukewarm, to say the least, especially when it comes to the A's. But they need arm help, especially in the bullpen.

Last year's reliever squad sang a different tune from what we heard in 2018. The A's led all of MLB with 30 blown saves last season, and that's something A's general manager David Forst wants to make sure doesn't happen again.

“We need to get better. We need to try and catch the Astros and get out of that one-game playoff,” Forst told MLB.com's Martin Gallegos. “We have a number of things to do, but addressing the bullpen is definitely at the top of the list.”

The AL Wild Card has been a thorn in the A's side in their last three playoff appearances. They've lost the wild-card game each time, including a 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in October. 

The free agency pool for relievers not only possesses a lot of talent, but a lot of those available arms appear to be what the team goes after historically.

Daniel Hudson could be a nice fit with his experience and the way he's made an uptick in his career, despite his age (33). But that reported interest also shows that the A's recent bullpen approach hasn't been working. 

“There’s a lot of talent in our bullpen,” Forst added. “I couldn’t say how many guys we need, but we have to have the depth, both starting, and bullpen, to last over a 162-game season.”

Liam Hendriks took over at the closer role last season and was sensational. He boasted a 1.80 ERA with 124 strikeouts in 85 innings. The 2019 All-Star took the place of Blake Treinen, who wasn't the same from his All-Star campaign in 2018. And we can't go without mentioning Yusmeiro Petit who had a great campaign of his own with a 2.71 ERA with a 0.81 WHIP. 

Forst added he's excited about the future the Green and Gold will bring to the table -- and fans should be as well.

[RELATED: Where A's MVP finalist Semien wants to improve in 2020]

Last season, top A's prospects Jesús Luzardo and A.J. Puk made short appearances out of the bullpen. But they'll join the starting rotation that will have a healthy Sean Manaea and a full season from Frankie Montas. 

“We feel like we’re going to be able to contend again in 2020," Forst said. "We still have some work to do, but we like our team coming back.”

Where A's MVP finalist Marcus Semien wants to improve next season

Where A's MVP finalist Marcus Semien wants to improve next season

OAKLAND -- Marcus Semien enjoyed a breakout season in 2019, in just about every area. The Oakland shortstop became the first A's player to register a top-three finish in the AL MVP race since Miguel Tejada in 2002.

"It means a lot," Semien told NBC Sports California. "It was a very competitive field this year. I think that the game is changing. There are so many players who can do everything on the field -- fielding, base running, scoring runs, producing runs. I'm trying to work on every part of my game to get better, and in the second half, I really made some improvements."  

Semien, 29, set career-highs in runs, hits, home runs, doubles, RBI, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and just about any other stat you can think of. The Bay Area native might have been even better defensively, where he was a Gold Glove finalist for the second straight year.

But despite all of his accomplishments, Semien believes he still has room to improve in 2020.

"I think baserunning is a big one, just getting in scoring position more for our big hitters," Semien said. "We've got great hitters in the middle of the lineup, so walking and getting hits, you want to just make sure you run the bases right. Defensively, turn more double plays, help our pitchers. We're going to have some young pitchers, so we want to make them feel as comfortable as possible."

Last offseason, Semien's most significant development involved plate discipline. He reduced his strikeout total from 131 to 102 and drew a career-high 87 walks, 26 more than the year before.

Semien also matched an A's single-season record by scoring 123 runs, fourth-most in the majors.

"Scoring runs was a big one for me," Semien said. "Solidifying myself in the leadoff spot. I've been moving around the lineup for a couple of years now and just to solidify the leadoff spot and score runs and get in a routine was great."

[RELATED: A's star Semien tells mental health journey in HEADSTRONG]

While he appreciates the individual recognition, Semien's main focus is team success. After experiencing back-to-back Wild Card Game losses, he is optimistic that the A's can make a deeper run next season.

"I think we're going to be good," he said. "We want to start off better than we did last year. I think that our rotation will be more solidified. These last two years, we've added at the (trade) deadline to get our rotation where we want it to be, where this coming season, we'll hopefully start the rotation that we like. Position players are ready. I think that we'll have everybody healthy and it'll be fun."