There are two main needs for the A’s in free agency: The middle infield and relievers.
For the bullpen, manager Bob Melvin knows there’s work that needs to be done there.
“The good news is we still have a core group of guys that we feel great about, and then some of our -- especially pitching -- is probably going to have to step up,” Melvin said Thursday. “Can still see how potentially the market plays out, I think it might be a while before we see that, and then maybe there’s some interesting pickups potentially maybe later on.”
The biggest loss in the bullpen will be Liam Hendriks, who is a free agent after putting up two sensational seasons, and it doesn’t appear likely he will be back with Oakland next season.
Across 2019 and 2020, Hendriks posted a 1.79 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP. He earned an AL All-Star selection in 2019 and was the AL Mariano Rivera Reliever of the Year this past season.
Contenders like the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros reportedly are interested in the Aussie, who was absolutely electric for the A’s.
“It’s not ideal, we’ve had great contributions by the free agents you’re talking about and it’s not unlike us to have to turn some things over from time to time,” Melvin said.
For now, Jake Diekman is the top candidate to take over the closer role in 2021. He too put up great numbers with a 0.42 ERA, giving up just one run in 21 1/3 innings during the 2020 season.
“You know, we still have some guys, the Diekman’s and Lou Trivino and J.B. Wendelken,” Melvin said. “We still have guys that we really like and then, like any year, you expect certain guys within the system to step up, we’re probably a little bit deeper in starting pitching, in our system with our prospects than we are with our relievers, but you know there comes a time where they might have to do things a little bit differently too, some of those starters.
“Certainly [Joakim] Soria and [Yusmeiro] Petit, and obviously Liam, T.J. McFarland did a great job for us too. Our bullpen numbers speak for themselves last year, and they were really good.”
A's relievers had an MLB-best 2.72 collective ERA in 2020, right ahead of the Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays -- the two teams who played in the World Series.
Melvin also said A’s general manager David Forst and executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane always manage to find a couple of solid relievers who are able to contribute to the team.
As far as the middle infield concerns go, whether or not Marcus Semien returns is of the utmost concern.
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After six seasons with the A’s, the beloved shortstop has hit free agency for the first time.
“That’s going to be the toughest one, if we don’t sign [Semien] back,” Melvin said.
Semien told NBC Sports California that 2020’s shortened season with 60 games wasn’t enough time to show what he was capable of. A .223/.305/.374 line with 47 hits was a stark difference from the guy who finished third in the AL MVP race the season prior.
“Shortstop would probably be the biggest hole as we look right now if Marcus is not back,” Melvin said.
“Tommy La Stella who was with us at the end of the year, not a full year player for us, second base, I think we have some guys we feel good about,” Melvin said.
La Stella’s return would be big for the A's. He struck out just 12 times last season and Beane said having him come back was a discussion of importance for Beane and the rest of the A’s front office.
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Tony Kemp and Chad Pinder both were signed to one-year contracts to add some options at second base. Pinder ended up being the Opening Day starter at second in 2020. He also could play anywhere … literally anywhere, which helped when two-time Platinum Glove Award winner Matt Chapman had season-ending surgery on his hip.
It’ll continue to be a waiting game for most teams as we sit in a different offseason than we are used to, but it’ll more than likely be an even longer wait to figure out what’s happening at shortstop.
The A’s made it clear they want Semien back, just as he echoed those sentiments.