NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As you ponder what moves the A’s might make in the near future, keep an eye on what’s taking place with the teams they’re trying to chase down in the American League West.
The Astros and Rangers, who look like the division’s top two teams on paper, are in the thick of some of the juiciest rumors circulating on the first day of baseball’s winter meetings.
Houston already has made several impact additions this offseason, including signing former Athletic Josh Reddick to a four-year $52 million contract. The Astros, coming off a disappointing third-place finish in 2016, have also traded for catcher Brian McCann and signed outfielders Carlos Beltran and Nori Aoki, plus right-hander Charlie Morton to fortify their rotation.
Now the Astros are on the hunt for a top-flight starter to complement 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. Reportedly they are a major player to land White Sox ace Chris Sale — destined to be the most talked-about name throughout these meetings — but it’s believed Houston doesn’t want to part with young infielder Alex Bregman, which might thwart a trade for the big lefty.
The Rangers, two-time defending AL West champs, also are looking for an ace-type addition to their starting staff with the possibility that Yu Darvish could leave as a free agent following this season. But Texas also has been linked to free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion, and gets mentioned in trade rumors involving outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Billy Hamilton.
It’s no wonder the Rangers are on the lookout for hitters — they’ve already lost Beltran to free agency and could watch fellow outfielders Ian Desmond and Carlos Gomez and first baseman Mitch Moreland walk as well. One way or another, expect Texas’ roster to look drastically different in 2017.
The Seattle Mariners, who made a 10-win improvement last season over 2015, are very much in the market for a rotation upgrade of their own, and they’ve been aggressive with offseason moves under general manager Jerry Dipoto.
Don’t forget about the Angels, who are searching far and wide for a second baseman. If Los Angeles gets better health from its starting rotation this season, that alone could make the Angels more of a division threat.
How does all of this pertain to the A’s?
It demonstrates that climbing the ladder in the AL West won’t be an easy task for a club coming off consecutive seasons in the cellar. The teams expected to fight atop the division are aggressively trying to get better. And surely A’s officials take notice as they weigh whether to make significant moves to improve for 2017 or take a step back, evaluate more of their young talent in the upcoming season and lay groundwork for the future.
To that end, right-hander Sonny Gray’s name figures to surface throughout the four-day winter meetings, taking place just outside the nation’s capital.
The Atlanta Braves, an up-and-coming team that’s been linked to Sale and other top pitchers, have interest in Gray. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that the Braves and A’s discussed Gray but that Atlanta found the A’s asking price too extravagant, even though it didn’t include stud shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson.
The Braves do have some talented young center fielders — Ender Inciarte and Mallex Smith among them — and given the A’s great need at that position, it stands to reason at least one of those players would surface in talks between the clubs. Whether the Braves would part with either is another question.