Athletics

Athletics

Don’t look now, but we might be having a baseball season after all. After months of nasty, public negotiations between MLB and the Players Association, a 60-game season appears to be upon us.

With that said, it’s been a while since we’ve visited the state of the A’s for this upcoming season. The beauty of that is knowing that not much, if anything, has changed since spring training -- at least as far as the on-field team is concerned. The state of baseball will be extremely different with a major impact on the game, teams and especially individuals due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are the biggest questions for the A’s with the season imposed.

Health concerns

This one perhaps could be the biggest and most important question/concern, as the season prepares to start. And it’s specifically imperative for at least one player on the A’s: Jake Diekman.

The left-handed reliever has ulcerative colitis, which is an autoimmune condition. In layman's terms, he needs to be extra careful. Others with ulcerative colitis are often put on medication that could suppress the immune system, which would raise the risk of infection.    

Diekman, of course, isn’t the only player in the league who has a health issue that could put him more at risk. Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius, for instance, has a kidney disorder which causes it to well, not work 100 percent of the time.

The Phillies had at least five players and three staff members test positive for coronavirus over the weekend. Since then, MLB closed spring training sites in Arizona and Florida in order to shut down an even wider spread.

 

The league has implemented a 67-page health and safety protocol plan that originally included no celebratory contact (no high-fives, no spitting, etc.), minimal distance between baserunners, fielders and coaches, throwing out balls that have been touched by multiple players, as well as players being screened for temperature multiple times per day as well as being tested for coronavirus multiples times per week. 

This will be the main factor and should not be ignored heading into the season.

Can the A’s avoid a slow start?

As far as the shortened season is concerned, the teams will have more than 100 games fewer, than they’re used to which creates so many questions. For the A’s, it’s a major concern, as they traditionally have had a tough time getting their footing once a season starts.

As NBC Sports California’s Scott Bair pointed out, the team might not have time to finish strong in 2020.

Get this: “The A’s have only finished above .500 in the season’s first month-plus four times in the last 10 seasons, and they haven’t done so in any year since 2014,” Bair wrote.

That doesn’t take away from the fact that the team has made its way toward the playoffs on many occasions in the last decade, but their momentum doesn’t typically pick up until around the All-Star break.  

And last season alone, it was well-known the Washington Nationals were bad through their first 50 games, before going on to win the World Series.

Free agency

For Marcus Semien, this is a big one -- and he would only have 60 games to prove all of the dollar signs he’s worth. Mind you, this is after just one season of All-Star caliber play (without a selection). 

The shortstop avoided arbitration with the A’s over the offseason, as they signed him to a one-year, $13 million contract in January during his final season of eligibility. 

Last season, Semien was third in AL MVP voting after a .285/.369/.522 line with 187 hits and 33 home runs. He also started all 162 games at shortstop, amassed 747 plate appearances and had a 7.6 WAR and 137 wRC+. 

The hometown star could command a nine-figure contract, and would want an extension either with the A’s, or another team. But is that enough games to prove he’s worth it? Normally, maybe not. But now in a pandemic world, he won’t be the only one with these issues.

Will the A’s still be favorites?

Yes. 

That’s the short answer.

For the first time in a while, the A’s have everything going for them. Beginning with the pitching rotation to the offensive game and defensive capabilities across the roster.

 

Rookie Jesús Luzardo had a phenomenal spring on the tail-end of an already solid 2019 few outings (1.50 ERA, 0.667 WHIP with 16 strikeouts in 12 innings). A.J. Puk looks to come out of the bullpen and be part of that squad who will also have a full (well, a full shortened-season) of Frankie Montas, who missed a chunk of time last season due to a PED suspension.

Veteran pitcher Mike Fiers returns, along with Sean Manaea, who went 4-0 last season with a 1.21 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 29.2 innings. 

Chris Bassitt could be an option as a starter, but also proved he was capable of coming out of the bullpen last season when Blake Treinen shut down early with back problems.

Speaking of the bullpen. Two words: Liam. Hendriks. 

We haven't even seen the best of center fielder Ramón Laureano yet, and Mark Canha is finally getting recognized after an "underrated" season

Designated hitter Khris Davis leaves behind a season with numbers that don't characterize the power he possesses, and the two corners of Matt Chapman and Matt Olson will remind you why their chemistry works so well with one another -- all while hitting bombs in the process. 

[RELATED: A's GM David Forst address possibility of playing shortened season]

Chappy earned two consecutive Platinum Gloves and did it while covering all of that foul territory at the Coliseum. 

A's manager Bob Melvin also told NBC Sports California before this year's Fan Fest that this is the most excited he's been about the team in a long time.