Athletics

A's expecting Marco Estrada to pitch near top end of starting rotation

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AP

A's expecting Marco Estrada to pitch near top end of starting rotation

Marco Estrada is coming off the worst season of his career. The 35-year-old right-hander went 7-14 with a 5.64 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in 28 starts for the Blue Jays.

So why on earth would the A's sign him to a one-year, $4 million contract?

"He's a guy who was an All-Star in 2016," general manager David Forst explained. "He pitched great for a couple of years in Toronto and then last year pitched through some back and hip issues and lost a little bit of velocity. But his command is as outstanding as ever. His changeup has always been one of the best pitches in the league. He's a guy we fully expect to bounce back and be near the top of our rotation for 2019."

Added manager Bob Melvin: "I think a lot of (last year's struggles) had to do with some issues with his back. He was going out there and I think pitching not healthy. He's got such a good changeup and off-speed arsenal. He's a veteran guy who's going to be good for us."

Whatever back issues Estrada may have had last season appear to be resolved. Said Forst, "We've seen his workouts the last couple of weeks. He says he feels great."

As Forst noted, Estrada has had plenty of success in the not too distant past. In his 2016 All-Star campaign, he posted a 3.48 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. He was even better in 2015, finishing with a career-best 3.13 ERA and 1.04 WHIP.

"I think whenever you have a guy with a down year and some injuries, he's looking to bounce back," Melvin said. "I know he's excited. I talked to him today. He's excited about the team. He saw us from afar and loves the clubhouse, loves the guys. There are certain guys you have a little bit more faith in bouncing back. He is one of those guys."

Added Forst: "He's a guy who's done it in the past. I think as we look at our rotation and all the candidates, the idea was for those guys to go out there and be five, six-plus inning guys. I know there's a lot of talk about how teams are going to use their starters and use openers and whatever. But everyone is shooting to have five starters out there who can give you innings. I don't think we're going to put any limits on Marco."

Forst expects Estrada and Mike Fiers to anchor the top end of Oakland's starting rotation, at least to begin the season.

[RELATED: Fiers was strong in 2018, expect the same for this season]

"I think they're the most known commodities," he said. "I would think with (Estrada's) track record and Fiers' track record, there's no reason those guys can't be traditional starters."

Daniel Mengden, Frankie Montas, Paul Blackburn, and Chris Bassitt will likely battle for the other three spots in the rotation, though 21-year-old Jesús Luzardo will get a long look as well. The A's could also still add another starter in free agency

"I think we're still out there looking for both starting pitching and maybe a left-handed reliever," Forst said. "We're only a couple of weeks away from reporting now, so it's hard to say that we'd necessarily get something done. But obviously there are a lot of free agents left out there and there are still a lot of conversations going on."

Bob Melvin supports Buster Posey's decision to opt out of 2020 season

Bob Melvin supports Buster Posey's decision to opt out of 2020 season

Buster Posey took several days of Giants training camp to deal with what was termed a personal issue. It turns out he spent that time weighing whether to play baseball this season during an ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Posey announced Friday that he would opt out and explained exactly why. Turns out he has a damn good reason.

His family adopted two twin girls born July 3 at just 32 weeks. They are in the NICU now and Posey said they will be in a particularly vulnerable state for at least four months. That’s more than the entire 2020 MLB season, even if everything goes right.

Posey made an easy decision, the right one.

That’s clear to most, including A’s manager Bob Melvin.

“In his case, I don’t know why you would want to play with what’s going on there,” Melvin said in a Friday video conference. “Each guy looks at it a little differently, so I’m not surprised that some have opted out. I’m certainly not surprised about Buster, now knowing the whole story.”

While most are supportive of easy choices like Posey’s or the less straightforward, detractors have proven vocal even in a decided minority.

A’s relief pitcher Jake Diekman has a higher risk for complications if he contracts COVID-19 due to a pre-existing condition but chose to play the season. The team is cognizant of that while strictly adhering to health and safety protocols during training camp.

[RELATED: Zaidi, Kapler support Posey's decision]

Whether someone chooses to play or not, Melvin says, that player will receive backing from around the sport.

“Whoever decides to opt out will be fully supported,” Melvin said. “There’s a lot at stake right now. It’s easy once you’re out on the field and it feels great again and everyone likes playing, but the underlying factor and issues are still there. If there’s somebody who has reservations, whether it’s Jake, who says he doesn’t have any, will be fully supported and I don’t think they’ll be criticized by the baseball community.”

A's Matt Chapman adjusts personal goals in shortened 2020 MLB season

A's Matt Chapman adjusts personal goals in shortened 2020 MLB season

Matt Chapman’s always one to raise the bar. His personal and team goals continue to elevate, even after the A’s won 97 games, he hit 36 home runs and added another platinum glove.

Those achievements are awesome in a vacuum, though losing in the A.L. wild-card game (again) and a late-season offensive slump shows room for improvement for the stacked A’s and their All-Star third baseman.

Putting it all together could mean a World Series title and an MVP award, or an offensive season for the ages at the very least.

That last part, of course, assumes a 162-game season. Numbers don’t mean the same thing in a 60-game season. Chapman, therefore, has to look at his stat line differently.

“The main goal is to stay healthy, stay on the field and then just take good at bats and do my part,” Chapman said. “I’m not going to put too much stress on the season because two months is such a small sample size. If you don’t start well, your numbers are never going to be what you want them to be. I’m hopefully not going to dig into that too much. I know that’s easy to say now, but I want to focus on the team and keep guys healthy. Hopefully we can do that and just win. Our focus should be health and making the playoffs.”

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Collectively, the A’s are focusing on winning as many games as possible in a condensed season where every game is magnified.

“I think that, from a team standpoint, the goals are still the same: win as much as we can and stress getting off to a good start,” Chapman said. “That’s extremely important now. That was our focus coming out of the spring training beforehand, but that especially key now. You can win and lose a season in two weeks it seems like, in this short schedule. You can’t fall too far behind. On the other side of it, you could also jump out to a good lead. It’s exciting because it seems like every game is going to be a playoff game.”

Chapman doesn’t have much time to ramp for this condensed 60-game season, which is now two weeks away. He has voiced displeasure over the A’s inability to start workouts at the earliest possible date, but is now focused on maximizing opportunities he has. That doesn’t mean he’s working too hard, as he and the A’s position players might have when they were finally allowed to start camp.

[RELATED: Why Chapman could win AL MVP]

It’s about working smarter in the time allotted.

“The biggest thing for me is getting quality reps and not worrying about the quantity so much and trying to play catch-up,” Chapman said. “I don’t need a million swings to get ready. I need quality swings and to avoid tiring yourself out because, when it does start, it’ll be a sprint. You can’t jam a ton into every day. We have to be smart and, right around that two-week mark [of camp], we’ll be in a good spot.”