Athletics

A's face three big questions entering 2018 MLB Winter Meetings

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AP

A's face three big questions entering 2018 MLB Winter Meetings

Historically, the MLB Winter Meetings have been where baseball's offseason activity really starts to pick up.

The A's figure to be pretty active these next few days, as they still have some work to do to fill out next year's roster.

Here's a look at the three biggest questions the A's must answer at the proceedings in Las Vegas:

1. Who will the A's add to fill out the starting rotation?

Starting pitching has to be the top priority for Oakland. After non-tendering Mike Fiers, the A's don't have a single starting pitcher from last year's end-of-season rotation under contract.

A's general manager David Forst addressed the situation Friday on a conference call: "There are a number of starting pitching options out there, both through free agency and trade conversations. ... We're dipping into free agency and trade conversations equally, so I think it will have to play out which route we go."

NBC Sports California has reported the A's have reached out to free agents Edwin Jackson, Trevor Cahill, Clay Buchholz and Shelby Miller. If they elect to pursue the trade route instead, Yankees right-hander (and former A) Sonny Gray and Diamondbacks left-hander Robbie Ray could be good options.

We should start getting answers this week.

2. Will the A's sign a second baseman or start Franklin Barreto?

Jed Lowrie is coming off a terrific season, earning a trip to the All-Star Game for the first time in his career. But his return to Oakland is far from certain.

Lowrie might cost more than the A's are willing to spend on a 34-year-old second baseman, especially with top prospect Franklin Barreto waiting in the wings.

"I think it could go a number of ways," Forst said. "There are conversations internally about Franklin and what is best for him going forward. I think we're going to explore adding a second baseman, letting Franklin play, finding a platoon partner for him -- all of those things are on the table."

The second baseman market officially got going Thursday when the Twins signed Jonathan Schoop to a one-year, $7.5 million contract. Expect more dominoes to fall this week.

3. Who will be the A's starting catcher?

The A's already have re-signed Josh Phegley, but they still need a starting catcher. Last year's starter, Jonathan Lucroy, still figures to be an option, along with a few other free agents.

"We're trying to balance the internal options with going to bring someone from the outside," Forst said. "There are also trade possibilities there. But we certainly still believe it's an area that we need to address one way or the other."

Highly regarded prospect Sean Murphy is in line to be the A's catcher of the future, but the 24-year-old still is likely a year away from being MLB-ready. Oakland needs a catcher to hold down the position until then.

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."

Why A's shortstop Marcus Semien could be MVP candidate again in 2020

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USATSI

Why A's shortstop Marcus Semien could be MVP candidate again in 2020

Marcus Semien fell short of winning the AL MVP Award, but his third-place finish might be just the beginning.

At 29 years old, the A's shortstop still is very much in his prime and has significantly improved in each of his five seasons with Oakland.

When Semien first joined the A's at the age of 24, he was a decent hitter but looked completely lost in the field. In 2015, he committed a league-high 35 errors, prompting many to believe that he could never develop into a major-league shortstop.

But with the help of Ron Washington, Semien went to work. He spent hours upon hours working on his footwork, glovework, and consistency. Fast forward to 2019 and Semien has transformed into a back-to-back Gold Glove Award finalist.

Semien's offensive development has been just as impressive. This past season, the Bay Area native slashed .285/.369/.522 with 33 home runs, 43 doubles, 92 RBI, and 123 runs scored. He notched career-highs in just about every offensive stat imaginable, ranking near the top of the majors in all of the important categories.

Most impressive, Semien's 8.1 WAR (wins above replacement) was fourth-best in baseball, behind only Mike Trout, Alex Bregman, and Cody Bellinger. Semien started all 162 games at shortstop, batting in the leadoff spot for 145 of those contests. And the scariest part for the rest of the league is that he continues to get better.

"He becomes a better hitter every year," A's manager Bob Melvin said earlier this year. "Nobody works harder than Marcus Semien. He knows what he needs to work on."

After the All-Star break, Semien arguably was the most productive hitter in baseball. In 70 games, he slashed .304/.396/.621 with 19 homers, 22 doubles, five triples, 44 RBI, and 62 runs.

If Semien continues at that rate next season, it would translate to 44 home runs, 51 doubles, 12 triples, 102 RBI, and 143 runs over the course of 162 games. That certainly is MVP-caliber.

Of course, the A's have a major decision to make -- Semien is set to become a free agent after the 2020 season and figures to see some big-money offers. Will Oakland sign its star shortstop to an expensive extension or instead turn the reigns over to young prospect Jorge Mateo?

[RELATED: A's Luzardo an intriguing case for 2020 Rookie of the Year]

Semien is entering his final year of arbitration, where he is projected to get $13.5 million. After that, the A's could choose to make a qualifying offer to Semien for 2021, but there is no guarantee he would accept.

If 2020 does end up being Semien's last year in Oakland, it figures to be another special one. This year he was an MVP finalist. Perhaps next year he'll just be the MVP.