Athletics

Five free agent starting pitchers still available for A's to target

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USATSI

Five free agent starting pitchers still available for A's to target

It's no secret the A's could use some starting pitching help.

The problem became more dire this week when the team announced talented left-hander Jesús Luzardo would be shut down for four to six weeks with a rotator cuff strain.

Though the season is already underway, there are still several starting pitchers available on the free agent market. Former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel tops the list, but don't expect the A's to throw massive money his way.

Instead, Oakland may choose to pursue one of these five starters:

Edwin Jackson

Jackson certainly makes the most sense of anyone. The 35-year-old right-hander was the most pleasant of surprises last season. Jackson went 6-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 17 starts and was a key part of the A's clubhouse chemistry.

The two sides have been in contact for much of the offseason but have not been able to come to terms on a deal. That could change now that Jackson and the A's both figure to be a little more desperate.

James Shields 

At the age of 37, Shields is obviously nearing the end of his career, but he figures to get a shot somewhere in the league. The former All-Star went just 7-16 with a 4.53 ERA last season with the White Sox but did pitch over 200 innings.

Shields has a career ERA of 4.01 in 13 seasons. The right-hander would likely fair better on a team like Oakland, especially playing his home games at the pitcher-friendly Coliseum.

Miguel González

González is coming off season-ending rotator cuff surgery, but at just 34 years old he has a chance to bounce back. The right-hander went 8-13 with a 4.62 ERA in 2017, his last full season, but recorded a solid 3.73 ERA the year before.

González has a career ERA of 4.06 in seven major league seasons and could be another pitcher who would benefit from the Coliseum. He will be available for cheap, making him a low-risk signing.

Yovani Gallardo

Gallardo has struggled the past few seasons, but at just 33 years old, he still has time to regain his form. The right-hander has a career ERA of 4.06 in 12 big league seasons.

Gallardo's last productive season came in 2015 with the Texas Rangers. The former All-Star finished that year 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA. Like González, he should be available for a low cost.

[RELATED: A's have options at first base after Olson injury]

Bartolo Colón

Yes, Big Sexy is still going strong at the age of 45. You've got to think someone will take a flier on the former Cy Young Award winner, who will be entering his 22nd major league season.

Colón has 247 career wins and a 4.12 ERA, though he struggled to a 5.78 ERA last season in Texas. But three years ago, the right-hander went 15-8 with a 3.43 ERA and made his fourth career All-Star Game.
 

A's lower strikeout rate should help improve situational hitting

A's lower strikeout rate should help improve situational hitting

OAKLAND – We're still early in the MLB season, but through 27 games, the A's have been striking out at a noticeably lower rate than last year.

As a team, the A's have struck out in just 18 percent of their plate appearances this season, the second-best mark in the majors. Last year, Oakland ranked 18th in the league, striking out at a rate of 22.1 percent.

A’s manager Bob Melvin admits it’s probably too early in the season to really focus on those numbers, but he does credit hitting coach Darren Bush for the improvement.

“It’s just probably Bushy preparing them like he does and knowing the league a little bit more,” Melvin said. “The emphasis on trying to put the ball in play and staying within your zones – probably all those things add up.”

As noted by Athletics Nation's Alex Hall, three players have keyed the team’s improved contact rate: Marcus Semien, Chad Pinder and Matt Chapman.

Semien has lowered his strikeout percentage from 18.6 percent last year to 11.2 percent this season. Pinder has gone from 26.4 percent to 15.2 percent. Chapman has taken the biggest step of all, dropping from 23.7 percent all the way down to 10.2 percent this year.

Not surprisingly, all three players are having career years at the plate.

Pinder leads the team with a .320 batting average and ranks third with an .848 OPS. Semien is slashing .311/.379/.505 and looks like an All-Star at shortstop.

And then there’s Chapman. The A’s third baseman looks like a legitimate MVP candidate, hitting .311/.407/.633 with eight home runs and 18 RBI, while only striking out 11 times all season. Chapman is also on pace to shatter his previous career high in walks.

[RELATED: Chad Pinder making strong case to be in A's everyday lineup]

To this point, the decrease in strikeouts has not led to an increase in run production, but it is certainly putting more pressure on opposing defenses. Over the course of the season, it should also help the A’s improve their situational hitting, such as driving in a runner from third with less than two outs.

Oakland is still hitting for plenty of power, which means it will likely succumb to its share of strikeouts. But the improved contact rate this season is certainly a noticeable and welcome development.

Ex-A's reliever Shawn Kelley has no hard feelings toward former team

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AP

Ex-A's reliever Shawn Kelley has no hard feelings toward former team

OAKLAND -- After Shawn Kelley's stellar stretch run with the A's last season, it seemed likely he would return to Oakland as a free agent.

The 34-year-old right-hander appeared in 19 games last August and September, registering a 2.16 ERA and 0.78 WHIP, with 18 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings. But while there was initially mutual interest in a reunion, the A's decided to go in a different direction and Kelley signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract with the Texas Rangers.

"We talked from the very end of (the season) about getting something done," Kelley told NBC Sports California. "I think when they got (Joakim) Soria and gave him that money (two years, $15 million), my agent called right away because we were kind of worried. We had been talking to (A's general manager David) Forst. Both sides were like, 'Yeah, let's get something done.' When Soria signed, we kind of saw the writing on the wall. And then (Forst) wished me luck in whatever decision I made. He said, 'We spent a little on a couple of guys and so we wish you the best and thanks for everything you did coming over, but we're out of money.'"

Kelley says he carries no hard feelings toward his former squad, as he understands the business side of baseball. He still has a great relationship with his old teammates and manager.

"I talked to all the guys when they came to Texas and I talked to them (Tuesday)," Kelley said. "I went over and gave BoMel a big hug and told him, 'Man, I'm sorry. I wanted to be here. It just didn't work out.' That's part of it. It wasn't for a lack of effort. There was obviously genuine interest from me and definitely some genuine interest from their side. Things just go different ways sometimes in free agency."

Kelley has carried last year's success into this season with the Rangers. He is already 3-0 with a save and a 1.80 ERA, as well as a 0.80 WHIP. He has notched nine strikeouts in 10 innings without issuing a single walk.

"It's been great," Kelley said. "It's a good group. It kind of reminds me of what we had over there last year (with the A's), as far as a good mix of young guys with some veterans, a lot of energy, and a lot of will to not give in and keep fighting. It's been a good experience."

Kelley is extremely thankful for the opportunity the A's gave him last season, especially after the Nationals let him go following his now infamous -- and probably overblown -- glove-slamming incident. He believes his time in Oakland rejuvenated his career.

[RELATED: Versatile Pinder forcing way into everyday starting role]

"I had fun when I went over there and saw a renewed energy and passion for just going out and having fun and enjoying it, and it not feeling like work every day," Kelley said. "It was a great experience. I loved it."

For now, Kelley is happy to be a Texas Ranger, although he doesn't rule out a return to Oakland down the road.

"Hey, you never know," he smiled. "One day, I may be back."