Athletics

A's lineup: Lowrie back batting third, Maxwell behind the dish

A's lineup: Lowrie back batting third, Maxwell behind the dish

PROGRAMMING NOTE: A's-White Sox coverage begins at 4 p.m. with Pregame Live on NBC Sports California and streaming right here.

After sweeping the White Sox, the A's look to carry that momentum over to Houston when they face the division-leading Astros. Bob Melvin has issued his lineup for the series opener.

Oakland A's:
1. Matt Joyce (L) LF
2. Matt Olson (L) RF
3. Jed Lowrie (S) 2B
4. Khris Davis (R) DH
5. Yonder Alonso (L) 1B
6. Ryon Healy (R) 3B
7. Bruce Maxwell (R) C
8. Franklin Barreto (R) 2B
9. Jaycob Brugman (L) CF
Sean Manaea -- LHP

Chicago White Sox:
1. George Springer (R) RF
2. Jose Altuve (R) 2B
3. Carlos Correa (R) SS
4. Evan Gattis (R) DH
5. Brian McCann (L) C
6. Yuli Gurriel (R) 1B
7. Marwin Gonzalez (S) LF
8. Alex Bregman (R) 3B
9. Jake Marisnick (R) CF
Mike Fiers -- RHP
 

Why Franklin Barreto should be A's starting second baseman in 2019

Why Franklin Barreto should be A's starting second baseman in 2019

The A's have said all the right things when it comes to Franklin Barreto.

Whether it's Billy Beane, David Forst or Bob Melvin, all have expressed great optimism in the 22-year-old's big league potential. However, their actions haven't quite matched that confidence in their top prospect.

Oakland has been linked to a handful of names at second base, both free agents and trade candidates. The A's reportedly have shown interest in DJ LeMahieu, Ian Kinsler, Jurickson Profar and, of course, last year's starter, Jed Lowrie.

"The good thing is there are a lot of options for us," Beane said last week at the MLB Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. "The best thing is we have an in-house option (Barreto) if need be, somebody who we think very highly of, and time will tell which one we go with."

While those are all fine options, it's time to give Barreto his shot. For years, we've heard about the talent and potential. Let's see what he can do in a full major league season.

Melvin told NBC Sports California that he'd be comfortable with Barreto as his everyday second baseman: "I would. If that's where we go with this, absolutely. He's still only 22 years old. And there was some debate whether he was ready a year and a half ago to come up here and play every day. So you really never know until you give him the opportunity."

Barreto has displayed his ability in flashes over the last couple of seasons, in limited opportunities. He hit five home runs in just 73 at-bats last year, including a colossal 444-foot blast to dead center in Anaheim on September 30.

"He's a very talented player," Melvin said. "He's got a lot of time with the Chapmans and the Olsons and these guys, part of that Pinder group of guys who played together and had a lot of success together (in the minors). I'm a big Franklin Barreto guy. If that's where we ended up and he was the everyday guy, I'd be fine with it."

Barreto's biggest problem has been plate discipline. He has struck out 62 times in 144 career major league at-bats, a rate of 43 percent. But he has made great strides in that area in winter ball in Venezuela.

"He's having a really nice winter," Forst said. "His strikeout ratio has improved. So we're keeping tabs on that."

[RELATED: How early free agent contracts could be bad news for the A's]

Added Melvin: "We've seen, at times, him be really good about controlling the strike zone, and that's when he has tons of success. Then when he struggles some, he maybe starts to expand a little bit more. ... I think he has the ability to do it. He works really hard. He's one of the hardest working guys we had. He's got a ton of talent. He's got power and speed. There's a lot for him to offer."

Giving the everyday job to Barreto also would save the A's some serious cash. Barreto will make just $555,000 next season, where Lowrie or LeMahieu easily could cost upwards of $10 million. Think of the starting pitching Oakland could add for that amount.

Will Barreto develop into a solid major league second baseman? That remains to be seen. But the A's will never know unless they give him a chance.

A's could have more difficulty finding diamonds in the rough this offseason

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USATSI

A's could have more difficulty finding diamonds in the rough this offseason

The 2018 Winter Meetings were mostly uneventful, with just a handful of significant trades and free agent signings. But the players who did agree to contracts earned big money, signifying a hotter market than last year.

Outfielder Andrew McCutchen inked a three-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies despite a modest 20 home runs and 65 RBI last season. Relievers Jeurys Familia and Joe Kelly each got three-year contracts worth $30 million and $25 million, respectively.

The starting pitcher market, where the A's are most interested, appears to be especially strong. Patrick Corbin got a six-year contract worth a staggering $140 million from the Nationals. Nathan Eovaldi received four years and $67.5 million from the Red Sox, despite posting similar numbers to Trevor Cahill.

Even Tyson Ross earned $5.75 million from the Tigers following a season in which he recorded a 4.15 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, both significantly worse than Cahill and Edwin Jackson.

So what does all of that mean? Essentially, it suggests the A's will have to spend more money than they would like in order to be competitive in free agency.

Of course, in previous years, Billy Beane and David Forst have been successful finding diamonds in the rough for more affordable price tags. They say they will stick to their plan.

"We don't really get to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak," Forst said. "We kind of set our price. We know what we can do within the confines of our payroll and try to stay on that."

That might be a little more difficult this year, based on the early contract numbers in free agency. While the A's try not to let other teams' deals affect their negotiations, it's hard not to take notice.

"Any time a player comes off the market, whether it's a free agent or a trade, that's one fewer guy that you can put in place," Forst said. "So you kind of have to take that into account. We're not playing in a certain stratosphere with the starting pitcher market, so those don't really affect us, but you do have to keep it in mind. There are only so many guys out there." 

The A's typically prefer to wait until late in the offseason to find free agents who fit their price range. That tactic worked well last year with Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Jonathan Lucroy. 

"We have sort of targeted conversations, free agents, and trades, and kind of go at our own pace," Forst said. "I don't know that any external forces are going to change that."

Oakland will have to hope a few quality free agents slip through the cracks again.