Athletics

A's Matt Chapman discusses where he ranks among elite third baseman

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A's Matt Chapman discusses where he ranks among elite third baseman

OAKLAND -- When it comes to deciding who the best third baseman is in baseball, it could make for an interesting debate.

But we can all agree the defensive edge goes to Matt Chapman, right? Right?! Well, maybe. He has some tough competition. 

I asked him between himself, Rockies' third baseman Nolan Arenado and Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, who would rank at the top. 

"Another one that just got thrown into our division, too, Anthony Rendon, but I've never seen him play -- I would probably say Nolan's probably got the edge right now," Chapman told NBC Sports California. "And then Bregman, because I've never finished in the top three of MVP like those guys have and I've never hit 40 home runs like they have."

"I might have the edge on defense a little bit, but Nolan's a combo of both."

Chapman admitted Bregman has the better bat.

Bregman's numbers have improved over the years and he posted a .296/.423/.592 line with 41 home runs in 2019. 

"I might have defense over [Bregman], but Nolan has both of us combined it seems like," Chapman said. 

Arenado's resume is filled with five All-Star selections, seven Gold Glove Awards, three Platinum and four Silver Sluggers. He too, hit 41 home runs last season which tends to be a type of norm for him over his career. 

So Arenado, Chapman's former teammate at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif., wins in his eyes. 

At least for now. 

"I can hopefully give him a run for his money one day," Chapman said. 

The new defensive stats certainly help Chapman's case. The OAA, or Outs Above Average, stat has been introduced to the world of baseball for stat nerds to salivate over.

Chapman ranks sixth in the metric, in all of baseball -- and you can learn more about that measurement, here. It's something the two-time Platinum Glove winner is curious about. 

"It's cool to have that, but I think Defensive Runs Saved is number one," Chapman said.

He joked he only cares about a defensive stat where he's at the top.

"Maybe because I'm not first in that category, so I don't think it's worth, you know anything," Chapman laughed. "You know, if I'm not the best, then it's stupid."

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"I'm joking about that, but sadly, almost being truthful about that," Chapman said. "I need to know more about how they get that because I feel like I play so deep -- I don't dive on as many balls. I might have to play more routinely and it doesn't look like it's an above-average play just because it doesn't fit that criteria so I have to hear more about it, so defensive runs for me is a good checkpoint."

The A's led the league in DEF (Defensive Runs Above Average) last season with 42.9 and were 10th in DRS. Chapman alone ranked seventh in the league in DRS with 18.

A's have plenty of outfield options should Stephen Piscotty miss time

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A's have plenty of outfield options should Stephen Piscotty miss time

The A's will march through spring training without Stephen Piscotty, who was formally shut down Friday with an intercostal strain. Manager Bob Melvin said the veteran would be out indefinitely, though he didn’t rule out a return by Opening Day.

Piscotty starting that March 26 home game is far from certain, but him missing a few games to start the season isn’t a massive blow.

Why? The A's have tons of outfield depth.

Ramon Laureano and Mark Cahna would take up two spots, with Robbie Grossman able to fill in well and play consistently. He played 138 games for the A's last year and Oakland re-signed him in free agency. Chad Pinder can play every position and is comfortable working from the grass. Second baseman Tony Kemp has experience out there, too.

P.S. All those guys can field. All of those guys can hit.

Plan A obviously is having Piscotty play soon and play a ton. He’s a quality all-around player and valued clubhouse presence. There are plenty of alternatives.

“[The outfield] looked really crowded, and that’s a good problem to have,” Melvin told reporters on Friday, via MLB.com. “But the more you do this, the more you realize how important depth is. Not only with pitching, but with position players. It’s very rare now that you get through spring training healthy.

"Things have changed a bit in how you deal with spring training. It’s about getting off the field healthy. We do have some depth there.”

[RELATED: Why Melvin is confident Khrush will bounce back this season]

That will allow the A’s to be patient with a regular starter. They can let him get fully healed and ramp up accordingly, into the regular season if necessary. If he starts on the injured list -- that’s a massive “if” at this stage -- it could open a roster spot for an outfield prospect.

At the very least it means more spring training at-bats for promising players in major league camp like Seth Brown, who has some power, or Dustin Fowler, who's trying to reclaim an MLB gig. Skye Bolt is another option.

The A’s could choose to replace Piscotty with another outfielder in a straight position swap, or they could evaluate prospects from other positions considering how much outfield depth already is set to make the club.

How Sean Manaea used Asia trip to move on from A's wild-card game loss

How Sean Manaea used Asia trip to move on from A's wild-card game loss

Sean Manaea follows strict routines designed to maximize starts in the A's rotation, but such regimentation doesn’t extend to all aspects of his life. The left-hander freely admits he isn’t much of a planner outside baseball, which is how he ended wandering through Australia in 2018.

Manaea traveled across the globe on a whim, all by himself.

“That was really the first time I ventured outside the country on my own,” Manaea said. “I loved it. It was awesome. I didn’t have to listen to anybody. I just traveled and immersed myself in the culture.”

That experience was strictly for fun. This last offseason trip abroad had a purpose.

Manaea needed a hard reset only distance could provide. The 28-year-old had just wrapped a season saturated in stress, most of it spent rehabilitating a shoulder injury that kept him out a calendar year. Then came a triumphant return, with five dominant starts spent on top of the world.

The AL Wild Card Game sent him crashing back to earth. The Tampa Bay Rays rocked Manaea in a 5-1 victory that ended the A’s season, driving him from the game with four earned runs on three jacks in two-plus innings. A 97-win season came to a crashing halt, fortifying the A’s horrid reputation in elimination games.

Manaea swore he would help buck a bad trend and couldn’t, saying the loss was "solely on me." Failure stuck with him against his will, try as he might to move on from a bad moment. That’s when he decided, on a whim, to stuff one backpack -- yeah, that’s all he brought -- and get out of his own head.

Manaea spent a month in in Southeast Asia, far away from the game and his haunting mistakes. He took a companion to Maldives before wandering through Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia alone.

“I wanted to get lost and see how that side of the world works,” Manaea said. “That was a reason why I wanted to take off, but I also wanted to get baseball out of my head. I was thinking about it too much and needed to back away and reset some things.”

Manaea can afford to travel in style, to hire drivers and local fixers and stay in fancy hotels. That’s not his preferred mode of travel.

“I’m there for the experience of the place I’m in,” Manaea said. “I don’t have an interest in going somewhere else and then living a life of luxury. I want to experience the local culture, to get outside the cities and head for the villages and learn as much as I can about people in a different part of the world.”

Even while doing that, it still took a while to truly let go. Baseball left his head after a week or two, allowing him to properly recalibrate.

Manaea wasn’t longing to stay away forever. The month away left him recharged, rejuvenated, ready to come home and get back to the routines that make him a dominant pitcher when healthy.

“That was huge for me,” Manaea said. “I came back with a reignited passion for the game. I was really raring to go after I got back.”

[RELATED: How Sean Manaea is taking on leadership role with A's]

Manaea entered spring training ready to be a leader and dominant part of an excellent A’s rotation, with last year’s struggles now and forever in the rearview.

“The wild-card game sucked,” Manaea said. “It was really, really disappointing. After taking all this time off and getting so far away from everything, I slowly realized that I learned so much from it. I’m not happy about it but in a way, I’m glad that it happened. I don’t think I was mentally ready for that moment, but after this experience I feel like I can’t be beat.

"You get knocked down sometimes, but you get back up smarter and stronger.”