Athletics

A's opening day roster: Five surprise candidates who could make team

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A's opening day roster: Five surprise candidates who could make team

Believe it or not, the A's season-opening two-game series against the Mariners in Japan is just two weeks away.

With spring training winding down, Oakland will soon have to narrow its roster to 25 players. While we have a pretty good idea what that active roster might look like, we have also seen a handful of players emerge as surprise candidates to make the squad.

Here are the top five:

Franklin Barreto

Okay, so Barreto wouldn't be a complete shock, but it appeared he had lost his opportunity when the A's acquired Jurickson Profar to play second base. However, the 23-year-old has put together a terrific spring playing in the outfield.

Barreto has worn out pitchers to the tune of a .400/.455/.700 slash line with a home run, three doubles, two RBI, and six runs scored. This follows an excellent performance in Venezuelan winter ball where he significantly cut down his strikeout rate. It's still unlikely that Barreto will make the Opening Day roster, but he has certainly made it a tougher decision for Oakland.

Aaron Brooks

After struggling in his first appearance of the spring, Brooks looked extremely sharp his last time out, tossing four shutout innings against the Rockies. The A's acquired Brooks from the Brewers late last season for cash considerations. The 28-year-old appeared in three games in September and did not allow a run.

Oakland's starting rotation still has plenty of question marks and Brooks could make a run at the number five starter job. The right-hander could also prove valuable as a long reliever or potentially an opener.

Tanner Anderson

The A's have been high on Anderson since acquiring him from Pittsburgh in November. The 25-year-old right-hander struggled in limited innings with the Pirates last season but pitched well at the Triple-A level.

This spring, Anderson has allowed just one run in six innings, while striking out nine. The Harvard graduate has experience as both a starter and reliever - that versatility could make him an interesting proposition for the A's.

Cliff Pennington

The A's brought Pennington back for a second stint in February, signing the veteran infielder to a minor-league contract. The 34-year-old has proven to be a great presence in the clubhouse this spring and has been solid at the plate as well, batting .267 with a double and two RBI.

Pennington has a career slash line of .242/.309/.339 in 11 major league seasons, including five with the A's. Even if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster, he provides depth at multiple positions.

[RELATED: Luzardo presents 'difficult decision']

Wei-Chung Wang

Wang pitched for the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization League last year after spending a few seasons in the Milwaukee Brewers organization to start his career. The 26-year-old left-hander signed a minor-league contract with the A's in February, which included an invitation to spring training.

Wang has earned two saves this spring without allowing a single baserunner in his two innings of work. The A's could certainly use another left-handed reliever, and while veteran Jerry Blevins is probably the frontrunner, Wang has given Oakland something to think about.
 

Billy Beane opens up on Marcus Semien-A’s contract, Astros scandal

Billy Beane opens up on Marcus Semien-A’s contract, Astros scandal

It's a busy time for Billy Beane and the A's. 

After being eliminated two consecutive seasons in the AL Wild Card Game, Beane and the A's front office are trying to improve a team that won 97 games last year and bridge the gap between them and the Houston Astros. 

The A's executive vice president of baseball operations spoke with NBC Sports California in an exclusive 1-on-1 interview from the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego on Tuesday, opening up on a range of offseason storylines affecting the green and gold on -- and off -- the field. 

What’s next for Marcus Semien?

On a personal level, it makes all the sense in the world that the A’s want to keep their MVP-caliber shortstop, and that Marcus Semien would want to remain long-term with the MLB franchise right around the corner from where he was born and raised.

If only baseball were that simple.

“I think the first order of a business standpoint is getting through this arbitration season [in 2020],” Beane told NBC Sports California on Tuesday, indicating that a bigger picture agreement is not immediately right around the corner.

“Guys who have years like Marcus usually get significant raises, and that’s the anticipation we’re expecting for him through the arbitration process. Anything beyond that, we’d be better served at discussing after that one year is in place.”

Semien can become an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

Houston’s scandal affecting the A’s

Insiders know MLB’s investigation into the Houston Astros cheating scandal remains active and aggressive. Much as electronically stealing signs would have impacted the playoffs, it also would have greatly affected Oakland, who lost the AL West by six and 10 games, respectively, to the Astros in the last two seasons.

“If true, it certainly would have had a huge impact on us much as anybody,” Beane said.  “It would be extremely disappointing and you’d hope that Major League Baseball would do something to make sure that never happens again.”

Instead of projecting what punishment could rectify the situation, Beane was more introspective about allegations that span back to 2017.

“My first thought, if it did happen, is how good our guys are," Beane said. "When you think of winning 97 games back-to-back years, it’s a compliment to the guys in our room, and how good they are."

A’s biggest targets?

With the exception of roles to be won at second base and a backup catcher, most of the fielding positions seem to be spoken for in Oakland. Add in a historically promising starting rotation on paper, and what exactly are the A’s trying to accomplish before opening day?

“It’s obligatory to say that you’re looking for an extra bullpen arm, and that would probably be the case with us," Beane said.

The story of Oakland’s relief core was Jekyll and Hyde from 2018 to 2019: From one of the most dominant in the majors to last season, where Liam Hendriks unexpectedly became the team's All-Star closer after being designated for assignment in 2018.

“Bullpens, from year to year are probably the most volatile in terms of performance," Beane said. "Last year we struggled with it, and mainly was with the same cast of characters too. Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out.”

While some additions are still necessary, Beane did note that the “makings of a good bullpen” are already in place.

[RELATED: A's stars Semien, Hendriks voted to All-MLB Second Team]

Can Khrush bounce back?

The stats were once scary-consistent for Khris Davis, who hit .247 in four straight seasons and eclipsed 40 homers from 2016 through 2018. But in 2019, the designated hitter's averaged dropped 27 points (.220) and he also hit 25 fewer homers (23). All of this in a year where he signed a big contract, and suffered an abnormal injury playing left field.

“Khris took it really personally too,” Beane said. “He’s got a lot of pride, you could tell it was really bothering him, he feels like it's his responsibility to hit 40 homers every year. And he had done that. For him to struggle last year, I think it kind of snowballed on him.”

It was difficult to know entirely whether Davis’ struggles were mostly physical, mental, or a combination of each. But the confidence is that a reset button will only help the slugger in 2020.

“The hope is, with a long offseason he’s able to forget it, and do what he usually does: hit .247 and hit 40 home runs,” Beane said. 

A's Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks make inaugural All-MLB second team

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A's Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks make inaugural All-MLB second team

The A's were well-represented on the inaugural All-MLB Team. 

Shortstop Marcus Semien and closer Liam Hendriks made the second team, MLB announced Tuesday at the Winter Meetings. 

Semien and Hendriks broke out in big ways in 2019, earning their spots in the best seasons of their respective careers.

The shortstop played all 162 games, slashing a career-best .285/.369/.522 to go with 33 home runs and 92 RBI. Semien finished third in AL MVP voting behind Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the 2019 MVP. 

[RELATED: Why Melvin, A's aren't worried about competitors' moves]

Hendriks, meanwhile, emerged as a steadying force in the A's bullpen amid Blake Treinen's struggles. The Australian posted a 1.80 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, both of which were career bests. He also recorded 25 saves and made his first career All-Star Game. 

The All-MLB Team was selected by fan voting (50 percent) and a panel of experts (50 percent).