Athletics

A's outfield depth can withstand potential loss of Kyler Murray to NFL

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A's outfield depth can withstand potential loss of Kyler Murray to NFL

The A's are still holding out hope that center field prospect Kyler Murray will choose to play baseball professionally rather than football, but it feels like an uphill battle.

Earlier this week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported the A's are expecting their 2018 first-round pick to declare for the NFL Draft, with one source saying Murray was leaning toward a professional football career.

As disappointing as that would be for Oakland, there is a silver lining. The A's have a great deal of outfield depth beyond Murray, both at the Major League level and in the farm system.

We'll start with the big league squad, which features six young outfield options. Stephen Piscotty, Ramón Laureano, Nick Martini, Mark Canha, Dustin Fowler, and Chad Pinder are all under the age of 30, and all six are under team control for at least three more years.

Laureano has already shown he has the tools to be Oakland's center fielder of the future, not to mention the present. In just two months last season, the 24-year-old hit .288/.358/.474 with five home runs, 19 RBI, and seven stolen bases, and that doesn't even get into his defensive brilliance.

Piscotty, Canha, and Martini are all coming off career years and will have an opportunity to build on their efforts next season. Fowler and Pinder are also highly-regarded talents and figure to make an impact in 2019, and top infield prospect Franklin Barreto can play the outfield as well, adding even more depth on the roster.

[RELATED: Kyler Murray decision not the end of the world for A's]

At the minor league level, three of the A's top eight prospects are outfielders (four if you include shortstop Jorge Mateo, who played some center field in 2017). Austin Beck, Lázaro Armenteros, and Jameson Hannah are all 21 or younger and the A's think very highly of all three. Top 30 prospects Skye Bolt, Tyler Ramirez, and Luis Barrera are also coming off strong seasons and provide further depth in the organization.

Obviously, losing Murray to the NFL would hurt. There's no getting around that. But thanks to the A's additional outfield talent, it wouldn't be a devastating blow to the franchise.
 

Revisiting A's signing of Grant Balfour in free agency eight years ago

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Revisiting A's signing of Grant Balfour in free agency eight years ago

January 18, 2011 officially marked the beginning of "Balfour Rage."

The A's signed Australian relief pitcher Grant Balfour to a two-year, $8 million contract with a $4.5 million option for a third year. Balfour, who was 33 years old at the time, had spent the previous four seasons with Tampa Bay, seeing mixed results.

The right-hander was coming off a strong season in 2010, however, going 2-1 with a 2.28 ERA in 57 appearances. He had never been a closer in his big league career, but averaged better than a strikeout per inning as a setup man.

Performance

Balfour had a strong 2011 season in Oakland in a setup role. He went 5-2 with two saves and a 2.47 ERA, striking out 59 in 62 innings. Balfour eventually took over the closer role in 2012 and recorded 24 saves in 26 opportunities with a 2.53 ERA.

The A's exercised Balfour's option in 2013 and he posted a career-high 38 saves in 41 opportunities with a 2.59 ERA, earning his first and only All-Star appearance. He also set the A's franchise record with 41 consecutive saves converted.

Balfour quickly became a fan favorite, known for his fiery passion and screaming of profanities on the mound. "Balfour Rage," as it became known, sometimes rubbed batters the wrong way, but Balfour insisted it was just his way of pumping himself up. Needless to say, A's fans loved it.

[RELATED: How A's could learn from Coco Crisp signing nine years ago]

Lesson

The Balfour signing was a great success for Oakland. In three seasons, he went 9-7 with 64 saves and a 2.53 ERA. For just over $12 million, that was a bargain.

Balfour proved to be a late developer in his career. He didn't really put it all together until he was in his 30s. While the A's signed Balfour to be a setup man, they were open to an increased role for him and eventually he earned the closer job.

Of course, Balfour's personality was a big part of his success in Oakland. "Balfour Rage" resonated with fans and teammates alike. That became his identity and both he and his team embraced it.

2019 free agent comparison

It's not exactly "Balfour Rage," but Sergio Romo is quite flamboyant on the mound. Like Balfour, Romo wears his emotions on his sleeve and gets fired up when he records an important out, sometimes bothering hitters.

Romo, 35, went 3-4 with 25 saves and a 4.14 ERA last season with the Rays. For his career, the right-handed reliever owns a 2.86 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, averaging well over a strikeout per inning.

A's 2019 Projections: Josh Phegley could start unless team makes moves

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A's 2019 Projections: Josh Phegley could start unless team makes moves

Editor's note: Over the next few weeks, NBC Sports California will be analyzing a different A's player each day to project their numbers for next season.

Unless the A's add another catcher, Josh Phegley is poised to get the most playing time of his big league career. Phegley and Chris Herrmann are currently the only catchers on the A's active roster and they figure to platoon behind the plate.

Last season, Phegley hit .204/.255/.344 with two home runs, seven doubles, and 15 RBI in 39 games. The 30-year-old re-signed with the A's in November for one year at $1.075 million.

Phegley has a career slash line of .223/.264/.372. His best season came in 2015 when he hit .249/.300/.449 with a career-high nine homers and 34 RBI.

Phegley has performed slightly better against left-handed pitching throughout his career, hitting .243/.279/.414. The right-handed hitter figures to get most of next season's at-bats against southpaws, with Herrmann starting against righties.

Phegley has also been solid defensively throughout his career, maintaining a .992 fielding percentage and throwing out 33 percent of attempted base stealers, five points above the league average.

Baseball Reference projects Phegley to hit .223/.285/.368 next year with six home runs, 15 doubles, and 28 RBI. They estimate him at 242 at-bats, which would be a career-high.

[RELATED: Chris Herrmann 2019 projections]

Phegley has done everything the A's have asked of him over the years and proven to be a consistent player and great clubhouse presence. We expect a slight improvement from last season, especially if he gets increased playing time.

Projection: .227/.297/.374, 6 HR, 12 doubles, 27 RBI