Athletics

A's outlook: Options at second base 'a concern' for 2017 season

A's outlook: Options at second base 'a concern' for 2017 season

Among many questions Billy Beane addressed with reporters during the recent winter meetings, one in particular generated an honest and straightforward response from the A’s top baseball official.

It pertained to second base, and how that position sets up for Oakland in 2017.

“It’s a concern,” Beane said. “Long term, I think we feel like we have some options that probably aren’t quite ready yet. I think we prefer not to rush those options.”

The second base mystery revolves around the health of veteran Jed Lowrie, who is recovering from August surgery on his left foot to remedy a number of ailments, including ligament damage and a bunion on his big toe that sidelined him for the final two-plus months of 2016.

In his absence, Joey Wendle showed some promise at second during his first major league exposure in September. Chad Pinder, who also got his first taste of the bigs late in the season, returns to the picture as well. And it might just be that the A’s true long-term answer at second isn’t even playing there regularly yet.

Shortstop Franklin Barreto, Oakland’s top overall prospect, has logged some time on the right side of the bag in the minors and most recently in the Arizona Fall League. The 20-year-old Barreto figures to begin this season with Triple-A Nashville but will likely make his big league debut sometime in 2017.

Unlike center field — where the A’s lack both a short and long-term answer — team officials at least like their future options at second. The question is whether they seek immediate help via free agency or trade.

The Twins’ Brian Dozier is available but Minnesota is setting a high price for him and doesn’t necessarily have to unload him. Chase Utley, who makes the Bay Area his offseason home, is an intriguing name on the free agent front, though he’ll play this season at age 38.

STARRING CAST: All indications are that Lowrie, 32, is recovering well from foot surgery and that his timetable should have him ready for the start of spring training in February.

At full strength, Lowrie offers the A’s an experienced switch-hitter that manager Bob Melvin feels can bat anywhere in the order. But Lowrie also is three seasons removed from his last truly solid campaign — in 2013 he slashed .290/.344/.446 with 15 homers and 75 RBI for Oakland. His offensive production is key because Lowrie doesn’t offer great defensive range at second. The value comes with his bat.

“Jed certainly is an option,” Beane said. “We have to wait until he’s out there and playing and fully recovered from his surgery. … With guys who come off surgery, and when the timeline (to return) puts them right around spring training, if you bank on that you can find yourself in trouble.”

Keep that health factor in mind as you ponder whether the A’s could find a taker for Lowrie. It’s believed they’ve at least gauged trade interest for him this winter, though his physical status could make it tougher to pull off a deal. He’s in the final season of a three-year deal that will pay him $6.5 million in 2017. That’s not an outrageous amount, and Lowrie does offer the versatility to play shortstop or third if needed.

CAMP COMPETITION: Wendle hit .260 with a homer and 11 RBI in 28 games of his big league debut last season. Not eye-popping numbers, but he impressed those within the organization with his defense, an area in which he's improved by leaps and bounds since coming over from Cleveland in the Brandon Moss trade of December 2014. He also plays with a fire that the box score doesn’t account for. And if Wendle can improve his patience at the plate and work deeper into counts, the A’s could give him a longer look as their leadoff man.

Should the A’s not be convinced Lowrie is the everyday solution at second, Wendle and the right-handed hitting Pinder could form a second base platoon, though there’s not a guarantee that both (or either) even make the Opening Night roster.

Another prospect whose name is worth stashing away is Max Schrock, a non-roster invitee to spring training. Acquired from the Nationals for reliever Marc Rzepczynski and cash in August, the 22-year-old Schrock is a bat-first second baseman who has played as high as Double-A to this point.

PAY ATTENTION TO: Whether Wendle and Pinder get a look during the spring as true utility-type infielders. The A’s will need to identify a backup infielder. Pinder has experience playing second, short and third. And Wendle, though he’s primarily a second baseman, played a substantial amount of shortstop during winter ball in Mexico .

Jed Lowrie hopes A's front office recognizes opportunity this year

Jed Lowrie hopes A's front office recognizes opportunity this year

The Oakland A's last made the playoffs in 2014. Beginning about a month after Salvador Perez walked Oakland off in the 12th inning of the AL Wild Card Game, the A's began the process of reshaping their team, trading away key players such as All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson and letting others walk away in free agency.

Oakland second baseman Jed Lowrie, who's set to appear in his first-ever MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday, was one of those players. Naturally, the 34-year-old has a unique perspective, now that his A's have the sixth-best record in baseball. 

On Monday, Pedro Martinez asked Lowrie on MLB Network if the A's are going to stay together this time.

"You know, I've been in Oakland when we've actually added pieces," Lowrie said. "And I think that front office knows an opportunity when they see it, and hopefully they see the opportunity this year because I think we've got a good group."

His bosses might be one step ahead of him. A's executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Bean told The Athletic on Friday that his team is prepared to add at the trade deadline. General manager David Forst, meanwhile, told Jim Rome last week that his team "deserves a chance to stay together."

Does Lowrie believe it? 

“Like I said, it’s a smart group, and I think they recognize an opportunity when it presents itself,” Lowrie added in the MLB Network interview.

At 55-42, the A's might just have that opportunity. 

A's top prospect Jesus Luzardo honors Stoneman Douglas High School at Futures Game

luzardoap.jpg
AP

A's top prospect Jesus Luzardo honors Stoneman Douglas High School at Futures Game

While A's top prospect Jesus Luzardo was impressing scouts with his arm at Sunday's MLB Futures Game, all eyes should have been on his feet. 

A graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the 20-year-old Luzardo wore cleats honoring the 17 victims of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at the Parkland, Florida school. 

“It’s for those who passed and the people affected,” Luzardo told USA Today's Ted Berg before his start on Sunday. “After what happened, I’m glad to be here representing them — we have [Stoneman Douglas alum and Cubs first baseman Anthony] Rizzo, we have other guys. But it’s always good to be known that I went to Stoneman Douglas. I’m happy that I grew up there.”

Born in Peru, Luzardo and his family moved to Parkland when he was a baby. Luzardo told USA Today's Ted Berg he was supposed to be at his alma mater on Feb. 14, in order to throw batting practice to his old team, but stayed away from campus after coach Todd Fitz-Gerald told him there was an active shooter. 

Luzardo's honored the victims in his community elsewhere, too. He set up a YouCaring.com fundraiser to create a scholarship fund in honor of one of the victims, athletic director Chris Hixon. The fund has raised already just over $10,060, and is about $5000 shy of its $15,000 goal. 

The A's acquired Luzardo in a midseason trade with the Washington Nationals last season. Luzardo, who MLB.com ranked as the No. 60 prospect in baseball entering the season, moved up to Double-A this season. In 13 starts with the Midland RockHounds, Luzardo has pitched 63.2 innings with a 2.54 ERA and 1.01 WHIP.