Athletics

A's position outlook: Much different outfield look in 2017 than 2016

A's position outlook: Much different outfield look in 2017 than 2016

The A’s will arrive at spring training and greet two new pieces to their outfield mix, lending some intrigue as to how that position group shakes out by Opening Night.

Matt Joyce was signed in November to a two-year $11 million deal and provides a veteran left-handed hitter who can play either corner spot and be an effective pinch hitter. Just last week, Rajai Davis inked a one-year $6 million contract and is expected to be the everyday center fielder.

Beyond those two, there’s left fielder Khris Davis — coming off a 42-homer season — and a mix of others who could fit into the 25-man puzzle and perhaps factor in at designated hitter too.

A month’s worth of Cactus League games will help manager Bob Melvin and the front office sort things out, but here’s a look at how Oakland’s outfield currently shapes up.

STARRING CAST: Rajai Davis, who remains one of the major leagues’ most dangerous base runners at age 36, is a strong candidate to hit leadoff. His speed and base-stealing ability is needed because the A’s finished last in the American League last season in runs and slugging percentage, and as the roster currently stands, they still don’t look like a team that will be powered greatly by the long ball.

With Khris Davis expected to man left field most of the time (he’ll also get at-bats at DH), Joyce could form a platoon in right field with the right-handed hitting Mark Canha, who is a wild card as he returns from hip surgery that limited him to 16 games last year. Joyce, 32, hits righties well and posted a .403 on-base percentage in 293 plate appearances with Pittsburgh last season, and that was a big draw for an A’s team that ranked last in the league with a .304 OBP. He also led major league pinch hitters in RBI and walks and tied for the lead with four homers. Overall, he slashed .242/.403/.463 with 13 homers and 42 RBI.

CAMP COMPETITION: Lots of variables will factor into the makeup of the outfield. Do the A’s keep four outfielders or five? Do they sign a power hitter that can share first base with Yonder Alonso? If not, Canha may see significant time in a first-base platoon and that would open up an opportunity for another outfielder. It’s highly unlikely that Jake Smolinski and Brett Eibner, who hit right-handed, both make the roster. But one of them certainly could. Give Smolinski the edge entering camp as he’s done more in an A’s uniform to this point. Matt Olson, a combo first baseman/right fielder who the A’s hope blossoms into a bonafide big-league power hitter, probably needs a huge spring to break camp with the club as the roster stands right now.

A’s fans will get introduced to Jaycob Brugman this spring. A 17th round pick out of BYU in 2013, the left-handed hitting Brugman batted .285 with 12 homers and 87 RBI combined last season between Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville, and he provides a solid glove at all three outfield spots. The A’s added him to the 40-man roster this winter, and Brugman (who turns 25 later this month) will be in big league camp for the first time. Count him as the dark horse in the outfield competition.

PAY ATTENTION TO: Whether the A’s throw their hat in the ring for free agent Jose Bautista. With the six-time All Star still lingering on the open market, there’s thought that the 36-year-old Bautista may settle for a one-year contract. It doesn’t seem so far-fetched for Oakland to get involved in an offseason where the A’s already made an aggressive run at Edwin Encarnacion. Bautista, who’s primarily a right fielder, hit 40 homers for Toronto as recently as 2015.

A's 2019 projections: Mike Fiers looks to repeat strong performance

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A's 2019 projections: Mike Fiers looks to repeat strong performance

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.

When the A's non-tendered Mike Fiers in November, it seemingly marked the end of his tenure in green and gold. But just a few weeks later, Oakland re-signed the veteran right-hander to a two-year, $14.1 million deal, addressing their need for starting pitching.

Fiers performed well last year after coming over from the Tigers. The 33-year-old made 10 appearances with Oakland, including nine starts, going 5-2 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. For the season, Fiers went 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 172 innings. In eight career seasons, he has an ERA of 4.04.

Fiers was especially effective at the Oakland Coliseum, going 3-0 with a 2.91 ERA in six starts. While he is not necessarily a strikeout pitcher, he does a great job limiting walks and should benefit from the A's solid defense behind him.

Baseball Reference projects Fiers to go 10-9 next season with a 4.22 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. They also predict 139 strikeouts in 160 innings.

We expect better numbers than that for Fiers, who will anchor the A's rotation, especially during the first half of the season. Although he allows a high percentage of fly balls, pitching at the Coliseum will benefit him, as will Oakland's stellar defense.

[RELATED: Fiers' two-year contract makes A's look like geniuses]

Last year marked Fiers' best season since 2014 when he posted an ERA of 2.13 with Milwaukee. He seems to be getting better with age as he continues to hone his command and mix his pitches. We see no reason for that to change next season.

Projection: 13-8, 3.69 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 141 K, 171 IP

Source: A's unlikely to re-sign reliever Shawn Kelley in free agency

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Source: A's unlikely to re-sign reliever Shawn Kelley in free agency

Shawn Kelley played a significant role in the A's stellar bullpen last season, but NBC Sports California has learned the veteran right-hander is unlikely to re-sign with Oakland.

Kelley, 34, has reportedly been in talks with about 10 teams, and his agent Mike McCann confirmed to NBC Sports California that the A's are not among those clubs.

The two sides did have conversations earlier this offseason but have not spoken since Oakland signed right-hander Joakim Soria to a two-year, $15 million deal nearly a month ago.

Kelley earned $5.5 million last season and is projected to get a similar amount next year. As much as the A's would like to bring him back, they have identified starting pitching as a higher priority.

After joining the A's from the Washington Nationals last year, Kelley went 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in 19 games. Overall, he finished the season 2-0 with a 2.94 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 54 appearances.

He has a career ERA of 3.67 in 10 big league seasons.

Even without Kelley, the A's will boast one of the strongest bullpens in baseball next season. Oakland will bring back All-Star closer Blake Treinen, as well as setup men Fernando Rodney, Lou Trivino, J.B. Wendelken, and Ryan Buchter.

The addition of Soria will add even more depth to the group.

The A's would ideally like to sign another left-handed reliever to join Buchter in the pen, but again, starting pitching is the top priority.

Veteran starters Edwin Jackson and Brett Anderson are both still in the mix to return, though nothing appears imminent.