Athletics

Rewind: Identifying a 2017 closer is crucial task for A's

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Rewind: Identifying a 2017 closer is crucial task for A's

Looking ahead to next season, the A’s will have a nice collection of parts from which to build their bullpen.

However, identifying a full-time closer is one major item for the spring training to-do list.

That’s not a knee-jerk reaction to Friday’s 7-6 walk-off loss to the Rangers, in which Ryan Madson blew his seventh save of the season as Texas erased a 6-5 deficit in the ninth.

Madson has done an admirable job as Oakland’s closer, particularly considering this wasn’t a role he was originally slated for. The A’s signed him to a three-year $22 million contract in the offseason to be a shutdown setup man for Sean Doolittle. But Doolittle was still finding his form during spring training after prolonged shoulder issues sidelined him for most of 2015.

[STIGLICH: Instant Replay: Madson blows save, Rangers walk off on A's]

Madson was manager Bob Melvin’s choice for the ninth from Opening Night onward, even though he maintained early on that he was picking his closer based on matchups. The 36-year-old Madson has responded with 30 saves, just two shy of the career-high 32 he notched with the Phillies in 2011. At this stage of his career, the A’s probably couldn’t have expected more in turning to Madson as the regular closer.

But given his age, and the fact he’s been prone to the occasional ninth-inning mishap, it’s fair to say that the A’s best bullpen scenario for 2017 would probably have Madson returning to a setup role. Yet for that to happen, someone else needs to emerge as closer.

Doolittle is the logical candidate to return to his former role. He once again was hindered by shoulder problems this season. But lately he’s been showing the life and velocity on his fastball that’s so crucial for him. He’s also mixed in the occasional slider with success, and should that become a consistently reliable second offering next season, Doolittle could find himself back handling the ninth, though his health can’t exactly be taken for granted.

John Axford, who like Madson has prior closer experience, has battled inconsistency. Liam Hendriks has emerged as an effective reliever since returning from a triceps strain, and Ryan Dull enjoyed his record-setting run of stranding runners on base in the first half. But none of them seems an ideal candidate to close based on their total body of work.

It’s also hard to see the A’s going out this winter and spending big to acquire a closer, given how aggressive they were last offseason, spending $32 million on multi-year deals for both Madson and Axford, plus trading for Hendriks and Marc Rzepczynski (who has since been dealt away).

The A’s may have multiple decent options to close, but no slam-dunk favorite. Their situation could be a lot worse, but it leaves a big question to answer as the offseason approaches.

**

Though his night was overshadowed by the walk-off loss, A’s center fielder Brett Eibner enjoyed his biggest game as a major leaguer, hitting a three-run homer with a career-high four RBI. Eibner lined an RBI single in the fourth and followed with a three-run laser over the wall in left in the sixth.

Now’s the time to shine for the 27-year-old Eibner, who hadn’t reached the majors until the Royals called him up in May. He was traded to Oakland for Billy Burns in July but had been mostly quiet since joining the A’s until this road trip. He’s seen time in all three outfield spots, and the A’s are busy evaluating lots of players because they’re looking at an unsettled outfield situation entering next spring. Left fielder Khris Davis is the only player guaranteed to start, and even he figures to see lots of time as the designated hitter.

A's Matt Chapman undergoes shoulder surgery, will swing again in six weeks

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USATSI

A's Matt Chapman undergoes shoulder surgery, will swing again in six weeks

Matt Chapman had his second surgery of the offseason on Friday and underwent a successful procedure on his left shoulder, the A's announced. 

The Gold Glove-winning third baseman will begin physical therapy next week, and is expected to be able to swing a bat in six weeks, according to Dr. William Workman, who performed the surgery. Six weeks from the surgery is Jan. 25, 2019, or about two weeks before the start of spring training. 

Chapman recently felt discomfort in his shoulder during off-season workouts, according to the A's. In October, Chapman underwent surgery on his left thumb, and was expected to make a full recovery. 

Chapman emerged as one of the most important A's last season, and arguably the best defender in baseball. He led all of MLB with 29 defensive runs saved, and was voted the winner of the AL Platinum Glove. 

The A's need his glove -- and his bat -- healthy for spring training, no matter how the rest of the offseason shakes out. 

A's in no hurry to sign starting pitchers as MLB free agency progresses

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AP

A's in no hurry to sign starting pitchers as MLB free agency progresses

Right at the beginning of this offseason, A's executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane identified starting pitching as the club's top priority. General manager David Forst and manager Bob Melvin both echoed that sentiment.

So why has the team yet to add a single starting pitcher?

"I don't think there's a need to be knee-jerk right now because some of these guys will still be on the board till the end," Melvin said at the 2018 MLB Winter Meetings this week in Las Vegas. "Our guys have been pretty good about identifying the right fits here. So it doesn't look great right now as far as our rotation, but I think our guys have a pretty good handle on it."

Added Forst: "We have sort of targeted conversations, free agents and trades, and kind of go at our own pace. I don't know that any external forces are going to change that."

[RELATED: Sources: A's, Kelley's reps have 'positive dialogue']

The A's did meet with several agents at the winter meetings, and they remain interested in a handful of starters, including Edwin Jackson, Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson from last year's squad.

But while some teams feel a sense of urgency to wheel and deal at the winter neetings, Oakland preferred to take a more cautious approach.

"There are certainly good things about being [at the winter meetings], but we also want to get out, look at what we've done in the light of day and make sure it's the right thing," Forst explained.

Said Beane: "Things don't always get done [at the winter meetings], but a lot of groundwork is laid and a lot of things happen right after."

That explanation might not satisfy fans, but the strategy has worked for Oakland in the past. Last year, the A's waited until March to sign Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson. They didn't add Edwin Jackson until June.

Even if other teams go out and spend big money on starting pitchers, Oakland won't let that affect its negotiations.

"We kind of set our price," Forst said. "We know what we can do within the confines of our payroll and try to stay on that."

[RELATED: Former A's top pick goes No. 1 overall in Rule 5 Draft]

As for the current roster, the A's actually do already have five or six viable starters. Everyone in the organization agrees top prospect Jesús Luzardo is ready to pitch at the big-league level. Add Daniel Mengden, Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt and Paul Blackburn, and you have a starting five.

The A's also recently acquired 25-year-old right-hander Tanner Anderson from the Pirates, and they expect him to compete for a rotation slot. 22-year-old righty Grant Holmes is another possibility.

Of course, some of Oakland's best pitchers are injured, though prospect A.J. Puk and Jharel Cotton should be able to return midway through the season.

"We feel really good about the depth we have," Melvin said. "Now, granted, a lot of these guys are hurt right now, and you never really know how you're going to respond. But there's a whole host of guys who are going to be back (between) spring training (and) the end of the year that we're really excited about."

That's not to say the A's will fail to add a few more starters to the mix, either through free agency or trade. It just might not happen as soon as fans would like.

But remember, it's a long offseason.