Athletics

A's Summer Camp: Five key questions team faces before 2020 MLB season

A's Summer Camp: Five key questions team faces before 2020 MLB season

Pitchers and catchers normally have five full days to work before the full squad shows up for spring training. They’ll have 24 hours in spring training 2.0 or Summer Camp or whatever we’re calling baseball’s restart after hitting pause on the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Let’s just stick with training camp, a generic term that fits every point in the calendar.

The A’s start camp on Saturday, with one day afforded to pitchers and catchers. Everyone else shows up Sunday when the Green and Gold start training in earnest for a 60-game regular season that will be strange in every sense.

That will include a camp run out of Oakland Coliseum, featuring strict social distancing and testing protocols, with player workouts rotating and training almost exclusively done outside. Then we get to games played before zero humans but possibly hundreds of cardboard cutouts and a few reporters in the stands.

Before we get to the games that haven’t been formally scheduled, let’s take a look at five questions needing answers during Oakland's three-week training camp.

Can A’s stay as healthy as they are?

The A’s went through some typical spring-training injury issues that could’ve impacted the regular season. Pitcher A.J. Puk dealt with a shoulder strain in camp. Outfielder Stephen Piscotty was sidelined with an intercostal strain. Hurler Daniel Mengden spent the spring on the 60-day IL with an elbow issue.

All three players should be back and ready to ramp up for the season. That’s great news for an A’s team that’s stacked and needs to hit the ground running in a short season.

Can they stay that way with less time to get ready to play? Will this unique set-up have some ramifications regarding soft tissue injuries common to sudden activity increases after a prolonged lull? Time will tell on that front.

The A’s have depth throughout the roster and have plenty of injury protection, though losing an established or emerging star during this camp would be a real setback in a season with no margin for error.

How will A’s set up their pitching staff?

They have an excellent five-man rotation, featuring Mike Fiers, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Jesus Luzardo and Puk. They easily could make it six with Chris Bassitt, at least while pitchers ramp up after the season formally starts. Some teams are doing that, though there’s no indication the A’s will.

They could start the season with 15 pitchers, including a bullpen with several long relievers, to make things work in the short-term, especially with 30 roster spots available. There’s enough depth for the A’s to get by that way. Other teams will be operating under the same predicament, so strong bullpens will be vital in the early going especially. Defined roles and pitching pairings – a starter and a long man could work in tandem – could well be set up in camp.

How key will continuity be?

The A’s typically experience significant roster turnover between seasons. Not so this year. Most key positions players and pitchers are back for an opportunity to build off of last year’s 97-win season. Communication and on-field chemistry should be spot on even at the start of camp, especially among longer-tenured A’s.

The battery might be an exception, with new starting catcher Sean Murphy taking over this season. He had several weeks this spring and a September cameo with the team to work with the pitching staff. He made a point to work with every pitcher several times during the spring and will be comfortable calling games with anyone on the mound.

Having such stability throughout the roster should help the A’s start well despite this abbreviated camp.

[RELATED: Why A's Matt Chapman could win AL MVP award in 60-game 2020 MLB season]

Are there any position battles left?

The additional roster spots available early in the season should eliminate do-or-get-cut position battles that might have happened in the spring, especially at second base. Tony Kemp and Franklin Barreto should make the team. Vimael Machin seems like a lock as well, especially with Jorge Mateo traded to the Padres. Kemp and Barreto will both play, maybe in a straight platoon. Kemp, however, was getting steady work with the starters in the spring. That could well continue once the season starts.

Mark Canha sure seems like the regular left fielder, though Robbie Grossman will want some at-bats and Chad Pinder needs some playing time. Is there enough time in camp, while playing mostly intra-squad scrimmages, for an underdog to upset a frontrunner to start? That’s tough to see. The order of things could stay the same as it was foreshadowed in the spring.

[RELATED: A's add 17-year-old Robert Puason, five others to complete 60-man pool]

Will this whole thing work?

Major League Baseball has set up detailed protocols designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus within its teams. There’s a giant manual to follow, with players tested at least every other day. Can all this prevent an outbreak? Can it keep players healthy and get them ready for a regular-season that involves travel while exclusively playing teams in the A.L. West and N.L. West?

There’s no telling. The sport is going to try. Hopefully, they’re able to train and then play a season without players getting sick.

MLB rumors: Ramón Laureano suspension reduced from A's-Astros brawl

MLB rumors: Ramón Laureano suspension reduced from A's-Astros brawl

After an appeal, A's outfielder Ramón Laureano will have his suspension reduced from six games down to four, league sources told ESPN's Jeff Passan on Friday morning.

Laureano was suspended after charging toward the Houston Astros dugout Sunday following an exchange of words with coach Alex Cintrón. Laureano just had been hit by a pitch for the third time in the series. Cintron was suspended 20 games for his role in instigating the incident.

Laureano told reporters after the game that Cintrón had said something about Laureano's mother that prompted him to charge toward the dugout. Cintron denied the allegation, but MLB's suspension of Cintron for a third of the Astros' games seems to indicate he said something objectionable.

Houston has been a target of much frustration around MLB following the revelation of a systemic sign-stealing scheme the Astros utilized during the 2017 season, one in which they went on to win the World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

[RELATED: Why A's will greatly miss Laureano during his suspension]

Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly was suspended eight games earlier this season after throwing at multiple Houston hitters and mocking shortstop Carlos Correa after a strikeout, prompting the benches to clear.

As Passan noted above, Laureano's suspension will carry through all three games of this weekend's Bay Bridge Series against the Giants, and the first game of Oakland's next series in Arizona against the Diamondbacks. The outfielder won't miss any divisional contests.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]
 

Scott Boras discusses Matt Chapman's contract status, A's philosophy

Scott Boras discusses Matt Chapman's contract status, A's philosophy

A’s third baseman Matt Chapman is really good at baseball. That could complicate things down the line.

The two-time Platinum Glove Award winner and 2019 All-Star is one of the best third basemen in the game, and according to his agent, Scott Boras, he should be treated as such.

Boras spoke to The Athletic’s Alex Coffey about how MLB's shortened 60-game season could pertain to Chapman and his upcoming arbitration process. If this were a normal 162-game year, the A's star could have been paid anywhere from $10-12 million via arbitration or with an agreement with the team.

But Chapman, playing on a minimum contract, just has adjusted season salary of $230,926, according to Spotrac. 

Yes, the guy who led all of baseball with 32 Defensive Runs Saved last season is making that little. This is the same guy who carries a .920 OPS this season after accumulating 8.3 WAR in 2018 and 2019.

It’s no secret he wants to get paid, and it’s even less of a secret he needs to get paid.

“Matt’s a star player,” Boras told Coffey. “He’s a franchise player. The right of arbitration means more to franchise players than anybody, no doubt.”

Boras also made it a point to list other prominent third basemen in the league. And there are plenty. Colorado Rockies’ third baseman Nolan Arenado, a childhood friend of Chapman, has an adjusted salary of almost $13 million this year. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

It’s the same story for the Kris Bryants and Alex Bregmans of the world, who will be making eight figures per year under their current contracts.

The A’s have spoken for years about building a new stadium, which would then allow the team to spend more money on their players. But Boras believes the stadium itself is secondary to Chapman.

“You build the stadium,” he said, “and then it’s ready to start. But you forgot to plant the grass. So you build the stadium, it’s beautiful, but you look at the field and you forgot to plant the grass. The grass is the players. Now you’ve got a beautiful stadium and you’ve got no grass. No one wants to go watch it. The players have to precede the stadium. That’s the rule.”

[RELATED: Chapman believes the defensive game deserves more respect]

Chapman will be a free agent after the 2023 season, which might seem far off in the distance right now, but we know quickly these things go by.

He wants to stay with Oakland and A’s fans want nothing more than for that to happen. While the pandemic threw a wrench in more than just the game itself, it's still yet to be determined what his future might be in Oakland.