Athletics

Targeting outfield help key for A's entering the offseason

Targeting outfield help key for A's entering the offseason

OAKLAND — A record number of injuries provide the A’s a very legitimate excuse for why things went so wrong this season.

To a degree, however, the A’s made their own bed when it came to a second consecutive finish in the American League West cellar. Too many breakdowns, in too many facets of the game, helped them dig a hole that by mid-summer was too big to climb out of.

Reflecting on a 69-93 season during his end-of-year media session, A’s manager Bob Melvin cited many positives that he thinks can lead to a turnaround in 2017. But the A’s fifth-year skipper also acknowledged what a bumpy road that 2016 was to endure.

“I’m not happy about what’s happened the past couple of years,” Melvin said. “Not just this year but the last couple years. And we look to improve. And we’re going to probably commit to some of our younger guys, and we’ll see how we go as a team going forward. But I’m happy to get this year over.”

The emergence of several young impact players during the second half is a big bright spot. The key for Oakland’s front office heading into the offseason is judging how many veteran pieces to add to complement that young talent.

Billy Beane, the A’s executive vice president of baseball operations, said he thinks the team has a key building block in place with young, quality starting pitching depth. Offensively, he cited considerable room for improvement after Oakland finished last in the AL in runs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.

One area that the A’s definitely will look to upgrade is the outfield, which Beane described as a weakness throughout the organization.

“There’s no question center field, short and long-term, is a concern,” he said. “It’s an area that we don’t necessarily have an answer.”

Beane said the A’s may look to sign a center fielder in free agency. A big-ticket target like Ian Desmond figures to cost more than the A’s are willing to spend. A player such as Austin Jackson would be a more affordable target, though he’s coming off knee surgery and hasn’t played since June.

“Let’s be frank, we’ve got a lot of ground to make up,” Beane said. “If you’re just looking at simply where we are at the end of the season — again, it’s not necessarily a fair barometer because a lot of guys were out — but if you just look at run differential and look at what you need to quantitatively make up … we’ve got a lot of ground to catch up on.”

Beane and Melvin both mentioned Mark Canha, a player who spent most of this season recovering from hip surgery, as a candidate for right field if he’s healthy.

The A’s saw several rookies — including third baseman Ryon Healy, second baseman Joey Wendle and catcher Bruce Maxwell — make an impact. But interestingly, Beane and general manager David Forst said some of the team’s other highly touted prospects may not take the express route to the bigs, including third baseman Matt Chapman and middle infielder Franklin Barreto.

Both are “guys we like and who are coming, but we don’t know if they’re gonna be ready to start next year (in the majors),” Forst said. “Obviously both have gone to Triple-A, which is great, and performed well in their short time there. But here on Day 1 of the offseason, I don’t think anybody can say where players land on Opening Day next year.”

That points to Healy beginning next year as Oakland’s third baseman, though Melvin and Forst both mentioned his ability to play first. It would also suggest Yonder Alonso, eligible for arbitration this winter, is likely to stick at first base to begin next season.

The status of another arbitration-eligible position player, Danny Valencia, appears more in doubt after neither Beane, Forst nor Melvin spoke specifically about his potential role when asked about him.

What happens when a healthy Jed Lowrie returns from foot surgery in the spring? Melvin referred to the veteran switch hitter as “probably the prime option” at second base but he and Forst also talked up Lowrie’s ability to play multiple positions.

That speaks to the strong impression Wendle made, playing solid defense at second and providing an offensive spark despite overall numbers (.260, 1 HR, 11 RBI in 28 games) that didn’t jump off the page.

Projecting the A's postseason roster

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USATI

Projecting the A's postseason roster

Bob Melvin and his staff will have some tough decisions to make if/when they have to narrow down Oakland's active roster from 40 to 25 for the postseason.

Playoff teams have to set their roster prior to each round and cannot make changes until the next series, except in the case of injury. The American League Wild Card Game does count as its own round, meaning the winner of that game can set a new roster for the American League Division Series.

With 11 games remaining in the regular season, the A's and Yankees appear to be headed toward a Wild Card showdown. With that in mind, we decided to take a stab at Oakland's projected roster and starting lineup.

Catchers: Jonathan Lucroy, Josh Phegley

Infielders: Matt Olson, Jed Lowrie, Marcus Semien, Matt Chapman

Outfielders: Stephen Piscotty, Ramón Laureano, Nick Martini, Dustin Fowler, Matt Joyce

DH: Khris Davis

Utility: Chad Pinder, Mark Canha

Pitchers: Mike Fiers, Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino, Jeurys Familia, Fernando Rodney, Shawn Kelley, Ryan Buchter, Cory Gearrin, Yusmeiro Petit, Daniel Mengden, Brett Anderson

Starting lineup (vs RHP)

1. Nick Martini - LF
2. Matt Chapman - 3B
3. Jed Lowrie - 2B
4. Khris Davis - DH
5. Matt Olson - 1B
6. Stephen Piscotty - RF
7. Marcus Semien - SS
8. Ramón Laureano - CF
9. Jonathan Lucroy - C
Mike Fiers - RHP

Starting lineup (vs LHP)

1. Ramón Laureano - CF
2. Matt Chapman - 3B
3. Jed Lowrie - 2B
4. Khris Davis - DH
5. Stephen Piscotty - RF
6. Matt Olson - 1B
7. Marcus Semien - SS
8. Mark Canha - LF
9. Jonathan Lucroy - C
Mike Fiers - RHP

You probably noticed Edwin Jackson and Trevor Cahill were left off this roster. Since it's only a one-game series, Mengden and Anderson could provide long relief if necessary. Jackson and Cahill would then be added to the ALDS roster, if the A's were to advance. Liam Hendriks would also likely join the ALDS roster so Melvin would have the option of “bullpenning.”

Jackson, Cahill, and Hendriks would probably replace Joyce, Fowler or Canha, and Mengden or Petit. Mengden would seem to be a better bet for the ALDS roster than Petit because of his success in “bullpenning” games. As for the outfielders, Melvin would have to decide what he values most -- Fowler would provide the best pinch-running option, but Canha has crushed left-handed pitching and could be a valuable pinch-hitter.

As we stated at the top, Melvin will have some difficult choices to make. But it's a nice problem to have.

A's notes: Canha, Fowler demonstrate Oakland's depth with clutch hits

A's notes: Canha, Fowler demonstrate Oakland's depth with clutch hits

OAKLAND — Despite Tuesday's loss to the Angels, a pair of somewhat forgotten A's outfielders had big nights. Left fielder Mark Canha made his first start in 10 days and came through with a big three-run double in the fourth inning. Rookie Dustin Fowler pinch-hit in the eighth and notched a two-run single, his first hit since July 26.

“It just felt good to contribute,” Canha said. “It was a big moment for me. ... When you're not playing all the time, it's nice to have some reassurance that what you're working on when you're not playing is the right thing.”

“Everybody is ready to play,” added A's manager Bob Melvin. “They know we're going to pinch-hit and try to get the best matchups. ... Guys know in our dugout when to be ready for certain situations and both those guys were.

Canha's bases clearing double gave him 50 RBI for the season. He has already tied a career high with 16 home runs.

--- Right-handed pitcher Daniel Mengden allowed just one run in four innings of work. In his last three “bullpenning” appearances, Mengden has allowed one run on three hits in 13 2/3 innings.

“I'm getting really acclimated to this new role now,” he said. “I feel like I have my feet under me now and have a grasp of what to do and how to handle it.”

“I thought he was good,” Melvin added. “He gave us what he needed to and left with a lead. Usually in that situation, we're able to close out games.”

--- Pitcher Liam Hendriks has thrown five straight scoreless innings as an “opener.” He lowered his ERA to 2.70 in his six starts this season.

--- Second baseman Jed Lowrie walked three times, tying his single-game high. He set a career high with his 74th walk of the season.

--- Reliever Shawn Kelley allowed his first runs as a member of the A's. He had thrown 12 1/3 scoreless innings in his previous 14 games.

--- Angels center fielder Mike Trout blasted his 15th home run at the Coliseum since 2010, the most of any visiting player during that time. This season in Oakland, Trout is batting .424 (14-for-33) with two homers and six RBI. 

--- The A's have lost three games in a row for the first time since July 27-29, when they were swept by the Rockies.

--- The A's fell to 6-8 against the Angels this season. Los Angeles has won the season series four straight years. 

--- Despite Tuesday's loss, the A's are 56-25 since June 16, the best record in Major League Baseball.