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.

Why A's are focused more on keeping young stars than MLB free agency

Why A's are focused more on keeping young stars than MLB free agency

The AL West is moving and shaking early this MLB offseason, with players coming in and out of the division. 

Star third baseman Anthony Rendon reportedly agreed to a seven-year, $245 million contract to join the Angels. The Halos also traded for former top prospect Dylan Bundy to add to their rotation, and reportedly are pursuing longtime Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. The Astros, who have been the cream of the crop out west, lost pitcher Gerrit Cole to the Yankees, and Mariners general manager Jerry DiPoto is bound to make 47 trades by spring training. 

A's GM David Forst says he's more focused on his own squad than what his division foes are up to, but he certainly isn't mad about the Cole news. 

"I'm not sad to see Gerrit Cole leave our division is the best way to put it," Forst said to NBC Sports California in a 1-on-1 interview Wednesday. "We try not to get too wrapped up into what other teams are doing."

The A's came to the Winter Meetings in San Diego looking to upgrade their roster like every other team, however, they're much more focused on who they have in-house as opposed to the free-agent market this year. 

Oakland should receive a big boost to its starting rotation with the additions of Jesus Luzardo (22) and A.J. Puk (24) next season. The A's infield also is full of young talent, including budding stars Marcus Semien (29), Matt Chapman (26) and Matt Olson (25). Franklin Barreto (23), Jorge Mateo (24) and Sheldon Neuse (25) will compete for second base. 

"We've got a really good foundation and we're not heavily invested in free agency right now because we have those guys," Forst said. "We have young pitching, we have the position player group. So our focus has been on filling holes -- looking for a left-handed bat, something in the bullpen. We're fortunate enough to not have to be out there in free agency." 

Semien, who finished third in AL MVP voting last season after hitting 33 homers with an .892 OPS, is expected to earn nearly $14 million in arbitration this offseason and becomes a free agent after next season. The Bay Area native also has reiterated his hope to stay with the A's long term. 

Chapman and Olson both are arbitration-eligible after next season and are set to hit free agency once the 2023 season ends. 

"Certainly our hope is to keep all these guys together," Forst said. "You mentioned Marcus, who's going to be a free agent potentially after this year. That's something we'll address as the season goes along, and the rest of those guys, we're looking for ways to keep them in Oakland as long as possible."

The A's real goal when it comes to 2020 is avoiding the AL Wild Card Game after falling two years in a row in the winner-take-all contest. Forst and the rest of the front office is focused on giving Oakland its best chance at winning the division to get a better shot at the World Series. 

[RELATED: Beane opens up on A's-Semien negotiations, Astros scandal]

"You want to give your guys a chance to play in a series with a better chance to advance," Forst said. "To do that, you have to win the division. We've obviously stayed close to Houston the last couple of years, but as we put this team together, we're definitely looking towards a way to win the division, to get out of the wild card game and give our guys a better chance at a division series."

The A's will need another big season from the Semien, Chapman, Olson trio for that to happen, and they hope to keep them together well into the next decade. 

MLB rumors: A's interested in acquiring Jed Lowrie for third time

MLB rumors: A's interested in acquiring Jed Lowrie for third time

A's general manager David Forst made it clear the organization is looking for a left-handed bat at the second base position following the Jurickson Profar trade to the San Diego Padres.

That could mean a reunion.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser reported the A's have "had internal conversations about bringing back" Jed Lowrie via trade. But there are 10 million reasons the New York Mets wouldn't go through with that transaction.

The Mets would have to eat a big chunk of that $10 million salary the 35-year-old possesses. 

Switch-hitting Lowrie had two stints with the A's totaling five seasons in which he earned an All-Star selection in 2018 when he slashed .267/.353/.448 line with 23 home runs and 99 RBI. He was also in MVP talks during that time.

He was signed by the Mets as a free agent last year, but played in only nine games as he was dealing with a series of leg injuries over the course of the 2019 season.

Having him back in green and gold would prove not only beneficial for the A's, but could give a clearer sense of what the Mets would do with a somewhat crowded infield. Robinson Cano could be the everyday second baseman if the team doesn't decided for the veteran to take on a lesser role, and the third base spot has Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis who could take over at the hot corner.

[RELATED: Marcus Semien reiterates wanting to stay with A's]

Jorge Mateo and Franklin Barreto are the current A's at the second base position along with Sheldon Neuse who played at the position a bit last season. Lowrie would help make the starting decision easier. And he would probably want that season of redemption after sitting on the sidelines.