Top 5 A’s questions entering 2017 spring training
Clean slate for 2017
The A’s hit the field for their first spring training workout Wednesday, looking to erase the memories of back-to-back last-place finishes in the American League West. It’s easy to forget that Oakland is just three years removed from the postseason, as the roster has undergone major changes and the balance of power has shifted in the division. But every major league team brims with optimism in February, and a clean slate offers the opportunity for a turnaround.
As pitchers and catchers prepare to report, here’s a look at the A’s top five questions entering spring training.
1. Does Sonny Gray return to his old self?
The right-hander is rejuvenated, healthy and ready to leave behind a 2016 season that went wrong at every turn. Gray returned from a forearm injury to pitch in one game at the end of last season, and he says his arm feels great entering camp.
After being an All-Star in 2015, his ERA ballooned to 5.69 last year, and two D.L. stints didn’t help. If Gray rediscovers his form, the A’s have their ace back atop their rotation, and this pitching staff looks a lot stronger.
2. Can a ‘healthy’ outlook be sustained?
If the A’s simply get through the entire spring with no major injuries, they’ll be a step ahead of last season. Felix Doubront, who won the fifth starter job, tore his elbow ligament in his final exhibition start and required Tommy John surgery. That was an omen for a season that saw the A’s use the disabled list a team-record 27 times.
Second baseman Jed Lowrie, outfielder Mark Canha and catcher Josh Phegley are among those who suffered season-ending injuries in 2016 and will show up to spring training looking to prove they are healthy and ready to contribute come Opening Day.
3. Who wins the closer’s job?
The A’s enter camp with four relievers who have substantial closer experience in John Axford, Santiago Casilla, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. But who emerges as the clear-cut ninth inning guy?
In reality, this will probably be an evolving question that continues to play out into the regular season. The A’s often shuttle multiple guys through the ninth. Whoever Bob Melvin designates the closer coming out of camp won’t necessarily be the guy for 162 games.
4. Where does Ryon Healy fit into the puzzle?
Healy hit .305 after being called up after the All-Star break, and Khris Davis was the only Athletic with more second-half homers and RBI. But with the signing of Trevor Plouffe to be the everyday third baseman, Healy’s role is somewhat of a question mark.
The A’s say there can be regular at-bats for Healy whether he’s platooning at first with Yonder Alonso or serving as DH. But spring is when they have to figure out their plan with Healy. He showed too much promise in 2016 not to be slated for regular playing time somewhere.
5. Can the A’s get their mojo back?
This is a team coming off two ‘downer’ seasons, including consecutive finishes in the AL West cellar and some bad clubhouse vibes that culminated with last year’s fight between Billy Butler and Danny Valencia (who are both gone).
Simply put, the A’s need to start having fun again. And though the best way to have fun is winning in the regular season, six-plus weeks in Arizona will show whether the seeds are there for better team chemistry.