Athletics

What's next? Six things the A's need to do going forward

What's next? Six things the A's need to do going forward

1- Acquire more arms

The 2019 A’s rotation already has a lot to overcome with Paul Blackburn, Jharel Cotton, Daniel Gossett, Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, A.J. Puk, and Andrew Triggs all shelved for various durations of 2018 - and potentially into 2019, and beyond.  

Jesus Luzardo is highly touted at the AAA level, and primed to join Oakland at some point next season - but he alone is obviously not the entire answer. The A’s have a competitive team via bats and gloves, but need to build a supporting rotation of arms in order to keep current pace.

2- Keep KD

Khris Davis is arbitration eligible for 2019 and becomes a free agent in 2020. The A’s would be wise to lock down their biggest offensive threat for those years, and beyond.

He is a proven 40-plus home run hitter in his time with the A's, and has somehow managed a .247 batting average across four consecutive seasons. Davis has already stated his desire to stay with the team, and fits their need for an everyday DH perfectly.

With Davis, it’s equally about his direct contributions to the lineup, but also his presence. Take him out, and the pitches that guys like Matt Chapman and Matt Olson see will be different. Retaining Davis would also send a huge message to the fans how serious the franchise is about keeping star players in town.

3- Lock up Lucroy

What’s amazing is that the A’s acquired Jonathan Lucroy only 17 days before the 2018 season started. Looking back, where would this team have been without him?

The veteran presence, the calming effect on a transitional rotation and bullpen - it’s clear he was one of the most important additions of this season. The A’s would be wise to bring the 32-year-old back into the fold for multiple seasons, as his durability and value was proven immediately and regularly during 2018.

4- Melvin, Beane & Forst

Bob, Billy and David are all signed through 2019. But in baseball, nobody operates comfortably on a contract year.

I’m not here to play top decision-maker for the A’s, but what’s clear are two things -- you have known commodities in a front office that consistently procures high volumes of top talent, and you have a field manager who puts together puzzle pieces with the best of them.

Those are two slices of the pie most major league clubs can’t even claim to have. The team intends to operate differently moving forward with the phasing out of MLB’s luxury tax benefits. But as it relates to finding the right players, and keeping them happy - those aspects of baseball business won’t be changing much soon. Which is why it seems favorable to let Melvin, Beane and Forst see through the current team they began building years ago.

5- Jed or Franklin? 

Next season brings a fork in the road for the A’s, Jed Lowrie, and Frankin Barreto.

Entering this past season, not many thought Jed would last beyond the trade deadline in Oakland. But a career performance, combined with continued leadership, kept Lowrie on this team and Barreto still waiting for an everyday opportunity at second base.

I was moved by Jed’s performance and personally believe he has more of the same in store. Simultaneously, I also realize Barreto was procured for a reason and at 23 years old next season, could finally be coming into his readiness at the major league level.

The A’s can’t afford to have him on the back burner many more years without giving Barreto the proper chance. So a difficult decision remains, but in this rare case, it’s one that can’t go very wrong.

6- Announce the new ballpark

Full disclosure, this comes from the personal wish-list.  

The A’s were so busy on the baseball field during 2018, most of us somewhat took our eye off the ball in regards to the new stadium. Well, all of us except Dave Kaval. I know firsthand how hard the team President has been working publicly, and behind the scenes to keep the process moving for a new stadium in Oakland.

Imagine building off the momentum of this season, by announcing new stadium plans, including renderings before 2019. It would be a best-case business timing scenario for the franchise. The primary reservation for such an announcement, is what we we remember from December of last year, where plans at the Peralta site unexpectedly fell through.

Certainly the A’s will be extra cautious this time around of what becomes public, before it can be possible. But just imagine the attitudes around this team and its future, if there’s a countdown on the Coliseum before next season even begins.

Billy Beane opens up on Marcus Semien-A’s contract, Astros scandal

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Billy Beane opens up on Marcus Semien-A’s contract, Astros scandal

It's a busy time for Billy Beane and the A's. 

After being eliminated two consecutive seasons in the AL Wild Card Game, Beane and the A's front office are trying to improve a team that won 97 games last year and bridge the gap between them and the Houston Astros. 

The A's executive vice president of baseball operations spoke with NBC Sports California in an exclusive 1-on-1 interview from the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego on Tuesday, opening up on a range of offseason storylines affecting the green and gold on -- and off -- the field. 

What’s next for Marcus Semien?

On a personal level, it makes all the sense in the world that the A’s want to keep their MVP-caliber shortstop, and that Marcus Semien would want to remain long-term with the MLB franchise right around the corner from where he was born and raised.

If only baseball were that simple.

“I think the first order of a business standpoint is getting through this arbitration season [in 2020],” Beane told NBC Sports California on Tuesday, indicating that a bigger picture agreement is not immediately right around the corner.

“Guys who have years like Marcus usually get significant raises, and that’s the anticipation we’re expecting for him through the arbitration process. Anything beyond that, we’d be better served at discussing after that one year is in place.”

Semien can become an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

Houston’s scandal affecting the A’s

Insiders know MLB’s investigation into the Houston Astros cheating scandal remains active and aggressive. Much as electronically stealing signs would have impacted the playoffs, it also would have greatly affected Oakland, who lost the AL West by six and 10 games, respectively, to the Astros in the last two seasons.

“If true, it certainly would have had a huge impact on us much as anybody,” Beane said.  “It would be extremely disappointing and you’d hope that Major League Baseball would do something to make sure that never happens again.”

Instead of projecting what punishment could rectify the situation, Beane was more introspective about allegations that span back to 2017.

“My first thought, if it did happen, is how good our guys are," Beane said. "When you think of winning 97 games back-to-back years, it’s a compliment to the guys in our room, and how good they are."

A’s biggest targets?

With the exception of roles to be won at second base and a backup catcher, most of the fielding positions seem to be spoken for in Oakland. Add in a historically promising starting rotation on paper, and what exactly are the A’s trying to accomplish before opening day?

“It’s obligatory to say that you’re looking for an extra bullpen arm, and that would probably be the case with us," Beane said.

The story of Oakland’s relief core was Jekyll and Hyde from 2018 to 2019: From one of the most dominant in the majors to last season, where Liam Hendriks unexpectedly became the team's All-Star closer after being designated for assignment in 2018.

“Bullpens, from year to year are probably the most volatile in terms of performance," Beane said. "Last year we struggled with it, and mainly was with the same cast of characters too. Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out.”

While some additions are still necessary, Beane did note that the “makings of a good bullpen” are already in place.

[RELATED: A's stars Semien, Hendriks voted to All-MLB Second Team]

Can Khrush bounce back?

The stats were once scary-consistent for Khris Davis, who hit .247 in four straight seasons and eclipsed 40 homers from 2016 through 2018. But in 2019, the designated hitter's averaged dropped 27 points (.220) and he also hit 25 fewer homers (23). All of this in a year where he signed a big contract, and suffered an abnormal injury playing left field.

“Khris took it really personally too,” Beane said. “He’s got a lot of pride, you could tell it was really bothering him, he feels like it's his responsibility to hit 40 homers every year. And he had done that. For him to struggle last year, I think it kind of snowballed on him.”

It was difficult to know entirely whether Davis’ struggles were mostly physical, mental, or a combination of each. But the confidence is that a reset button will only help the slugger in 2020.

“The hope is, with a long offseason he’s able to forget it, and do what he usually does: hit .247 and hit 40 home runs,” Beane said. 

A's Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks make inaugural All-MLB second team

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A's Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks make inaugural All-MLB second team

The A's were well-represented on the inaugural All-MLB Team. 

Shortstop Marcus Semien and closer Liam Hendriks made the second team, MLB announced Tuesday at the Winter Meetings. 

Semien and Hendriks broke out in big ways in 2019, earning their spots in the best seasons of their respective careers.

The shortstop played all 162 games, slashing a career-best .285/.369/.522 to go with 33 home runs and 92 RBI. Semien finished third in AL MVP voting behind Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the 2019 MVP. 

[RELATED: Why Melvin, A's aren't worried about competitors' moves]

Hendriks, meanwhile, emerged as a steadying force in the A's bullpen amid Blake Treinen's struggles. The Australian posted a 1.80 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, both of which were career bests. He also recorded 25 saves and made his first career All-Star Game. 

The All-MLB Team was selected by fan voting (50 percent) and a panel of experts (50 percent).