Athletics

Why A's will be parading World Series trophy through Oakland by 2022

Why A's will be parading World Series trophy through Oakland by 2022

OAKLAND -- Wait till next year.

Those four words have unfortunately become the A's mantra over the last 30 years. But this time, it feels different.

With the talent the A's have in place for the next handful of seasons, this is truly the best chance they've had to win a World Series since their last title in 1989.

Let's begin with the starting rotation, a group once considered the weakness of the team. Now, all of a sudden, it's shaping up to be one of the best in baseball.

Think about this -- Sean Manaea and Mike Fiers -- the A's No. 1 and 2 starters to end this season -- could very easily be their fourth and fifth starters next year. That's because Oakland's first-half ace Frankie Montas will be back from his PED suspension, while top prospects Jesús Luzardo and A.J. Puk are poised to be "stars," as manager Bob Melvin put it.

"We really feel good about the group here," Melvin said. "I believe everybody in that room thinks we will be better next year."

Added general manager David Forst: "You look around that room and see the possibilities going beyond. We're definitely in a different place than we were a year ago after this game, where we were creating a rotation from scratch, almost. Now we have depth on both sides -- position players and pitching -- so it does help you look forward to 2020."

Luzardo, in particular, is endlessly exciting. The hard-throwing left-hander just turned 22 this week, and already, he looks like an ace. Luzardo dominated hitters with his high-90s fastball and a soul-stealing slider, allowing just two runs on six hits in 15 innings, with 20 strikeouts.

Montas, 26, has also shown the ability to dominate opposing lineups. In 16 starts this season, the right-hander went 9-2 with a 2.63 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. Most importantly, Montas looked just as sharp following the PED suspension, limiting the Angels to one run on four hits in six innings, with six strikeouts, as his fastball touched 98 mph.

At 6-foot-7, Puk has already earned comparisons to Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. The 24-year-old southpaw pitched 11 1/3 innings for the A's with a 3.18 ERA and 13 strikeouts after missing the previous year due to Tommy John surgery.

Luzardo, Puk and Montas are all under team control for at least the next four years, while Manaea has three more years of arbitration control. In other words, good luck scoring against Oakland before 2023.

That brings us to the lineup. The A's ranked fifth in MLB with 257 home runs this season, a franchise record, and eighth with 845 runs scored. The scary part is that both of those numbers will likely go up next year.

Oakland returns its top seven hitters and has the option to retain its entire starting lineup. In fact, sluggers Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Ramón Laureano are all under team control through at least 2023, with each still approaching his prime.

Then there's the even younger crop of talent -- prospects like Sean Murphy, Sheldon Neuse and Jorge Mateo. All three enjoyed tremendous seasons in Triple-A, with Murphy and Neuse finding late-season success in the majors.

Oakland's lineup will continue to strike fear into opposing pitchers for years to come, while simultaneously racking up Gold Gloves on defense.

[RELATED: A's plan to focus on situational hitting in spring training]

The A's also have excellent leadership, both on and off the field. Oakland's clubhouse is one of the most cohesive units in the league, thanks in large part to Melvin, but also because of the players. Chapman, in particular, has already developed into a team leader, even at the young age of 26.

"From the minute he got here, he showed leadership qualities," Melvin praised. "I remember when he first got here, during his first half-season here when we were struggling, he told me, 'This is the first losing team I've ever played on and it's going to be the last losing team I ever play on, too.' To this point, he's right. But that's the type of guy he is. His expectation, first and foremost, is to win and to get the most out of himself and his teammates, and that's what leaders do."

So while the sting of Wednesday's AL Wild Card Game defeat will linger in the days and weeks to come, there are brighter days ahead. Mark it down, A's fans -- the Green and Gold will be parading a World Series trophy through the streets of Oakland by 2022.

A's GM David Forst says bullpen improvement main priority for 2020

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USATSI

A's GM David Forst says bullpen improvement main priority for 2020

MLB's hot stove season has been lukewarm, to say the least, especially when it comes to the A's. But they need arm help, especially in the bullpen.

Last year's reliever squad sang a different tune from what we heard in 2018. The A's led all of MLB with 30 blown saves last season, and that's something A's general manager David Forst wants to make sure doesn't happen again.

“We need to get better. We need to try and catch the Astros and get out of that one-game playoff,” Forst told MLB.com's Martin Gallegos. “We have a number of things to do, but addressing the bullpen is definitely at the top of the list.”

The AL Wild Card has been a thorn in the A's side in their last three playoff appearances. They've lost the wild-card game each time, including a 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in October. 

The free agency pool for relievers not only possesses a lot of talent, but a lot of those available arms appear to be what the team goes after historically.

Daniel Hudson could be a nice fit with his experience and the way he's made an uptick in his career, despite his age (33). But that reported interest also shows that the A's recent bullpen approach hasn't been working. 

“There’s a lot of talent in our bullpen,” Forst added. “I couldn’t say how many guys we need, but we have to have the depth, both starting, and bullpen, to last over a 162-game season.”

Liam Hendriks took over at the closer role last season and was sensational. He boasted a 1.80 ERA with 124 strikeouts in 85 innings. The 2019 All-Star took the place of Blake Treinen, who wasn't the same from his All-Star campaign in 2018. And we can't go without mentioning Yusmeiro Petit who had a great campaign of his own with a 2.71 ERA with a 0.81 WHIP. 

Forst added he's excited about the future the Green and Gold will bring to the table -- and fans should be as well.

[RELATED: Where A's MVP finalist Semien wants to improve in 2020]

Last season, top A's prospects Jesús Luzardo and A.J. Puk made short appearances out of the bullpen. But they'll join the starting rotation that will have a healthy Sean Manaea and a full season from Frankie Montas. 

“We feel like we’re going to be able to contend again in 2020," Forst said. "We still have some work to do, but we like our team coming back.”

Where A's MVP finalist Marcus Semien wants to improve next season

Where A's MVP finalist Marcus Semien wants to improve next season

OAKLAND -- Marcus Semien enjoyed a breakout season in 2019, in just about every area. The Oakland shortstop became the first A's player to register a top-three finish in the AL MVP race since Miguel Tejada in 2002.

"It means a lot," Semien told NBC Sports California. "It was a very competitive field this year. I think that the game is changing. There are so many players who can do everything on the field -- fielding, base running, scoring runs, producing runs. I'm trying to work on every part of my game to get better, and in the second half, I really made some improvements."  

Semien, 29, set career-highs in runs, hits, home runs, doubles, RBI, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and just about any other stat you can think of. The Bay Area native might have been even better defensively, where he was a Gold Glove finalist for the second straight year.

But despite all of his accomplishments, Semien believes he still has room to improve in 2020.

"I think baserunning is a big one, just getting in scoring position more for our big hitters," Semien said. "We've got great hitters in the middle of the lineup, so walking and getting hits, you want to just make sure you run the bases right. Defensively, turn more double plays, help our pitchers. We're going to have some young pitchers, so we want to make them feel as comfortable as possible."

Last offseason, Semien's most significant development involved plate discipline. He reduced his strikeout total from 131 to 102 and drew a career-high 87 walks, 26 more than the year before.

Semien also matched an A's single-season record by scoring 123 runs, fourth-most in the majors.

"Scoring runs was a big one for me," Semien said. "Solidifying myself in the leadoff spot. I've been moving around the lineup for a couple of years now and just to solidify the leadoff spot and score runs and get in a routine was great."

[RELATED: A's star Semien tells mental health journey in HEADSTRONG]

While he appreciates the individual recognition, Semien's main focus is team success. After experiencing back-to-back Wild Card Game losses, he is optimistic that the A's can make a deeper run next season.

"I think we're going to be good," he said. "We want to start off better than we did last year. I think that our rotation will be more solidified. These last two years, we've added at the (trade) deadline to get our rotation where we want it to be, where this coming season, we'll hopefully start the rotation that we like. Position players are ready. I think that we'll have everybody healthy and it'll be fun."