A's aim to compete after the great reset

April 4th, 2022

Over the previous four seasons, the A’s gave it their best shot. They developed a strong core of players at the Major League level and supported that cast each year with midseason acquisitions in the hope of making a deep playoff run.

The realization of that ultimate goal -- winning a championship -- did not materialize, though, and now comes the reset button.

After longtime manager Bob Melvin left to manage the Padres, Spring Training truly marked the end of an era in Oakland as the club shipped out stars Chris Bassitt, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman and Sean Manaea. The return in those deals was a haul of prospects who helped lift an A’s farm system that was in dire need of replenishment. However, with most of those prospects not yet Major League ready, 2022 appears to be the start of a rebuild. Of course, executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane is not particularly fond of losing. So despite the breakup of their core, expect the A’s to work within their constraints to field a competitive squad under the guidance of first-year manager Mark Kotsay.

Some of that core from the run of successful A’s teams in recent years remains, including Sean Murphy, Ramón Laureano -- who will have to finish out the final 27 games of his suspension this season -- and Frankie Montas. Veteran leadership also exists with Stephen Vogt and Jed Lowrie back with the club. Strong production from those players will be essential if the A’s are going to surpass the season projections that have been set for them.

What needs to go right?
Though all signs point to this year being the start of a rebuild, the A’s have been known to sneak up on everyone to vastly exceed low expectations in the past. That being said, it’s difficult to see them continuing their run of postseason contention after losing so many of their core players from their recent runs. It will require a lot of things to go right, like unproven big leaguers such as Sheldon Neuse, Kevin Smith and Cristian Pache living up to their full potential. A career bounce-back from one or two veterans among the group that includes Vogt, Lowrie and Eric Thames wouldn’t hurt, either. Lou Trivino also needs to prove he can handle the closer role over a full season. If all that happens, the A’s could still have a solid rotation anchored by Montas that will keep them in games.

Great unknown: Jed Lowrie
The A’s are planning to have Lowrie play a lot of first base, a position he has not played in the Major Leagues since 2011. He enters the season with only 28 total innings at first under his belt. Lowrie enjoyed a career rejuvenation in his return to Oakland last season, but with the switch-hitter turning 38 years old in April, it’s unclear just how much production the club can count on getting from him. Regardless, his veteran presence and acute knowledge of hitting should serve the A’s clubhouse well as a resource for the younger hitters to lean on.

Team MVP will be …
Murphy. Between Gold Glove defense and a refined approach at the plate, Murphy seems primed for a breakthrough as one of the game’s elite players. If his numbers from the Cactus League are any indication, the catcher could be in line for a monster year.

Team Cy Young will be …
Cole Irvin. Manaea has already been traded and Montas continues to have his name surface in trade rumors. Irvin, though, remains entrenched in the rotation and returned this spring having added a cutter that has brought immediate success when throwing it. After the left-hander was solid in what was his first full year in the big leagues last season, 2022 could see him take another step forward.

Bold prediction: Sean Murphy becomes an All-Star
Murphy’s frustrations last season over missing too many pitches down the middle led to an adjustment at the plate this offseason to stand more upright and shorten his leg kick. The results have been on display during Spring Training, as he appears to be on time in his swing a lot more and has routinely crushed pitches with a triple-digit exit velocity. The 2021 Gold Glove Award winner already possesses elite defense behind the plate. Combine that with 30-plus homer potential and plenty of RBIs batting in the middle of Oakland’s order, and Murphy could end the season garnering some MVP attention.