What the A's are focusing on in '23
This story was excerpted from Martín Gallegos’ A’s Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
MESA, Ariz. -- Mark Kotsay does not need a refresher on the frustrations of 2022. As a first-year manager, he was there every day grinding alongside his players as he navigated the rough waters of a campaign that saw the A’s lose 100 or more games for just the second time in Oakland history.
To move forward, though, a reminder of last season’s struggles was necessary. Before the A’s took part in their first full-squad workout Monday, Kotsay brought it up one last time while addressing the entire team inside the clubhouse at Hohokam Stadium.
“We talked this morning about putting last year in the rearview mirror,” Kotsay said. “It’s a new group and a new year: Focus ahead [on] what’s in front of us.”
Oakland’s rebuilding phase is ongoing, but the vibe is clearly different this year. During last year’s Spring Training, the A’s returned from the lockout and immediately dismantled a roster that had routinely competed for a postseason spot, trading away a core of stars over the course of about a week while having little time to address team needs due to the lack of a proper offseason.
This time around, the A’s arrived in Arizona having made significant additions. An attempt to boost an offense that ranked last in several categories last season was made through the free-agent signings of veterans Jesús Aguilar, Aledmys Díaz and Jace Peterson, as well as the intriguing Rule 5 Draft selection of power-hitting first baseman Ryan Noda.
On the pitching side, Oakland brought in a pair of pitchers coming off success overseas in Shintaro Fujinami and Drew Rucinski. The A's did trade away arguably their top position player and starting pitcher from last season in Sean Murphy and Cole Irvin -- but they’ve also built up a large depth of Major League-ready young arms, many of whom were acquired through trade over the past year, who enter this spring in competition for spots in Oakland’s starting rotation.
“I’m proud of the work we did in the offseason,” said A’s general manager David Forst. “Our front office put in a lot of time to discuss and make a bunch of moves. We’re looking to put 2022 behind us. The best way to do that is get started today with a bunch of new guys. I’m very excited about this group.”
The A’s are realistic about their situation. The American League West is loaded, and it takes time for a club to rebuild back into winning baseball. Still, the excitement comes from the feeling that this team is ready to take a big step forward. Part of that derives from offseason additions. Part of it is also the promise shown last season through the arrival of several top prospects to the big leagues such as Shea Langeliers, Nick Allen, Jordan Diaz and Ken Waldichuk, all of whom will take on bigger roles in 2023.
Who knows? It wasn’t long ago that Oakland was going through a similar rebuild phase and went on to shock some people. Coming off a 2017 season in which they’d gone 75-87, the A’s surged to 97 wins and a Wild Card Game appearance in '18, their first full season with future stars Matt Chapman and Matt Olson.
One thing is certain: These A’s are already embracing the outside opinions from those who automatically assume 2023 will be just another lost season.
“I think this team is going to come together and surprise some people,” A’s right-hander James Kaprielian said. “We have to find our new team identity this year. One thing Kots always preaches is that culture, that grit. It comes from the guys who have been in this organization and know how things work around here. ... I think we’re always looking to be the dark horse and looking to ruin a team’s day when they might have a team that’s getting paid more or might have more superstars. I like our bunch in here.
“I think we’re going to sneak up on some teams. It’s going to be fun. It’s always more fun being the underdog.”