OAKLAND -- With most of their key pieces from a successful 97-win campaign still in the fold, the A’s are focused on fine-tuning certain areas of their roster. Improving the bullpen and adding a left-handed middle infield bat are known objectives, with those pursuits expected to heat up at the Winter Meetings next week.
After having their season end in the American League Wild Card Game in each of the past two seasons, the A’s will be in search of the right formula to get them over that hump in 2020.
Some preliminary moves to address certain needs have already been made. The A’s picked up right-hander Yusmeiro Petit's contract option for the upcoming season and re-signed left-hander Jake Diekman on a two-year, $7.5 million deal in an effort to shore up the bullpen. Oakland also pulled off one of the bigger trades of the offseason to this point by dealing Jurickson Profar to the Padres for Austin Allen, a left-handed-hitting catcher who figures to be right in the mix for the backup catcher job, and a player to be named later. Now comes the Winter Meetings, where the activity should only ramp up some more.
“The Meetings are just a few days out of the offseason. As we've seen in recent years, the signing period can go into Spring Training,” A’s general manager David Forst said. “It is a good opportunity to meet with people face to face, but obviously we’re always in contact with people.
“Signing Jake was a priority once the season ended to have him be part of our bullpen going forward. Finding a left-handed bat somewhere is on our list. We’re happy with the group of young catchers we have, but continue to be on the look for catching depth. I expect we’ll continue some of the conversations we’ve had in San Diego, but it’s just a small part of the process.”
Before the club heads to the Winter Meetings, here is an outline for where the A's stand:
Club needs: Coming off a 2019 in which they led the Majors with 32 blown saves, the A’s need to find a way to fix their bullpen woes. It won’t be easy, as the relief market is often volatile, but some quality arms remain available, such as Will Harris, Dellin Betances and Daniel Hudson. The club also remains in contact with Blake Treinen, whom it non-tendered earlier this week, with discussions about returning on a cheaper deal, as the former All-Star closer looks to bounce back from a rough 2019. Another avenue to improve the relief corps could exist in the trade market, as the A’s have a solid depth of second basemen and outfielders to deal from.
With MLB extending active rosters to 26 players in 2020, Forst also said that the club would be in the market for a left-handed bat, preferably a middle infielder, who can help off the bench.
With the spotlight on what will be a free-agent frenzy involving names like Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, the A’s will be flying under the radar, which is exactly how they like to operate. Oakland’s starting rotation is more than set, with Forst indicating the possibility of utilizing such depth with a six-man rotation to start the season in order to preserve the workload of top prospects Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk. The lineup is mostly set, save for perhaps a couple of options off the bench.
Whom might they trade? Forst indicated the need to give Franklin Barreto and Jorge Mateo an extended look in the Majors now that both are out of Minor League options. If things don’t work out with Oakland, both second basemen are candidates to be traded to address their pitching needs or perhaps acquire a more experienced middle infielder. Dustin Fowler, once considered the A’s center fielder of the future, is now blocked by Ramón Laureano and could be intriguing to another club in need of outfield help willing to deal an arm.
Prospects to know: Luzardo and Puk are expected to be in the starting rotation. Now comes the next wave of the impressive depth of pitching that has been accumulated by Oakland, which includes Daulton Jefferies (the club's No. 12 prospect, per MLB Pipeline), James Kaprielian (No. 13) and Grant Holmes (No. 14), all of whom could help the A’s out in some capacity at some point next year.
Payroll summary: The A’s payroll at the end of the 2019 season amounted to about $92 million. That number is certain to increase to a little over $100 million with several impact players going through arbitration, chief among those are AL MVP Award finalist Marcus Semien and All-Star closer Liam Hendriks.
One question: What do the A’s do at second base?
Profar is out of the mix, but that doesn’t clear up the situation too much. Sheldon Neuse impressed and earned regular playing time over the final month of the regular season. Barreto was once regarded as the top prospect in the organization and is coming off a strong year at Triple-A Las Vegas. But he's out of Minor League options and running out of time to make an impact. Mateo bounced back with a solid year at Triple-A, is ranked the club’s No. 4 prospect and possesses an electric skillset and raw talent that certainly has a high ceiling.
“We have two guys out of options who are going to have an opportunity to show their stuff in Spring Training," Forst said. "Sheldon is also in that mix, but we do continue to look for a left-handed option expecting a 26th man on the roster. Ideally, that would be someone who can play multiple positions.”