5 biggest questions A's face heading into '19

Pitching, contract decisions at the top of club's concerns during offseason

October 10th, 2018

The A's are a week removed from their one-game playoff loss in the Bronx, and thoughts of defeat still linger. Yet much can be celebrated from a 97-win season, and the A's only expect to be better in 2019.

Just how they tackle the offseason will be critical in this endeavor; the A's front office has several difficult decisions to make in the coming months, and MLB.com has identified five questions they must answer before spring:

1. How do the A's address their starting pitching woes?

The regular season is hardly behind them, yet the A's are already shouldering much concern for their 2019 rotation. They can't definitively count on any of their Tommy John rehab patients -- , A.J. Puk,  and  -- or their top performer in 2018, with lefty expected to be sidelined for most, if not all, of the year after undergoing shoulder surgery. (thoracic outlet) and (elbow) are also coming off injuries.

The impending free-agent crop, meanwhile, features , and , and the A's are unlikely to bring all three back. Perhaps just one -- Jackson, who pitched to a 3.33 ERA in 17 starts for them -- would make sense. Then there's Mike Fiers, who is arbitration-eligible one final time. Yet Fiers, who took home $6 million this year, could potentially be too expensive for the A's, who might elect to direct their funds elsewhere and non-tender the right-hander.

Of the healthy arms, , Frankie Montas and will presumably all be options come spring, along with the club's top pitching prospect, lefty Jesus Luzardo. Still, the A's need to supplement this group in a big way if they intend to compete again.

2. Do they re-sign and ?

It's unclear if either veteran will be back, but the A's should make sure at least one returns, and Lucroy gets the nod here, only because the A's can simultaneously save a good chunk of money by letting Lowrie loose and free to play second base every day.

Lowrie has been a vital source to the A's success, but they arguably got his best years out of him -- he could potentially offer much of the same in 2019, but he'll be 35 -- and have a readily available option in his place. Lucroy, however, stands out as the more sensible choice to keep around since the A's next-best catcher, prospect Sean Murphy, has all of three Triple-A games under his belt.

The A's, of course, could miss out on both should asking prices be too steep. Each player is likely seeking a multi-year deal, whereas the A's may prefer just one.

3. Will the A's lock up ?

This won't be easy, but the A's ought to make it a priority. Davis isn't set to enter free agency for another year, but he's not getting any cheaper in the meantime. The A's slugger, who just completed his third straight 40-plus homer, 100-plus RBI season, will demand more than $15 million this winter, so it would make sense for both sides to explore a multi-year contract that features an annual salary that falls just below that mark.

Davis has long stated his desire to remain in Oakland, and the A's have made clear their desire to start retaining their best players. It begins with Davis, whose mere presence makes everyone around him in the lineup better.

4. What about Bob Melvin?

If the A's anticipate continued success, Melvin deserves the chance to see this thing through. The longtime manager, who guided them back to the postseason this year, holds a contract that expires at the end of 2019. He's verging on lame-duck status, which would be an absolute shame for such an indispensable piece.

A's ownership calls the shots here, and the sooner they reward him the better. A two-year extension, which would take Melvin through the 2021 season, would get the job done.

5. Will a new ballpark become a reality?

The A's have diligently been working to move forward with plans for a new ballpark in Oakland, but the elongated process -- temporarily stalled nearly a year ago when their first-choice plan fell through following an expensive and elaborate announcement -- is not only frustrating for fans, but detrimental to the work being clocked in baseball operations.

A new stadium would generate the required revenue needed by the A's to facilitate a blueprint for sustained on-field success. Until concrete plans are in place, though, the A's decision-makers can only do so much with limited resources.

Team president Dave Kaval has promised a ballpark site by year's end, and his ability to make good on this will be paramount to maintaining trust with the team's fans, who are all too familiar with broken ballpark vows.