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GM Forst has bullpen on top of his to-do list

@MartinJGallegos
November 12, 2019

Dealing with the frustrations of back-to-back 97-win seasons that ended in Wild Card Game exits, the A’s are left with only one solution: Win the division. Of course, things are not that simple. Standing in the way of Oakland's American League West hopes is an Astros squad that routinely finishes

Dealing with the frustrations of back-to-back 97-win seasons that ended in Wild Card Game exits, the A’s are left with only one solution: Win the division.

Of course, things are not that simple. Standing in the way of Oakland's American League West hopes is an Astros squad that routinely finishes with the top record in all of baseball.

General manager David Forst doesn’t think his club is too far away from surpassing Houston for the division crown, but a few roster tweaks must be made. Chief among those: Improving a bullpen that led the Major Leagues in 2019 with 30 blown saves.

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

Left-hander Will Smith and right-handers Will Harris, Daniel Hudson and Dellin Betances headline the list of available free-agent relievers this offseason. The A’s have built up a nice depth of position players and starting pitchers in the Minors that could be used to add reinforcements via trade.

Although the need is clear, the fix isn’t all that simple. There’s volatility with relievers on a seemingly year-to-year basis that makes it difficult to gauge whether the A’s might be better off depending on bounceback years from such players as Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen -- who formed one of the most dominant relief duos in the Majors in 2018 before their struggles led to reduced roles in 2019 -- or completely revamping the bullpen.

“They’re people and they’re players. The job of a bullpen guy is difficult,” Forst said. “There’s not a lot of margin for error, and when you see the performance fluctuate from year to year or from first half to second half, it’s because those guys have to be perfect to do their job effectively.”

Additions might be necessary, but there were bright spots in last year’s bullpen who are likely to begin next season with their high-leverage roles. Liam Hendriks earned his first All-Star nod after taking over for Treinen last June, and Yusmeiro Petit is coming off a stellar 2019 campaign in which he posted a 2.71 ERA over 83 innings with a career-high 2.2 WAR.

“There’s a lot of talent in our bullpen,” Forst said. “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.”

The current starting depth may help mitigate the bullpen woes, as the rotation expects to see the addition of young lefties Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk, the A’s top two prospects per MLB Pipeline, who shined in their 2019 cameos as relievers. That would give the A’s quite the impressive rotation, one that will likely also feature Sean Manaea, Mike Fiers and Frankie Montas.

“It’s really exciting for the future,” Forst said. “We obviously enjoyed what was happening in 2019 in the moment, but it was hard not to look beyond and think about having the core of this team together for quite some time.”

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

Martin Gallegos covers the A's for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MartinJGallegos.