Pinder? Puk? 5 questions for the A's offseason

October 26th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Martin Gallegos' A's Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

OAKLAND -- An interesting component of this offseason for the A’s will be how they go about structuring their roster in year two of a rebuild that can improve upon what was just the second 100-loss team in Oakland history.

Of course, the A’s also face some looming off-field decisions that could make a major impact on their future. Here are five questions they face this offseason:

1. Can the A’s finally reach a deal for a new ballpark in Oakland?
Though the A's gained plenty of positive momentum in their quest for a new stadium, the unofficial deadline set by team president Dave Kaval for the Oakland City Council to take the club’s waterfront ballpark proposal at Howard Terminal to a final vote came and went. Kaval’s hope was that a final vote would take place in late 2022, with the current city council members and Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf -- a major proponent and advocate of the A’s stadium pursuit -- still in office. With Oakland’s general elections taking place on Nov. 8 (due to Oakland's two-term limit, Schaaf cannot run for reelection), communication between the two sides will have to continue into 2023 with a new mayoral administration and city council.

While the lack of a deal in 2022 is disappointing for the A’s, there is still some hope, in that Loren Taylor and Sheng Thao -- the two leading Oakland mayoral candidates -- both appear to be in support of the A’s ballpark efforts.

As Kaval alternatively engages in discussion with officials in Las Vegas about potential sites for a new stadium in Nevada, the threat of relocation remains a very real possibility. But with the A’s and the City of Oakland so far along in the process, having cleared major hurdles over the past year, it has now reached crunch time for the two sides to resolve this longstanding stadium saga.

2. What happens with ?
For a young and inexperienced A’s squad, Pinder, a second-round pick by the A’s in the 2013 MLB Draft who played his seventh Major League season in 2022, served as a valuable leader whom manager Mark Kotsay often referred to as the “captain” of the ballclub. Now Oakland’s only player entering free agency, Pinder represents the last remaining piece of a core that not long ago helped the A’s reach the postseason from 2018-20.

A’s executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane indicated the club is indeed interested in keeping Pinder around. But he also believes that Pinder is going to be more in-demand than some might think due to his value as a super-utility player.

“As far as the player personnel, that’s going to be dictated by our payroll going forward, which is still in discussion,” Beane said. “I can tell you from a front office standpoint, he came up through this organization. I said to [A’s general manager David Forst] in August, that was the fastest six years I think I’ve ever had with a player. It went so quickly. He was a guy that when he first came up, the staff immediately loved the guy as a player and a person. Whatever ends up happening with Chad, we’re going to wish him the best, because he is just a great guy and incredibly popular. He was the leader of the young guys that came up.

“As far as his future with the A’s, I will say he has skills that you’re going to see teams have interest in. There’s some things he does really well. I think you’re going to see a few teams aggressively pursue him beyond us.”

3. What does the starting rotation look like?
In trading former ace Frankie Montas to the Yankees, the A’s gained a pair of left-handed pitching prospects in and , both of whom finished the season on a high note in the Majors. With Cole Irvin, Paul Blackburn and James Kaprielian likely locks for the 2023 Opening Day rotation, Waldichuk and Sears likely top the list of internal options for the final two rotation slots in a group that will also include Adrián Martínez, Adam Oller and Zach Logue.

4. Could  enter the rotation mix?
From the time the A’s selected him sixth overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, Puk was expected to eventually become the ace of Oakland’s starting rotation. Some six years later, he finally flashed his major potential, but it came in a bullpen role, as Puk established himself as a dominant lefty reliever with a high-90s fastball and a wipeout slider.

While Puk's move to the bullpen was initially more about managing his workload due to previous injuries, his emergence as a dependable late-inning relief option could keep him in that role for the long term.

“We’ll evaluate that,” Kotsay said of Puk’s role. “A.J. is a max-effort guy. From an inning standpoint, he pitched [66 1/3] innings. To jump to 166 would be a big jump. We’ll take a look at it and determine a path for A.J. that will help our team and also be one that A.J. thrives in and has success with.”

5. Is the next to go?
With several stars such as Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Chris Bassitt and Montas traded over the past year, Murphy has seen his name pop up in trade rumors as the next A’s player who could be moved. The A’s don’t necessarily have to move Murphy, who is entering his first year of arbitration and won’t be a free agent until 2026. However, with touted catching prospect now a big leaguer and strong catching depth in the Minors, Murphy could be viewed as a big piece who could be moved to address multiple needs.