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Forst's focus is keeping Gray, boosting bullpen

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- A's pitcher Sonny Gray is a finalist for the Cy Young Award in the American League and is one of the top young pitchers in the game. And new general manager David Forst said Tuesday the right-hander is staying in Oakland.

Gray, 26, went 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA in 31 starts last season and has a career ERA of 2.88 in 74 career starts. He's still under club control for the next four seasons, which makes him appealing to other clubs, as well as the A's.

"Our plan is not to trade Sonny Gray," he said. "The problem is, when you have a young, healthy, really good starting pitcher, and as soon as you trade him, you're looking for exactly that guy. It's not for lack of interest. Understandably, a lot of teams have asked. We really believe he's here when our next ... group of players come and when we're back in contention."

The A's finished last in the AL West last season, and Forst said at the General Mangers Meetings at the Boca Raton Resort & Club that improving the bullpen is the top priority. That can be volatile, he said.

"The hardest guys to evaluate are bullpen guys," he said. "I don't know that we're going to be aggressive in any realm right now, because we're better off sitting back and seeing if we had trade pieces, but it's probably the first thing we need to address at some point."

Oakland had some young players develop last season who have the makings of an impressive core, such as catcher Stephen Vogt, designated hitter Billy Butler and first baseman Mark Canha, but the division is tough. The Rangers and the Astros made the playoffs last season and are teams on the rise, and the Mariners and the Angels have big budgets.

"We can't spend with the Angels or spend with the Mariners," Forst said. "You can't make your moves based on what other teams do, but we recognize that it's going to be difficult to compete with two playoff teams and two other teams who have the ability to be right there."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.
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