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A's cautiously optimistic entering 2018

Prospects arriving around talented core in challenging AL West
MLB.com @JaneMLB

OAKLAND -- A rousing youth movement has the A's more excited than ever about their future, but expectations must be tempered in the coming year while they practice patience with a rebuild.

Certainly the belief is that they will be better than their 75-87 showing in 2017, but playing in the American League West -- home to the defending World Series champion Astros -- is no easy task. The A's at least expect to be competitive with a talented core intact, bringing about cautious optimism as Spring Training nears.

OAKLAND -- A rousing youth movement has the A's more excited than ever about their future, but expectations must be tempered in the coming year while they practice patience with a rebuild.

Certainly the belief is that they will be better than their 75-87 showing in 2017, but playing in the American League West -- home to the defending World Series champion Astros -- is no easy task. The A's at least expect to be competitive with a talented core intact, bringing about cautious optimism as Spring Training nears.

Several questions remain, however. MLB.com takes a look at several key storylines as the calendar flips:

How reliable is the rotation?
Growing pains were all too common for the A's young starters last season, yet the club's tepid interest in adding a proven, veteran arm to the mix stems from their belief that this same group will be significantly better in 2017 with continued development. Whether that holds true, however, remains to be seen, and their performance will largely be counted on to complement a potent lineup. The pieces are in place to make it happen -- Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn and Jharel Cotton headline a lengthy list of options -- but only time will tell if they can round into form and make amends for a disappointing 2016 season.

Video: Melvin talks about how Manaea can improve in 2018

Who will be behind the plate?
Legal matters could interfere with the A's plans in 2017, with catcher Bruce Maxwell awaiting trial after pleading not guilty to charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct stemming from his Oct. 28 arrest at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. A hearing should come down in early 2018, and MLB is expected to conduct an investigation into the matter. For now, the A's see Maxwell as their starting catcher in 2018, with Josh Phegley and Dustin Garneau also on the depth chart, but the club may be forced to seek outside help should Maxwell's time in court take a turn for the worse.

Video: OAK@SEA: Maxwell mashes a solo homer in the 2nd

When will Franklin Barreto join the party?
Barreto's return hinges on the A's plans for incumbent second baseman Jed Lowrie, whose 2018 club option was picked up following a healthy and productive season. The A's have Lowrie penciled in at second base but seem open to trading him. Even if a deal doesn't come to fruition this offseason, it's likely that he could be out the door ahead of the Trade Deadline. Barreto, meanwhile, will be waiting in the wings at Triple-A Nashville. The A's top prospect was promoted for a short stay beginning June 24 amid a series of injuries to the big league club. He homered for his first Major League hit in his debut and would return as a September callup, batting .197 in 25 games overall.

Video: OAK@CWS: Barreto cranks his first Major League homer

Is Khris Davis here to stay?
The A's say yes, but they'll undoubtedly be tempted by offers to move him before Spring Training. That doesn't mean the A's will give in, but it will be worth keeping an eye on his salary-arbitration process. Davis is in line for a big raise, with MLB Trade Rumors projecting a 2018 salary of $11.1 million for the 30-year-old slugger, who banged out 43 homers and 110 RBIs -- both career highs -- in his second season with Oakland. It would make sense for the two sides to at least explore the idea of an extension, as the A's plan to do with a handful of their young players, but it's unclear if that's even on their radar.

Video: Khris Davis connects for 43 home runs in 2017

What will become of the stadium situation?
Less than three months after the A's expressed their desire to build a privately financed stadium near Oakland's Laney College, their plans were shelved when landowners decided to discontinue talks with the team. The A's expressed their disappointment in a statement, saying they were "shocked" by the verdict, and have been quiet since. Stay tuned for their backup plan.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.

Oakland Athletics