Status: Somewhere around .500
Winning 97 games again is unlikely for the Oakland Athletics. Last year was astonishing, unpredictable and likely unrepeatable. There are a lot of unknowns heading into 2019.
Oakland let Jed Lowrie leave in free agency, replacing him with Jurickson Profar. Profar arrived in a three-team deal with the Rangers and Rays, which saw the Athletics give up Emilio Pagan and Eli White and a bit of cash. Profar’s career has been dominated by injury layoffs but stayed healthy in 2018 and posted a .793 OPS.
Veteran Brett Anderson re-signed with the Athletics on a one-year deal. Oakland retained Mike Fiers and added Marco Estrada, who had a rough 2018. Injuries have crippled the rotation, including to ace of the staff, Sean Manaea, and they will need plenty of innings from Anderson, Estrada and Fiers. Parker Bridwell, an offseason waiver claim, will get a chance to show his worth in spring.
Having been non-tendered by the Twins, Oakland picked up Robbie Grossman. Grossman walks plenty and has decent gap power. The 29-year-old could be the answer to the left field conundrum with Stephen Piscotty and Ramon Laureano filling right and centre respectively.
The fourth-best catching prospect in the game, Sean Murphy, is on his way to the Majors. Oakland signed a couple of insurance pieces, though, adding Chris Herrmann on a Major League deal and Nick Hundley on a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. Jonathan Lucroy swapped the Bay for Anaheim, leaving a combination of Jonah Heim, Hundley and Herrmann to share the catching duties before Murphy arrives.
A rough 2018 allowed the Athletics to pick up reliever Jerry Blevins on a minor league deal. Blevins will compete for a bullpen job in an already deep relief group. Joakim Soria was given a guaranteed two-year contract and will act as a setup man for Blake Treinen.
What to watch
Starting pitching projections are uninspiring. Jesus Luzardo, MLB Pipeline’s 12th prospect, needs to deliver in his rookie season. The combination of veterans could muddle together enough okay innings for Oakland to win games, but the absence of Manaea hurts. They need one or two pitchers to replicate the seasons Trevor Cahill and Edwin Jackson gave them in 2018.
Matt Chapman is one of baseball’s most exciting players ahead of the 2019 season. His defence is elite, belonging in the company of Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado in hot corner greatness, and he produced at the plate in 2018, good for a 137 wRC+. 2019 will show us if Chapman belongs among the elite at third.
Khris Davis is a free agent at season’s end. Davis is as consistent as it gets, hitting .247 in four straight seasons and providing reliable power. He led MLB in homers in 2018 and is likely to pass the 40 mark again this year. Extensions are becoming common and Davis is a perfect candidate. Oakland do not hand out big contracts, though. This is a storyline that will bubble along all season.
Best case scenario sees Oakland land the second wildcard spot, much like several other American League teams. Hovering around .500 seems probable – there’s not much to pick between them and the Angels for the best non-Astro team in the West.
Seeing Luzardo, Murphy, Chapman and Mat Olson play will be fun. Oakland are very watchable, even if the results are not going to be as exciting as last year’s shock run to just shy of 100 wins.