As we sit here in late January, there are still about two and a half months to go until opening day for the A’s. But the first spring workouts are just a month away and the first spring games are just six weeks away.
It looks like most of the A’s major offseason work may be done, but you can never be too sure with Billy Beane and David Forst at the helm.
Of course, there could still be some surprising trades or injuries to come, but barring any more major moves or unexpected developments in spring training, the makeup of the A’s team that should be set to take the field in 2016 looks fairly clear, at least for the moment.
Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley, the A’s catching tandem from last season, appear set to return as the team’s primary backstops again next season. They also happen to be the only catchers currently on the A’s 40-man roster. The duo started behind the plate in 151 of the team’s 162 games in 2015 and, health willing, should be expected to do roughly the same again for Oakland in 2016. Catcher Carson Blair, who caught 11 games for the A’s last season, will be waiting in the wings at Nashville if needed.
The only member of the A’s 2015 opening day infield expected to return to a starting role in 2016 is shortstop Marcus Semien, who appears to have held on to his job with an improved second half in the field. He’ll be joined up the middle by former A’s infielder Jed Lowrie who returns to the team, thanks to an offseason deal with the Astros, to take over at second base. Meanwhile, long-time A’s infielder Eric Sogard, who has experience at second, short and third, appears set to shift to a utility role, just as he was in 2015 until multiple injuries pushed him back into action for 120 games last season. And if further reinforcements are needed, middle infielders Tyler Ladendorf, Joey Wendle and Chad Pinder should all be in reserve at Nashville.
With Brett Lawrie traded and Ike Davis non-tendered, things will be looking plenty different at the corner infield positions for the A’s in 2016 than they did when the 2015 season began. Danny Valencia, who was the A’s best hitter over the final two months of the season after being acquired off waivers during the first week of August, is set to be the team’s everyday third baseman and potential cleanup hitter. Meanwhile, Yonder Alonso was acquired from the Padres to take over as the A’s primary first baseman next season. A left-handed hitter, Alonso is generally expected to sit against lefties, though his platoon splits aren’t quite as extreme as some might assume. But the expectation is that Mark Canha will end up getting most of the starts at first base when southpaws are on the mound. The A’s primary designated hitter, Billy Butler, is always available to step in at first now and then if needed. And if Valencia should need a day off at third, Lowrie can always slide over from second, with Sogard taking over Lowrie’s spot up the middle.
The A’s outfield will remain largely unchanged from 2015. Rifle-armed Josh Reddick will return to hold things down in right field, while speedster Billy Burns will be back to patrol center field for the green and gold. Left field will be the biggest question mark as the 2016 season begins, but that doesn’t mean that there will be any shortage of available options. Of course, if by any chance, Coco Crisp should prove to be healthy and productive, then he would likely end up getting most of the starts there. But considering that Crisp’s injuries limited him to just 44 games last year, and he didn’t exactly set the world on fire when he did make it onto the field, it’s probably better to count on Mark Canha making most of the starts in left field, at least when he isn’t spending time at first base versus lefties. And with Sam Fuld back in the fold to fill in anywhere in the outfield as needed, as long as everyone is healthy, there won’t be room for Jake Smolinski or Andrew Lambo, the only other outfielders currently on the A’s 40-man, to crack Oakland’s opening day roster.
As long as there are no health issues with any of the expected starters, Oakland appears set to begin the season with four familiar faces being joined by newcomer Rich Hill in the team’s starting rotation. Hill is the 35-year-old lefty the A’s signed as a free agent, and he may end up filling the fifth-starter role with the occasional day off, since the southpaw threw fewer than 100 frames last year. Of course, All-Star Sonny Gray will be returning to anchor the rotation, and he’s likely to be joined by fellow returning right-handers Jesse Hahn, Chris Bassitt and Kendall Graveman, as long as all are healthy to kick off the 2016 campaign. But the A’s also signed 25-year-old free agent right-hander Henderson Alvarez, who is just one season removed from his impressive 2014 All-Star campaign. Alvarez is returning from shoulder surgery though and is not expected to be ready to go before May. But if one of the A’s other five starters is either injured or struggling at that point of the season, then Alvarez could be ready to step right in. Lefties Sean Nolin and Felix Doubront and righties Aaron Brooks and Jarrod Parker are all on the 40-man roster and could represent starting options as well. But as long as everyone else is healthy, they seem far more likely to find themselves starting the season either at Nashville or in the A’s bullpen.
No area of the A’s 2015 team needed as big an overhaul as the bullpen, and it definitely got one. Out are Evan Scribner, Dan Otero, Edward Mujica, Fernando Abad and Drew Pomeranz, and in are free agents Ryan Madson and John Axford, trade acquisitions Liam Hendriks and Marc Rzepczynski, and a healthy Sean Doolittle, who will be returning to the closer’s role. Madson, Axford, Hendriks and returning right-hander Fernando Rodriguez should represent some solid and experienced set-up options from the right side. With Rodriguez out of options and likely to make the roster, that means young righty Ryan Dull may be forced to start the season in Nashville until an inevitable opening develops. Rzepczynski should be the primary left-handed set-up option for the A’s, while Nolin (who’s also out of options) could be set to replicate Pomeranz’s role as a left-handed long reliever for the team. Left-handed starter-reliever Felix Doubront is another A’s hurler who’s out of options. And if there’s an opening in the rotation or in the bullpen due to injury, trade or poor performance, then the veteran southpaw could be the first called upon to step in and take on whatever role is needed for the A’s.
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