With the A’s heart-breaking 2014 campaign now over, the A’s faithful are left wondering, “What’s next?” But before we examine the possible answers to that question, let’s first take a look at who’s set to stay and who’s set to go…
A’s Eligible Free Agents:
A’s Arbitration Eligible Players:
A’s Pitchers under Team Control in 2015:
Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz, Sean Doolittle, Fernando Abad, Eric O’Flaherty, Ryan Cook, Dan Otero, Evan Scribner, Fernando Rodriguez, A.J. Griffin, Jarrod Parker, Josh Lindblom
A’s Hitters under Team Control in 2015:
Assuming the A’s aren’t likely to re-sign any of the team’s potential free agents, the A’s available roster of players for the 2015 season doesn’t really look all that different from the roster of players the team started 2014 with. But with this season’s disappointment fresh in A’s fans’ hearts and minds, many have been calling for general manager Billy Beane and his staff to dismantle the current roster and begin the rebuild. If recent comments are any indication though, it looks like Beane and company aren’t ready for a rebuild quite yet and would rather retool for at least one more go-‘round with this current crop of A’s players. Beane was quoted in Bay Area media reports this week as saying that the A’s would be looking for a right-handed bat and that the shortstop position was also an area of concern for him. Those don’t exactly sound like the sentiments of a man looking to tear things down but rather of a man looking to build things back up.
When it comes to pitching, the A’s could actually be in a position to start off the 2015 season with a slightly stronger rotation than the team had in place at the start of 2014. Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz are all under team control and all performed well when given a shot in the rotation last year. The team began 2014 with Kazmir, Gray and Chavez in the rotation, along with Dan Straily and Tommy Milone. So Samardzija and Pomeranz would seem to represent something of an upgrade over Straily and Milone. Josh Lindblom should remain available at Triple-A, while A.J. Griffin could be ready to rejoin the rotation at some point during the season as he returns from Tommy John surgery. Jarrod Parker shouldn’t necessarily be counted on to rejoin the rotation though, since this is his second Tommy John surgery – only one player, Chris Capuano, has returned to a starting role after a second Tommy John surgery – but it’s possible that Parker could ultimately end up figuring into the A’s bullpen mix.
Sean Doolittle should return to the closer role, with Ryan Cook, Dan Otero, Fernando Abad and Eric O’Flaherty all coming back in supporting roles. With Luke Gregerson likely to depart via free agency and Jesse Chavez looking to return to the rotation, Evan Scribner and Fernando Rodriguez should have a good shot at stepping into their roles, and it certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see the A’s pick up a couple of affordable arms with high upside (a la Fernando Abad) to add to the competition for the final bullpen spots. But other than that, there really isn’t that much work for the A’s front office to have to do on the pitching side of things this offseason.
When it comes to the team’s position players, while many names remain the same, there could be a couple of notable holes to try to fill. Catchers Derek Norris, Stephen Vogt and John Jaso are all under team control. While Vogt should be ready to get back behind the plate again after offseason foot surgery, Jaso’s catching days could be coming to an end and his days as a designated hitter may be about to begin. With Jed Lowrie set to test the free agent waters, the A’s middle infielder corps currently consists of Eric Sogard, Nick Punto and Andy Parrino, which clearly will not suffice. Brandon Moss should return to platoon at first base with Kyle Blanks if he’s healthy, or Nate Freiman if he’s not. And in the outfield, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry all remain under the A’s control for 2015.
So if the A’s front office is looking to retool for 2015, Beane’s comments this week about a right-handed bat and a shortstop being among the team’s areas of need make perfect sense. A productive right-handed hitting outfielder who could fill the role of the departed Yoenis Cespedes would be a big step towards getting the A’s offense back on track. Any number of players due to hit the free agent market or available on the trade market could fill that role. Finding a credible shortstop to take Lowrie’s place could be a little more challenging – especially since former shortstop-of-the-future Addison Russell was dealt away to the Cubs and new shortstop-of-the-future Daniel Robertson is just 20 and still likely a couple of years away – but it might not be quite as challenging as some might think.
Though some of them will surely be beyond the A’s budget, shortstops such as Hanley Ramirez, Asdrubal Cabrera, J.J. Hardy, Stephen Drew, Clint Barmes, Mike Aviles and Rafael Furcal are all expected to hit the free agent market this offseason. But there could also be some interesting opportunities to be found with one the A’s most frequent trade partners. The Arizona Diamondbacks, now run by former A’s and long-time Beane acquaintances Dave Stewart and Tony LaRussa, currently control four credible shortstops, three of whom – Chris Owings, Didi Gregorius and, yes, Cliff Pennington – all had better WARs this season than Jed Lowrie according to Baseball-Reference, while the fourth, Nick Ahmed, is a former 2nd-round draft pick who turned in a solid .312/.373/.425 slash line at Triple-A in 2014.
So while many disappointed A’s fans might be calling for a rebuild, the A’s front office looks like it may be planning on retooling for another run in 2015. With staff ace Jeff Samardzija now firmly atop the A’s starting rotation – and last year’s goat Jim Johnson nowhere to be found around the bullpen – if Beane and company can manage to come up with a credible shortstop to replace Lowrie and a solid right-handed bat to fill Cespedes’ role in the lineup, then the A’s could very well end up heading into the 2015 season with a slightly stronger roster than they had when they kicked off the 2014 campaign. The ball is now in Billy’s court – let the offseason wheeling and dealing begin!