Our previews of the AL West continue, with the next team in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2016 season is the Oakland Athletics, who finished in last place in the division last season
After three straight playoff appearances from 2012-14, the bottom fell out for the A’s last season, going 68-94 for a last-place finish in the AL West. Most of the A’s notable transactions this winter involved trades. In one of the more significant deals, the A’s acquired OF Khris Davis from the Brewers for a couple of prospects. In other trades, the A’s acquired OF Chris Coghlan, who is likely going to spend the season as a utilityman in the outfield, from the Cubs and were reunited with 2B Jed Lowrie, who was traded by the Astros after playing for Oakland in 2013-14. The A’s also traded a package of players led by P Drew Pomeranz to the Padres for RP Marc Rzepczynski and 1B Yonder Alonso, and they traded 3B Brett Lawrie to the White Sox for a couple of minor leaguers. They also signed free-agent SP Rich Hill.
The A’s ranked in the second half of the American League in both batting average (.251) and home runs (146). OFs Billy Burns and Josh Reddick led the offensive attack, with Burns’ .294 average the best on the team, while Reddick led the squad with 20 home runs while hitting .272. C Stephen Vogt showed some power in his first full season in Major League Baseball, smacking 18 home runs to go along with his .261 average. SS Marcus Semien had year in his first full season in the majors, hitting .257 with 15 home runs but just 45 RBI. The A’s 4.14 ERA ranked as the fifth worst in the AL. Outside of SP Scott Kazmir, who was traded to the Astros in July, SP Sonny Gray had the best season in the starting rotation. He had a 2.73 ERA with 169 strikeouts in 208 innings in 31 starts. Rookie SPs Chris Bassitt and Kendall Graveman showed some promising signs; Bassitt posted a 3.56 ERA over 18 appearances — 13 starts — with 64 strikeouts in 86 innings. Graveman started 21 games, throwing 77 strikeouts in 115.2 innings with a 4.05 ERA. In four starts with the Red Sox last season — his first starts in the majors since 2009 — SP Rich Hill posted a 1.55 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 29 innings. While a small sample size, it is encouraging for the oft-injured hurler. RP Tyler Clippard served as the team’s closer for most of 2015, notching just 17 saves, but he signed with the Diamondbacks this winter, leaving RP Sean Doolittle to take over the closer’s role. In an injury-shortened 2015, Doolittle appeared in just 12 games, posting a 3.95 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 13.2 innings.
The same offensive core that the A’s relied on in 2015 will need to keep it up this year if the team has any chance of improving this season. Davis provides better offense than OF Sam Fuld, who he’s replacing in left field, with 49 total home runs in the last two seasons. The team’s biggest questions are with the pitching staff. Gray and SP Jesse Hahn are the only members of the rotation who are likely to have good seasons. It is yet to be seen if Bassitt and Graveman can improve upon their numbers from last season, and HIll is a major question mark, both in terms of health and performance; he last made a full season of starts in 2007, when he started 32 games for the Cubs, and at 36 years old it is unknown how he will hold up to a full season of pitching. In the bullpen, Doolittle has just one year of experience as a closer, saving 22-of-26 games in for the A’s in 2014. Coming off a shoulder injury that cost him most of the 2015 season, can he perform well in the high-pressure role?
The A’s were the worst team in the West last season and with some concerns about the team entering this season, they shouldn’t expect much of an improvement this season. It’s going to be another down year for the A’s, who are likely to remain at the bottom of the AL West standings.