A’s return path to Post-Season in 2021 buoyed by late signings

BY ALEX NAVARRO

After reaching the playoffs the past three seasons but never advancing past the ALDS, for most of the offseason, the Oakland A’s did nothing. They lost ten free agents, including star closer Liam Hendriks and their spectacular shortstop Marcus Semien. Yet they didn’t make any moves until the calendar turned to February.

But since last month, Oakland has made a series of moves that secured the bullpen, re-signed key players, made big trades, and with George Springer leaving the division, the A’s are right in the middle of playoff contention once again.

The Athletics signed Trevor Rosenthal to a one-year, $11 million deal to add to one of the best bullpen units in the majors. Last season, in 23 appearances with Kansas City and San Diego he had 11 saves and a 1.90 ERA, not allowing an earned run after the Padres acquired him for the stretch drive on Aug. 29.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Oakland signed free agent Trevor Rosenthal as its new closer following the departure of Liam Hendriks. Rosenthal had a solid bounce back season following Tommy John surgery, but struggled in four post season appearances with the Padres.

Oakland also re-signed Yusmeiro Petit and added right-hander Sergio Romo on one-year deals to solidify Oakland’s closing group. Petit, 36, had an excellent season, posting a 1.66 ERA with 17 K’s in 21.2 innings. Romo, who played for the Minnesota Twins, had five saves in seven opportunities. Though the two names may not make major headlines, they’ve been solid throughout their careers.

The team has a history of bullpen issues. They blew a sixth inning lead in Game One of the ALDS against the White Sox and in 2019, when Oakland won 97 games, they led the majors with 32 blown saves. Hendriks had a team high seven blown saves that season and Joakim Soria, Ryan Buchter, Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino had five each. Only Trivino remains on the roster. He had 26 K’s in 23.1 innings with a 3.86 ERA last season.

The starting rotation of Chris Bassitt, Jesus Luzardo, Frankie Montas, and Sean Manaea, has great potential along with prospect A.J. Puk who will return from shoulder surgery. Oakland was able to re-sign Mike Fiers to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. The 36-year-old, who led the team with six wins last season, will offer consistent outings.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
A 23-year old with only 18 Major League games under his belt, Jesus Luzardo’s ability to approach his potential as a franchise cornerstone on the mound could be vital to the A’s ability to repeat in the AL West.

The pitcher to watch for Oakland is the 23-year-old Luzardo, who had a 3-2 record with 59 K’s in 59 innings last season. He also threw a team high 86 pitches per start and will look to lower his 4.12 ERA. He could be Oakland’s Opening Day pitcher and a franchise cornerstone.

The Texas Rangers traded Aramis Garcia, $3.5 million and shortstop Elvis Andrus to Oakland for catcher Jonah Heim, pitcher prospect Dane Acker and DH Khris Davis. Davis was one of the best hitters in all of baseball over the 2016-2018 seasons. He totaled 133 home runs and had over 100 RBI in each of those seasons. Davis’ production dropped the past two years. The 33-year-old lost the everyday DH role as he slumped to just 25 home runs and 83 RBI in two seasons. In 2019, he had a hip injury and in 2020, he suffered an oblique injury.

The move to acquire Andrus comes at a perfect time after the A’s lost Marcus Semien to the Toronto Blue Jays. Semien was key in the A’s defensive infield. He had an MVP level season in 2019 with 33 home runs and 93 RBI and even though his numbers dipped in the 2020 regular season, he showed up when it mattered. He hit .407 with two home runs, four RBI and a slugging percentage of .667 and an OPS of 1.151 last postseason.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Oakland acquired long-time division rival Elvis Andrus from the Rangers, but he’s got big shoes to fill following in the footsteps of the departed Marcus Semien. A two-time AL Champion with Texas, Andrus is also the All-Time leader in stolen bases for the franchise.

Andrus is a talented defensive player with 76 career home runs and a .274 hitter, but the 32-year-old has suffered significant injuries. In 2018, he broke his throwing elbow and in 2020 his season ended early with a back strain. He’ll have a new third baseman in Matt Chapman holding down the right side of the infield.

The duo will look to build chemistry as Chapman makes his way back from his hip injury. He missed 23 games and hit a career low .232. The new teammates will be a pitchers dream as they’ll cover a ton of ground. Chapman is a two-time Platinum Glove Award winner in 2018 and 2019, including the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award in 2018.

The A’s found Davis’ replacement in Mitch Moreland, who signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with incentives. He hit 10 home runs and 29 RBI with the Boston Red Sox before being traded to the Padres last season. The 35-year-old’s 22 homers against Oakland are his most against any team, including 15 in the Coliseum.

Oakland’s starting lineup looks formidable: The projected lineup is Ramon Laureano, Mark Canha, Chapman, Matt Olson, Sean Murphy, Moreland, Stephen Piscotty, Andrus and Anthony Kemp.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
A’s first baseman Matt Olson’s ability to put together a bounce back season is key to the teams chances of another division title. The 26-year old didn’t miss a game, but struggled at the plate batting just .195 and striking out in nearly a third of his plate appearances.

Olson had a down year last season, bating a career-low .195 with a .310 on-base percentage. He still found a way to knock out 14 home runs and collect 42 RBI. The two-time Golden Glove Award winner will look to rebound to his 2019 form. Olson suffered from mechanical issues with his swing in 2020. Two seasons ago, he had 36 home runs and 91 RBI. He looks strong so far in spring training with a team leading five hits in 10 AB’s, three home runs and eight RBI.

Since Feb. 6, the A’s have acquired or signed: shortstop Andrus, right-handed pitcher Fiers, second baseman Jed Lowrie, left-handed pitcher Adam Kolarek, bullpen pitchers Petit, Romo, Rosenthal and DH Moreland.

With the muscle added to the bullpen, most defensive holes filled and their stars healthy, this team is complete as any other team in the majors. Expect them to make another run into the playoffs. The front office did a good job addressing needs and keeping them competitive late in the offseason.

Our prediction for the Athletics is a 87-75 record and the AL West championship, but once again another loss in the ALDS.

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