BY SEAN WATKINS
The A’s organization faces the challenging task of replacing the talent of shortstop Marcus Semien, DH Khris Davis and closer Liam Hendriks in the upcoming season. Despite the fact that each played pivotal roles in contributing to the club’s recent success, all but Hendiks showed a decline in production in 2020.
Semien left in free agency, signing a 1-year deal worth $18 million with the Toronto Blue Jays. This tends to be a common theme for A’s fans to witness, a young player develops with the organization and eventually leaves for more money once he has proved his talent. Semien went from leading the league in errors in his first season with the A’s to finishing third in AL MVP voting in 2019, posting career numbers with 33 home runs, 92 RBI’s and a .285 average playing in all 162 games.
Hendriks inked a massive deal in free agency as well, agreeing to a four-year, $54 million contract with the Chicago White Sox. Hendriks has been with a number of MLB teams throughout his career but didn’t see success until recent years after taking over as the A’s closer. During his tenure, he earned AL Reliever of the Year and made the All-MLB First Team.
As the A’s look to repeat as division champions, they looked to acquire talent in the offseason to replace what they had lost. The club made a deal with their division rival Texas Rangers in a trade focused on swapping their DH Davis for SS Elvis Andrus. This showed their attempt to start filling the void on roster spots in need.
Both players have shown a recent decline in performance and are each earning big salaries. Oakland needed a starting shortstop and Texas needed more production from the DH spot, so it made sense for both clubs to make the deal. Although Andrus doesn’t have the home run ability that Semien has shown, he’s proven to be a solid contact hitter and should be serviceable on defense playing the vital position of shortstop.
Semien established himself as a solid leadoff hitter for the A’s, which is something they will look to supplant as well. Manager Bob Melvin said Andrus could be a possibility for that role, however he will also consider Mark Canha, Tony Kemp and Ramon Laureano.
Laureano or Canha seems like the best option here. On-base percentage, speed and the ability to hit the long ball usually factor in for the best candidate. Melvin seems to be leaning toward Canha. “Even though he has some power, he can make a pitcher work,” Melvin said of Canha. “There are some variables there that suggest he might be a candidate for it.” It should be noted that Canha has been leading off in the games he has started during spring training.
30-year-old closer Trevor Rosenthal and 35-year-old 1B/DH Mitch Moreland also signed one-year free agent deals to join Oakland.
Moreland will help fill the void at DH with the departure of Davis, bringing power as a left-handed hitter and doing most of his damage against right-handed pitchers. However, the A’s will have the flexibility to have others contribute at the designated hitter position.
Melvin has been known to platoon lineups throughout his years as manager. Moreland could serve as the primary DH against right-handed pitchers while players such as Chad Pinder could be penciled in against lefties. Moreland’s ability to field first base also gives Melvin the option to slide Matt Olson into the DH spot if he feels the need to relieve Olson’s workload.
Rosenthal will have big shoes to fill coming in as the new closer. He’ll also be expected to live up to his huge contract. Earning $11 million next season, his deal is the highest single-season salary for a reliever in Oakland A’s history.
Coming off a strong year in 2020, Rosenthal regained the talent he showed prior to having Tommy John reconstruction elbow surgery. Over 23 games, Rosenthal earned 11 saves while posting a 1.90 ERA. His newly developed slider and 98 mph fastball meet the criteria for being an efficient closer in the league.
However, these are still difficult holes to fill. This organization has a history of making head scratching moves that often tend to take years to look back on and appreciate.