A’s: Will Heis­man win­ner Murray re­port to camp?

San Francisco Chronicle - - SPORTING GREEN - By Su­san Slusser

For a team com­ing off a post­sea­son ap­pear­ance, the A’s sure do have a num­ber of clearly de­fined con­cerns they’ll need to ad­dress this spring.

They’re work­ing on them. But it doesn’t take a de­gree in an­a­lyt­ics or a trip to scout school to know that, with pitch­ers and catch­ers re­port­ing Sun­day, the A’s are still a starter or three short of a ro­ta­tion and that they still need to land an ev­ery­day catcher.

The big­gest question of all: The A’s are wait­ing and won­der­ing, like ev­ery­one else, what Kyler Murray might be do­ing. So let’s start our five ques­tions there, with the Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner.

1. Will Kyler Murray re­port Fri­day? Will he ever play for the A’s?

This won’t re­ally af­fect the A’s spring plans, although they do ex­pect to keep Murray with them through much of camp, un­like most mi­nor lea­guers, should he de­cide to play base­ball. Clar­ity would be nice, but Murray re­port­edly plans to at­tend the NFL com­bine Feb. 26 through March 4; it’s un­clear if Oak­land would al­low him to de­part camp for In­di­anapo­lis and re­turn af­ter the com­bine. The team can do so with­out any con­trac­tual or le­gal is­sues, but the A’s could choose in­stead to place Murray on the re­stricted list for vi­o­lat­ing his con­tract.

There’s a strong un­der­cur­rent of feel­ing that Murray will de­cide to play foot­ball af­ter such a sen­sa­tional sea­son, and the A’s would then lose their top pick in last year’s draft. Murray, 21, would have to repay his $4.66 mil­lion sign­ing bonus af­ter be­ing se­lected ninth over­all, but Oak­land won’t get a com­pen­sa­tion pick this June for los­ing him.

At 5-foot-10, Murray is small for an NFL quar­ter­back and it’s un­clear where the Ok­la­homa star might be se­lected in the NFL draft. If it’s not in the first round, he might choose base­ball, and the A’s re­tain his rights.

It’s un­cer­tain how a base­ball con­tract might work if he were to for­feit his sign­ing bonus to pur­sue foot­ball, even if just briefly. But it’s pos­si­ble Oak­land would make good on the orig­i­nal deal, and the team has dis­cussed the idea of putting him on the 40-man ros­ter this year to redo his con­tract and pay him more in line with what a late first-round NFL pick might re­ceive.

Murray and his fam­ily were still mulling his op­tions Fri­day, sources told The Chron­i­cle.

2. What will the ro­ta­tion look like?

This is a stan­dard question this time of year, but head­ing into this spring, man­ager Bob Melvin prob­a­bly doesn’t even have all his per­son­nel in place. The team would love to land another starter or two, whether it’s Ed­win Jack­son, Brett An­der­son, Gio Gon­za­lez or any of a num­ber of non-for­mer A’s play­ers who are still on the open mar­ket. Oak­land isn’t look­ing to spend a ton, and last year the team didn’t ac­quire An­der­son (on a mi­nor-league deal) or Trevor Cahill un­til March. The team could look to add a few more mi­nor-league free agents, or even wait to see which starters with­out op­tions are left off big-league rosters to open the sea­son.

Will the prices drop enough for the A’s to snag some ro­ta­tion parts? Or will they go into the sea­son with Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada and pick ’em from a group that in­cludes Daniel Meng­den, Paul Black­burn, Chris Bas­sitt, Aaron Brooks, Grant Holmes and Frankie Mon­tas? And what about ...

3. Je­sus Luzardo — is he on the ros­ter the first few weeks of the sea­son?

Oak­land’s needs are such that the team’s top prospect, the left-handed Luzardo, is likely to be in the ro­ta­tion quickly. Ser­vice time won’t be a fac­tor. The 21-year-old is tal­ented enough, and far enough re­moved from Tommy John surgery, that no one will be sur­prised if Luzardo is start­ing for Oak­land the first time through the ro­ta­tion.

The question then will be: Where does he pitch in the ro­ta­tion? The No. 3 spot is pos­si­ble with a strong spring, and even No. 1 isn’t out of the question, ac­cord­ing to FanGraphs’ re­cent ZiPs pro­jec­tions — one of the few pub­lished sta­tis­ti­cal mod­els to ac­cu­rately pre­dict the 2018 A’s might be bet­ter than ex­pected. ZiPs says Luzardo is the A’s best starter out of the gate.

Luzardo, who had in­nings lim­i­ta­tions last sea­son, will have none this year.

4. Will the A’s be us­ing an opener? And if so, how much?

Spring train­ing will be an in­ter­est­ing time to see if the A’s con­tinue to use re­liev­ers to work the first in­ning and how they’ll struc­ture starters’ in­nings with that added el­e­ment. Ros­ter lim­i­ta­tions mean Oak­land can’t run open­ers out more than twice a week, but it’s some­thing the team might want to ex­per­i­ment with well be­fore the sea­son starts to ac­cli­mate a few more pitch­ers to the process.

The A’s went 4-5 in Septem­ber us­ing Liam Hen­driks to open games and with Meng­den usu­ally han­dling the “fol­lower” du­ties. An­drew Triggs also could be con­sid­ered for an opener role, given his his­tory in the ro­ta­tion and the bullpen and his health. He is com­ing off surgery for tho­racic out­let syn­drome and his work­load will be re­duced.

5. What’s up with the catcher spot?

The A’s are un­likely to go into the reg­u­lar sea­son with Josh Phe­g­ley and Chris Her­rmann as their catch­ing tan­dem. The left-handed-hit­ting Her­rmann pro­vides nice depth in the event Oak­land signs a right-handed catcher. Al­ter­na­tively, the team would be over­joyed with Phe­g­ley as their right-handed op­tion should they sign a lefty or switch hit­ter such as Matt Wi­eters.

Last year, the A’s signed Jonathan Lu­croy in March. They could be look­ing at a sim­i­lar time frame this year, although with the sea­son start­ing early — they leave camp for Ja­pan on March 14 — they might want to hus­tle it up a lit­tle bit.

Those ZiPs num­bers have another sug­ges­tion: Mi­nor­lea­guer Sean Mur­phy projects as Oak­land’s best catcher even with just three games of Triple-A ex­pe­ri­ence. Many in the A’s or­ga­ni­za­tion agree with that sen­ti­ment.

Jeff Chiu / As­so­ci­ated Press 2018

It’s un­clear whether Kyler Murray, the A’s top draft pick, will play base­ball af­ter star­ring in foot­ball for Ok­la­homa.

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