Pitch­ing should be A’s top pri­or­ity

The Tribune (SLO) - - Sports - BY MARTIN GAL­LE­GOS


After their sur­pris­ing de­ci­sion to not of­fer a con­tract to Mike Fiers last week, the A’s need for start­ing pitch­ing only be­came even more ob­vi­ous.

A’s Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent Billy Beane and Gen­eral Man­ager David Forst al­ready have deemed the ro­ta­tion as their main fo­cus this win­ter, but that’s not the only po­si­tion of need they’ll be look­ing to full dur­ing next week’s MLB Win­ter Meet­ings in Las Vegas.

Key pieces from the A’s un­ex­pected 2018 play­off run re­main un­signed, and plenty of teams are sure to be in­ter­ested in those as­sets in or­der to make their own post­sea­son chase next sea­son.

Here’s a look at what the A’s will need to ad­dress this win­ter in or­der to avoid let­ting 2018 be­come a one-hit won­der: Start­ing pitch­ing: Now that Fiers and Ken­dall Grave­man have been al­lowed to walk and be­come free agents, the A’s do not have a sin­gle start­ing pitcher un­der con­tract. Sean Manaea, who served as the team’s ace for most of last sea­son, was ten­dered a con­tract and is up for ar­bi­tra­tion, but he’ll most likely miss the en­tire 2019 sea­son after un­der­go­ing arthro- scopic surgery on his left shoul­der in Septem­ber.

Beane and Forst have al­ready ex­pressed in­ter­est po­ten­tially bring­ing back any com­bi­na­tion of Trevor Cahill, Ed­win Jack­son, or Brett An­der­son, three free agent starters who along with Fiers helped piece to­gether a sta­ble ro­ta­tion for man­ager Bob Melvin through­out the sec­ond half of 2018.

Pitch­ing phenom Je­sus Luzardo, who blazed his way from Sin­gle-A to Triple-A last sea­son, will be a can­di­date to start the year on the big league start­ing ro­ta­tion with a strong

spring per­for­mance, but that’s just one po­ten­tially filled ro­ta­tion spot.

Whether it’s Jack­son, Cahill, An­der­son, or new vet­eran op­tions on the mar­ket such as Wade Mi­ley, Clay Buch­holz, or a Gio Gon­za­lez re­union, the A’s have no choice but to add start­ing bod­ies via free agency.

Catcher: Jonathan Lu­croy en­ters free agency com­ing off a year in which his num­bers con­tin­ued to de­cline, but his value to the A’s came more in the club­house. Signed just be­fore the start of the 2018 reg­u­lar sea­son, the 32-year-old vet­eran quickly es­tab­lished him­self as a leader on the team, and pitch­ers con­stantly raved about his at­ten­tion to de­tail when it came to com­ing up with game plans for op­pos­ing hit­ters.

Get­ting through last sea­son bat­ting .241 was fine for the A’s given their high-pow­ered of­fense, which scored the fourth­most runs in baseball, but the low av­er­aged com- bined with just four home runs and a .617 OPS may not be ap­peal­ing to other teams in the mar­ket for a catcher. Even Lu­croy’s im­pres­sive stat of an MLB-best 31 run­ner caught steal­ing is a bit mis­lead­ing, as he also al­lowed a league-high 72 stolen bases.

If the op­por­tu­nity to get Lu­croy back on an­other one-year deal is avail­able, the A’s likely would jump on it. Should Lu­croy get a multi-year deal else­where, ex­pect them to go after a player like Matt Wi­eters, sim­i­lar to Lu­croy in age and pro­duc­tion, to serve as a stop­gap be­fore promis­ing catch­ing prospect Sean Mur­phy is ready for the ma­jors.

Sec­ond base: De­ci­sion time is com­ing fast. Will the A’s bring back Jed Lowrie? Com­ing off a ca­reer year in which he was named an All-Star for the first time at age 34, the sec­ond base­man was a ma­jor part of the A’s play­off run as the No. 3 hit­ter that car­ried a huge load on of­fense through the first half of the sea­son.

Beane has made his ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Lowrie clear as he’d like to find a way to bring him back, but his pro­jected value of three years, $30 mil­lion prob­a­bly would be too much for the A’s to com­mit. Franklin Bar­reto, the club’s top hit­ting prospect for the past cou­ple of years, is wait­ing in the wings.

Should Lowrie find a new home, Bar­reto eas­ily can be in­serted into the ev­ery­day role for 2019. But if Lowrie re­turns, the writ­ing could be on the wall for Bar­reto’s time with the A’s as they could use him as a trade chip for a start­ing pitcher. Left-handed re­lief: Ryan Buchter is the only left­handed re­liever on the 40-man ros­ter. Although Yus­meiro Petit is a pitcher Melvin trusts against right­ies and left­ies, adding an­other left-han­der should be a pri­or­ity to at least have depth in case Buchter goes down with an in­jury.

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