Playing Pepper 2017: Oakland Athletics

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Oakland Athletics
69-93, fifth in AL West
Last year’s Pepper

It has to be tough to be an A’s fan.  They can redefine the game but they can’t get over the hump in the playoffs and then tend to wind up destined for another cycle of rebuilding.  Trades send players out for younger versions, who often then wind up developing and getting traded for more prospects, as the front office tries to thread the needle between being good and being good on a budget.

It’s probably not too surprising that Oakland is one of the teams I have the toughest time getting contributors for.  However, as he did last year, Jason Leary came to my rescue to make sure the Green and Gold was represented in the series.  You can find Jason on Twitter at JasonALeary and his writing over at Junk Ball, so check him out!

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

JB: Overall, it was an unspectacular offseason for the Oakland A’s in the wake of a forgettable 2016 season that saw them finish in last place in the AL West for the second consecutive year. There were no big trades or splashy free-agent signings this winter as the A’s focused on leaving the door open for their young players to develop.

Stopgap free agents Matt Joyce, Rajai Davis, Trevor Plouffe and Santiago Casilla were brought in on short-term deals to provide some veteran leadership and solid play while Oakland’s prospects round into form.

The biggest news for the A’s this winter had nothing to do with players coming or going via trade or free agency. The real news is the team’s reinvigorated push for a new ballpark in Oakland. With the franchise’s revenue sharing checks set to run out in a few seasons thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, the club appointed a new team president, Dave Kaval, to spearhead the search for a new stadium.

Kaval says the A’s will announce a site for a new ballpark in Oakland with a timeline drawn out from that point to the venue’s first Opening Day.

With the A’s coming off a couple of down years, a wave of young players coming up and revenues set to decline for a few seasons it’s understandable that the team basically decided to tread water in the offseason.

C70: What is the strength of this team?

JB: Right now the strongest part of the 2017 A’s is the franchise’s pitching depth.

Ace Sonny Gray will start the season on the disabled list but once healthy, he’ll be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2016. Youngsters Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton will look to build on promising rookie seasons. Kendall Graveman, just 26 years old, established himself as a solid workhorse in 2016 and Jesse Hahn, 27, will try to re-establish himself as a promising starting pitcher after stumbling the past couple of years.

Beyond that there’s a logjam of intriguing pitchers such as Andrew Triggs, Daniel Mengden and Raul Alcantara who will probably spend most of the season vying for their shot in the big league rotation.

Down on the farm, fireballing Frankie Montas will be worth keeping an eye on along with a slew of live-armed youngsters such as A.J. Puk.

C70: There was talk about teams being interested in Sonny Gray. Do you think the club moves him sometimes this season?

JB: If you wear green and gold, you’re trade bait so of course Gray could end up packing his bags and going where the trade winds take him.

If Gray can shake off the lat strain he recently suffered and regain his All-Star form it’s easy to imagine the A’s selling him to the highest bidder at the All-Star break.

With revenue sharing tapering off over the next few seasons and a new ballpark hopefully coming into play around the same time, it would make sense for the A’s to deal Gray for prospects who are more likely to be part of a winning team in a new venue than Gray is.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

JB: Among the position players, minor league outfielder Jaycob Brugman could be someone worth keeping an eye on. He’s no blue-chip prospect but he’s been a solid all-around performer throughout his minor league career (slashing .285/.347/.438 least season in Triple-A Nashville) and with short-term veteran rentals Davis and Joyce manning Oakland’s outfield Brugman may have an opportunity to play himself into a big league role.

As for the pitchers, I believe Hahn has a great opportunity to grab the fifth spot in the rotation and run with it. Hahn could emerge as a post-hype sleeper if he can turn his fastball-curveball combo into a weapon again. Of course, I said that last year and Hahn promptly went out and posted a 6.02 ERA in a lost season.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

JB: The A’s could improve by 10 games and still finish in last place with a sub-.500 record which is about what I expect from them. Pencil me in for 79-83 with a pie-in-the-sky dream that they can catch lightning in a bottle like they did in 2012 when they came out of nowhere to win the AL West on the last day of the season.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Athletic and why?

JB: That’s easy: Rickey Henderson. Greatest leadoff hitter of all time, an Oakland native, a Hall of Famer, a member of Oakland’s 1989 World Series winner, speed, power, a big personality. Rickey was always fun to follow whether he was leading off with a home run, driving opposing pitchers and catchers crazy with has baserunning, making a snatch catch or delivering a memorable quote.

As always, I appreciate Jason’s thoughts on the team in Oakland.  There’s always a story out there!

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