Playing Pepper 2019: Oakland Athletics

Every year since 2009, I’ve spent some time before the season starts trying to find out what fanbases are thinking about their team.  It’s so easy to get myopic, especially with Twitter, so it’s a good chance for us (and by us, I mean me) to take a step back and remember there are 29 other Major League Baseball teams.  We’ve got current bloggers, former bloggers that indulge me still, and this year a few media folks chiming in as well.  Get out the bat, ball, and glove: it’s time once again to play some pepper.

Oakland Athletics
97-65, second in AL West, lost in Wild Card Game
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper

It’s time for a little green and gold action!  Last season, the A’s rebounded from three straight last-place finishes to post 97 wins, a mark that often could have put them in the divisional driver seat but instead forced them into the Wild Card Game where they continued their less-than-fulfilling postseason history of this millennium.  Is this the start of another sustained Oakland success run or was it a blip on the radar?  We’ve got Tim Eckert-Fong of the legendary blog Athletics Nation to give us the scoop this time out.  (You can follow Tim on Twitter @teckertfong.)

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? What was good, what was bad, what else should they have done?

Tim: Candidly, I’m a little disappointed in the A’s offseason. I get it, they’re bringing back the vast majority of a playoff team and want to repeat what they did last year – plug in gaps as they become apparent as the season goes on. It’s hard to find fault in a front office coming off a 97 win season but the truth of the matter is the team is unlikely to have as much luck as they did in 2018. The pitching staff is still barren, the bullpen looks solid on paper but is unlikely to put up as good a season as they did a year ago, and there’s plenty of competition in the division. But again: 97 wins! Maybe I’m just being ungrateful. 

C70: Matt Chapman had an outstanding year last season. What can he do for an encore?

Tim: Matt Chapman genuinely believes he can improve on defense and while he was already the best defender in the game last year, I believe him. He had a stretch of bizarre errors – simple plays where he booted the ball or threw away an easy out. You’re always going to get some of those plays from a guy who gets as many chances as Chapman’s range allows him, but I can definitely see that number going down. Offensively, he was fantastic last year. My hope is he stays at that level as the league adjusts to him in just his second full year. He showed a fantastic ability to be a smart hitter, and I think that enables him to stay at that 137 wRC+ mark which by the way, 137!!!

C70: I know absolutely nothing about him but looking over the roster, I have to ask–who is Skye Bolt and will we see him in the big leagues this year?

Tim: Skye Bolt is a toolsy prospect with a sweet swing and a strong glove who has taken some major steps forward in the past few years. I don’t think we see him in any real capacity this year, potentially as a September call-up, but the A’s have too much outfield depth for him to really see any big league time this season. That said, the team added him to the 40-man to protect him from the Rule 5 draft – they believe in the guy and the tools are real. 

C70: What is your general outlook for 2019? Where will they finish in the division?

Tim: I’m a noted pessimist when it comes to season predictions, and I see the A’s as being an 85ish win team propped up by a great offense but ultimately handcuffed by a tattered rotation. They’re supremely talented in some regards, but their starting staff can be crippling – the range of outcomes for this team is massive. The A’s may well invest in the rotation if come May, they’re looking like a contender but so far, the front office has been unwilling to part with significant resources to obtain starters.

C70: What’s the biggest question for this team going into the season and what’s the answer to it?

Tim: Stop me if you’ve heard this before – the rotation. There are a lot of innings to be eaten and those that are taken are by solid but not exciting inning eating talent. This team is going to ask its bullpen to carry a huge portion of the load just one year after asking so very much of them, and I worry they can’t recreate that magic. The answer is a known unknown – finding guys as the season goes on. Last year, the A’s found out their playoff caliber offense was real and after doing so, went out and filled the gaps in the rotation and bullpen. It seems the A’s will rely on Mike Fiers, Jesus Luzardo, Daniel Mengden and more to start the season off and should someone falter, the A’s will be ready to replace them waiver wire pickup, trade, whatever it might be. 

C70: What do you expect will give you the most joy watching this team on a regular basis this season?

Tim: Matt Chapman, Matt Chapman, Matt Chapman. His defense is as enjoyable as it is good, and it’s the best in the game. Additionally, Khris Davis. Davis is a rare player who has publicly expressed his love for playing in Oakland and the fans absolutely love him. He’s a little quirky with a great personality that is delightful to watch alongside his MLB leading power. 

Appreciate Tim taking the time to bring us the info on the A’s.  The Cards and A’s have some connections, most notably Tony La Russa and Mark McGwire, and it’ll be good to see the two teams meeting up again during this regular season!

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