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Offseason-In-Review: Oakland Athletics

Billy Beane does his usual roster shuffling, but will the team be better?

MLB: Oakland Athletics-Media Day
Yusmeiro Petit, one of the new Oakland A’s.
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Athletics (75-87)

Additions

OF Stephen Piscotty (acquired in a trade with the Cardinals)
C Jonathan Lucroy (signed to a one-year, $6.5 million contract)
SP Trevor Cahill (signed to a one-year contract)
RP Ryan Buchter (acquired in a trade with the Royals)
RP Yusmeiro Petit (signed to a two-year, $10 million contract)
RP Emilio Pagan (acquired in a trade with the Mariners)

Subtractions

1B Ryon Healy (traded to Mariners)
SP Jesse Hahn (traded to Royals)

As you’ll notice above, the A’s didn’t have any outgoing free agents after 2017 — they made the easy decision to pick up Jed Lowrie’s option for an incredibly reasonable $6 million, especially coming of a year that was worth four wins above replacement per Baseball-Reference. With no negations with former players to be had, A’s Executive VP of Baseball Operations Billy Beane could focus on what he does best: bringing in new players.

The opening salvo of Beane’s offseason was trading first baseman Ryon Healy to the Mariners on Nov. 15 in exchange for reliever Emilio Pagan and a minor-leaguer. Healy slugged 25 homers in 2017, but walked just 25 times all season and had an OPS of just .688 in the second half. He was left without a position due to the emergence of slugging first baseman Matt Olson and the team’s desire to shift powerful outfielder Khris Davis to full-time designated hitter, or at least more often than he had been. Despite those drawbacks, Oakland was able to snag a useful multi-inning reliever in Pagan, who struck out 56 batters in his first 5013 big league innings last season, walking just eight.

Speaking of multi-inning relievers, Beane and his GM David Forst closed a deal with Yusmeiro Petit, bringing him to Oakland for the next two seasons. Petit was nothing short of excellent for the Angels in 2017, tossing 9113 innings with a sub-1.000 WHIP, striking out 101 batters, walking just 18 and allowing only nine home runs. Including his one spot start, Petit recorded six or more outs in 23 of his 60 appearances. The length that Petit can give out of the bullpen should serve the A’s well as their rotation is rife with uncertainty and inexperience, even more so now that rotation candidate Jharel Cotton is set to undergo Tommy John surgery.

The team did just add to their starting pitching options on Saturday, though, signing old friend Trevor Cahill to a one-year contract. The right-hander was excellent in the early part of 2017 for the Padres, striking out 72 batters across 61 innings in his eleven starts. However, he ended the season being torched as a member of the Royals, allowing 21 runs and 21 walks in 23 innings, pitching to an unsightly 8.22 ERA and 2.348 WHIP. Also of note is Cahill’s league-leading 16 wild pitches, amazingly averaging one wild pitch for every five-and-a-half-innings pitched or so. It’s possible that Cahill could end up in the bullpen if he struggles further.

Joining Pagan, Petit and perhaps Cahill in the bullpen will be lefty Ryan Buchter, who spent 2017 with the Padres and Royals, pitching to a 2.89 ERA and 1.071 WHIP, striking out a batter per inning. Buchter’s strikeout numbers weren’t nearly as dominant as they were in his 2016 rookie season, but he did cut down his walk rate in return. Most startling, though, was Buchter’s 10 home runs allowed in his 6513 frames, a huge spike from the four he allowed the year prior over essentially the same amount of innings pitched. Regardless, though, Buchter gives the Athletics the bullpen lefty that they so sorely needed to help neutralize the likes of Robinson Cano, Joey Gallo and Josh Reddick around the division. All of the new bullpen pitchers will join returnees Blake Treinen, Chris Hatcher and Liam Hendriks.

The man catching all of these pitchers will be Jonathan Lucroy, who the team snagged on a one-year, $6.5 million contract that would have seemed unfathomable for Lucroy just 18 months ago, when he was finishing up an All-Star season split between the Brewers and Rangers. Lucroy was awful at the plate to begin 2017, though, as he posted an anemic .635 OPS in 77 games in Texas. He wound up losing playing time to Robinson Chirinos before being traded to the Rockies, where he finished the season strong by batting .310/.429/.437 in Colorado purple. Much of that success, though, could very well be attributed to the thin Coors Field air, and Lucroy was the second-worst pitch framer in all of baseball last year, causing his pitchers to allow an additional 18 runs, per Baseball Prospectus’s estimate.

Piscotty will look to bounce back from a poor 2017 season and return to his 2016 form (.800 OPS) in his home state of California, and he is under team control through 2022 (2023 if his team option is picked up). Piscotty may benefit from being closer to his mother, who suffers from ALS. We focus mostly on the concrete and statistical here at MLBDD, but the human element seems extremely important in this case, and Piscotty being able to spend much more time with his mom may just increase his focus and ignite his bat.

Despite the distinct flaws of every single player they acquired this offseason, the A’s were without a doubt able to grab some quality players at a low cost to them, which should in all likelihood make them a better team in 2018, even as every other AL West team beefed up their own rosters this offseason. Run prevention will remain an issue for the A’s, however; Cahill doesn’t exactly move the needle as a pitcher, and the team’s defense that was league-worst in 2018 is returning most of its key players, though it should benefit from a full season of third baseman Matt Chapman, along with Davis spending more time as a DH. The A’s still have a long way to go to even come close to the Astros, but they sure had an interesting offseason and have plenty of interesting pieces.