Inside Pitch: Reviewing the A’s offseason

Two games into 2017, the Oakland Athletics have have had their off-season decisions put on display.

In an Opening Day victory over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the A’s flashed bullpen power with a quartet of relievers teaming up to toss three scoreless innings, striking out four. Free agent addition Rajai Davis provided unrivaled excitement in the form of a go-ahead infield  triple in a take-two loss Tuesday.

And all the while a spruced up Oakland Coliseum has been at center stage.

That being said, with the first “Inside Pitch” of the season, we look back at the offseason that was.

Fastball: Taking extra 90s

Oakland’s 50 stolen bases were second-fewest in the American League and fifth-fewest in all of major league baseball. Looking for improvements in their base-taking ability, as well that of going first to third, the A’s reeled in Davis, who led the AL in steals a season ago (43) with only seven fewer than the entire A’s team.

Now, the A’s can take solace in the idea of having one of the game’s quickest and most aggressive base runners in front of a trio of middle-of-the-order hitters wh0m they expect to add on to the 147 extra-base hits of a year ago.

Having Davis’ legs along with new right fielder Matt Joyce, whose career .341 on-base percentage should boost Oakland’s 2016 AL-worst .304, on at the front of the order will almost certainly improve the club’s run-scoring (653) which was also an AL-worst.

Overall, these additions, along with new third baseman Trevor Plouffe, aren’t the type to make Oakland an immediate pennant contender, but what they will do is tune up the A’s two-stroke motor that on many occasions completely stalled out last season.

Changeup: Commitment to Oakland

Perhaps the organization’s biggest addition in the offseason will never be seen in a jersey, will never stand in the box, and will never run the bases. The A’s have reinvigorated Oakland and the energy around the team over the winter. And the man who deserves much of the credit is new president Dave Kaval.

The Cincinnati native and Bay Area transplant has not only inspired the team’s new slogan “Rooted In Oakland,” he has been the embodiment of it.

Making the statement that the green and gold will stay in Oakland (period) in his very first appearance in the role has been backed up by everything Kaval has done. Aggressively pursuing a stadium site around well-known Oakland landmarks, embracing Oakland history and giving A’s fans a touch of it should have already endeared the man to the entire fan base. And if it hasn’t, I don’t know what will.

Curveball: Raiders departure

On March 27, Raiders owner Mark Davis announced his league-approved intentions to move his team to Las Vegas. It was a gut-punch to fans throughout “The Town.”

But the move may have benefited the A’s. With the Golden State Warriors also ditching their long-time home and fan base, the “O” will soon become a true one-team town. And with a new stadium only a few short years away, the A’s can began to capitalize on that fact before it even becomes a reality.

Sinker: Team D

Aside from Davis — who brings a career .985 fielding percentage — the A’s did nothing to shore up what was a defense that ranked No. 17 (.984 fielding percentage) in the league.

Defense is the definitive weakness of the A’s this season. Jed Lowrie had the fifth-lowest fielding percentage (.984) among AL second baseman. Khris Davis (.970) is a soft spot in the outfield with an arm that will be challenged regularly. And despite his drastic improvement over the past two seasons, Marcus Semien still tied for the most errors (21) by an AL shortstop last year, though to be fair, he led the junior circuit in total chances by 60-plus.

The offseason ended with too many holes remaining in the field.

Slider: Leaning on young arms

The injury to Sonny Gray has forced the A’s to begin this season leaning heavily on untested arms. Graveman, the ace, has accrued 53 starts in the bigs (including Opening Day). And as small a serving as that is, it is more than the combined total (41) of the other four starters.

To combat this possible problem area, manager Bob Melvin has been forced to carry a eight-man bullpen — one more than normal — leaving him with a three-man bench and handcuffing the skipper in situations that may call for a substitution.

Again, there is no certainty this will be exposed, but it does present issues in the first few weeks of the season.

Pitch-out: Glance at potential trade market

Should Melvin and the A’s need to make a change on the infield, solving problems caused by injury or ineffectiveness, three of the team’s top minor leaguers will be called upon. In the outfield, however, Jaff Decker presents the only real call-up option.

That being said, Oakland would likely need to dip into the outfield market should they reach the trade deadline as buyers. And, lucky for them, the position deepest in riches.

Former MVPs Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen could be on the move this season, and the A’s have the type of pitching depth in the farm to make a move of this level. Should the front office be unwilling to pull the trigger on sending away a guy like Grant Holmes, cheaper options like Howie Kendrick and Melky Cabrera could provide quick fixes.

Whether they are making moves to contend or get younger at the deadline, the A’s, depending on the excitement captured in the offseason, are prepped to bring fun back to the Oakland Coliseum in one of its final years.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.