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“Alluhring Strategy” Team Preview: 2017 Oakland Athletics

54 Shades of Gray and the Swingin’ A’s

This week we take a 5 hour trip up the I-5 to get to the greater Oakland area and eventually our next stop, the O.co Coliseum. It seems like the only thing you hear out of Oakland recently is whether or not the Raiders are moving to Vegas. I have some thoughts on that, but this is a baseball article so I won’t wonder too far off course. That being said, my daughter just signed with a talent management agency this week so I will be celebrating by subtly incorporating a “movie & television theme” throughout the article.

The 2016 Oakland A’s finished with a 69-93 record which was good for last place in the AL West, 26 games behind 1st place TEX. There wasn’t a whole lot to be excited about as an Athletics fan in 2016 and some of their best players were traded, namely Rich Hill and Josh Reddick. Despite a poor season, the 2017 off-season has been pretty quiet on the field. The same can’t be said for the Front Office. I don’t mean changes at General Manager as Billy Beane is still VP of Baseball Operations and David Forst is still GM. These changes went way higher up the food-chain. Lew Wolff (Managing Partner) and Mike Crowley (President) are gone and now the franchise will look for new options to fund a new stadium before the revenue sharing dries up. These developments seem to have tied Billy Beane’s hands even more than usual. After kicking the tires on Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo, Beane ended up adding only a few low cost, low commitment guys to fill in the roster. Injuries have riddled the pitching staff which was a strength with its depth, to a question mark for the season. Will they get their Ace back? Will they revert back to the “Swingin’ A’s” in order to win games and abandon the Moneyball philosophy? 

 

Key Off-Season Transactions

Additions:

  1. Trevor Plouffe
  2. Matt Joyce
  3. Rajai Davis
  4. Santiago Casilla
  5. Paul Blackburn

Subtractions:

  1. Danny Valencia

 

The Moneyball theory, as I understand it, attempts to find undervalued players by throwing out typical stats such as HRs, SBs and batting average and use more analytical stats such as On Base and Slugging percentage to determine players potential and true contribution. So this year, the A’s sign guys like Plouffe with career numbers of .308 OBP and .420 SLG. and “speedster” Rajai Davis (.314 OBP and .387 SLG). That being said, he managed to plug some holes in the lineup with veterans that can produce and won’t burden the team long-term. The best on-field move this off-season may have been to rid themselves of clubhouse punk, Danny Valencia, and pick up an underrated prospect in Paul Blackburn. He has already been optioned to AAA, Nashville, but could be a contributor this season in the rotation. He doesn’t strike many out, but he doesn’t walk many and he doesn’t give up home runs. This sounds like Billy Beane’s type of player.

 

Projected Opening Day Roster Notables

Lineup

  1. Rajai Davis CF (R)
  2. Steven Vogt C (L)
  3. Ryon Healy DH (R)
  4. Khris Davis LF
  5. Matt Joyce RF (L)/Mark Cahna (R)
  6. Marcus Semien SS (R)
  7. Yonder Alonso 1B (L)
  8. Trevor Plouffe 3B (R)
  9. Jed Lowrie 2B (S)

 

At first glance at his lineup, I was thinking this offense is going to suck this year. Slots 3-6 should exceed 25 HRs (counting Joyce and Cahna as one slot) and Vogt, Alonso and Plouffe should all get 12-15 a piece as well. This team won’t manufacture runs as it isn’t going to be confused with a Moneyball team, however, there is an ability to drive in runs up and down the lineup. In order to keep up with the lineups of Texas, Houston and Seattle, you need to be able to drive in runs. I personally would have rather seen them non-tender Alonso and let Healy play 1st base or let Cahna keep it warm for rising star, Matt Chapman. Otherwise, the plug-in signings this off-season should help give this lineup enough depth to keep up with the Jones’ of the AL West.

 

Rotation

  1. Kendall Graveman RHP
  2. Sean Manaea LHP
  3. Jharel Cotton RHP
  4. Andrew Triggs RHP
  5. Jesse Hahn RHP
  6. *Sonny Gray RHP (late April)
  7. *Daniel Mengden RHP (late April)

* denotes injury to start the season

 

No one will confuse the Oakland rotation to the stacked rotations of the Red Sox, Nationals, Mets, Indians or Cubs. What they do have is a ton of young depth that can all pitch and should make things interesting in Oakland this Summer. Former Ace, Sonny Gray, has had a setback with his injured back and is expected to miss most of April. I’m not convinced he ever returns to Ace form, but it may not be necessary. If he did, I’m sure Oakland would trade him by August to get another haul of prospects like they did with the Hill/Reddick deal last year. As it stands, Kendall Graveman slides in as the #1 to start the season followed by two young guys I’m really excited about this year, Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton. Andrew Triggs has pitched well enough this Spring to earn a spot and it appears Jesse Hahn will get the 5th spot as the last man standing. Once Gray gets back, Hahn will likely move into long relief. Daniel Mengden should return mid-April and could grab a rotation spot right away if Triggs or Hahn struggles early. Although there isn’t the flash of Sale, Scherzer or Syndergaard, this collection of young arms is capable of limiting the damage as the lineup drives in runs giving Oakland a legitimate chance of competing this season. If Manaea builds on his solid rookie season and shows more command, he can develop into a #1. Jharel Cotton already has shown he has three MLB pitches including his plus-plus, devastating change-up with screwball action, fastball and cutter. He can mix in a curveball and you have the makings of an extremely dangerous and effective pitcher.

Bullpen

  1. Ryan Madson (R) CL
  2. Sean Doolittle (L) 8th
  3. Ryan Dull (R) MID
  4. Santiago Castilla (R) MID
  5. John Axford (R) MID

 

The pen should also be a real strength for them this season. They feature four guys

with closer experience. All four are in their 30’s with tons of MLB experience and will not be shaken by a tough situation. The most intriguing piece of this bullpen is 27-year-old Ryan Dull. In his first full season in the Majors he proved he belonged with a 20% K-BB ratio in 74.1 innings. His not a pure strikeout pitcher but he only gave up 11 non-intentional walks. Keep an eye out for him this year to earn higher-leverage appearances and is a great value in fantasy leagues that counts holds.

 

Prospects to Know for 2017

  1. Franklin Barreto (R) SS/2B (late 2017) — The organization’s top prospect was just optioned to Nashville this week, but it sounds like he will be spending time at 2B there this Spring. This is significant because a transition to the keystone will provide a faster path to Oakland. Barreto’s bat is ready for the Majors and if he takes to this move well, we could see him in O.co later this Summer. If he gets the call, he will be a must-add waiver pick up in all formats as his hit tool and run tool should translate quickly.
  2. Matt Chapman (R) 3B (late 2017) — The organization’s 2nd best hitting prospect could also make a contribution this season. He has not been added to the 40 Man yet, but that is not going to be a stumbling block if the A’s want him up. I am sure he will stay in Nashville well beyond the Super Two threshold, but if Alonso is as bad as I believe he will be or if Plouffe doesn’t pan out, Chapman could be there to display his power stroke in the latter part of the season.
  3. Frankie Montas RHP & Daniel Gossett RHP (mid 2017) — These two along with Blackburn have a great chance to spend time in the rotation this season. Blackburn is a Kendall Graveman clone. Gossett has four pitches and shows good command averaging around 20% KK-BB differential over 3 stops last season. Frankie Montas was part of the 3-headed monster prospect score in the deal with the Dodgers last year. Oakland is still committed to him as a starter with a plus fastball and slider, though he may develop into a future closer if he can’t stay healthy and throw strikes. All three could be in-season call-ups that could contribute if the need arises and with all the young guys slated to begin the season in the rotation, they will need the depth.

 

Key Spring Training Position Battle

5th Starter – Triggs & Hahn vs. the field (Alcantara, Blackburn, Gossett, Montas)

At this point of the Spring, many position battles have been decided. This seems to be the case here too as Blackburn and Gossett have be assigned to AAA and with Gray and Mengden hurt, there are only three guys left for two spots. Raul Alcantara is out of options but also has struggled as a starter in recent seasons. I expect him to start out as the long reliever this April. Triggs and Hahn should get the call if only temporarily as Gray and Mengden get healthy.

Second Base – Lowrie vs. Wendle/Pinder

Jed Lowrie has likely wrapped this up as he was able to fend off young mediocre prospects Joey Wendle and Chad Pinder. If Jed struggles or gets hurt, one of these two could be up to fill in. Ultimately, I think this is just a place holder for the eventual promotion of top prospect, Franklin Barreto.

 

Fantasy Targets

  1. Khris Davis – Rounds 10-12 for power production. Despite high strikeouts and low OBP, Davis should hit 40 HRs and 100 RBIs which is worth it here. Hopefully other owners will devalue him due to the sabremetrics.
  2. Jharel Cotton – Later Rounds for SP depth. I like his stuff to translate and is a safe pick to get 150-170 solid innings.
  3. Ryon Healy — Sleeper pick MID rounds. I expect him to build on his 2nd half last year to be a “huge” contributor this season in the neighborhood of 25 HRs and 85 RBIs.

2017 Team Outlook

  1. What will they get from Sonny Gray and the young SP rotation? I think we will be pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of this staff. Bold prediction: Manaea and Cotton combine for 25 wins.
  2. What will be the contribution from the veteran patchwork guys? Individually, I don’t see big numbers. Collectively, these guys add length to the lineup and will bring out more from the young guys, Healy, Davis and Semien.
  3. How will the Athletics fare this season overall? I like this team as a whole more than most. I can see this team reaching 80+ wins however the stacked division with Houston, Seattle and Texas will make it very difficult to finish higher than 4th. Final Prediction: 80-82, 4th place in the AL West but stays in contention for a Wild Card spot into September.

If all the pieces fall into place, we could see a fun playoff chase in the AL West and Billy Bean might be getting this call…

 


Bryan Luhrs

Major League Fantasy Sports
Writer & Contributor
Real Deal Dynasty Sports
Owner, League Developer & Executive Commissioner

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Faith, Family and Fantasy Sports.These are the three words that best describe me. I am a faithful husband and father of 6 amazing children. I work to earn a living, but I live for every precious moment I can spend with my family and a passion for sports.

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