The Athletics added outfielders Rajai Davis and Matt Joyce, the former coming off of a career high 12 home runs, one extremely memorable World Series home run for Cleveland and leading the American League in stolen bases with 43. Joyce put up some good numbers early on in Pittsburgh last season, but tailed off towards the end of the season. Oakland is hoping Joyce will thrive with the extra playing time he will get that he could not get with the Pirates. Trevor Plouffe comes over from the Twins where he was surprisingly non tendered last off season and brings with him two 20 plus home run season and also twice drove in 80 or more runs. They also added to a very good bullpen, by signing former San Francisco Giants right hander Santiago Casilla. Casilla signed a two year deal and is coming off a 31 save season and bring with him 25 postseason appearances and a sub 1.00 earned run average spread over four postseasons.
The biggest factor over whether or not the Athletics can surprise this season, which I truly believe they can, is the health of their top starting pitcher, Sonny Gray. It is important to look past his 5-11 record and his 5.69 ERA he had last season. There is no doubt that Gray is a formidable ace and his previous two seasons proved why he was one of the top starting pitchers in the American League. Gray was injured last season and if he is completely healthy this year, the Athletics will have something they did not have last year, an ace starting pitcher. Another intriguing story will be that of right hander Jesse Hahn. Limited to just nine starts in 2016, Hahn had put up very good numbers in his twelve 2014 starts with the San Diego Padres and sixteen 2015 starts with Oakland. Young left hand pitcher Sean Manaea has the ability to become even more of a strikeout pitcher and I see 2017 as being a big year for him. Kendall Graveman led the Athletics in starts last year and did pitch well, but in an ideal scenario, the Athletics would love to have him as their fourth starter. Also encouraging for the Athletics is the fact that they do have four young pitchers, Jharel Cotton, Andrew Triggs, Daniel Mengden, and Raul Alcantara who have varying degrees of ability and strengths.
The Athletics bullpen has a lot of experience with Ryan Madson (30 saves last season), Sean Doolittle (45 strikeouts in 39 innings pitched) and John Axford. Add Casilla as well as Liam Hendricks and Ryan Dull, the Athletics have the talent to have one of the deeper bullpens in baseball. The depth will be important as Madson and Axford are aging fairly quickly and Casilla did struggle down the stretch for the Giants last season.
Khris Davis is coming off his break out 42 home run season and leads a line up that could score some runs. Shortstop Marcus Semien hit 27 home runs last season, but hit just .238 and struck out 139 times. First baseman Yonder Alonso has proven to be a James Loney clone, an average hitter with very little power. Stephen Vogt has been a two time All Star and puts up relatively good numbers for a catcher. If the Athletics lineup is going to be good, they will need maximum production from their new players. It is very important for Rajai, Plouffe and Joyce to lengthen this lineup. Veteran Jed Lowrie is hoping to stay healthy enough to play second base and Ryon Healy is looking to take his power hitting talents to the designated hitter spot in Oakland's lineup. The lineup I would go with is Davis CF, Joyce RF, Vogt C, Davis LF, Healy DH, Semien SS, Plouffe 3B, Alonso 1B, Lowrie 2B.
Free agent signing Adam Rosales will play an important utility role and Josh Phegley will serve as the backup catcher. If Phegley can earn some more time behind the plate, Vogt can shift to first base and if needed, Healy can play third base. Veterans Alejandro De Aza and Josh Rodriguez will have a good opportunity to make this team.
Twenty year old Franklin Barreto could be playing in Oakland this season. If he proves to be ready, it could shift Lowrie to a utility role. Pitchers AJ Puk and Grant Holmes, the former the Athletics first round draft pick last season, the latter brought over in the trade last season involving Rich Hill and Josh Reddick, will likely be ready for the 2018 season. The Athletics have enough depth in their starting rotation where Puk and Holmes can spent their entire season at either Double or Triple-A.
I would not be surprised to see the Athletics perform well this season. Unfortunately, they need a lot of things to go well, starting with the performance of Gray. Hahn will also be very important as well as Plouffe, both coming off of injuries. Another thing that hurts the Athletics is the fact that they play in a very competitive division that includes the Astros, Rangers and Mariners- all of whom have much more talented rosters. I think 2018 is more of the season for Oakland, where some of their younger players can make more of an impact. I see the Athletics at 70-92, last place in the American League West. That is over their Las Vegas number of 66.5.