For fans and members of the Oakland A’s organization, the bitter taste from the end of the 2014 season has been hard to wash away. A’s General Manager Billy Beane nabbed the best pitchers available in an attempt to vault the ballclub deep into the playoffs. The A’s loss in the AL Wild Card game with high-priced rental Jon Lester on the mound epitomized the promising but failed season. Several top prospects are gone, as are other core players to free agency. Here are five things the A’s need if the team hopes to contend in 2015.
1. Right-handed power
It may not qualify as a big splash, but the Oakland A’s made a bit of noise this offseason by signing Billy Butler to a three-year deal worth $30 million. With a seemingly perennial need for right-handed power, the A’s crossed one hole off the club list looking ahead to 2015. However, Jonny Gomes and Alberto Callaspo are free agents, and Bill Butler is no Yoenis Cespedes. Combining the need for more right-handed production with the need for middle infield help might be one solution. Since Butler is locked in at DH, it will have to come from an all-around player.
With Jed Lowrie moving on to free agency, the A’s have the chance to upgrade defensively while adding a right-handed bat in the process. Troy Tulowitzki is the most intriguing option available through a trade, but the A’s just unloaded a great deal of young talent (including Addison Russell and Dan Straily) to nab veterans for the stretch run. Defensive shortstops or more affordable righties would be the most logical fit. This move could be complicated by the Yankees’ need to replace Derek Jeter ahead of 2015.
3. Bullpen help
Stud setup man Luke Gregerson is a free agent, so someone needs to fill his highly productive (72.1 IP, 2.12 ERA) shoes in 2015. Closer Sean Doolittle showed signs of mortality at the end of the year, as well, so protecting a team strength in 2014 should be a priority for the A’s front office this offseason. With strong pitching prospects usually in the A’s system, they could try solving the problem internally, but plenty of low-budget help (including Jason Motte and Jason Frasor) is available on the market.
4. Second base
Albert Callaspo’s exit leaves the A’s with Eric Sogard and Nick Punto as their entire middle infield — a terrifying prospect for any club. As with shortstop, Oakland may choose to prioritize defense at the position, but the team can’t afford to compromise offensively at both spots. Ideally, they can find an adequate player on the trade market since the free agent class is as thin as Oakland’s organizational depth at the position.
5. Starting pitcher
When two A’s starters went down to Tommy John surgery in 2014, no one expected Beane and company to figure a way to compensate for the losses. Jesse Chavez and Scott Kazmir raised the level of their games to new heights in their absence, then Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester carried the torch to the wild-card matchup. If all goes well in 2015, A.J Griffin and Jarrod Parker will return a few months into the season. The A’s will need some rotation depth in the meantime. Jon Lester (No. 1 starter) and Jason Hammel (No. 5 starter) are gone and not coming back.
Francisco Liriano would be a good fit, but his quoted asking price of $12 million annually for multiple years puts him out of the Moneyball price range. Once the A’s get to midseason, they may have enough pieces to deal a pitcher — perhaps Kazmir, whose contract will become expensive. As always, payroll limitations mean the A’s must continue developing and dealing (rather than spending) until they have a contending team on the field.