Rival Preview: The A’s have some exciting up-and-comers but they’ll still likely finish in the AL West basement

Photo credit:© Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Stack
3 months ago
For perhaps one of the last times, our “Rival Preview” series heads to Oakland, California, to unpack the A’s. That statement suggests that the team will be relocating, which they currently plan on doing, but that process has so many details that have yet to be squared away. For instance, their lease to the Coliseum ends after the 2024 season, but they have no stadium in Las Vegas built yet and do not have a plan in place (that we know of) on where to play until said stadium is ready.
But anyway, that’s for the future to decide, and right now, the A’s were by far the worst team in the big-leagues last season, and they may be on their way to claiming that crown for the upcoming campaign as well.

2023 Recap

Oakland finished with the worst record in the MLB last season at 50-112, six games back of the next-worst team Kansas City. A win on Opening Day against the Angels did have them in first place for two calendar days, but a 5-23 April sunk them for good.
The A’s put together a seven-game win streak in June, a streak in which all wins were against teams with records over .500.  The final game of the win streak was a June 13th battle with the Rays, and the fanbase decided to put together a “reverse boycott” game, rallying around the team to convince ownership not to sell the franchise. The fans did their part, forming an attendance of 27,759, the second-most of an Oakland home game all last season. The biggest crowd was a home game against their neighbour, the Giants, so I almost don’t want to count that one.
The crowd was so noisy that Hogan Harris, the winning pitcher, couldn’t hear the pitch selections coming from his PitchCom device, even when the volume was all the way up.
Hilariously enough, the A’s would instantly offset the seven-game win streak with an eight-game losing streak, and the team fell further and further back from the rest of their division.
Offence: The A’s finished last in the league in hits, RBIs, batting average, and OPS, however they were tied for 20th in home runs. Only two players hit over 20 home runs, and their leader in RBIs had 69.
That player was DH Brent Rooker, one of Oakland’s all-around better hitters. In just his fourth year in the majors, Rooker had already become somewhat of a journeyman, but he finally hit his stride with the A’s. Last year, Rooker slashed .246/.329/.488 with an .817 OPS, 30 home runs, and 69 RBIs. All it took was a chance for Rooker, whose 137 games played last year, shattered his previous personal best of 58 in 2021. Rooker’s performance last season earned him his first All-Star nod, and he also swirled around some trade talk near the deadline.
1B Ryan Noda, another journeyman but in the minor league sense, served as one of the team’s premier power bats in his rookie season. A former Jays prospect, Noda held a peculiar low-average, high-on-base slash line, hitting .229/.364/.406 with a .770 OPS, 16 home runs, and 54 RBIs. One of Noda’s most glaring concerns was his strikeout rate of 34.3%, but in his rookie season, there were still a lot of things for Noda to build on and he has earned the starting first base spot going forward.
Fellow rookie 2B Zack Gelof probably garnered the most hype of all Oakland players last season despite only playing in 69 games at the backend of the season. The highly-touted prospect made his debut on July 14th and would slash .267/.337/.504 with an .840 OPS, 14 home runs, 20 doubles, 32 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases through the end of the season. Gelof posted reverse splits, hitting right-handed pitchers far better than he did lefties. Like Noda and Rooker, Gelof has earned his spot on Oakland’s starting lineup going forward.
C Shea Langeliers, one of the return pieces in the Matt Olson trade, played in a much larger sample size than his 40-game 2022 produced. Langeliers was the Opening Day catcher for the A’s, and despite showcasing his power, his slash line figures stayed about as low as they did in ’22. Langeliers hit .205/.268/.413 with 22 home runs, 19 RBIs, and 63 RBIs in 135 games, with the home run total ranking him fifth among all MLB catchers. Defensively, he was very effective in throwing batters out but did receive low marks for his framing and blocking abilities.
Elsewhere, the A’s witnessed their CF Esteury Ruiz steal an AL-best 67 stolen bases, but that about rounds out the bright spots from Oakland’s batting order.
Pitching: The Colorado Rockies were the only team keeping Oakland from having the worst ERA in baseball, and they still ranked in the bottom third of the league in opponents’ batting average, hits allowed, and home runs allowed. Between injuries and poor performances, the A’s used 39 different pitchers this season (not counting position players). With that being said, there aren’t many standout performances to note, but the A’s did debut a lot of their trade returns last season.
The trio of starters from the Frankie Montas/Lou Trivino deal — Ken Waldichuk, JP Sears, and Luis Medina — made a substantial number of starts this season. Waldichuk pitched in 35 games and made 22 starts, owning a 5.36 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, and 8.4 K/9. His fastball, changeup, and curveball were hit around really well, but he did manufacture a .218 batting average and 32.8 whiff percentage on his sweeper.
Sears led the team with 32 starts, posting a 4.54 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 8.4 K/9. Although minuscule, he increased his strikeout rate and lowered his walk rate, spearheaded by a sweeper and slider that generated 30+% whiff rates. Sears alternated quality of starts month-to-month; he posted sub-3.00 ERAs in May, July, and September, but his numbers worsened significantly in April, June, and August.
Medina probably had the best “stuff” of the three, with his fastball and sinker averaging out at 96 and 95 mph, respectively, and his slider manufacturing a 48.2% whiff rate. However, those three pitches allowed opponent slugging percentages of over .400, contributing to a 5.42 ERA through 23 games.
Paul Blackburn almost mirrored his All-Star 2022 season in several categories; however, his walk and strikeout rate both increased by about three percent. He showed massive improvement in eliminating hard contact, though, with his hard-hit percentage dropping almost seven percent from the year before, and his number of barrels allowed dropping as well.
Out of the bullpen, closer Trevor May posted elite second-half numbers after struggling in the first half of the season. His first 25 games featured a 2-4 record, 5.16 ERA, and six saves, but his final 24 outings generated a 2-0 record, 1.50 ERA, and 15 saves.
Lefty reliever Sam Moll posted a career-best 11.0 K/9 through 45 outings with the A’s last season, and while his ERA was relatively high at 4.54, the Reds made a trade to acquire him before the trade deadline. That trade included starting pitcher Joe Boyle going to Oakland in return, and he looked sharp in the three starts he made at the end of the season posting a 2-0 record with a 1.69 ERA and 0.813 WHIP.

Offseason Moves

As usual, the A’s didn’t break the bank on any free agents, but they did acquire some notable names, whether that was by free agent or trade.
They signed veteran starter Alex Wood to a one-year, $8.5 million deal in February, and they’ve already pencilled him in as the Opening Day starter. With the San Francisco Giants a year ago, Wood appeared in 29 games and started 12 of them, with the remainder of them being a bulk reliever. He posted a 5-5 record with a 4.33 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, and a 6.8 K/9, but he’s not too far removed from seasons with the Giants that indicated positive signs. For instance, he posted a 3.83 ERA through 26 starts in 2021 and shrunk his walk rate to a career-low 5.4% in 2022.
The A’s are hoping Wood can stay healthy; he has fought several injuries through the course of his career, with the most recent being neck and back injuries a season ago. Being on a one-year deal, Wood makes an ideal candidate to be traded at the deadline halfway through the year if he performs well.
Former Blue Jay Ross Stripling was also sent to Oakland this offseason. The A’s traded 22-year-old hitting prospect Jonah Cox to the Giants in exchange for Stripling, an eight-year veteran with experience as a starter and out of the bullpen. After a career-altering season in 2022 for Stripling, he struggled mightily with San Francisco last year, posting an 0-5 record, a 5.36 ERA, and a 1.35 WHIP. The struggles could have very well been due to the multiple back injuries he suffered last season that threw him on the IL in May and August, but he has an opportunity to rewrite his current contract’s narrative this year in Oakland.
More recently, Oakland inked 3B J.D. Davis to a one-year, $2.5 million deal. Another member of the Giants last year, Davis became collateral damage to San Francisco’s work in free agency this offseason. The Giants had signed Jorge Soler as their primary DH, but the writing on the wall became increasingly clear to Davis when San Fran signed Matt Chapman to be their third baseman. Davis was put on waivers, cleared them, and the Giants elected to release him.
Davis hit .248/.325/.413 with a .738 OPS, 18 homers, 23 doubles, and 69 RBIs last season. His biggest successes came early in the season, from March through June, when he slashed .282/.362/.456. If Davis can find that version of his bat, you guessed it, he will surely become a nice rental bat at the trade deadline.
The A’s bolstered their infield depth by acquiring UT Abraham Toro from the Brewers in exchange for pitching prospect Chad Patrick. This will be Toro’s fourth team in six years, and he’s coming off a season in Milwaukee in which he bounced between Triple-A and the majors several times. He had eight hits and two homers in the nine games that he played for the Brewers last year, but his most recent full-season sample size was in 2022 with the Mariners, in which he slashed .185/.239/.324 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs. It may be only a matter of time before Toro can find some stability; the Longueuil, Canada native has posted exemplary minor league numbers throughout his career.
Veteran relief pitcher Scott Alexander was added to Oakland’s bullpen on a one-year $2.25 million deal. Entering his 10th season in the MLB, Alexander spent last season with the Giants (are you noticing a trend here?), owning a 4.66 ERA over 55 outings. Alexander won’t bring the heat with his velocity, but he was very effective last season in limiting hard contact and walks. Much like Wood, Alexander is hoping to avoid the IL this season; he has an injury-riddled career that includes multiple hamstring strains last year.
The A’s also signed last year’s backup catcher Carlos Perez and former Cardinal and Athletic Stephen Piscotty to minor league deals. Piscotty has already been assigned to the major league club. Perez is still battling for the backup catching spot since top prospect Tyler Soderstrom has already been assigned to Triple-A.

My take on Oakland’s 2024 outlook

The message is clear for this year’s A’s. They’re not going to battle for a postseason spot, they just need to continue to develop what they have and work for the future. I just mentioned that Soderstrom, Oakland’s top prospect, will start the season in Triple-A, but it will only be a matter of time before he makes his debut.
Oakland has showed out to this point in Spring Training; as of Sunday afternoon, the A’s had the third-best batting average and number of hits among all major league teams in the spring. Obviously, we can’t expect that to translate to the regular season, but looking at the team glass half full, Oakland has a lot of trade returns and/or young players to watch grow up and blossom. Seeing things like Ruiz turning into a base-stealing savant and Gelof bringing a lot of hype into this year surely has to be encouraging for Oakland.
Unfortunately, the A’s have already been bitten by the injury bug. Reliever Trevor Gott, who was signed this offseason, will undergo Tommy John soon, and UT Miguel Andujar and RP Sean Newcomb will also start the season on the injured list with respective knee injuries.
Furthermore, starting pitcher Ken Waldichuk will begin the season on the 60-day IL recovering from surgery that addressed a UCL sprain and flexor tendon damage. In his absence, Joe Boyle and Luis Medina will compete for the final rotation spot, assuming that Wood, Stripling, Blackburn, and Sears have secured the first four.
Again, this team shouldn’t have mountain-moving expectations, but taking baby steps like winning more than 50 games would be a good starting point.


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