Coming off a 68-94 season in 2015, the Oakland Athletics are looking for better results next season. They’ve already begun reshaping the roster, making some trades and bringing in several new relievers in an effort to fix one of last year’s most glaring weaknesses: the bullpen.
In the spirit of the holiday season, here are some other suggestions for a more promising year ahead.
A return to form for Butler – or a trade partner
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One season into his three-year, $30 million free-agent contract, Billy Butler has more or less been a disaster. He hit just .251/.323/.390 with 15 home runs and 65 RBI. His .251 batting average was the lowest of his nine-year MLB career and he more or less took up a roster spot due to his contract weight and "untradeability." His decline might behoove Oakland to find a way to unload him – or hope that he’ll somehow find a way to bounce back to the type of offensive performer he’s been throughout his career.
An affordable, productive starting pitcher
The recent signing of free-agent right-hander Henderson Alvarez more or less fits this mold, but the A’s probably aren’t finished shoring up their rotation. Newcomers Alvarez and Rich Hill are oft-injured but low-risk, high-reward types to go along with Sonny Gray and the team’s crop of young arms. Might another starter, such as lefty Scott Kazmir, be on their radar for additional staff support? After all, you can’t ever have enough quality starting pitching.
Continued development of young pitchers acquired in trades
Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin were two of the young pitchers acquired in last November’s shocking Josh Donaldson trade. Nolin barely did anything for the A’s in 2015 due to injuries at the minor-league level, but Graveman flashed some promise in 21 MLB starts but was inconsistent overall. The A’s are obviously hoping he will get better in 2016, and they also have lefty Sean Manaea (picked up in the Ben Zobrist trade) waiting in the wings for a potential appearance next season if he demonstrates more progress in the minors.
Some good luck
The A’s were downright unlucky in 2015. They simply shouldn’t have been as ineffective as they were, and yet they were a last-place club boasting one of the league’s top pitchers (Gray) and a stable core of offensive performers, including Josh Reddick, Stephen Vogt and late-season waiver-wire pickup Danny Valencia. So much of the game of baseball comes down to luck and fortunate turns of events, something the A’s – and their woefully inadequate ’15 bullpen – didn’t have. It seems unlikely to expect next year’s club to approach last season’s levels of futility because of that, but you just never know.
No more setbacks for Doolittle
Closer Sean Doolittle had a tremendously frustrating 2015 season. First, a rotator cuff injury delayed his season debut until May 27, and he promptly went back on the disabled list after one inning with an entirely new issue. In all, he only managed to appear in 12 games. His sustained absence left the bullpen in disarray, but if he’s able to head into 2016 with a clean bill of health it would help solidify the entire pitching staff.