Tag Archives: Sean Doolittle

NL East Division position comparison: bullpens

My evaluation of the National League East Division teams has moved on from the position players to a ranking of the pitching staffs of each ball club. I began earlier today with a look at the projected starting rotations. Now, the bullpens will undergo that same evaluation and ranking.

The performance and even the make up of Major League Baseball bullpens are extremely difficult to evaluate at this time of year. Many teams enter spring training with as many as half of their projected relief pitcher spots up for grabs. Injuries will also take their toll on the relievers, both in the spring and then during the season.

As I evaluate each club, I will list the handful of arms that I feel are most likely to be impactful for that team during the season. This will include the projected closer as well as any quality setup and match-up arms.

I will give mention during the team write-up to any pitchers who could begin the season in the bullpen, but who may ultimately end up impacting the rotation as starting pitchers due to injuries. In parentheses after their names you will find a designation for whether they are left- or right-handed.

Combine the starting pitching rankings from earlier today with these bullpen rankings, add them to the examinations of each of the other positions around the diamond which took place over the previous ten days, and you will get a good idea of where each team stands entering spring training.

Early next week, I will take a look at the managers, giving them that same evaluation and ranking treatment. Pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, Florida on February 11, just 10 days from now, for the opening of Phillies spring training.


  1. Atlanta Braves: Mark Melancon (R), Will Smith (L), Shane Greene (R), Sean Newcomb (L), Darren O’Day (R), Luke Jackson (R), Chris Martin (R), A.J. Minter (L), Touki Toussaint (R), Jacob Webb (R)

The two-time defending NL East Division champion Braves possess an embarrassment of pitching riches. That extends to their bullpen group. Smith is an especially solid addition as a southpaw, signing as  free agent back in November after two strong seasons in San Francisco, including an NL All-Star season a year ago. Right-hander Patrick Weigel could emerge from the minors this season to help out if needed. The Braves also have veteran Felix Hernandez and youngsters Kyle Wright Bryse Wilson competing for the fifth-starter job. Any or all of them could impact the bullpen if not being used in the rotation at the majors or at Triple-A. There is still more pitching depth nearly ready among their top prospect group. Atlanta appears to be well-insulated from any type of pitching injury issues.

2) New York Mets: Edwin Diaz (R), Dellin Betances (R), Seth Lugo (R), Jeurys Familia (R), Justin Wilson (L), Robert Gsellman (R), Paul Sewald (L)

It would be hard for me to believe that young closer Diaz, who turns 26 during spring training, won’t bounce back from a somewhat down season in 2019. Even during a year where his ERA ballooned to 5.59 and his WHIP to 1.379, Diaz had a 15.4 K/9 rate and a 99/22 K/BB ratio across 58 innings. If he cannot beat out Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello for a starting rotation nod, Steven Matz will contribute out of the pen as well. Betances, Lugo, and Familia all have closer stuff. Wilson is leaned on heavily as a southpaw arm. He could get help in that regard from prospect David Peterson during the season. The health of former Yankees stud Betances, who turns 29 during spring training, will go a long way towards the New York pen maintaining this ranking during the season.

3) Philadelphia Phillies: Hector Neris (R), Seranthony Dominguez (R), Jose Alvarez (L), Francisco Liriano (L), Adam Morgan (L), Bud Norris (R), Victor Arano (R), Ranger Suarez (L), Robert Stock (R)

The Phillies bullpen has the potential to finish anywhere from second to fourth on this list by the end of the 2020 season, which can also be said for the Mets and Nationals relief group. If I had more confidence in Dominguez being and remaining healthy for the full season, I might even have ranked them ahead of New York already. New skipper Joe Girardi has a ton of arms with which to work and to sort out during spring training. Those could ultimately include arms like Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Cole Irvin, and Enyel De Los Santos, all of whom will try to win the fifth starter job at the outset. The Phillies might have  the deepest selection of lefty relievers in the division. If only they had a strong starting southpaw for their rotation. If the team can stay in contention, they just might finally get some value out of David Robertson late in the season. They also bought a lottery ticket in former Nats closer Drew Storen this winter.

4) Washington Nationals: Sean Doolittle (L), Will Harris (R), Daniel Hudson (R), Roenis Elias (L), Wander Suero (R), Tanner Rainey (R), Hunter Strickland (R), Ryne Harper (R), Javy Guerra (R)

The bullpen was a problem, perhaps the only real problem, for Washington during much of the 2019 season. Recognizing that fact and not wishing to go down that road again they inked free agent righty Will Harris. The Nats also re-signed free agent Daniel Hudson, who was outstanding after coming over in an early-August trade from Toronto last year. Hudson is forever etched in Nationals history after recording the final out in their World Series victory. A trio of youngsters vying for the fifth starter job – Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, and Austin Voth – could also impact the bullpen. If they use Doolittle as the closer, the rest of the pen lacks an impact southpaw, where Elias is likely to be asked to handle the load, at least initially. Prospect arm Seth Romero could ultimately be the answer in that role.

5) Miami Marlins: Brandon Kintzler (R), Drew Steckenrider (R), Jose Urena (R), Jarlin Garcia (L), Ryne Stanek (R), Tayron Guerrero (R), Yimi Garcia (R), Adam Conley (L), Jose Quijada (L)

The Fish signed the 35-year-old Kintzler last week to serve as the closer, allowing a talented group of young arms more time to develop in the setup and match-up roles earlier in games. This is indeed a talented, albeit largely inexperienced, bullpen crew. When top prospect Sixto Sanchez is ready it will bump someone, likely either Elieser Hernandez or Pablo Lopez, to the pen. If enough of these pitchers take a step forward, the Miami bullpen could quickly become a legitimate strength and begin to shoot up these rankings.



Phillies begin to pull away from their NL East rivals in early May

Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’RSC1fFWmRmZF2VSKc3p0sA’,sig:’mOQww2Y2iuqVDrz712XSk3ODcqbb3dQBiotyMlo0hG4=’,w:’594px’,h:’411px’,items:’578863664,579088056′,caption: true ,tld:’com’,is360: false })});//embed-cdn.gettyimages.com/widgets.js

Anthony Rendon and the Nationals have been hurting in 2019

The Philadelphia Phillies (23-16) offense completely disappeared twice over last week’s action. But the club won their other four games, moving out to a four-game lead in the loss column in the National League East Division standings.

The Phillies were shutout 6-0 at Saint Louis in their first game of the week but came back to win the final two games to outscore the host Cardinals by 16-1 over the final two games to take that series.
Moving on to an Interleague match-up at Kansas City, the host Royals shut the Phillies down in a 5-1 win in the opener. But again the Phillies roared back, outscoring the Royals by 13-1 to take the final two games.
As always, my NL East Beat report reveals how each of those Phillies divisional rivals fared over the course of the past week: games scores, pivotal performers, key injuries, and other important updates on each team are included.



    <th aria-label="Win-Loss %" class=" poptip hide_non_quals center" data-filter="1" data-name="Win-Loss %" data-stat="win_loss_perc" data-tip="Win-Loss Percentage
    W / (W + L)
    For players, leaders need one decision for every ten team games.
    For managers, minimum to qualify for leading is 320 games.” scope=”col” style=”background-color: #dadcde; border-color: rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(170, 170, 170); border-image: initial; border-style: solid; border-width: 1px; float: none !important; margin: 0px; opacity: initial; padding: 0px 12.375px; text-align: center;”>W-L%

    <th aria-label="Games Back" class=" poptip sort_default_asc center" data-stat="games_back" data-tip="Games Back of Division/League Leader
    Computed as games over .500 of leader (W-L) minus games over .500 of team divided by two.
    Typically computed at the end of play for a particular day.
    Blank for 1st game of DH.” scope=”col” style=”background-color: #dadcde; border-color: rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(170, 170, 170); border-image: initial; border-style: solid; border-width: 1px; float: none !important; margin: 0px; opacity: initial; padding: 0px 12.375px; text-align: center;”>GB

    East Division
    Team W L
    Philadelphia Phillies 23 16 .590
    Atlanta Braves 21 20 .512 3.0
    New York Mets 19 20 .487 4.0
    Washington Nationals 16 24 .400 7.5
    Miami Marlins 10 29 .256 13.0

    ATLANTA BRAVES (3 – 4)

    Summary: Thanks to victories in their final three games of the week, all tight affairs on the road over the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Braves are the lone NL East rival of the Phillies who are over the .500 mark at the present time. The Braves dropped four straight to open the week, getting swept at LA against the Dodgers and dropping the opener of their four-game set in Arizona, before recovering.
    The Atlanta offensive attack has the 4th-highest OPS (.773) in the National League, but their 196 runs scored leaves the club as just middle-of-the-road at 8th-ranked in the league. That OPS drops to just .665, next-to-last in the NL ahead of only the lowly Miami offense with runners in scoring position.
    Veterans Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis continue to pace the offense as the most consistent hitters. Freeman has a .308/.403/.526 slash and leads the club with 19 extra-base hits. Markakis is batting .299 with a .388 OBP and is tied with Freeman and Ronald Acuna for second on the club with 23 RBIs.
    Shortstop Dansby Swanson leads the Braves with 25 RBIs. Third baseman Josh Donaldson is second with 17 extra-base hits and has a .376 OBP. Brian McCann as the lefty half of a catching platoon is slashing .311/.389/508 over 72 plate appearances.
    Atlanta’s best starting pitcher has been 21-year-old Mike Soroka. In what is technically his rookie season (he threw 25.2 innings last season) Soroka has a 3-1 record with a 1.21 ERA and 1.045 WHIP since his mid-April promotion. Soroka is currently on a streak of three consecutive Quality Start outings.
    27-year-old right-hander Luke Jackson appears to have seized the closer role. Jackson has allowed 17 hits over 20 innings across 18 games with a 24/7 K:BB and four Saves over his last six outings.
    Key injuries: Freeman missed Sunday’s game with an undisclosed illness that is not expected to keep him out very long. Lefty reliever Jesse Biddle is on the IL battling a groin strain and right thigh bruise. He is on a minor league rehab assignment and could return later this week. Righty relievers Darren O’Day and Arodys Vizcaino are also on the IL, with Vizcaino out for the season following mid-April surgery on his right pitching shoulder. No timetable on O’Day, who is out with a strain in his right pitching forearm.
    Upcoming: Following an off-day on Monday the Braves will be at home to host both the Saint Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers for three games each.

    MIAMI MARLINS (1 – 5)

    Summary: The Fish opened last week with a win over the red-hot Chicago Cubs but then quickly returned to their losing ways. Miami continued to plummet in the standings by dropping their remaining five games to fall 19 games below the .500 mark, 13 games off the NL East pace. Their .256 winning percentage is by far the worst in Major League Baseball.
    Runs scored, OPS, home runs. You name the category and the Marlins are at the bottom of the National League team rankings. Well…they are tied for 10th in stolen bases and have more than twice as many as the non-running Phillies.
    Former Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro leads the club with five home runs. Veteran Curtis Granderson paces the team with 10 extra-base hits. He and Starlin Castro lead the Marlins with 11 RBIs. Neil Walker has enjoyed a solid season as the primary first baseman, batting .287 with a .379 OBP and nine extra-base hits, second on the club.
    Lefty Caleb Smith continues to enjoy an All-Star caliber campaign, and is easily the shining star on this team thus far in 2019. Smith is 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA and 0.891 WHIP, allowing just 26 hits over 42.2 innings across seven starts. He has a 56/12 K:BB ratio. His last six outings have all been of the Quality Start variety.
    Rookie right-hander Nick Anderson has been overpowering at times out of embattled manager Don Mattingly‘s bullpen. Anderson has a 30/5 K:BB over 16.2 innings, allowing 14 hits. His 4.32 ERA is mostly a product of one poor outing against the Braves.
    The Marlins were expected to finish in the division cellar as the team was clearly pushed into rebuilding mode over the last couple of seasons. However, the club has performed so abysmally that it could result in Mattingly being one of the first managers to lose his job this season.
    Key injuries: The Marlins lost talented righty reliever Drew Steckenrider to a flexor strain in his right elbow. He has been placed on the 60-day IL and his season is in jeopardy. Other than that, the Marlins have been healthy all season.
    Upcoming: Following an off-day on Monday, the Marlins will host their fellow Floridians, the Tampa Bay Rays, in an Interleague two-game series. Another off-day on Thursday will be followed by three at home over next weekend against the division-rival New York Mets.

    NEW YORK METS (3 – 2)

    Summary: The Mets were the lone Phillies rival to enjoy a winning week by taking three of their last four games. They dropped two of three in San Diego to start the week, then took advantage of the weak Marlins to win their next two at home. Sunday’s series finale with Miami was rained out and will be replayed as part of a doubleheader on August 5 at Citi Field.
    Rookie first baseman Pete Alonso continues to lead the offensive stats board with 12 homers, 21 extra-base hits, 32 RBIs, and 25 runs scored for the Mets. However, Alonso has cooled considerably with just a .190/.255/.405 slash over his last 11 games. That slugging percentage is propped up by three homers in that span, but he has just five other hits.
    Right fielder Michael Conforto went 5-6 with two home runs over the two Marlins victories, raising his slash line to .274/.412/.519 over a team-high 170 plate appearances. Shortstop Amed Rosario leads the Mets with four stolen bases, and his 24 RBIs are second on the club.
    The Mets are just ninth in the NL in both runs scored and OPS as they offense has mostly struggled. The pitching staff has been even worse, ranking 12th in both ERA and BAA.
    Jacob deGrom has really picked up the pace on the mound following a rough three-start stretch in mid-April. The 2018 Cy Young Award winner has gone seven innings in each of his last three outings, allowing a total of 12 hits over the 21 innings with a 21/4 K:BB ratio. He has a 1.29 ERA and .162 batting average against in that span.
    After being nearly unhittable over the first month, closer Edwin Diaz has struggled some over his last five outings. He has surrendered five hits including a pair of home runs in that stretch.
    Key injuries: Righty reliever Jeurys Familia received a cortisone injection in his right shoulder and could return later this week. Lefty starter Steven Matz was diagnosed with nerve damage in his pitching shoulder. Lefty relievers Luis Avilan and Justin Wilson both have left elbow discomfort. All three are on the IL with no timetable. Infielder Jed Lowrie has been out with a sprained knee and could finally return later this week following a minor league rehab. Yoenis Cespedes remains out, possibly for the season, following off-season surgery on both heels.
    Upcoming: Following an off-day on Monday, the Mets will host division rivals Washington and Miami in three-game series at Citi Field this week.


    Summary: They’ve suffered some key injuries but there is no question, the Nationals are one of the most disappointing stories in all of baseball this season. They were swept in Milwaukee to open last week and then split a four-gamer over the weekend in LA against the host Dodgers.
    The Nationals vaunted pitching ranks just 13th of the 15 National League ball clubs thus far in both ERA and BAA. The offensive attack is just 10th in runs scored and OPS. It’s no wonder this club has now fallen seven below the .500 mark.
    The two-headed Dominican combination of 20-year-old Juan Soto and 22-year-old Victor Robles was supposed to lead the way into the future and help smooth the loss of Bryce Harper to the Phillies in free agency. They are hitting just .243 and .250 respectively, though with six homers they are tied for the club lead. Soto leads the team with 23 RBIs and Robles sets the pace with eight stolen bases.
    Veteran Howie Kendrick has proven to be a godsend, slashing .306/.364/.553 with nine extra-base hits over just 99 plate appearances. He is tied for the team lead with six home runs and his 21 RBIs are second on the club. Third baseman Anthony Rendon missed time with an injury but is still slashing .305/.391/.621 with a team-high 18 extra-base hits.
    Max ScherzerPatrick Corbin, and Stephen Strasburg have mostly been strong in the rotation. But the back-end of Anibal Sanchez and Jeremy Hellickson has been poor for the most part, as has the bullpen.
    Closer Sean Doolittle has been one of the few reliable options for manager Dave Martinez out of the pen. He has a 1.00 ERA and 1.111 WHIP with six Saves, allowing just 15 hits over 18 innings with a 20/5 K:BB.
    Key injuries: Kendrick was held out yesterday with neck stiffness and is considered day-to-day. Ryan Zimmerman continues out on the IL with plantar fasciitis. Trea Turner continues out with a fractured finger suffered more than a month ago. He is back doing baseball activities and should be headed to a minor league rehab assignment soon. He could return to the Nationals lineup within two weeks. Matt Adams is on the IL with a left shoulder strain and has no timetable.
    Upcoming: The Nationals are off on Monday and then host both the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs for three-game sets this coming week.
    Originally published at Phillies Nation as Matt Veasey’s NL East Beat: Week of 5/6-5/12/19

    Pair of late home runs push Nationals past Phillies

    Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’Jj_HVWLfSShrW-P-g_8x5g’,sig:’hmp7sxDH8w2D9YzxyuGrt9JKEgciyOriqEj0kIuOaaI=’,w:’594px’,h:’396px’,items:’1139782328′,caption: true ,tld:’com’,is360: false })});//embed-cdn.gettyimages.com/widgets.js

    Victor Robles late homer helped the Nats rally to victory

    The Washington Nationals (14 – 18) came from behind with a big 8th inning rally to defeat the Philadelphia Phillies (18 – 14) by 10-8 on Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park.

    With the defeat, the Phillies lead in the National League East Division standings dropped to two games in the loss column.
    Prior to the game, the Phillies honored the franchise all-time Hit King, Jimmy Rollins, on the occasion of his formal retirement from Major League Baseball.
    The ceremony included JRoll’s family, his two managers with the club in Larry Bowa and Charlie Manuel and a number of former teammates including Bobby AbreuWayne GomesMarlon Anderson and Shane Victorino.
    As the game got underway, the Nationals broke on top first, getting to Phillies starter Jake Arrieta for three hits and a run in the top of the 1st inning. Arrieta avoided some trouble with the help of a nice 6-4-3 doubleplay.
    In the bottom of the 1st, the Phillies got even. Jean Segura lined a one-out base hit to left field. That was followed by a Bryce Harper double ripped to the wall in left-center. Then J.T. Realmuto lifted a short fly to right field. Segura tug and raced home, sliding in safely as the throw home got away from Nationals catcher Yan Gomes.
    The Phillies grabbed a lead in the bottom of the 2nd inning when Segura drilled a double to center field, scoring Sean Rodriguez to make it a 2-1 game. Arrieta struck out the first two in the top of the 3rd inning, but then Brian Dozier crushed a no-doubt solo home run to left field, tying the game up at 2-2.
    Washington first baseman Matt Adams had to leave the game due to a jammed shoulder suffered when he made a nice diving play and raced back to the bag to rob Phil Gosselin of a hit. Adams was replaced defensively by former Phillies player Howie Kendrick moving from third to first base, and Wilmer Difo entering the game at third.
    The Phillies regained the lead when Gosselin singled, move to second on a sac bunt by Arrieta, and scored on a double by Andrew McCutchen. But once again the lead didn’t last long. In the top of the 5th, Victor Robles singled, went to second when Arrieta threw away a pickoff attempt, moved to third on a ground out, and scored on a sac fly by Adam Eaton.
    In the bottom of the 6th inning, the Phillies put two men in scoring position with one out. Corbin powered his way out of trouble, striking out Cesar Hernandez as a pinch-hitter for Arrieta and then McCutchen on a nice 2-2 slider. That would be it for Corbin, but he had managed to keep his team in it on an unusually rough night, leaving with the game still knotted at 3-3.
    The Nats jumped on top in the 7th against Phillies reliever Juan Nicasio, who imploded to surrender two hits and made a key throwing error, resulting in a pair of Washington runs.
    With the Nationals up by 5-3, manager Dave Martinez went to his bullpen for Joe Ross. The Phillies would make him regret that decision. Segura started the inning with an infield hit, which was followed by a walk to Harper. Rhys Hoskins then doubled to left, scoring Segura, with Harper moving to third.
    Realmuto then crushed a double to right-center, and as the ball one-hopped off the wall both Harper and Hoskins scored to put the Phillies back on top. One out later, Rodriguez ripped a double to almost the exact same spot, scoring Realmuto. That was followed by Gosselin ripping a double down the third base line, and suddenly the Phillies had scored five runs and had built an 8-5 lead.
    Pat Neshek came on for the 8th inning and yielded a pair of hits. With runners on the corners and two outs, Phillies skipper Gabe Kapler decided to turn to lefty reliever Adam Morgan, who had a franchise-record 16 consecutive scoreless appearances entering this game.
    It seemed like a great idea, but it just didn’t work out. Pinch-hitter Kurt Suzuki stepped in against Morgan and blasted a three-run homer to tie the game. Robles then came up and took Morgan out to right field on the very next pitch. Just like that, the Nationals had a taken 9-8 lead.
    The Nationals then built on to their lead in the top of the 9th, moving out to a 10-8 lead, and the Phillies were lucky it wasn’t any worse. In the bottom of the 9th, closer Sean Doolittle came on to nail it down for the visitors. He allowed a one-out base hit to Franco followed by a walk to Rodriguez. But Doolittle responded by getting a pair of pinch-hitters to pop out, Andrew Knapp to center and Odubel Herrera to third base foul territory.


    • Jake Arrieta: 6 IP, 5 hits, 3 runs / 2 earned, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts. Threw 89 pitches, 59 for strikes.
    • Patrick Corbin: 6 IP, 6 hits, 3 earned runs, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts. Threw 118 pitches, 74 for strikes.


    Robles didn’t even start this game, coming on only due to an injury to Michael Taylor. But Robles would go 2-2, and it was his solo home run just over the wall in right-center field that gave the Nationals their 9-8 lead in the top of the 8th inning. Honorable mention to Suzuki for his game-tying three-run blast.


    • Sunday May 5 at 2:05 pm vs the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park
    • This game is designated as the “Herr’s Mother’s Appreciation Day” game
    • TV: NBC Sports Philadelphia
    • Radio: SportsRadio 94 WIP, WTTM 1680 (Spanish)
    • After this the Phillies will go on the road for six in the Midwest: 3 in Saint Louis, 3 in Kansas City

    Oakland A’s Organization is in Desperate Shape

    As recently as the 2014 season, the Oakland Athletics were legitimate contenders in the American League. The A’s finished 88-74 that season, good for second place in the AL West standings.
    The club had taken the division crown the two previous seasons. In 2014 they were again in the postseason after capturing an AL Wildcard berth.
    In that 2014 American League Wildcard Game against the Kansas City Royals, the A’s took a seemingly comfortable 7-3 lead into the bottom of the 8th inning.
    The Royals rallied for three in the 8th and a run in the 9th to send the contest into extra innings. In the top of the 12th, Oakland scored to regain the lead. But Kansas City fought back once again, scoring twice in the bottom of the frame for a dramatic walkoff victory.
    The loss would prove deflating for the entire Oakland organization, which has not recovered. The following year, the A’s sank to the bottom of the American League standings. Then a year ago, the A’s again finished at the bottom of the West Division.
    Just three weeks ago, Baseball America released their annual MLB Organizational Talent Rankings. Oakland finished just 17th in all of baseball, which is actually their highest finish in at least the last seven years.
    Unfortunately for the team and their fans in the Bay area, the Oakland A’s have fallen, and they can’t get up. At least not any time soon.


    The biggest culprit is the everyday lineup. In 2016, the A’s finished at the bottom of the American League statistical rankings in Runs and OPS, and next-to-last in Steals. This demonstrated that there was little in either power or speed with which to attack opposing pitchers.
    The 2017 lineup is slated to feature 29-year old left fielder Khris Davis and 26-year old shortstop Marcus Semien as the only true proven power sources.
    25-year old Ryon Healy banged 13 homers after making his big league debut in mid-July. He will likely fill the DH role this year, backing up at both the first and third base positions.
    Oakland signed Rajai Davis as a free agent to patrol center field. While his best days are behind him, the now 36-year old did swipe 43 bags with the Cleveland Indians a year ago.


    Assuming health, the pitching staff is not bad. 27-year old Sonny Gray needs to bounce back. 25-year old lefty Sean Manaea showed promise in his rookie campaign. 26-year old Kendall Graveman looks like he can at least be a reliable back of the rotation option.
    Oakland is counting on 25-year old rookie Jharel Cotton to step up and take on a rotation role. He arrived in last summer’s big trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Josh Reddick.
    The bullpen will be relying heavily on a trio of relievers who are now all north of 30 years of age in Ryan MadsonSean Doolittle, and John Axford.


    GM Billy Beane could use a couple of his veterans as trade chips, but none would appear capable of bringing back impact talent. The one piece that could do so would be Gray, if he comes out strong. But if he does, the A’s might consider trying to keep the righty and build a rotation around him moving forward.
    Beane is no longer the “Moneyball” innovator that he was a decade ago. The rest of baseball has caught on fully to the modern concepts of advanced statistical evaluation. He is going to have to find a way to turn this around the old-fashioned way: a slow rebuild through the draft and opportunistic trades.
    As I wrote back in November, it does appear that there is finally real hope on the horizon for a much-needed and long overdue new ballpark in Oakland.
    That hope comes from the presence of a new management team in John Fisher and Dave Kaval. The new heads in the front office need to sell the passionate Oakland fan base on a future that includes that new park, and young prospects such as shortstop Franklin Barretto.
    If you squint, you can envision the Athletics winning again in a new Bayside ballpark with exciting young players and pitchers. But you are going to need to squint really hard, because that vision appears to still be at least a few years off.

    Can Oakland A’s Get Back Into Contention Quickly?

    The Oakland Athletics have fallen to the bottom of the American League West and look to get back to regular contending status.

    In 2016 the Oakland Athletics finished 69-93 and in last place in the American League West Division, 26 games out of first place and 20 behind an AL Wild Card playoff spot.
    This was a second consecutive last place finish for the A’s after three consecutive appearances in the MLB postseason.
    The Athletics won the division in both 2012 and 2013, losing both years in a tough LDS, each going the distance. Then in 2014 they lost the AL Wild Card to the Kansas City Royals by surrendering two runs in the bottom of the 12th inning.
    The A’s had traded away the big outfield bat of Yoenis Cespedes at the 2014 trade deadline to the Boston Red Sox for Jon Lester, and then lost Lester that offseason to free agency.
    Then the club dealt away another big bat in Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays in the offseason as well. Donaldson was due to begin seeing big contract increases which the small market Oakland Athletics were not in a position to support.
    The franchise has not carried a top-20 payroll since the 2007 season, so any improvement is almost certainly going to have to come from within, and from smart, lesser free agent signings.

    There is plenty of money to spend. Coming off a season in which the payroll exceeded $80 million, they have less than a $30 million obligation entering the offseason.
    The club could free up another $7 million or so if they choose to deal away Ryan Madson, their highest-paid player and a luxury as a reliever. If former closer Sean Doolittle proves healthy, this might be a legitimate consideration.
    This should allow the A’s to easily meet whatever increase should come in arbitration, or via a contract agreement, with slugging center fielder Khris Davis. Davis banged 42 homers and drove in 102 runs this past season in his first year after coming in a trade from the Milwaukee Brewers. He turns 29 years old next month.
    The only other “first division” caliber player in the current starting lineup might be shortstop Marcus Semien, who in his second full season slammed 27 home runs and produced 75 RBI.
    For a team that needs to play youngsters, they have some starters approaching baseball old age, which these days starts at around the 30-year-old mark.
    Catcher Stephen Vogt just turned 32 years old, first baseman Yonder Alonso will turn 30 at the start of the 2017 season, and second baseman Jed Lowrie will turn 33 years old a week later.
    There are a pair of talented young pitchers on the roster in Sonny Gray (27) and Sean Manaea (25), and with a pair of smart yet economical free agent signings, the A’s could put a contending-level rotation together for the 2017 season.
    The club could look at arms such as Jeremy HellicksonDoug FisterR.A. Dickey, and Andrew Cashner, hoping to find a couple of bargains, even on one-year deals.
    The only losses to free agency will come in pitcher Ross Detwiler and outfielder Sam Fuld, neither a major loss as far as pushing competitiveness forward.
    The club’s top prospect is shortstop Franklin Barreto, who came in the Donaldson deal. Barreto will turn 21 years old as Spring Training opens.
    The youngster could well push for a starting spot at either second or third base right now. If the club insists on keeping him at shortstop, he is likely going to need another full year in the minors to work on his defense.
    The real possible future at shortstop may be Yairo Munoz, who also turns 21 years old in early 2017. However, Munoz is just coming off his first year of full-season ball.
    Lefty A.J. Puk, the club’s first round pick in the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft, and righty Grant Holmes who came from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2016 trade deadline deal that sent Josh Reddick and Rich Hill to L.A., are the team’s top two pitching prospects. Neither is likely to be ready in 2017.
    The bottom line is that there does not appear to be much help coming from the minor league system in the short-term.
    The only way that the Athletics can return to contending sooner rather than later is by opening up their wallets, something that the franchise has rarely done, especially in recent years.
    Aside from the arms mentioned earlier, bringing in two to three veterans like Jose BautistaJustin Turner, and Rajai Davis would significantly increase the production. 
    A veteran such as Chase Utley could really help the development of the younger players, as well as help in the locker room.
    There is probably going to be at least $30-40 million available this offseason to spend on free agents, if the club wishes to go in that direction. Doing it will be the only way to that short-term contention.