2022 Season Preview: Oakland Athletics

Image: Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

Oakland Athletics

2021 Record: 86-76 (.531 win%, 3rd in Division)

2021 Payroll: $90,900,598 (22nd)

Projected 2022 Lineup:

1. 2B Tony Kemp, .256 AVG/.351 OBP/.384 SLG, 2.2 fWAR

2. RF Ramon Laureano, .246 AVG/.322 OBP/.446 SLG, 2.8 fWAR

3. 3B Kevin Smith, .231 AVG/.297 OBP/.436 SLG, 1.5 fWAR

4. C Sean Murphy, .228 AVG/.314 OBP/.430 SLG, 3.3 fWAR

5. 1B Chad Pinder, .249 AVG/.309 OBP/.433 SLG, 1.5 fWAR

6. LF Stephen Piscotty, .231 AVG/.293 OBP/.394 SLG, 0.1 fWAR

7. DH Seth Brown, .227 AVG/.288 OBP/.434 SLG, 0.6 fWAR  

8. CF Cristian Pache, .225 AVG/.280 OBP/.378 SLG, 0.7 fWAR

9. SS Elvis Andrus, .252 AVG/.303 OBP/.365 SLG, 1.2 fWAR

Projected 2022 Rotation:

1. Frankie Montas, 182.0 IP/3.74 ERA/1.21 WHIP, 3.1 fWAR

2. Cole Irvin, 168.0 IP/4.72 ERA/1.34 WHIP, 0.9 fWAR

3. James Kaprielian, 112.0 IP/4.52 ERA/1.31 WHIP, 0.9 fWAR

4. Daulton Jefferies,134.0 IP/4.66 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 0.7 fWAR

5. Adam Oller, 82.0 IP/4.66 ERA/1.39 WHIP, 0.8 fWAR

Projected 2022 Top 3 Relievers:

1. AJ Puk, 69.0 IP/3.79 ERA/1.29 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR

2. Kirby Snead, 52.0 IP/3.49 ERA/1.29 WHIP, 0.4 fWAR

3. Paul Blackburn, 45.0 IP/4.18 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 0.2 fWAR

Offseason Recap:

Oakland just lost Giambi, Isringhausen, and Damon. No, I’m just kidding, it was even worse than that. Not only did Oakland lose many good players, they don’t have the talent on the team to replace them. Moneyball was a great movie, but it overlooked a lot of the true superstars that Oakland had to help the Scott Hattebergs along. They had MVP Miguel Tejada and three great starters, along with Eric Chavez and Jermaine Dye. The 2021 offseason has left the Athletics in a much worse spot than 2001’s offseason.

For the bullpen, Oakland lost their three most proven relievers in Sergio Romo, Jake Diekman, and Andrew Chafin. The loss of Diekman was understandable after a season in which it seemed he could only strike batters out and not do much of anything else. While Sergio Romo’s 4.67 ERA looks bad, his xERA was 3.45, thanks to league leading numbers in limiting soft contact. Andrew Chafin came along at the deadline in a trade with the Cubs and played even better in Oakland.

These three relievers were all signed to teams hoping to make more noise in the playoffs, so these guys have value, but i’s predictable for a team in Oakland’s current position to not sign three mid-30s relievers to big deals compared to their payroll, so we’ll let that loss of talent slide. The A’s have proven before that they can pluck serviceable relievers from obscurity.

More interesting moves were the ones surrounding Starling Marte, Mark Canha, and Chris Bassitt. Both Marte and Canha ended up signing as free agents with the New York Mets as wily mid-30s righty bats for a lineup that desperately needed righties. Bassitt was actually traded to the Mets to be a backend starter. 

Oakland got starting pitching prospect JT Ginn back for Bassitt, but as Amazin’ Avenue’s Lukas Vlahos writes, “For such a valuable piece, one might expect a hefty price, but the acquisition cost here is frankly laughable. J.T. Ginn’s performance could generously be described as “okay”, but that’s not exactly what you want to hear about a 22-year-old, SEC pitcher in Advanced-A who was supposed to have three average or better pitches as a draftee.”

Starling Marte was acquired at the 2021 trade deadline in an effort by Oakland to make a playoff push. It was surprising in that it was a one-for-one deal for former A’s top flamethrowing prospect Jesus Luzardo, especially now that A’s have chosen to take the rebuilding path this season. They are not normally an organization to make costly, short-sighted moves like that.

Over 3 years and 166.1 innings, Luzardo has struggled at the major league level, but he’s only entering his age 24 season. Even with 2021’s struggles where he let up a bottom 5% wOBA to opposing hitters, Luzardo is still tabbed with an All-Star level 60 future value by FanGraphs, so it’s surprising that Oakland gave him up for a rental they knew they could not afford to extend. I’m sure Oakland would like to have Luzardo instead of seeing him in an exciting, young rotation in Miami.

The Canha and Bassitt moves weren’t exciting, but nonetheless disappointing for Oakland fans. Canha signed for about $13.3 million AAV with the Mets before the lockout began. That contract would have been manageable for Oakland if they spent money like a normal team, and they definitely could use Canha’s consistency in the lineup.

Lastly, we can talk about two of the biggest trades that went down this offseason. Many thought that Oakland would be able to fit one of their star corner infielders under the payroll cap, but they chose to move both Matt Olson and Matt Chapman to contenders. Oakland got a good return for Olson, but that’s because he is a superstar at first base.

From the Atlanta Braves the A’s received MLB.com’s #59 prospect Shea Langeliers and former Top 100 center fielder Cristian Pache in the deal. They also received the two right handed pitchers Ryan Cusick and Joey Estes who both pitched to sub-3 ERAs in Augusta this year. It’s tough to project pitchers as young as them with the volatility inherent to the position. They’re both good throw ins who are better than a scratch-off, though.

Speaking of lottery tickets, the future value of the return for the Matt Chapman trade is entirely based on luck. Three out of the four players in RHP Zach Logue, LHP Kirby Snead, and IF Kevin Smith are all already 25 years old and have yet to show anything real in the Majors. All three will get chances this season after the mass exodus of talent.

The last piece, 22 year old Gunnar Hoglund, improves the return. He’s a potential two-way player that was the Blue Jays’ #4 prospect after being drafted last year, but he has yet to play a professional game in the minors. Matt Chapman is an amazing defensive third baseman, and while his gradual offensive decline made the possible trade packages for him depreciate, you have liked to see a better return in exchange for the heart and soul of the A’s.

The Sean Manaea trade happened while editing this article. Manaea had pretty bad Statcast analytics last season except for his control and strikeout numbers, so I’d say it was a good deal for him. I’ll talk about it more in the Players to Watch section.

2022 Season Preview:

Everyone else in the AL West is moving forward, except for the Oakland A’s. Even in the midst of cheap ownership, relocation threats, and fan favorites being shipped off, fans kept coming back because the A’s played good baseball. I don’t think that’s going to happen this year.

Oakland’s got problems, man. As of now, they have about five guys on the team who you would be confident in saying that they could hit the ball, and even then, Ramon Laureano will be suspended for the first two months of the season, and Kevin Smith only has 83 career MLB at-bats. The A’s will need at least one veteran, like Stephen Piscotty to have a career renaissance, and they need prospects, like Cristian Pache or infielder Nick Allen, to hit well as soon as they come up to have any chance at avoiding being a division bottom feeder.

It’s hard to say which unit will be better, since after the trade of Sean Manaea, the A’s are left with only one proven starter in Frankie Montas. Frankie should do pretty well this year, but to be even better, he needs to limit the frequency of hard hit balls. Beyond Frankie, AJ Puk, Daulton Jefferies, James Kaprelian, and Brent Honeywell Jr are older pitchers that have yet to truly shed their status as prospects because they all lack Major League experience. It would not be surprising to see one of those players carve out a place as a professional with the extensive opportunities that will be given out this year.

Veteran Lou Trivino will be one of the lone guys with experience in the bullpen for the A’s, but unlike Montas, Trivino couldn’t do much but induce soft contact in 2021. On a team that’s expected to be poor, it’s not really a bad thing to have only one veteran reliever. Sending young pitchers to the bullpen to get their first taste at MLB action can lead to good development. Some more late-20s guys will headline the backend. Paul Blackburn, Dany Jiménez, and the recently acquired Kirby Snead are all pitchers who will get extensive looks to see who can be the next random Oakland Athletic that becomes good.

There are not many sure things for Oakland going into 2022. Most of the team is composed of depth prospects that are earning their first shot to grab onto a starting job. That should be the theme of the A’s season, as cycling through as many players as possible can be one of the best ways to find diamonds in the rough.

As a result of the A’s not really knowing who will play contributing roles going forward, there is not a lot of advanced data on their players who have spent most time playing in the minors. You can tell somewhat of a story with surface level stats, but to truly evaluate talent, you need to look at the Statcast numbers under the hood. We’ll have to wait until those numbers are available to make an educated opinion on where the A’s are headed

Oakland will need to find contributors from anywhere to battle off their AL West opponents. Every division series the A’s will play, they will have to play a team that should have a record over .500. Every division series they play, they will have to plan around a premier superstar.

Going into 2022, there is not a team in MLB envious of the situation the Oakland Athletics have found themselves in. As buyers at last season’s trade deadline, they lost some pieces that could have been helpful for the rebuild they now find themselves in. They lost nearly all of their key contributors this offseason, and it seems like this will be a season that it lost. The A’s will need some more Billy Beane magic to pull off anything more than a last place AL West finish.

Record Prediction: 67-95

Throughout the Billy Beane era, Oakland has had peaks and valleys of success. They have stretches of playoff berths, but when the talent that took them there becomes too expensive, they have to retool and reset. Those mass exoduses of talent lead to frankly lackluster performances. While it’s not great baseball, it’s a necessary evil for a small market team in order to stay out of baseball purgatory. Fortunately for A’s fans, the peaks tend to be longer and more frequent in Oakland than a penny-pinching team like Pittsburgh or Miami.

This is still going to be a year that is hard to watch. The players that will constitute the lineup and pitching staff are classic nameless Oakland Athletics, but most of them aren’t going to end up being played by Chris Pratt. In an AL West powered by superstars, Oakland traded theirs away. It will be hard for them to avoid being cannon fodder for Seattle and Houston, and they’ll probably also be tormented by the Angels and Rangers.

There are not many good outcomes for the 2022 Athletics. They aren’t as devoid of real players as some other 5th place teams like Baltimore and Pittsburgh, but it will be tough for them to carve out a niche in a very competitive American League. Expect some growth from the young players already in the majors, and expect some breakout opportunities for players that may not be able to get them anywhere else.

Player to Watch #1: Frankie Montas

I am editing this just as Sean Manaea was traded to the San Diego Padres along with 2021 13th round draft selection Aaron Holiday for Euribiel Angeles and Adrian Martinez. I wrote this like a week ago, so sorry if the rest of the article is wack.

How is Frankie Montas still on the team? He’ll probably be the best player on this moribund team in 2022, if he sticks around for the whole season. Montas put up 4.1 fWAR in 2021, with excellent Statcast rates. He did outperform his xERA a bit, but he is still projected to stay on about a 3 fWAR track in 2022. The A’s farm system improved marginally after the Bassitt, Olson, and Chapman trades, but they need more ammo, more lottery tickets.

Frankie Montas, as a second or third place in the rotation guy, should fetch a decent prospect package. Even with Sean Manaea being a free agent after this year, he still netted the A’s the 12th and 26th ranked prospects in a great Padres system. Montas has two more years of team control, so it stand to reason he could fetch even more. His value to contenders will only go down from this point on, and he’s useless to the present-day Oakland Athletics. Don’t wait until next year deal him in return for a 25 year old Double-A reliever. If you just traded Manaea, trade Montas now.

Player to Watch #2: CF Cristian Pache

Acquired in the Matt Olson deal, Shea Langeliers and Cristian Pache immediately became the #2 and #4 ranked prospects in the A’s farm system rankings, respectively. Before this season, Pache showed that his offensive tools could be the finishing touch that makes him a complete player. However, after a season in AAA with a short stint in the Majors, he only played well defensively in center field and on the basepaths, posting a 100 and -8 wRC+ in AAA and MLB, respectively. Through his time in the minors, it seems take Pache a full season after promotion to get used to the pitching.

Pache’s defense and running instincts are so good that he still projects to have 0.7 WAR while slashing only .225/.280/.378 in MLB. MLB.com has given Pache a 70-grade running ability with an 80-grade fielding ability. His low-graded hit and power tools tank his future value to only 50. That still means he should be an above average player, but it’s a far cry from the defensive superstar with an .802 OPS in 2019. The A’s took a gamble on the struggling Pache who once had a spotless pedigree. They seem to think if he hits well enough, and he has shown that he can improve after facing challenges, he’ll be able to be a superstar in center field.

Player to Watch #3: 3B Jonah Bride

As the 28th ranked prospect in the A’s system, 26 year old Jonah Bride is looked at as an afterthought. He has only reached the AA level, but he hit for a 130 wRC+ there in 2021. Bride is a primary third baseman with an excellent eye, with a whopping .404 OBP in 2021. The primary concern with Bride is his ability to hit for extra bases, as he hit only 22 extra base hits compared to 48 singles. Even with what he’s flashed as a minor leaguer, scouts only value him as having below average potential.

I’ll admit that Jonah Bride may not be the flashiest selection here, but it’s the Oakland A’s! Who cares about flash? Jonah Bride just gets on base. That’s the reason why I think he may make some noise as a consistent hitter in 2022. He’s hit well at every level of the minors, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to think he’s a good player in Triple-A. If he hits well there, why couldn’t he be decent in the Majors? The recently acquired right handed third baseman Kevin Smith represents a road block for Bride to fill the spot at the hot corner vacated, but if Smith falters, Bride should be the first call as another bat-first, right-handed third baseman.

Categories: 2022 Season Preview

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