As the A’s continue making moves with an eye toward 2017, it becomes apparent just how many questions they’ll have to answer entering next season.
Glance around the diamond, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that only four current starters can safely be penciled into the projected 2017 lineup.
Left fielder Khris Davis, catcher Stephen Vogt, shortstop Marcus Semien and third baseman Ryon Healy don’t appear to be going anywhere given their team-friendly contract status and their production. But even with a player such as Healy, he could be asked to shift positions.
Elsewhere, nothing is grounded in certainty, as the roster is filled with both unproven position players and more established veterans who are under contract for next season but don’t necessarily seem part of the long-range plan.
The A’s have a promising core of position-player prospects in the upper minors, and so much hinges on how quickly they show they’re ready to make the jump to the big leagues. Some of these answers could begin materializing before this season even ends. Middle infielder Chad Pinder was called up Wednesday from Triple-A. He’s likely to get a good look at second base along with some time at shortstop during the stretch when Semien goes on paternity leave.
Third baseman Matt Chapman, who showed the makings of a future star during spring training, was bumped up from Double-A to Triple-A on Tuesday. He appears to be knocking on the major league door. Double-A shortstop Franklin Barreto, another player who showed flashes in the spring, could factor into the equation soon, along with two others at Triple-A, corner infielder Renato Nunez (who the A’s are experimenting with in left field) and first baseman/outfielder Matt Olson.
And as these players and others develop and begin to arrive, there’s a potential domino effect. If Chapman — who has big defensive upside and was leading the Texas League in homers and RBI — arrives at camp in February and shows he’s ready to be Oakland’s third baseman, then what does that mean for Healy? He’s shown enough potential that he seems the type of young player the A’s want to have starting — somewhere.
Given that Healy has experience playing first base, it could mean a shift across the diamond. But then what to do with Yonder Alonso, who’s been excellent defensively this season and has come on strong offensively in the second half? The A’s could platoon Alonso and Healy at first, but that wouldn’t leave many at-bats for the right-handed hitting Healy. He could also slide into the designated hitter role, but that would leave Billy Butler in the same awkward position as he’s in this season when it comes to playing time. Butler is under contract through next season at $10 million.
Tough decisions, both of them, but ones the A’s could eventually have to wrestle with.
Pinder, 24, appears set to get time at second base through season’s end. It’s also quite possible that when the 20-year-old Barreto eventually arrives in the bigs, his best chance to stick might be at second if the A’s are committed to Semien at short (Semien’s bat assures he’ll continue to play everyday somewhere, that’s for sure).
The A’s have 32-year-old second baseman Jed Lowrie — who’s about to undergo season-ending left foot surgery — under contract next season at $6.5 million. But given the team’s shifting emphasis to youth, can the A’s afford to not heavily consider turning over that position to a promising prospect if one of them appears ready for the job?
In the outfield, with the exception of Davis in left field, nothing is set in stone. Given that Danny Valencia was uprooted at third base to begin the second half, it’s unclear if he’ll be in the 2017 picture or if the A’s look to trade him. The jury is still out on Jake Smolinski and Brett Eibner.
So many moving pieces, so many variables to consider. But with several promising young players seemingly on the cusp of arriving in the majors, the A’s priority should be creating opportunities for them. It may mean biting the bullet financially and eating a big chunk of salary if that’s what it takes to trade Butler and/or Lowrie.
But a fresh start of sorts is needed. The A’s have been mired at the bottom of the American League West going on two years now, and the only course of action that should be avoided is the status quo.