(KPIX 5)- The Oakland A’s have been the model of consistency over the last two seasons. The team won 97 games, finished second in the American League West, and bowed out in the Wild Card game in each year.
The latter part of that consistency is obviously not the kind that Billy Beane’s group would like to be known for. With Spring Training in full swing and a new season rapidly approaching, KPIX sports anchor Dennis O’Donnell says there’s a certain “aura, and confidence” that surrounds the team this year. Will that confidence translate to better results? That’s the big question for fans and followers of the team. For O’Donnell, his stance on the season is pretty clear: World Series or bust.
“I wrote a story when I got back from Spring Training that said Oakland A’s 2020, World Series or bust. I feel that is the case, and I’ll tell you why. The A’s want to get out of that dump they call the Oakland Coliseum, and they want a new stadium just outside of downtown Oakland,” said O’Donnell. “Billy Beane believes that the way to keep talent, for instance Semien, one-year deal, free agent next season… If they want to sign these players long-term, they need that stadium to go through. Nothing gets a stadium built faster than winning a World Series.”
In order to get to the Fall Classic, the A’s will need improvement from within the organization, as they didn’t make any notable moves in free agency. One player that O’Donnell believes will be key? Shortstop Marcus Semien.
“If you pin me on one player, it’s difficult to choose, but I would say keep your eyes on Marcus Semien. He wants to win the Gold Glove,” said O’Donnell. “He used to be a hack at shortstop, now he’s one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. He can do it with the bat, he now can do it with the glove, but he wants to join Chapman and Olson as a Gold Glove infielder.”
Semien had a huge year with the bat in 2019, posting a .285 batting average with 33 homers and 92 RBI while appearing in all 162 games. Those numbers were all career highs and heading into the final year of his contract, it would seem difficult to improve upon them. But, if he is able to up his game defensively, as O’Donnell suggests, that would provide a boost for the club.
Another area of potential improvement for the team comes in the rotation. Last year’s group was a bit of a patchwork scenario, as ace lefty Sean Manaea missed most of the year due to injury. The team got strong years from veterans Brett Anderson (now with the Milwaukee Brewers), Homer Bailey (now with the Minnesota Twins) and Chris Bassitt. Adding to that was the development of 26-year-old Frankie Montas, who posted a 2.63 ERA (164 ERA+) in 16 starts. Now, Manaea is back to combine with Fiers, Montas and Bassitt. But there are two high-profile prospects who saw some time last year that could further bolster the group.
“A.J. Puk, one of the top prospects maybe the top prospect in the A’s organization, had a little setback a couple of days ago. He should be fine. Also, another young pitcher, Jesus Luzardo. If these guys come through, that rotation will be in the top five in baseball, maybe even higher,” said O’Donnell. “Sean Manaea, Mike Fiers, the guy who implicated the Houston Astros, he won 17 (15) last year I believe. This is a rock-solid baseball team from top to bottom, I think the sky is the limit for them.”
The development of Puk and Luzardo from prospects into regular rotation starters would provide a big boon for the franchise. Add them to the core of last year’s 97-win group, and contending for the Fall Classic doesn’t seem as far-fetched. But the projections systems don’t like the A’s at the moment, with PECOTA projecting 84.7 wins while Fangraphs has them finishing slightly better with 86 wins. Part of the projected dip in wins comes from an improved Los Angeles Angels team that spent big to add third baseman Anthony Rendon to their lineup this offseason. With Semien, Fiers and several relievers set to become free agents after the season, this is a big year for the A’s to contend.