Welcome to 2017.
While most of baseball is concentrating on finishing up business regarding the 2016, the A’s will be one of a minority of Major League teams whose prime focus will be the future.
“It’s fair to say a lot of September will be about evaluating players for next year and beyond,’’ A’s general manager David Forst said Thursday. “Some of the players we’re talking about are already here.’’
More will be coming with the expansion of rosters MLB goes through every September, going from 25 roster spots to as many as 40.
The elevation of Ryon Healy to the starting third base job after the All-Star break was the beginning. The promotions in the last month of outfielder Brett Eibner and infielders Chad Pinder and Joey Wendle added fuel to the blaze.
Healy has started 43 of the A’s 44 games since the All-Star break, a period of time in which the A’s are 19-25 to fall into last place in the American League West, at 57-76 resting 22½ games out of first place.
Eibner, recalled on Aug. 5, has already made 15 appearances in the outfield, including nine starts in right field and two in left.
Pinder, brought up Aug. 20, had six starts evenly split between second base and shortstop.
Wendle, called up Wednesday, made his MLB debut in the last game of the A’s road trip.
With the exception of the Angels, against whom the A’s have two September series, every team Oakland faces this month are either in first place (the Rangers) or within four games of a wild card berth (the Red Sox, the Mariners, the Royals and the Astros). Boston gets the first look at the A’s this month, visiting for a three-game series this weekend.
Baseball tradition says teams not in the running like Oakland owe it to the rest of baseball to put their best teams on the field, and balancing that and the need for the A’s to look to the future can be tricky.
“We will be putting our best foot forward,’’ Forst said in looking at the A’s dismal record to date. “The team we have been playing is where it is. We believe we can compete and evaluate at the same time.’’
While the roster limits have been boosted immediately, don’t look for a huge influx right away for Oakland. Sean Doolittle will come off the disabled list, and the A’s are fond of carrying three catchers, so the elevation of Matt McBride from Nashville is probable. Beyond that, the Sounds roster is likely to stay intact as 82-57 Nashville heads into the Triple-A post-season.
“We are going to have to pick and choose,’’ Forst said. “We will be respectful of Nashville’s season and their playoff run. Those games are important for them and for the development process. We will see guys arrive in stages, not in a big wave.’’
Here’s a look at what to expect from the A’s in the coming month:
–Catcher. Bruce Maxwell had a nice year at Nashville, .321/.391/.539, but hasn’t gotten that much playing time behind Stephen Vogt. That could change in the final month, although McBride, who was up mid-season, will get a look, too.
–First base. Oakland is delighted with the work turned in offensively and defensively by Yonder Alonso, and it would be no surprise if the A’s tried to retain him for 2017. At the same time, Matt Olson, a sandwich pick after the first round in 2012, brings power and defensive wizardry to first base. He has 34 doubles, 17 homers and 60 RBI for Nashville this year, but a disappointing .232 batting average. And Healy could fit in here, too. More on that below.
–Second base. Max Muncy has been getting much of the work there in August with Jed Lowrie out for the season. That ended with the trade Wednesday of Coco Crisp, which opened up a spot for the promotion of Wendle. Manager Bob Melvin said the plan now is for the right-handed Pinder and the left-handed Wendle to platoon at second base with Muncy to get moved into the outfield mix.
–Third base. Healy is the man. For now. But he spent about as much time at first base (91 starts) as at third base (93) in four minor league seasons. And he said Wednesday “I’m happy to play wherever they ask me to.’’ Renato Nunez hit 23 homers for the Sounds, the sixth-best homer total in the Pacific Coast League. He’ll probably get a look, and he’s primarily a third baseman, so it’s possible Healy will get some time at first. And while he’s unlikely to get called up now, Double-A Texas League Player of the Year Matt Chapman will be a factor in 2017 with his Midland manager, Ryan Christenson, saying this week “he’d be a Gold Glover in the big leagues now. He’s a special athlete. He’s a freak.’’
–Outfield. Jake Smolinski has taken over as the regular center fielder, but Jaycob Brugman has had a big year at Nashville, .303/.359/.450, as the Sounds’ center fielder. If he gets a look, Smolinski could see time in right field. And Melvin said Eibner will get some time in center, too, just so the club knows what they have in a player who has impressed them in left and right since they traded Billy Burns to get him. Muncy will get most of his at-bats in the outfield, too, which could mean more time at DH for Khris Davis, the team’s homer leader. Danny Valencia could see more DH time, too, and diminished time in right field.
–Starting pitchers. It’s likely that at least one Triple-A starter, Jharel Cotton, will get a start or three in September, and the same could be said for Raul Alcantara. Cotton, picked up in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick trade to the Dodgers, has a 3-1 record and a near-miss on a perfect game since the trade. He’ll probably stay with the Sounds into the playoffs. One-time top prospect Alcantara, finally healthy again, has been stunning at Triple-A with a 4-0 record and 1.18 ERA in eight starts since making the jump from Double-A. Daniel Mengden, 8-2, 1.67, is likely to be called up to make Saturday’s start against the Red Sox. Both Jesse Hahn, who’s on an injury rehabilitation assignment, and Dillon Overton are likely recalls. And the A’s hold out hope Sonny Gray will come off the DL to make a start before the season is over.
–Bullpen. Henderson Alvarez, a 2014 All-Star with the Marlins, hasn’t made it back to the big leagues following shoulder surgery 14 months ago. But he’s throwing now, and the A’s are hoping he’ll be able to at least get strong enough to pitch some in relief this month. Tucker Healy, who has three of his Sounds-leading eight saves in the last five weeks to go with a 3.61 ERA, could get a look, too.