Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Athletics 2024 season preview: Projected lineup, rotation and any hope for a future, in Las Vegas or not

As expected, the Oakland Athletics were the worst team in baseball last season, six losses worse than the next worst team, the Kansas City Royals. It was by design too. At owner John Fisher’s direction, the front office has stripped the roster down to the studs and brought payroll down into the $56 million range, all in service of securing a stadium deal from Las Vegas. That deal was secured in June.

The relocation plan is not going smoothly, however. Fisher has yet to come up with his end of the financing, the team has missed multiple deadlines to release stadium renderings, and we don’t know where the A’s will play from 2025-27. Their lease at RingCentral Coliseum expires after 2024 and their new stadium in Las Vegas is not expected to open until 2028.

“We talk a lot about distractions and this group has been through it to a certain extent last year,” manager Mark Kotsay told the Associated Press last month. “We did address the uncertainty of the ’25 season, but ultimately, these guys are here to play baseball and have a long career, whether that’s in Oakland or Miami, for that matter. The game doesn’t change. The circumstances are what they are.”

The A’s figure to again be one of the worst teams in baseball in 2024. Minimal effort was made to improve the roster during the offseason and the farm system, even after all the recent trades, is short on impact talent. What is likely to be the franchise’s final season in Oakland will be a forgettable one. Let’s preview the upcoming A’s season on the field. 

Win total projection, odds

  • 2023 record: 50-112 (last place in AL West)
  • 2024 SportsLine win total over/under: 57.5
  • World Series odds (via SportsLine): +50000

Projected lineup

  1. 1B Ryan Noda, LHB
  2. 2B Zack Gelof, RHB
  3. DH Brent Rooker, RHB
  4. RF Seth Brown, LHB
  5. C Shea Langeliers, RHB
  6. LF JJ Bleday, LHB
  7. 3B Abraham Toro, SHB
  8. CF Esteury Ruiz, RHB
  9. SS Nick Allen, RHB

Gelof slashed .267/.337/.504 with 14 home runs in 69 games after being called up in July, and he is the closest thing the A’s have to a building block on offense. Langeliers, Noda, and Ruiz have a chance to carve out long-term roles, though they would not be everyday players on many other teams around the league. Familiar names like Aledmys Díaz and Miguel Andujar will be on the bench. Perhaps erstwhile top prospect Tyler Soderstrom as well. He had a rough MLB debut last season but is likely to serve as the backup catcher while also seeing time in the outfield and at DH.

Projected rotation

  1. LHP JP Sears
  2. RHP Paul Blackburn
  3. RHP Ross Stripling
  4. LHP Alex Wood
  5. RHP Joe Boyle

The A’s do have some interesting talent on the mound. Medina, who is out of options and would have to pass through waivers to go back to Triple-A, flashed promise at times last year, but he’s now out with a knee injury. The hard-throwing Boyle was excellent in three starts late last season and will slot into the Opening Day rotation now. Stripling and Wood were brought in to eat innings. The A’s will pay the two veterans a combined $17.75 million this season, which is nearly one-third of the team’s payroll. Both figure to be prime pieces of trade bait at the deadline along with Blackburn.

Projected bullpen

As things stand, the A’s don’t have a clearly defined bullpen heirarchy. Erceg saw regular high leverage work last season, Gott is a veteran with some late-inning experience, and Jiménez has been mentioned as a possible closer candidate this spring. Miller, the club’s most talented pitcher, is going to spend the season in the bullpen after missing time with an elbow injury last year. Figure he’ll work his way into high leverage situations before long. Ken Waldichuk, who spent time in the bullpen in 2023, is recovering from an elbow injury. He’ll factor into the pitching staff in some capacity once healthy.

Can Miller stay healthy and break out?

Few pitchers in the game have as much arm talent as Miller, a 25-year-old from Gardner-Webb who struck out 38 batters in 33 1/3 innings last season. He also missed four months with an elbow sprain, meaning his ulnar collateral ligament was compromised (that’s the Tommy John surgery ligament), so the A’s understandably handled him very carefully. Our R.J. Anderson ranked Miller the No. 49 prospect in the game last month, and it’s not hard to see why.

“The biggest goal for us is to get Mason Miller out of this camp healthy,” Kotsay told MLB.com last month. “That’s our focus. We’ll prepare him as a reliever. He’s a guy that can throw two or three innings. But I think we’ll probably see him in two-inning stints at most towards the end (of spring training).”

Miller will spend the year in the bullpen and that might be his long-term home given the injury concerns. Clearly though, he has the ability to be a difference-maker, even as a short reliever. The A’s are so devoid of talent right now that developing an impact reliever would qualify as a major organizational success. For now, Miller’s relief outings are one of the few reasons to tune into Athletics games in 2024. He’s one of the few players on the roster with a chance to be a foundational piece.

What other young players are coming?

Gelof arrived last July and became the team’s best player immediately. He led the team in WAR despite playing only 69 games, and he projects to be their best player (by a lot) in 2024. Sears came over from the New York Yankees in the Frankie Montas trade and had a solid 2023 season, one in which he made 32 starts and threw 172 1/3 innings. Miller’s in the bullpen, Boyle should make plenty of starts, and Soderstrom will get a chance to earn more playing time. There is some young talent here.

Who’s next? Shortstop Darell Hernaiz, who was part of the Cole Irvin trade with the Baltimore Orioles, reached Triple-A last season and is on the 40-man roster, putting him position to challenge Allen for playing time. Outfielder Lazaro Armenteros swings and misses a lot — A LOT — though he began to tap into his power at Double-A last year, and could arrive later this year. Lefty Joey Estes was part of the Matt Olson trade. He made two starts in September and could get a longer look in 2024.

Despite all their trades — Montas, Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Murphy, etc. — the A’s have the 25th ranked farm system according to Baseball America. They’ve done a poor job building a talent base during the tear down. Their best young players are already in the big leagues (Gelof, Miller, etc.) and that’s good, that’s where you want your best young players. The system doesn’t have a whole lot more to offer though, with Hernaiz the best bet to contribute this summer. It will be a long road back to respectability.

What would make for a successful season?

Real talk: A successful 2024 for the A’s would be the Las Vegas plan falling apart and Fisher having to sell the team. Fisher is a stain on the sport and thoroughly unfit to be the steward of a historic franchise that has won the second-most World Series titles among American League teams. Shame on commissioner Rob Manfred and the other 29 owners for aiding and abetting what Fisher has done to the A’s. Sell the team, John.

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