Oakland Athletics 2023 season preview: Mediocrity maybe?

Shintaro Fujunamo pitching during Spring Training

Now that the World Baseball Classic has finished, everything is gearing up for the MLB regular season, with Opening Day this Thursday (30 March).

When thinking about how the Athletics will do this season, the indications thus far haven’t been great, although there are some signs of encouragement; the team finished Spring Training with the worst record in the Cactus League, for example, and, at time of writing (Monday 27 March) the team currently has the lowest payroll of all MLB teams, which speaks to a lack of investment in the on-field product. This is particularly galling, as, while the A’s are the second-least valuable team in MLB, according to Forbes, they are the fifth-most profitable with profits of $66.2 million last season.

That being said, Kevin Smith was tied for second in the Cactus League with 15 RBIs (behind former Oakland A Matt Olson, now of the Braves, on 16), while new pitcher Shintaro Fujinami was tied for second with three wins. In addition, the A’s also had the third-most stolen bases during the Cactus League with 37 entering a regular season where new rules have been implemented to encourage more stolen base attempts. Meanwhile, players like Domingo Acevedo and Shea Langeliers are entering their second seasons in the major leagues older, wiser and more experienced having already impressed during their rookie campaigns, plus we have a farm system that has historically fed some fantastic players into the Athletics’ clubhouse, and which A’s farm director Ed Sprague says is getting even better.

Despite that, when looking at predictions for the season, it would be fair to say that no one is expecting the A’s to do well. For example, in his annual Power Rankings for the 2023 season, Matt Snyder of CBS Sports has the A’s dead-last, while Jeff Passan of ESPN has the A’s winning less games this season than they did last season (they only won 60 games in 2022…)

At least the GM is trying to be positive…

However, it should be said that the A’s do arguably have a stronger roster this year; there are more veterans in the team entering this season, and, with experience, comes a greater degree of certainty of what each player is capable of, which can’t always be said when assessing those that have been called-up from the minor leagues given the step up in class. For example, we can be reasonably sure of what the likes of Aledmys Diaz and Jace Peterson will offer the A’s in 2023 – solid play at short stop and third base respectively – as both already have a lot of experience in the major leagues.

Meanwhile, we can’t be certain how Esteury Ruiz or Kyle Muller will perform, as we only have how each performed in the minor leagues and a handful of appearances each in MLB to go off. This is why I have been less than enthusiastic about the off-season trade that brought both of them, along with fellow prospects Freddy Tarnok and Royber Salinas, and veteran catcher Manny Pina to Oakland.

With that being said though, Ruiz has performed well during Spring Training; we’ve seen a few glimpses of his ability at-bat and subsequent speed when running the bases. All-in-all, Ruiz posted 15 hits, two home runs and 17 RBI from 46 at-bats, alongside six stolen bases, to result in a batting average of .326 and an OBP of .411. Hopefully, these kinds of numbers will translate into the regular season, as the decision to trade away Sean Murphy – one of the best catchers in MLB last season – lives or dies on the development and performance of the prospects he was traded for.

On this, the A’s have announced that Kyle Muller, who came to the A’s as the Braves’ #1 prospect, will be the A’s starting pitcher on Opening Day against the Angels. Clearly, Muller has shown manager Mark Kotsay and pitching coach Scott Emerson something during Spring Training for him to get the nod on Opening Day, particularly given he will going head-to-head against a pitcher the calibre of Shohei Ohtani too. While his final game of Spring Training was uneven, it’s a massive vote of confidence in Muller, and we as fans should be heartened by the amount of trust the coaches seemingly already have in him.

Speaking of starting pitchers, off-season signing Fujinami has already been named as starting in the second game against the Angels this Saturday (1 April). ‘Fuji’ represents an upgrade to the A’s starting pitching rotation, coming to the team as a 28-year-old who already has ten years of experience of as a professional in Japan. It has to be said that the A’s bullpen is also looking stronger than last season too, with veterans like Trevor May, Jeurys Familia and Drew Rucinski having been added to compliment younger, less experienced talents like Acevedo, Dany Jimenez and Zach Jackson.

Finally, at time of writing, the A’s roster still includes Seth Brown, who led the team in home runs and RBIs last season, Ramon Laureano and Tony Kemp. For me at least, these three, along with players like Diaz, Fujinami, Langeliers, May and Peterson form the basis of a solid, if generally unspectacular, roster. Murphy individually added a lot to the team during both ends of innings last season, and so, constitutes a significant loss to the team. However, through multiple additions, the A’s should be stronger on both offence and defence as a whole this season, and you would hope that more can be added to the team in the coming days.

Overall then, it is very unlikely that the A’s will be challenging for a playoff spot at the end of the season, particularly given the American League West also features the reigning champion Houston Astros, an Angels team that features Mike Trout, Ohtani and Taylor Ward among others, a Mariners team that made the playoffs last season and the big-spending Texas Rangers. The roster looks stronger though, with much-needed experience being added in all areas, and so, this will hopefully mean the A’s are at least a more competitive team this season. If nothing else, if the team lose less than a hundred games this season, unlike the 102 they lost last season, that would represent a step back in the right direction.

Featured Image – Kyodo News for Getty Images

Brett is the Oakland A’s contributor for Batflips Nerds, and can be found on Twitter @BrettChatsSport.

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