A’s center fielder is Ramon Laureano is pictured Sept. 9, 2020 against the Houston Astros in Oakland; the teams meet again on Opening Day at the Coliseum. (Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A’s center fielder is Ramon Laureano is pictured Sept. 9, 2020 against the Houston Astros in Oakland; the teams meet again on Opening Day at the Coliseum. (Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A’s stay nimble, eager to defend AL West title

Despite an ongoing state of flux, team’s a consistent contender

The one constant with the A’s is they are always in a state of flux.

Due to being a small-market club with a lack of financial flexibility, the ability to stay nimble with the roster is key to winning. And the A’s are among Major League Baseball’s most consistent winners.

Over the last three seasons, the A’s have the fourth-best winning percentage (.599), behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers (.626), Houston Astros (.622) and New York Yankeees (.615). Their .531 winning percentage over the previous nine seasons ranks sixth in MLB.

So if you were told the A’s lost their starting shortstop and closer to free agency and traded away one of their top power hitters, you would think the A’s might have a little trouble extending their streak of three straight postseason trips.

Not so fast. Between executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst, the A’s are used to retooling without taking a major step back.

With shortstop Marcus Semien in Toronto, closer Liam Hendriks with the Chicago White Sox and Khris Davis dealt to Texas, in come Elvis Andrus, Trevor Rosenthal and Mitch Moreland to fill those spots. And the A’s are again picked by some to win the American League West for the second consecutive year.

Not that it is that simple. As much as any contending team, these A’s are the sum of their pieces. None of those three additions will be equally as productive as the player they are replacing. Andrus will bring a steadiness on offense and defense to the position, Rosenthal is an experienced closer and anchors a deep bullpen, while Moreland is an underrated bat.

Also key to the A’s chances this season is the return of Matt Chapman. The two-time Platinum Glove third baseman and AL MVP candidate had the abbreviated 2020 season cut short after 37 games due to a hip injury that required surgery. He has been healthy this spring.

In a slight surprise, Jed Lowrie, signed for his third tour with the A’s just as camp began, won the starting second base job, allowing Tony Kemp and Chad Pinder to be utility players. The rest of the offense is about as expected: Sean Murphy at catcher, Matt Olson at first base, Mark Canha in left field, Ramon Laureano in center and Stephen Piscotty in right. Rule 5 players don’t often stick with contending teams, but Ka’ai Tom was impressive enough on offense and defense to earn the fourth outfielder spot.

The backbone of this team will be pitching. Right-hander Chris Bassitt starts Opening Day and will be followed by left-handers Jesus Luzardo and Sean Manaea and right-hander Frankie Montas, who was 2020’s Opening Day starter. With right-hander Mike Fiers out to begin the season with a hip injury, electric left-hander A.J. Puk could get the No. 5 spot over former Cal star Daulton Jefferies. The bullpen was the best in the majors last season, posting a 2.72 ERA and a .203 opponent batting average. Rosenthal, lefty Jake Diekman and former Giants right-handers Yusmeiro Petit and Sergio Romo all have late-game experience.

While the A’s — or at least their fandom — thrive on the underdog status, this roster should again contend for the AL West with the Houston Astros and possibly the Los Angeles Angels. However this season goes for the A’s, the state of flux will continue in the offseason as the A’s have just two players under contract for 2022.

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