The Oakland Athletics officially announced on Monday that they had re-signed late-season acquisition Mike Fiers, the right-handed pitcher who went 5-2 down the stretch for the club en route to its first postseason berth in four years.
President of baseball operations Billy Beane confirmed that Fiers, who was non-tendered on Nov. 30, will be returning to Oakland on a two-year contract.
With the completion of the Fiers signing, and the acquisition of Jurickson Profar to start at second and Joakim Soria to help set up Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen, the A’s now turn their attention to repairing a beaten, battered, tattered and broken starting rotation that saw no fewer than 14 men start games for them last season. Both internal and external options are being considered, including left-handed phenom Jesus Luzardo.
“I think we feel pretty good about the position player side at this point, and I think we feel pretty good about the bullpen … so starting pitching, we need to create even more options for Bob [Melvin] and Emo (pitching coach Scott Emerson),” Beane said during a teleconference on Monday morning. “We also need to provide depth. We faced it last year, guys are going to go down during the season. The focus from here until spring training, and possibly through spring training, we’re going to continue to try and find some starters.”
Of the starters still under team control for 2019, ace Sean Manaea underwent shoulder surgery, Andrew Triggs underwent thoracic outlet surgery, prospects A.J. Puk and Jharel Cotton — both of whom were thought of as potential rotation members in 2018 — underwent Tommy John surgery (as did Opening Day starter Kendall Graveman and right-hander Daniel Gossett) and Paul Blackburn struggled with elbow tendonitis.
“[Signing Fiers] was real important, and became more and more important as the winter went along,” Beane said. “In any winter, starting pitching is always a challenge to acquire on the trade market, and it’s costly through the free agent market. This one seems to be no different. We were pretty clear, and it was pretty obvious, that the starting rotation was an area we absolutely had to address.”
Fiers began the 2018 season with Detroit and went 7-6 with a 3.48 ERA in 21 starts before he was traded to Oakland Aug. 6, after the non-waiver trade deadline. With the A’s, he went 5-2 with a 3.74 ERA in 10 games, including nine starts. He combined for a 12-8 record and a 3.56 ERA in 31 games overall.
“Mike is known, he did a great job for us after the acquisition, he’s been a reliable guy throughout his career, which is going to be important for us, because we don’t have a lot of depth there,” Beane said. “I think we’re all excited to have Mike here for a minimum of two years.”
The A’s non-tendered Fiers and 34-year old Edwin Jackson (who went 6-3 with a 3.33 ERA with the A’s in 2018), and did not re-sign Trevor Cahill, who took a one-year, $9 million contract earlier this month with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Re-signing Fiers, though, despite the initial non-tender, was always in the cards, Beane said.
The MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported that the deal was between $14 and $15 million, meaning that the A’s got a deal. MLB Trade Rumors had projected Fiers to get $9.7 million in arbitration, and with Cahill’s $9 million salary next season, plus deals between the Angels and Matt Harvey ($11 million base, $14 with incentives) and Lance Lynn and the Texas Rangers (3 years, $30 million), the A’s wound up saving a lot of money on a pitcher who had a better year than any of those three.
Beane went on to say that, given the A’s financial situation, the team is likely to wait until later in the offseason before signing any more free agent pitchers.
“We have to be opportunistic, but also somewhat patient,” Beane said. “This could change. In trades, we’re aggressive, but when it comes to free agents, in most cases, we have to be opportunistic and be patient. We’ll wait it out and see who are the best options. In some cases, there are going to be guys who find this place an attractive place to pitch, it’s a good, young team and it’s a good park to pitch in.”
Jackson, who was an instant hit in the A’s clubhouse and immediately became one of the leaders of a young team, could still be an option, but judging by reports that the two sides are far apart, and Beane’s comments, it doesn’t seem very likely.
“I make it a habit not to comment on outstanding free agents, even our own guys, so all I’ll say is that we’re still on the market for starters in general,” Beane said. “I’ll let everyone else connect dots, but whether it’s our guys or somebody else, I’ll refrain from making comments on who we might or might not have interest in.”
Fiers, who will enter his age-34 season in 2019, gives the A’s a veteran foundation for a rotation that will likely be much younger than it was last season (average age of 28.3 years), especially if Cotton (26), Puk (23) or Luzardo (21) are involved. Of the 12 regular starters for Oakland last season (5 starts or more), only four were 30 or older. Blackburn (24), Chris Bassitt (29) and Tanner Anderson (25) are also candidates for the rotation.
Luzardo, the organization’s top overall prospect, split last season between high-A, Double-A and Triple-A, going 10-5 with a 2.88 ERA. On an innings restriction after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2016, Luzardo didn’t come up to the big leagues in September, but rather spent four games with Triple-A Nashville, going 1-1 with a 7.31 ERA, striking out 18 and walking none in 16 innings of work. He’s long been thought to be in the organization’s rotation plans for 2019.
“We’ve got [Daniel] Mengden and [Aaron] Brooks coming back, [Frankie] Montas and Jesus — he’s a very talented kid,” Beane said. “I think we also have to be, at this point, we’re the caretakers of his career, so when he comes up, I think historically, we’ve always wanted to make decisions on guys like this — very talented young players — that when they come up, they stay up. We’ll just have to make that call during the spring, or at some point hopefully during the beginning of the season.”
Beane went on to say that the A’s “certainly” expect Luzardo to have an impact in 2019, whether it’s at the start of the year, or the end. If it comes at the front end of the season, Luzardo’s impact could be doubly felt, given the absence of Manaea. The 6-foot-6 left-hander, who threw his first career no-hitter in on April 21 against the Boston Red Sox, underwent shoulder surgery in September.
The procedure — technically a subacromial decompression, acromioplasty and posterior labral repair — created created more room within Manaea’s joint capsule and repaired a torn labrum.
“We need starters, but with guys like Sean, we’ve got a process of rehab that we’ve got to follow through,” Beane said. “Optimistically, and I think we should be optimistic because it sounds like the surgery went well, we’re hoping there’s a chance Sean will be there at the All-Star break.”
Getting Manaea back, after a career year in 2018 (12-9, 3.59 ERA, 108 strikeouts to 32 walks, 1.077 WHIP), would certainly bolster a rotation at a time when wear and tear begins to take hold.
“As far as all the stages that he has to take, those things can change, but we’re looking at an end date, potentially, possibly, the All-Star break, and hope for the best during rehab at that point,” Beane said.
So far, Beane says, there have been no setbacks, and Manaea’s progress has been encouraging.