OAKLAND — There are still discussions to be had in the Oakland Athletics’ front office, but it’s evident from Billy Beane and David Forst’s comments during Friday’s postseason media pow wow that some of those discussions have already started.
Aside from what is expected to be an extension for manager Bob Melvin, the pending free agency of catcher Jonathan Lucroy and Oakland’s All-Star second baseman Jed Lowrie‘s was a topic of discussion.
Oakland has prospects at both positions that are close to ready, chief among them Franklin Barreto and Sean Murphy. Lowrie is 34, and has just had the best season of his career. Lucroy, 32, threw out a big-league-best 31 runners.
Murphy hit .288 with eight home runs and 43 RBIs in 58 games at Double-A this year, and only had three games at Triple-A.
“It’s hard to say what he’s ready for or where he starts 2019,” Forst said. “Suffice to say, we think quite a bit of him.”
Baretto hit .233 in 32 major league games this year, but hit .273 (15-for-55) from June 16 to Aug. 3. In Triple-A, Barreto hit .258 with 18 home runs, 16 doubles and 46 RBIs in 77 games. He doesn’t have to play winter ball, Forst said, to prove anything to the organization.
“He’s always going to be part of the equation here,” Forst said. “He has been for a couple years now. He has a lot of fans throughout the organization who think he’s going to be an outstanding major league player. He’ll be part of any equation that we have for next year’s club.”
The question for the offseason will be how ready the organization thinks both of the youngsters are. That will impact what kinds of contracts will be offered to Lowrie and Lucroy. Lowrie has a big fan in Beane, and Lucroy has a lot of fans on the pitching staff, especially Daniel Mengden, a former catcher, who appreciates the kind of framing he gets from Lucroy, as well as his game calling.
“To have the kind of offensive season [Lowrie] did and to set such a great example for the rest of the lineup, and Luc, Luc changed the pitching staff the day he got there in spring training,” Beane said. “We spent a lot of time working on getting that contract done and getting him in time to be ready to start the season, and he made an impact right away. Obviously, both of those guys will be a big part of our conversations over the next month.”
Khris Davis isn’t a free agent until after next season, but there have already been conversations to bring back the big league home run leader long-term. Over the last four seasons, he’s hit .247 every single year, and at least 27 homers. He’s surpassed 40 homers each of the last three seasons, and led all of baseball with a career-high 48 in 2018.
“We’re aware of his value to the club, and we’ve stated it during the season,” Beane said. “We’ve had some preliminary conversations about keeping him around longer. That’ll be part of the conversations with David, myself, Bob and the rest of the staff have. I know he’s going to hit .247 next year. We can count on that consistency, and we also know he’s probably going to hit 40 home runs, too, which, big fan of the home run.”
As for starting pitching, though both Forst and Beane said they haven’t talked specifically about adding a big-name starter, they did say that they are aware of the team’s construction. Oakland used 15 different starters, including two relievers to start games, this season, and will be without ace Sean Manaea for much of next season due to a shoulder injury.
“We don’t ever rule anything out,” Forst said. “Honestly, it’s too soon to talk specifics. We have a lot of internal things, a lot of things to take care of. I cannot say we’ve talked about a specific like that.”
That said, the team was aware early on that the bullpen would be a strength, and went about adding to it in July as the team made a run. Bullpenning — or using an opener — was a matter of necessity this year, but Beane said it’s likely to continue into the future, as it seems to be a trend in baseball.
Injured pitching: Forst and Beane gave updates on former Pac-12 pitching stars James Kaprielian (UCLA) and Daulton Jefferies (Cal). Kaprielian, Oakland’s No. 9 prospect, underwent Tommy John surgery in April of 2017, as did Jefferies, the A’s No. 14 prospect.
Kaprielian is throwing in the instructional league on Friday, a big step forward for him. Jefferies will throw through the end of instructional leagues, and will then have a normal offseason.
“Hopefully, he comes in ready to pitch next spring,” Forst said fo Jefferies.
Grant Holmes — the A’s No. 15 prospect — was scheduled to throw in the Arizona Fall League, but he will have his shoulder re-examined.
Left-hander Jesus Luzardo, the organization’s top prospect, will “come into spring training and be a factor,” Forst said. “I don’t think we have to hide that.”
Forst said Luzardo is “one of if not the top left-handed pitching prospect in the game,” and expects that he’ll come into spring training and be a factor for the club.
“He was a factor last year in spring training when he was 20-years old,” Beane added.