Oakland A’s outlook: Will their young roster be competitive enough to avoid another 100-loss season

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The 2023 Oakland A’s had a season to forget. For the second straight year they lost more than 100 games, finishing with an MLB-worst 50-112 record. Even with the poor performance, they still didn’t even land the top pick in this year’s MLB Draft under the new Draft Lottery system, instead getting the fourth overall selection.

While the on-the-field product was the worst since the team moved to Oakland, it was the off-the-field news that grabbed everyone’s attention. The A’s announced in April that they were turning their full attention to Las Vegas in their quest for a new ballpark, and by June they had secured $380 million in public funding for the project. Not a ton has happened on the A’s to Vegas front since then, outside of the MLB owners unanimously voting to approve the relocation, which is procedural.

Funding the ballpark’s construction seems to be the biggest hurdle at the moment, so having permission to move isn’t helping a whole lot. If you were given permission to buy a Tesla but nobody was going to finance you for the car, then you’re still not getting a Tesla. There are still hurdles that need to be cleared before the A’s land in Vegas.

But today we’re talking about the team on the field. Last year Brent Rooker surprised everyone and hit 30 home runs in the first real consistent playing time of his career, proving to himself and to everyone else that he belongs in The Show. Zack Gelof came up at after the All Star break and hit 14 home runs and 14 steals, which is leaving fans dreaming of a 30/30 season over a full season. Esteury Ruiz, the centerpiece of last off-season’s Sean Murphy deal, set the AL rookie record for stolen bases in a season with 67. The question for Ruiz will be whether he can tap into his power potential in 2024.

Let’s take a look at what the A’s have done this winter, their outlook for 2024, and give you one under-the-radar player to keep an eye on for the upcoming season.

Oakland A’s additions and subtractions

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The Oakland A’s haven’t been terribly active this winter, but they appear to have added some slight upgrades to the roster. They’ve only signed one free agent — veteran Trevor Gott for $1.5 million — but this team’s success or failure will be dependent upon how the young guys perform this season.

Gott will essentially be taking the bullpen spot of Trevor May, who retired after the season and then subsequently told A’s owner John Fisher to “Sell the team.” The A’s will also be without left-hander Kirby Snead, who elected minor-league free agency and signed on with the Seattle Mariners. The A’s took a chance on Drew Rucinski in his return stateside from the KBO last winter and it didn’t pan out. He’s also a free agent. James Kaprielian and Kevin Smith both elected minor-league free agency, with Smith landing a deal with the New York Yankees.

Veteran leader and all-around good guy Tony Kemp is still on the free agent market after a down year that involved some bad luck statistically. It’s possible that the A’s could bring him back because of his clubhouse presence, but there isn’t a position where he’d see much playing time with the way the roster is currently constructed.

In addition to Gott, the A’s also traded for Abraham Toro and selected Miguel Andújar off waivers, giving the A’s three new faces with a chance at regular playing time. They also brought in right-hander Mitch Spence with the first pick in the Rule 5 Draft, and he figures to make the club out of Spring Training, but his role is up for debate. He could be either a starter or operate out of the bullpen as a long-man.

Over the past couple of weeks the A’s have also brought in some veterans that fit a certain mold: They had to have played with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and most recently the San Francisco Giants. Such is the case for starters Alex Wood and Ross Stripling, plus veteran reliever Scott Alexander. All three will help provide some stability to a young group.

Oakland A’s 2024 Outlook

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Credit: Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

The oddsmakers over at BetOnline have the Oakland A’s over/under set at 57.5 wins this season, which would be a pretty decent improvement but still have them finishing with over 100 losses.

The addition of Gott brings in a career league average reliever, which is actually an upgrade for the team after last year’s club finished with the second-worst ERA in baseball at 5.48, ahead of just the Colorado Rockies. If you adjust for the park factors, the A’s were worse by far. The additions of Gott Alexander should help stabilize that group a bit.

The A’s are also planning to move highly-touted prospect Mason Miller to the bullpen, potentially as the team’s closer, in an effort to get him through a season healthy. This is the same route they took with the oft-injured A.J. Puk before trading him to the Miami Marlins. Miller could be a real difference-maker in the back-end of the ‘pen, along with other solid arms like Lucas Erceg, Zach Jackson, and Dany Jiménez. There is also a lot of injury history in that group.

On the position player side, there are some interesting pieces at play here, but finding regular at-bats for everyone is going to be tricky. Ryan Noda had a solid first season in the bigs for Oakland last year, posting a 123 wRC+ (100 is league average) and we could see a little more power from him in year two. Catcher Shea Langeliers seemed to find his power stroke in the final two months of the season as well. Tyler Soderstrom, the A’s top prospect, debuted at the same time as Gelof, but he didn’t produce the same results on the field as his second base counterpart. With Noda at first and Langeliers behind the dish, the 22-year-old could begin the season in Triple-A.

This year’s A’s team is going to be judged by the improvements that the younger members of the roster make. This year isn’t necessarily about taking a huge jump, but instead finding out which players will be sticking around long term.

Speaking of long-term, as of right now it looks like this will be the A’s final season in Oakland as their lease expires following the season. The A’s landed in Oakland in 1968. You can expect A’s fans to continue to grab headlines throughout the season as they already have an Opening Day boycott in the works in which everyone just sits outside of the park with “SELL” flags.

Oakland A’s player to watch in 2024

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There are a number of players that could break out on this team. Nobody saw Rooker’s 30 bombs coming. In fact, many were surprised he made the team out of camp.

If we wanted to go the easy route, we could take Mason Miller, who can dial up triple digits with pinpoint accuracy. Too easy. Luis Medina is another highly talented right-hander that showed flashes last season, and while he’s out of options and likely to find a spot on the club throughout the course of the season, he may take some growing pains in 2024.

The Oakland A’s player to watch this coming season is Joe Boyle. While A’s fans will likely agree with the pick, most baseball fans are left to ask, “Who?” Boyle came to Oakland at the trade deadline from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for reliever Sam Moll. Oakland has a tendency to acquire guys with good stuff but high walks rates in the hope that they can help their command a bit. In Boyle’s case, it seemed to have worked.

The 6-foot-7 righthander was walking 19.3% of the batters he faced in Double-A with the Reds. After the trade, he shot through the A’s system and made his big-league debut on September 17th against the red-hot Padres. He went three innings, gave up one hit, walked two, and struck out four, including Fernando Tatís Jr. twice. He got two more starts to finish out the season, culminating with him taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Angels. He ended up allowing two hits and three runs in the inning, which accounted for the first runs he’d given up in the majors. Boyle finished the season with a 1.69 ERA in 16 innings and his walk rate against big leaguers was 8.3%.

The reason that he’s the Oakland A’s player to watch this season is that last year the starting rotation really struggled to provide any length whatsoever for the first month of the season, which in turn hurt the bullpen and left the team without a crop of fresh arms each game. Boyle provided some hope for 2024 with how he came up and dominated big-league hitters at the end of last season. He may not post a 1.69 ERA over a full season, but he may be the most intriguing arm in the A’s rotation this season. He had a clearer path to a rotation spot before the additions of Stripling and Wood, but there is still one slot left that needs to be filled to start the season. It may go to Luis Medina initially since he is out of options, but Boyle should see plenty of time in Oakland in 2024.

Jason Burke covers MLB for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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