Courtesy of David Durochik/Getty Images
Last season, the Oakland Athletics lost more than 100 games (102 to be exact) for the first time since 1979. Unfortunately for A's fans, the 2023 sequel could be even more horrifying.
Oakland enters the season with serious question marks — and that's putting it nicely — at every position. To make matters worse, the rest of the AL West got better, with the exception of the Houston Astros. But then again, all they did was win the World Series so they might still be decent.
Let's begin with the pitching staff. Manager Mark Kotsay surprised just about everyone when he named 23-year-old Kyle Muller as his Opening Day starter.
Even Muller himself was caught off guard.
“(He) didn't really believe me in the beginning,” Kotsay joked.
https://twitter.com/ NBCSAthletics/status/ 1640108923964256256?s=20
Now let's be clear — Muller has a bright future in MLB. The 6-foot-7 left-hander was the key piece coming back from the Atlanta Braves in the Sean Murphy trade.
But with just 49 big-league innings under his belt and a career 5.14 ERA, Muller doesn't yet inspire a ton of confidence as a team's No. 1 starter.
Fellow southpaw Ken Waldichuk fits into that same category — big upside, but unproven. The 25-year-old went 2-2 with a 4.93 ERA in seven starts last season. Oakland is counting on a big step forward this year.
Right-hander James Kaprielian will also slot into the rotation, along with either JP Sears or Adam Oller, at least until Paul Blackburn returns from a fingernail injury.
And then there's Shintaro Fujinami, perhaps the most intriguing player on the entire roster. Fuji, as he's known by teammates, signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal (a.k.a. a max contract in A's terms) after starring in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball since 2013.
The 28-year-old right-hander will only pitch once a week for Oakland and the rest of the rotation will adjust when necessary.
If nothing else, Fujinami should bring some much-needed excitement to a team struggling to maintain its fan base.
The Athletics' bullpen combined for a 4.31 ERA last year, the seventh-worst in baseball. With most of the same pieces returning in 2023, the pen could be an adventure again, and not the fun kind.
But hey, at least Jeurys Familia is back to remind us of better times!
Oakland did add a few veteran bats over the offseason, most notably Jesús Aguilar and Aledmys Díaz. Aguilar, 32, was an All-Star in 2018 with the Milwaukee Brewers, finishing that season with 35 home runs and 108 RBI. Those numbers have come down a bit in recent years, with the homer total dipping to 16 last season between Miami and Baltimore.
A's fans are probably at least somewhat familiar with Díaz, who spent the last four seasons with the rival Astros. A career .266 hitter, Díaz belted 12 home runs in 92 games last year.
Outfielder Esteury Ruiz might be the most exciting newcomer to watch in the lineup. The 24-year-old was another piece of the Murphy trade with Atlanta and his speed is truly a sight to behold.
“You're going to watch a kid come out and do some things on the basepaths that haven't been done here probably since Rickey Henderson,” Kotsay said.
Unfortunately, it's hard to see those additions significantly improving an offense that averaged just 3.5 runs per game last season, the second-fewest in the majors ahead of only the lowly Detroit Tigers.
A's fans, you don't need me to tell you that it's a tough time for the Green and Gold. Between the ballpark drama and the likelihood of another 100-loss season, this is not a franchise for the faint of heart.
But at the very least, it's finally baseball season.
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