Optimistic A's target bullpen help in offseason

Optimistic A's target bullpen help in offseason

OAKLAND -- Buoyed by an encouraging second half, the A's are heading into the offseason optimistic as ever.

Despite succumbing to a last-place division standing for a third straight year, the A's are thrilled with the direction of the club and will act accordingly this winter, hoping to build off a finish that featured 17 wins in their final 24 games.

Developing homegrown talent -- the kind that uplifted them after the All-Star break, a la Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Chad Pinder -- will continue to be the focus, meaning the A's, typically overactive in the hibernating months, don't expect to make thunderous changes to their roster after going 40-39 since July 4.

Chapman's two-run homer

"The balance this offseason is we want to stay disciplined long-term," A's executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane said Monday morning. "We had a number of guys who came up and performed well, and we have some more guys coming. Next year will be an advancement of what we did this year."

This lessens the likelihood of major pitching additions, notably to a young starting staff that endured growing pains this year and posted a 4.67 ERA, 12th worst in the American League. Beane and general manager David Forst did not rule out signing a veteran free agent to stabilize this group, but they also like the prospect of forging on with what they've got.

That includes Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman, Paul Blackburn, Daniel Mengden, Jharel Cotton, Daniel Gossett and Andrew Triggs.

"I think we've seen enough out of a lot of these guys to think they'll improve," Forst said. "These guys are young and inexperienced, so with age and experience, we think they can get better.

Graveman's stellar outing

"You have to bring in the right guy in that situation. Not just any veteran or experienced guy can come in and play that role, so we'll certainly survey the market and be opportunistic, but it has to be the right kind of guy to fill a role like that."

Added Beane: "It was the one area that we were disappointed in the development, but I agree there are guys there with ability, and it would probably behoove us to choose from that group of players as opposed to just going out with the risk of the free-agent market, given the cost and injuries."

A's top pitching prospect A.J. Puk could be an option midseason next year, and James Kaprielian, acquired in the Sonny Gray deal and recovering from Tommy John surgery, is another prospective arm to add.

That leaves the bullpen as the main area to target help this winter, with manager Bob Melvin mentioning a left-handed specialist and another setup man to complement Chris Hatcher could be on the team's wish list.

The A's brain trust feels the offense is largely set. Second baseman Jed Lowrie's club option will be picked up, leaving top position prospect Franklin Barreto out of the mix. Forst, however, was quick to say, "I don't think it would be the worse thing in the world for Frankie to get some more time." Barreto, still just 21, plans to play winter ball in Venezuela.

In other gray areas, Melvin said he likes the potential for a right field combination of veteran Matt Joyce and Pinder.

Joyce's nice diving catch

In center, the A's have several options, notably Dustin Fowler, also a product of the Gray trade. Fowler is expected to be fully recovered from knee surgery by the time camp opens, putting him front and center of a competition that will also include Boog Powell and Jake Smolinski.

"We certainly feel like we're in a different position than we were a year ago," Forst said. "That said, we improved by six games. We still have a long way to go to get where some of the other teams in our division are. But we'll spend the next month or two evaluating and analyzing exactly who the guys are who are everyday players, who we can write in every day and where we have to upgrade."

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.