With New, And Old, Faces, Athletics Hope To Contend Again

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – The Oakland Athletics are accustomed to playing from the bottom.

Two last-place finishes in the AL West and too many injuries to count have left the low-budget club playing to catch up with the rest of the division.

“It’s just kind of who we are and who we’ve been, at least the last 10 years or so. It’s a lot of younger guys, younger guys getting a chance to perform. That’s the way we do it here,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We’re not afraid to be that underdog. Sometimes being under the radar, certainly to start the season, might not be a bad thing.”

At 69-93, Oakland had one more win last season than in 2015 during another year of injuries and big-name departures.

Speedy AL stolen bases leader Rajai Davis received a $6 million, one-year contract to return to the A’s for the first time since 2010 after losing the World Series with Cleveland.

He’s ready to help the A’s contend again.

“New season, new team, new hopes,” Davis said. “High hopes for something big.”

Here are some things to watch for as Oakland gets ready to open a new season:

NEW FACES: From a few new – and old for that matter – faces in Santiago Casilla, Davis and Adam Rosales – to Matt Joyce and Trevor Plouffe, Oakland has a new look coming into a year during which it’s believed they must overachieve to contend in the AL West.

“Guys who have been here before and know how we do things,” Melvin said. “That goes a long way when we do things a little bit differently here. We have to use all 25. We’re not going to be a team that’s going to dominate with three or four high-payroll guys.”

The 36-year-old Davis brings a speed element Oakland can really use at the top of the order.

Davis hit a tying two-run homer off Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning of Game 7 against the champion Cubs. With 43 stolen bases, he became the fourth-oldest player to lead the league in steals after Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson in 1998 and Eddie Collins in 1923 and ’24.

GRAY’S FRUSTRATION: Ace right-hander Sonny Gray had high hopes for a fast start after the frustration of last season.

Now, he’s hurt again and will begin the season on the disabled list. The A’s shut him down for three weeks starting March 9 because of a lat strain and general manager David Forst said there’s no timetable for the pitcher beyond the preliminary stretch.

A year ago, he was scratched from his scheduled opening day outing because of food poisoning and never had the kind of season he envisioned as the leader of the rotation.

He spent two stints on the DL and went 5-11 with a 5.69 ERA on the heels of back-to-back 14-win campaigns. Gray, who received a $3,575,000, one-year contract to avoid arbitration, initially had plans to pitch for the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic.

HOPE RENEWED: An entire offseason management shuffle that led to Dave Kaval becoming the new team president and public face of the franchise has meant so much. From office hours with fans to legitimate hope for a new ballpark at last and improvements to the Coliseum until then, Kaval has brought an appreciated energy.

Fan Fest was held at Jack London Square, not far from the Howard Terminal site being considered for a new ballpark.

“I grew up a Giants fan, and you remember hearing rumblings when the Giants got a new stadium, oh, the A’s are next. That was 20 years ago almost,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “The ball’s getting rolled. The right things are being said in regards to moving to a new stadium. I think it’s a good thing for the city of Oakland.”

CLOSER OPTIONS: From Sean Doolittle, Casilla, John Axford and Ryan Dull, Melvin has options for the late innings even if he might mix and match at times.

“We have some depth there and it should be a strength of our team for sure,” he said.

RICKEY’S FIELD: The A’s will play on Rickey Henderson Field in the Coliseum, named for the Hall of Famer and base-stealing guru.

“I was honored, I was shocked,” Henderson said, “that they wanted to name the field after me, the field that I played on. The kid that grew up in Oakland would never think that he would ever get a field named after him, especially a major league field.”

___

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

[graphiq id=”iYItZVBYSdn” title=”Oakland Athletics” width=”600″ height=”747″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/iYItZVBYSdn” link_text=”Graphiq” ]

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