Editor’s note: Baseball is back and Yahoo Sports is previewing all 30 teams over the next month. This year’s previews will focus on fantasy and reality, as our MLB news staff and our fantasy baseball crew come together to assess each team before opening day. Next up, the Oakland Athletics.
The Oakland Athletics were the surprise team of 2018, competing for the AL West title, winning 97 games and getting into the wild-card game. Now the question is, can they do it again?
The 2019 version of the A’s face some of the same challenges and have some of the same strengths, among them Matt Chapman, who has sneakily become of the best players in the league and Khris Davis, who mashes homers with the best of them.
The A’s have some intriguing young pitchers on the way, but keeping them healthy has been the problem. Last year, they rode the likes of Edwin Jackson, Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill into the postseason. They’re still without ace Sean Manaea, who needed shoulder surgery. The promising Jharel Cotton should return from Tommy John surgery soon enough. Top prospect Jesus Luzardo is on his way too.
The young pitchers and the established mashers all make for good interesting fantasy options. In fantasy or reality, it’s still hard to count too much on the A’s when you just look at the names on the roster, which isn’t as much of a diss as it might sound.
At this point, it might seem like the A’s are better in the underdog role. - Mike Oz
A’s offseason grade
The most interesting move the A’s made this offseason was trading for former Texas Rangers hot-shot prospect Jurickson Profar. He’s a versatile guy who played every infield position for the Rangers last year, plus time at DH and in the outfield.
Profar has never lived up to the hype, but he’s now 26 and coming off his best season in the big leagues. If he’s able to finally breakout, the A’s could have gotten a steal. Elsewhere, they signed Marco Estrada, Robbie Grossman, Nick Hundley, who should all factor heavily into Oakland’s plans. Joakim Soria and Jerry Blevins added some depth to the bullpen.
Our grade - C: The A’s made some helpful moves, but the biggest thing they need is some healthy pitching. - Mike Oz
Oakland’s projected lineup and pitching staff
Who will be Oakland’s fantasy breakout?
Jesus Luzardo came over from the Washington Nationals in the Sean Doolittle deal and is one of the game’s best pitching prospects, posting dominant numbers throughout the minors (2.53 ERA with 177 strikeouts over 152 2/3 innings while always being young for his league). Owner of a strong fastball that consistently reached the mid-90s (and hit 98 mph at times) last year during his return from Tommy John surgery, Luzardo will make an immediate fantasy impact as soon as Oakland gives him the call. The southpaw’s hype is only increasing thanks to an impressive spring (0.93 ERA with 15 Ks over 9 2/3 innings), and he’s a legit Rookie of the Year candidate. - Dalton Del Don
Who is the A’s fantasy sleeper?
For an Opening Day starter who posted a 1.06 WHIP with an 8.8 K/9 rate after getting traded to Oakland last season, Mike Fiers is getting completely overlooked in fantasy drafts (ADP 243.1). He doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, but Fiers’ fly ball tendencies fit well in a home park that was among the leaders in decreasing home runs (by 15 percent) over the last three seasons, which should also lead to a helpful WHIP. Fiers will have the benefit of a terrific Oakland defense on his side as well, making him a strong SP flier in deeper fantasy leagues. - Dalton Del Don
A’s prospect to watch
It’s all about Luzardo. The 21-year-old Luzardo complements a fastball that hits 93 mph with an excellent changeup that should fool major-league hitters once the Athletics decide to call him up. That could prove to be soon. Given the team’s rotation, it’s not hyperbole to say Luzardo might already be the best starter on the team.
Things that MUST go right for Oakland
1. Healthy rotation: This could be said for all 30 teams, but it's especially true for the A's. Oakland's rotation was devastated by injuries last season, but overcame it by incorporating openers into the mix. What worked then isn't guaranteed to work again this season though. Considering they're already without Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton, the A's will need reliability and durability from a group that includes Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada and Brett Anderson.
2. Keep cranking homers: Even if the rotation holds up, Oakland will need another strong year from a lineup that helped them go toe-to-toe with the AL's best last season. In the end, the A's trailed only the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers in the home run department, mashing 227. The year before, they hit 234. They're clearly capable of leaving the yard in bunches, and that aspect might be even more critical in 2019.
3. Beat up the bad teams: This is one area the A's got ahead in last season. Oakland finished the season with a 64-25 record against sub-.500 teams. A record that good seems impossible to repeat or beat, but with the Seattle Mariners joining the list of AL teams in rebuilding mode there's an opportunity for Oakland to gain that edge again. - Mark Townsend
If this team had a walk-up song, what would it be?
With a city as rich with music history as Oakland, a Drake song isn’t going to cut it. There’s only one man to recruit here and his name is Too $hort. While most — OK, almost all — of Short Dog’s songs are a little too profane for our purposes here. Luckily, “I’m a Player” has a radio edit and and the bassline still smacks.
As for the A’s, they could very well be a player in the AL postseason hunt again. - Mike Oz