During the off-season, the most pressing concern for the Oakland A’s is at shortstop. The A’s are in desperate need of finding a starter, because at the moment, they do not appear to have even a below-average everyday shortstop on the team.
However, after they plug this hole, what other positions of concern might the A’s address during free agency or through a trade?
Starting pitching remains a slight concern, as Oakland would love to have the same sort of depth that it enjoyed in 2012, but it is still only a minor issue. Even if Bartolo Colon implodes post-suspension, the A’s will still have a couple of quality options to plug into the end of the rotation to fill his spot.
So what positions should worry Oakland besides shortstop?
Third base and catcher stand out as areas of more than a little concern.
To be clear, Josh Donaldson at third and Derek Norris at catcher have earned the right to be the starters on Opening Day. Both guys played extremely well down the stretch, with Donaldson in particular swinging a hot bat during the final playoff push. Norris, although he struggled mightily in the batter’s box, seemed to get better and better at catching Oakland’s young pitchers as the year wore on.
However, while there is plenty of room for optimism at the positions, the A’s could use a good insurance policy at both third base and catcher, just in case either guy struggles the way Jemile Weeks did at second during his rookie campaign.
Consider the final numbers for Donaldson – .241 average, .289 OBP and 61 strikeouts in only 294 plate appearances. Those stats are not good. The numbers for Norris are even worse – .201 BA, .276 OBP and 66 strikeouts in only 232 plate appearances.
Despite those statistics, Oakland probably feels that Donaldson can be a very productive hitter. After all, he did hit .344 in August and .259 in September, with 8 total home runs over that timeframe. In addition, after switching from catcher, he kept improving his defense at third base as the season progressed, and at times looked downright impressive at the hot corner.
Clearly Donaldson has great upside, but what if he fails to live up to his late season production and instead lives down to the abysmal showing he had early in the season? The A’s would do well to invest in a backup plan.
Similarly, Norris has nice upside, particularly behind the plate. Catching rookie pitcher day after day could not have been an easy task, but he called great games and did a nice job defensively (until he suffered a minor meltdown in the ALDS). He never posted great offensive numbers, but he has solid power in his bat. Oakland must be hoping that experience will help Norris post better offensive stats in year two in the majors.
However, like Donaldson, there is the possibility that Norris does not pan out. If he continues to be a strikeout machine at the plate, where do the A’s turn? George Kottaras is Norris without the upside, so the answer is not inside the club.
Ultimately, teams with Oakland’s payroll usually need to take chances that guys like Donaldson and Norris will live up to their potential. Quality insurance policies cost money, and the A’s do not have a lot to spend. However, once the shortstop situation is nailed down, Oakland should scour the market to see what kind of bargains it can find on catchers and third baseman.
With any luck, Norris and Donaldson will be quality starters, but if they struggle, the difference between the A’s playing in the postseason and watching it from couches might be the quality of the backup plans in place.