A’s new-look infield: Uprgraded, Defined & Set for 2016
The Oakland Athletic’s infield was not their strongest units last season. Shortstop Marcus Semien led the league in errors with 35. Second baseman Ben Zobrist was traded at the July 31 trade deadline. Brett Lawrie, who started out playing third base, ended the season playing second base with the arrival of Danny Valencia, whom the A’s picked up off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays. First base was a revolving door of Rule 5 rookie Mark Canha, Billy Butler and starting catcher Stephen Vogt. Even Ike Davis spent time at first base before a season-ending injury.
The Athletics have since secured what they hope to be a strong, successful and new-look infield for 2016. First, the A’s re-acquired Jed Lowrie, who is slated to be the team’s starting second baseman. He first played with the A’s in 2013 after being traded to Oakland by the Houston Astros. After being granted free agency after the 2014 season, Lowrie signed a three-year deal to go back to Houston. In November, he was traded back to Oakland for minor league pitcher Brendan McCurry.
With the switch-hitting Lowrie back to take over second base, the A’s infield was left overcrowded. To make room, Oakland traded Brett Lawrie to the Chicago White Sox for a pair of minor league pitchers in left-hander Zack Erwin and right-hander J.B. Wendelken, continuing to deepen their pitching depth, opting to keep Valencia as their 2016 third baseman.
Those moves have provided the A’s with a proven second baseman and a clutch-hitting third baseman. When Valencia joined the Athletics, he brought with him a .296 batting average and his timely hitting provided some elusive one-run victories. There were also rumors of issues in the clubhouse, and while no names have ever been cited, it was Lawrie who was the traded, so draw your own conclusions. Valencia is set to be the A’s starting third baseman.
The A’s then traded right-handed long-reliever and part-time starter Drew Pomeranz, along with minor leaguers Jose Torres and Jabari Blash, to San Diego to obtain first baseman Yonder Alonso as well as a left-handed specialist for their bullpen in reliever Marc Rzepczynski. It appears that Alonso will spend the most time at first base, leaving the DH spot for Butler and the catching duties to Vogt, while Canha will likely spend more time in left field filling in for Coco Crisp, who suffers from a chronic neck injury. The club did not tender a contract to Ike Davis.
Canha will also play at first at times; while the Athletic’s like Alonso’s defensive prowess at first – GM David Forst called him, “one of the best defensive first basemen in the game, if not the best” – he hit just five home runs last season. He doesn’t profile as your typical power-hitting corner outfielder. Canha can provide that power, having hit 16 homers in his rookie season, when he is not filling in in left field.
Much to the surprise of many, Marcus Semien will retain his position as the A’s starting shortstop despite his error-laden 2015 season. He made great strides over the course of the season, working overtime with special infield assistant-turned-third base coach Ron Washington on his throws and footwork. In fact, after Washington re-joined the A’s staff at the end of May, Semien decreased his number of errors over the course of the season dramatically from 12 errors in the month of May to just two in the month of September.
The A’s intend to, and it appears they likely will, have a much stronger and solidified infield in 2016. It certainly will help the players who know going into spring training what their roles will be and there is obvious improvement at each infield position. The Athletics hope that the changes they’ve made will help them end the 2016 season out of the AL West cellar.