OAKLAND — Approximately 38½ hours after the A’s season had ended at Yankee Stadium, the organization’s three-headed brain trust sat in the room that usually serves as the team’s indoor batting cage, and discussed the surprising success and abrupt end of the 2018 campaign.
It was interesting. The higher the rank among the three, the more casual their dress. Executive vice president Billy Beane, the dapper puppet master who was played by Brad Pitt in A Major Motion Picture, wore a shimmery sweatsuit. Down-to-earth manager Bob Melvin, who still hits infield before games, was the most formal of the three; he slicked back his hair and put on a dress shirt. General manager David Forst wore jeans, and a sweatshirt over his button-down, trying to plant a foot in each world.
It was as if everyone was trying to prove they aren’t who you think they are. And what about the A’s? Are they team we think they are? Or more to the point, what DO we think they are?
As the Athletics look ahead to 2019, they see power bats and one of the best young infields in baseball. But their pitching staff is a question mark the size of Mount Davis.
You figure Blake Treinen and Mike Fiers and Lou Trivino and Ryan Buchter will be around for the start of the next season. But most of other names in the conversation are either free agents (Jeurys Familia, Edwin Jackson, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Shawn Kelley), or guys who will be coming back from major injuries (Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman, Jharel Cotton, Andrew Triggs, Paul Blackburn), or pitchers who may not have gained the trust of their manager (Fernando Rodney), or dudes who are arbitration-eligible and of undetermined value (Liam Hendriks, Daniel Mengden, Chris Bassitt).
The A’s won’t have sorted out their rotational plan by the start of the 2019 regular season, and probably not by early June, and possibly not by next August. And underlying the investigation into who will compose the Oakland rotation is a more fundamental question: What, exactly, is an MLB rotation these days?
The A’s, helped by teams like Tampa Bay and Milwaukee, introduced the “bullpen game” and the “opener game” into the sports lexicon this season. They won 97 games without any single pitcher making more than 27 starts, or throwing more than 161 innings, or racking up more than 12 wins. The entire staff logged a grand total of two complete games.
Is that what we can expect in 2019, too? Well, it depends whom you listen to. Beane and Melvin both suggested that bullpenning is (a) the wave of the future, and (b) something the A’s did out of necessity in 2018. But they emphasized different sides of the coin.
“We were trying to do the best we could with what we had,” Melvin said.
You can see why he might have mixed emotions about bullpenning. It’s a headache for the manager, with additional analysis of who is throwing well at any given time, more nuts-and-bolts decision making during games, and a greater chance of pushback from the pitchers.
Beane, though he clearly likes and admires Melvin, might not be particularly sympathetic to these burdens. In Oakland, it’s his way or I-880.