A's look to bolster 'pen as GM Meetings open

A's look to bolster 'pen as GM Meetings open

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Relief help remains a priority for the up-and-coming A's, who plan to spend the winter augmenting a young roster that's shaping into a future contender.

The club's decision-makers forecasted a relatively quiet offseason, but rarely is that the case under their watch. Executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane has a knack for bold maneuverings, leaving his followers in wait-and-see mode around this time of year.

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Beane and A's general manager David Forst arrived Monday at the General Managers Meetings, a three-day affair that often allows baseball executives from around the game to lay groundwork for deals. Sometimes, they're consummated on the spot.

"We've already had plenty of conversations with teams," Forst said Monday. "You look at our roster, we'd like to make some additions in the bullpen through trades or free agency. We need to continue to support a young starting staff."

A's future rotation prospects

A right-handed-hitting outfielder is also on the A's wish list, Forst said, intimating that he expected conversations with potential targets to pick up in the coming weeks. However, the biggest area of concern is the bullpen.

At season's end, it was made clear that the A's would seek a setup man and a left-handed specialist to fill the void left by the departures of veterans Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle in a July trade with Washington.

"We need more depth," Forst said. "Obviously, trading Sean and Ryan hurt some of the depth down there and if you're going to have a young starting staff and ask a lot of them, you want to be able to support them when they give you a lead."

A young A's rotation collectively struggled, posting a 4.74 ERA and tallying just 877 2/3 innings. The bullpen was subsequently overworked and outdone. A relief group that compiled a 4.57 ERA was asked to work 553 1/3 innings, seventh-most in the American League.

The rotation's disappointing performance, the A's hope, can largely be attributed to growing pains. The team plans to stick with their young arms entering the 2018 campaign, believing that outside help is not a priority. That wouldn't prevent the A's from reeling in a low-cost veteran starter should the opportunity present itself, however.

"We had this exact conversation about a month ago and nothing's changed," Forst said. "We have a lot of depth and talent, we just need to figure out who the five guys are [for the rotation]."

Manaea's 2017 season, potential

The A's payroll suggests they have spending flexibility for 2018, though that will have to be balanced with their desire to follow through with a rebuild. The free-agent relief market is abundant this winter, and the A's have not shied away from committing payroll for bullpen arms; following the 2014 offseason, they committed a combined $32 million to Madson and John Axford.

The A's have $18 million of guaranteed money on the books for next year -- $6 million each to Jed Lowrie, Matt Joyce and Santiago Casilla -- and are expected to owe Khris Davis roughly $11 million in arbitration. Based on projections made by MLB Trade Rumors, the A's are likely to dish out a total of $14 million to their other arbitration-eligible players, bringing the grand total to $43 million.

Top-tier setup options are likely to include Addison Reed, Mike Minor, Brandon Morrow and Brandon Kintzler, with former A's Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek among those in the next tier, along with Tony Watson, Koji Uehara, Bryan Shaw, David Hernandez, Anthony Swarzak and Steve Cishek.

There's also growing speculation that the A's could dangle corner infielder Ryon Healy in a trade for relief help, which would allow them to utilize Davis in a full-time designated hitter role. Keeping hold of their other young players, though, and perhaps locking some of them up to long-term deals is a must.

"It's something we're going to talk about over the course of the offseason," Forst said. "We obviously have some good foundational pieces, and we'll talk to them, but whether we sign them long-term or not, they're going to be here in 2018."

Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.