The A's might have just received the best Christmas present they could have ever asked for.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane told the San Francisco Examiner that starting pitcher Sean Manaea, initially expected to miss the entire 2019 season following shoulder surgery, potentially could return as soon as the All-Star break in July.
"We need starters, but with guys like Sean, we've got a process of rehab that we've got to follow through," Beane told The Examiner. "Optimistically, and I think we should be optimistic because it sounds like the surgery went well, we're hoping there's a chance Sean will be there at the All-Star break."
Manaea, 26, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his pitching shoulder in September, ending the best season of his career. The left-hander went 12-9 with a 3.59 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 27 starts, even tossing a no-hitter against the future World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
A mid-season return by Manaea would provide an incredible boost for the A's, who have labeled starting pitching as their top priority this offseason. With fellow starters Jharel Cotton and A.J. Puk also expected to return midway through the season, Oakland's rotation could transform from a weakness to a strength for the stretch run.
Just last week, the A's projected starting rotation featured Daniel Mengden, Frankie Montas, Paul Blackburn, Chris Bassitt and Jesús Luzardo. Now we could be looking at Manaea, Puk, Cotton, Luzardo and Mike Fiers come August. Combine that with a deep and talented bullpen, and the A's could have something special.
Of course, there's no guarantee Manaea will return to full strength right away, and there's always the possibility of a setback in his recovery. But Beane seems to be optimistic and, by all accounts, Manaea's surgery and rehab have gone extremely well to this point.
"As far as all the stages that he has to take, those things can change," Beane told The Examiner. "But we're looking at an end date, potentially, possibly, the All-Star break, and hope for the best during rehab at that point."
Beane told the Examiner he plans to seek additional starting pitchers this offseason in order to add depth. As it stands now, the A's still have just six or seven healthy starters. They probably would like to get that number to eight or nine by Opening Day, as additional injuries are almost inevitable.
Fortunately for Oakland, reinforcements are on the way.