As recently as the 2014 season, the Oakland Athletics were legitimate contenders in the American League. The A’s finished 88-74 that season, good for second place in the AL West standings.
The club had taken the division crown the two previous seasons. In 2014 they were again in the postseason after capturing an AL Wildcard berth.
In that 2014 American League Wildcard Game against the Kansas City Royals, the A’s took a seemingly comfortable 7-3 lead into the bottom of the 8th inning.
The Royals rallied for three in the 8th and a run in the 9th to send the contest into extra innings. In the top of the 12th, Oakland scored to regain the lead. But Kansas City fought back once again, scoring twice in the bottom of the frame for a dramatic walkoff victory.
The loss would prove deflating for the entire Oakland organization, which has not recovered. The following year, the A’s sank to the bottom of the American League standings. Then a year ago, the A’s again finished at the bottom of the West Division.
Just three weeks ago, Baseball America released their annual MLB Organizational Talent Rankings. Oakland finished just 17th in all of baseball, which is actually their highest finish in at least the last seven years.
Unfortunately for the team and their fans in the Bay area, the Oakland A’s have fallen, and they can’t get up. At least not any time soon.
LINEUP STRUGGLES TO SCORE
The biggest culprit is the everyday lineup. In 2016, the A’s finished at the bottom of the American League statistical rankings in Runs and OPS, and next-to-last in Steals. This demonstrated that there was little in either power or speed with which to attack opposing pitchers.
The 2017 lineup is slated to feature 29-year old left fielder Khris Davis and 26-year old shortstop Marcus Semien as the only true proven power sources.
25-year old Ryon Healy banged 13 homers after making his big league debut in mid-July. He will likely fill the DH role this year, backing up at both the first and third base positions.
Oakland signed Rajai Davis as a free agent to patrol center field. While his best days are behind him, the now 36-year old did swipe 43 bags with the Cleveland Indians a year ago.
HOPE FROM A YOUNG ROTATION
Assuming health, the pitching staff is not bad. 27-year old Sonny Gray needs to bounce back. 25-year old lefty Sean Manaea showed promise in his rookie campaign. 26-year old Kendall Graveman looks like he can at least be a reliable back of the rotation option.
Oakland is counting on 25-year old rookie Jharel Cotton to step up and take on a rotation role. He arrived in last summer’s big trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Josh Reddick.
The bullpen will be relying heavily on a trio of relievers who are now all north of 30 years of age in Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, and John Axford.
MONEYBALL DAYS ARE LONG GONE
GM Billy Beane could use a couple of his veterans as trade chips, but none would appear capable of bringing back impact talent. The one piece that could do so would be Gray, if he comes out strong. But if he does, the A’s might consider trying to keep the righty and build a rotation around him moving forward.
Beane is no longer the “Moneyball” innovator that he was a decade ago. The rest of baseball has caught on fully to the modern concepts of advanced statistical evaluation. He is going to have to find a way to turn this around the old-fashioned way: a slow rebuild through the draft and opportunistic trades.
As I wrote back in November, it does appear that there is finally real hope on the horizon for a much-needed and long overdue new ballpark in Oakland.
That hope comes from the presence of a new management team in John Fisher and Dave Kaval. The new heads in the front office need to sell the passionate Oakland fan base on a future that includes that new park, and young prospects such as shortstop Franklin Barretto.
If you squint, you can envision the Athletics winning again in a new Bayside ballpark with exciting young players and pitchers. But you are going to need to squint really hard, because that vision appears to still be at least a few years off.