Did the farm system fail us?

For several years we've been told that a large part of the A's continued success was going to have to come from the farm system. That impact players through free agency just wasn't going to be a regular viable option, due to cost, etc. So, if that's the case, why was the farm system allowed to become so dreadfully depleted to begin with?

We're told the team's financial model is frugality, not cheapness. Ok, fine. I actually buy that to some degree, but I do wonder if cheapness still didn't creep in somewhere. It stands to reason that if more had been invested in the farm system all along (read Grover's fanpost about the investment trends the past few years), as the team has always said was their goal and policy, and as they're doing now, then maybe the team wouldn't have felt the need to go into such a deep rebuild mode for Rebuild #2 so quickly after Rebuild #1. Possibly, instead of trading Haren or Swisher or some of the others, they just might have had their own home grown players coming up now to fill the voids.

A little history...

Rebuild #1, 2004/05 off-season.  Not a full-blown re-build as is happening now, but a minor one.  One can play euphemism games with "re-tool" or "re-load", but it's kinda silly to do so and doesn't serve any purpose other than denial of reality.  Anyway, trading players like Hudson and Mulder brought back good prospects.  Enough of those good prospects panned out, along with some of the homegrown talent and some fill-in veterans, to keep the team winning and competitive for another couple years, including a shot in the ALCS.  Then... it all crashed.  But still, there was legitimate reason at the time to feel that it would be at least another 4-5 year run as the last run had been.  And I still feel that 2007 could have been a minor blip, rather than a complete crash-and-burn had the farm system been paid more attention.

In December 2004 a fan (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) posted...

I'm thinking the over/under for the 2005 A's should sit at 84 Wins.  2006 - 91 Wins.  2007 - 96 Wins.  2008 - 100 Wins.  2009 - 100 Wins.  That looks to me like 3-4 good runs at the playoffs and World Series.

Over the next 3 years, gradually say goodbye to Zito, Hatteberg, Durazo, Kendall, Byrnes, and Kotsay.  And gradually say hello to Blanton, Haren, Meyer, Swisher, Johnson, Thomas, D.Barton/Suzuki/Powell/Baker/Brown (5-Headed Catching Monster), and whomever else is undervalued within the MLB Ranks.

That's just how it's going to be, and I'm looking forward to the next 4-5 Years as an A's Fan.

Point being, there was alot of excitement, and justifiably so, IMHO.  Instead, we got the complete crash-and-burn, with no back-up, thus requiring...

Rebuild #2. 2008-2009 (or beyond?).  This one is different.  It couldn't be minor, it had to be major.  We were forced to unload virtually all of our star players *because* we had virtually nothing in the farm system to plug in.  Again, why?  Where was the ball dropped?  IIRC, there were some rule changes in the draft, and I'm sure that plays a part, but I don't accept that as a primary reason for the downfall of the farm system.  Nor would I accept the notion that it was all "bad luck" or that none panned out, etc.  If anything, I feel it was more a simple taking for granted that the system would always be there when needed.  Or, maybe an over-confidence of their own abilities to "make it happen" through trades, etc.  Don't get me wrong, I have alot of faith in Billy Beane and his colleagues, but no one is infallible, and the depletion of the farm system is an area where I feel it is justified to call them on.  Something Mr. Beane said a few years ago after Rebuild #1 stuck out to me...

Excerpt from:

Billy Beane: Back in AN Part I
by Blez on Jan 18, 2005

Blez:  This is related to that same topic-- so many in the media seemed to claim that you were participating in a Charlie Finley-style talent dump.  There is one person I'm thinking of who went on ESPNEWS and was saying that the A's were going to only win 60 games this year.  But from reading some of your comments in the media, you don't consider this a rebuilding, rather a retooling.  Can you explain how you view the two differently?

BB:  First of all, I'm not sure it's good management as a GM to rebuild, rebuild probably isn't the right word, but to start to make changes only after you've hit rock bottom.  Because it takes five, six, seven years to get out of that in a small market.  Those same people that criticize those preemptive moves are the same ones who spend the next three years wondering why you didn't do anything.  We were kind of going through a restructuring here last year with the number of rookies we brought onto the team any way.  I'm not sure that any of our fans want me to stand up at the podium and say, "Hey, we're getting rid of everybody.  We're going to lose 100 games over the next three years, now come and enjoy the show."  What we're trying to do is make sure that any dip in performance doesn't happen for five or six years and I've seen professional sports franchises do that.  You can think of some where the critics are saying, "Why didn't they do this three years ago?  Why didn't they do this two years ago?"  I've been through a situation when we needed to make moves and we didn't make them.  Back in 1992, I sat in a cab with Sandy Alderson when we won the division and people got emotional and we wanted to bring the entire team back to try and do it again.  I remember sitting there with him and we knew the smart thing to do at that point was to take a step back and start rebuilding.  We made the mistake of trying to bring the entire team back and it took us seven years to recover.  Our market is not going to handle that.  Understand that attendance percentage is basically based on winning.  Everything you can do to make sure that any dip in your performance in a year, you minimize that.  Because when you put together back to back to back losing seasons, then you've created a very apathetic situation that's very difficult to recover from.  If you're worried about what a couple of sportswriters say and let them make the decisions for you, you're an absolute coward and a fool.

Emphasis in bold mine.  ~UL

I believe he meant on the field as well as attendance and fan attitude.

Now, on the one hand, I agree completely with his assessment of 1992 and his feelings at the time.  I've always felt that a roster needs to always be at least tweaked and in some constant state of flux in order to remain "fresh".  This isn't 1952 where you can be the Yankees and just get all the good players and dominate every year.  This is also why I loved the acquisition of Mike Moore in 1989.  They could have easily looked at their roster and felt they were still good enough to dominate and stood pat, but they added another piece, and won it all.  After 1992 it was clear the team was aging and that some changes needed to be made.  But, on the other hand, I question whether the lesson was really learned.  We seem to be exactly at the point that is considered to be least desirable... and avoidable... consecutive losing seasons.

It should be noted that 2006 wasn't exactly like 1992, in that 1992 was an aging team and 2006 was pretty much a young team under reasonable financial control for a few more years, with the young players looking to only get better.

To sum up, no, this is not a "doom-and-gloom" post, but rather a "be cautious and look at what's really happening" post.  I still see what strikes me as alot of blind faith and enthusiasm.  Not wholly unwarranted, and maybe people need faith and hope to better accept current circumstances, I don't know, but it seems to me that a little reserve or caution should be in order.  Let's get real, the history of recovering and rebuilding isn't as impressive as many seem to think.  While I felt 2009 was not guaranteed but doable, now I see no way and am cautious about 2010 as well.  An awful lot of stuff has to come together all at once for 2010 to happen as hoped.  It's not inconceivable that 2008-2013 might end up being similar to 1993-1998.  There are too many parallels to ignore.

I totally accept that if only 30% of the pitching prospects pan out, we'll have one hellacious pitching staff.  What about the offense?  We have some great prospects, but do we have enough?  Many people here counter that the pitchers who don't pan out could be traded for needed position players, but that doesn't make sense.  If they don't pan out, other teams would know that too, so why would they pay a high price for them?  It only works if more pan out than we really want or need.  Define "want" or "need".  And if we do trade some of the pitchers, will they be traded for more prospects, who themselves will be a couple years away, or will they be traded for established players who can help immediately?  And if we trade good "surplus" pitchers for bats, what do we do in case of injury?  Hopefully, there will be even more good prospects in the farm system by that time, so hopefully the lessen has been learned.

To be honest, I'm much more impressed with Mr. Beane's ability to keep a good team good by adding pieces to an already  solid and established core (c. 2000-2003) than I am of his history of keeping a team good with wholesale change.

Note: This started out as a response to Grover's post, but grew from there, so I'm posting it independently.  I'm also trying to not always harp on the same thing, so unless some new developments or ideas some along, I'll try to make this my last fanpost on this particular subject.  At least for awhile.

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