Out with the new, in with the old

Scott Halleran

For the first time since 1995, the A's have gone 32 games without using a rookie. What does it mean?

How's this for a stat, courtesy of A's Baseball Information Manager Mike Selleck?

It's certainly a change of pace for a team that, in the past two years, has seen rookies like Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, Sonny Gray, and Derek Norris play critical roles on teams that brought home AL West Championships. Even lesser known names — think Nate Freiman, Travis Blackley (he was technically a rookie in 2012) — became major contributors, emerging from almost total obscurity in typical Billy Beane fashion.

Reputation-wise, it's also odd, as the A's are known around the league for being the team continually pulling young, under-the-radar talent from its back pocket and using it to win. Not that they weren't coming in to the season, but the Athletics are, for the first time in recent memory, an entirely known quantity. Sure, there's young talent with plenty of room to develop, and sure, there are still plenty of out-of-nowhere finds like Fernando Abad and Jesse Chavez, but the mood is different.

So barring something very incredible and unexpected, no Athletic will be winning the organization's fourth Rookie of the Year Award of the last decade. That number would be higher, too, if it weren't for some bad luck. Yoenis Cespedes had the misfortune of playing his first season at the same time as Mike Trout, which is pretty self-explanatory. A year later, Sonny Gray had the misfortune of being called up in July, which was the perfect time to help his team down the stretch and a simultaneous death knell for his ROY hopes — it's easy to imagine him having beaten out Tampa Bay's Wil Myers for the honor had he pitched for more than 10 weeks, only about eight of which came as a member of the starting rotation.

The newly veteran-heavy 25-man roster brings with it blessings and curses. An obvious drawback is that the lack of new talent on the roster is indicative of a weak minor-league system, at least at the upper levels. That much is true; there aren't many players at Midland or Sacramento who appear ready to make the jump to Oakland. Oft-discussed names like Addison Russell and Max Muncy seem to be a solid year away from the major leagues, while Billy McKinney is struggling in High-A ball and seems a ways away from a promotion of any type.

So the Athletics have turned a corner within their competitive window, probably from the point of "developing" to that of "win-now" — there are still several years to win with the current core of players, but gone are the days of expecting several rookie contributions per year. Beane's job has become one of maintenance and extension, ensuring that the current competitive window doesn't close before it lives a respectable life, and finding creative ways to keep the team's core together while remaining within the financial constraints that have defined his tenure in the East Bay.

Arnold Leon does have a chance to become the first Oakland rookie to appear in a game this year tomorrow, when the A's and Mariners play a doubleheader at the Coliseum. Dan Straily will start one of the games, and as Nico details below, Leon is an option to pitch the other game, along with Drew Pomeranz and Tommy Milone. But he'd do so through a rules loophole, as teams are permitted a 26th player for doubleheaders, and even if he does break the rookie-free streak, it's unlikely he'll play a greater role for the A's this year.

Perhaps the worst aspect of having zero first-year players is the impending demise of a league-wide tradition that the A's do particularly well — Rookie Hazing Day. But if not being able to see Nate Freiman dressed as Marge Simpson is the price of watching a talented, mature, and experienced team, so be it.

So for now, the A's will do what they can with what they have. For the first time in a while, what they have seems to be plenty.

Come back for Game 2 of the A's-Mariners series at 7:05pm! Jesse Chavez faces off against the talented Cuban rookie (they still have those in Seattle) Roenis Elias.

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