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Where did the 'awful' Oakland A's clubhouse chemistry come from?

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For a front office that was so unworried about clubhouse chemistry not that long ago, there's a lot of talk of making clubhouse chemistry a part of the offseason plan.

Oakland A's assistant general manager David Forst went on the record to discuss Oakland Athletics clubhouse chemistry with the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser.
Oakland A's assistant general manager David Forst went on the record to discuss Oakland Athletics clubhouse chemistry with the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser.
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

For what I think is the first time in the Billy Beane era, the blame for poor clubhouse chemistry in the Oakland Athletics is falling not on a manager's problems with communication, but rather the players themselves. The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser reports that "a clubhouse mix that didn't gel" was a significant part of how the A's ended up with the worst record in the American League. Stephen Vogt, Sonny Gray, and assistant general manager David Forst went on record to talk about the issue in general terms.

Perhaps more interesting were the comments of those that wouldn't put their names to their comments:

Longtime team employees have described the clubhouse mix as the worst they’ve ever seen. Few players wanted to go on the record about the extent of the problem or name names, but many believe that there was an issue. "It’s awful," one said.

Susan Slusser does note that there are pockets of the team putting it together, saying "the team's young core has meshed well, players such as Mark Canha, Billy Burns, Marcus Semien, and Josh Phegley."

Slusser lays out the model of just who the A's front office will be trying to avoid or even get rid of in the coming offseason, "There isn't going to be a long leash for any veterans perceived to be poor role models. . . . There won't be room for complacency, poor attitudes or 'me' guys. Expect character and leadership to matter for any additions."

★★★

So who might fit the description of a poor role model who is on a short leash? Let's draw up a list of suspects. We'll begin with just the players who have been with the team from April to September (and their ages) and have more than one year service time in MLB on any team (not just Oakland), including players on the disabled list:

  1. Josh Reddick (28)
  2. Stephen Vogt (30)
  3. Billy Butler (29)
  4. Brett Lawrie (25)
  5. Sam Fuld (33)
  6. Eric Sogard (29)
  7. Coco Crisp (35)
  8. Sonny Gray (25)
  9. Sean Doolittle (29)
  10. Fernando Abad (29)
  11. Drew Pomeranz (26)
  12. Ike Davis (28)
  13. Jesse Chavez (32)
  14. A.J. Griffin (27)
  15. Jarrod Parker (26)
  16. Evan Scribner (30)

Before getting into it, spoiler alert, we're not going to narrow this list down very much.

This list is not in any particular order other than me reading Oakland's Roster Resource page and and typing down a name that fits the criteria as it comes up. Every other veteran player has otherwise been up-and-down or arrived later to try to be a fix for Oakland's poor start. If you want to expand the list you could also pull up the four players Oakland traded away around the non-waiver trade deadline: Ben Zobrist, Scott Kazmir, Tyler Clippard, and Eric O'Flaherty.

★★★

There are some names on that list that feel ridiculous, but I'm not in the clubhouse. For all I know Sean Doolittle is the co-worker that always makes the same unfunny joke every time the toilet flushes. Reporters are in there at certain times, but there's a Heisenberg Uncertainty thing that goes on right then where the act of observing the clubhouse chemistry alters the chemistry.

I guess we can probably eliminate veterans that were willing to go on the record for Slusser's story, so strike out Stephen Vogt and Sonny Gray.

Lest you think Josh Reddick might be in hot water for separate comments last offseason about the A's entering a rebuilding phase after the Josh Donaldson trade and last July about the front office overriding Bob Melvin's lineup, Susan Slusser was backing away from her guess that Josh Reddick was necessarily on the offseason trade block:

And besides, this isn't really about the relationship between a player and the front office or his manager, but rather between players.

Not to single out anybody else on that list, but I don't want to omit mention of Jim Bowden's ESPN Insider article last week on Oakland's offseason objectives, where he wrote, "They thought they'd get more production and leadership out of Billy Butler." The 30-part series does say it is based on "several days contacting GMs and front-office personnel." "Lack of leadership" is not necessarily "negative influence" but rather could be "powerless to stop other negative influences."

★★★

Past that I would just be guessing. Stephen Vogt may seem diplomatic when he tells Slusser, "It's not anything or anyone or any one thing, it was just a bunch of new guys and struggling early. That creates tension and short fuses all around the clubhouse." Ordinarily that's how I would feel about a losing season.

But when a front office that has historically poo-poohed notions of clubhouse chemistry ("I'm convinced that chemistry and all that are byproducts of winning," Billy Beane told AN's Tyler Bleszinski after the 2012 postseason) is willing to confirm that chemistry will now enter into the offseason decision-making process, some interesting changes may be afoot.

Just who will be out of Oakland because they didn't mix well with the others is a mystery to me. And just remember, clubhouse chemistry is something, but it isn't everything: