No matter how you slice it, 15-30 is not good and it's not fun. However, there are many reasons to be 15-30 and some of them are a lot easier to digest than others.
Billy Beane stated publicly that the off-season trades were designed to keep the A's competitive window open longer. However, that did not mean that 2015 would necessarily be the most competitive of those years. A great team in 2016 and 2017 would go a long way to tempering the bad taste that lingers in the collective mouths of A's fans these days, but so would knowing that we were watching the building blocks to a successful future. Are we?
I can stomach the growing pains that come with youth and if you look around the field -- as we are about to do -- you will see examples of players failing not because they lack talent or potential but rather because they lack experience. You will also see examples of players that if you were to build around them you might be qualified to build a new span on the Bay Bridge. Too soon?
Missing from the writeup which follows are Ben Zobrist, Scott Kazmir, and Tyler Clippard, because they will be somebody else's wheat in 2016.
Stephen Vogt was indirectly part of the rebuild in that the A's had enough confidence in him to trade Derek Norris (and John Jaso). Vogt is under contract for several years and is good enough to be part of a contending team. Verdict: Wheat.
As for Josh Phegley, I question whether he is good but also know that your backup catcher doesn't have to be good in order for your team to be perfectly fine overall. Whether it's Phegley, or George Kattaras, or Rob Bowen, or Miguel Oliva, or Mickey Tettleton, the A's can either roll with Phegley or choose from any of the dozen or so likenesses that will be applying for work with a similar skill-set. Verdict: Who Cares?
Ike Davis is good enough to keep. He reliably gets on base at a .350+ clip against RHPs and his defense has been a pleasant surprise. Davis is under contract for 2016 and is still young enough (28) that there is no reason to think he will decline during his tenure with Oakland. Verdict: Wheat.
Eric Sogard is one of many players on the A's who is a useful player, but should not be an every day starter. If I am watching the A's struggle through 2015 because Sogard isn't better then that's a problem because Sogard is who he is and is not poised to make any leaps other than his elf-like prances to reign in pop-ups to short RF. Verdict: Chaff.
As for Joey Wendle, the A's love him and scouts don't, and someday in the not-too-distant-future we will probably discover who is right. He is likely "Mark Ellis lite" in that he will surprise both scouts and metrics with his excellent 2B play -- but not at Ellis levels -- and he will give you a "professional at bat" that lacks a lot of physical tools, leaving his numbers pedestrian.
Wendle could totally bust, but from the standpoint of being someone interesting and intriguing whom I would be willing to watch a few losses in the hopes that he develops into a solid player, to me Wendle is wheat. I look forward to his call-up.
Marcus Semien is, to me, a perfect example of wheat playing like chaff -- at least in the field. Semien has been, as we all know, gawdawful at shortstop. However, this is what rebuilding, or even reloading, looks like: enduring the growing pains of someone learning on the job at the big league level. I'm fine with that, and think the A's need to give Semien the full season at SS no matter how painful it is to watch. And it's painful, but I do think that as the season progresses you will see fewer mistakes and fewer "I'm in my head" mental breakdown.
Ultimately, I still think there's a good chance that Semien will need to move off of shortstop due to his lack of lateral quickness and ability to get down for balls. But we'll see. So the A's may need a shortstop in order to contend, but at least I'm watching failure for the right reason: An inexperienced but talented player is trying to work things out in real time. I'm good with that. Verdict: Wheat.
Brett Lawrie is not a terrible player. He is a good third baseman with a lot of physical tools to be a good hitter. That being said, I don't foresee him living up to the promise he once had as a hitter. He does not recognize pitches especially well, he rarely walks, and he is an anxious hitter. Well, he's an anxious everything so that's not a surprise.
Of course he could make a sudden leap, but to me he has to be looked at as what he has now been for years: A guy who will get on base about 30% of the time and who will slug somewhere around .400. And that's nothing special. When I watch Lawrie, I don't feel like I'm watching a guy get ready to turn the corner for 2016. I feel like I'm watching an "ok" player who was once expected to be more. Verdict: Chaff.
Once thought to be Coco Crisp's new home, left field now belongs to Sam Fuld, who can't hit, and possibly Mark Canha, who can't field. Both are potentially useful players, so long as you don't have to play them very much. Canha might develop into a decent platoon player at DH and 1B, while Fuld is a great 5th outfielder to have on your roster.
However, both are quite replaceable, and more to the point the presence of either in your regular lineup signals that you're just not very good. This is "filler" at its most glaring. Verdict: Chaff.
Billy Burns has been one of the few bright spots in the month of May. However, it's difficult to carve out a career slashing balls to LF and when the Regression/Reality Monster finishes kicking in Burns is looking at more of an Eric Sogard slash line than the .292/.338/.347 line he currently boasts.
Defensively, he outruns a lot of bad reads and on the bases he outruns a lot of throws and a few bases. In neither area is he exactly fundamentally sound. He is, essentially, Rajai Davis with a chance to improve a bit.
Overall? Burns could be really good 4th outfielder. But an every day CFer? No. Craig Gentry? Slightly different strengths and weaknesses, balancing out to the same level: "Really good 4th outfielder? Sure. Every day? No." Verdict: Chaff.
Josh Reddick has made real strides this season, calming down his approach at the plate to see pitches longer, recognize them better, and hit with more authority to all fields. If there is anyone who gives me faint hope that Lawrie could figure it out at the plate and turn things around, it's Reddick. He's under contract through 2016 and fits with a contender. Verdict: Wheat.
Billy Butler is an example of a good hitter for a bad team, but not a good hitter for a good team. that is to say that Butler is, in fact, a quality hitter but when you look at the middle of the order for a good team, you see guys who are scarier and more productive than Butler.
Butler is "second tier" for two reasons. One is that he just doesn't slug enough for a "middle of the order guy". (He is slugging .383 so far this season after slugging .379 last season and .412 the year before.) The other reason is that he is so slow that he is just too much of a DP threat and a base clogger for a guy whose safeties leave him only at 1B so much of the time.
Don't get me wrong: Butler is a good hitter. But your DH, if you're serious about winning, needs to be more than a "good hitter". Verdict: Chaff.
Gray, Hahn, Chavez, Graveman, Nolin, Pomeranz, Griffin
Currently, I see those 7 starting pitchers as being the "front 7" for 2016. Gray, of course, is great and I believe Chavez was shafted in not being declared one of the front 5 out of spring training this season. He's very good. Both are under contract through 2016 so that's a solid pair to begin with. Verdict: Wheat.
To me Hahn and Graveman epitomize the "growing pains" I am happy to live with. Both have a lot of potential to be excellent SPs in the near future and both have had their bumps in the road in 2015. To the extent that the A's 15-30 record relates to failures of those two, I could not be more sanguine. Verdict: Wheat.
As for the other 3, there is enough ability there to be interesting but in my opinion not a tremendous amount of upside. Nolin projects as a #4 SP who could wind up in the bullpen, Pomeranz is, in my opinion, best suited to the bullpen, and Griffin is hoping to rejoin the back of the rotation if things go well. Again, not bad pitchers any of them -- perhaps even solid contributors. I guess you could say they're too promising to be chaff and too iffy to be wheat. Verdict: Whaff.
Chaff. Any questions? Didn't think so.
Where I'm personally disappointed by the flurry of off-season moves is that the minors are not exactly stacked following the trades of 4 All-Stars. On one hand, that's partly because Hahn, Graveman, and Semien currently toil for the big league club. On the other hand, when you're 15-30 you would like to think it's because some key cogs for the coming year(s) are just not here yet.
Among players we have yet to see in the big leagues, the A's best prospects for contributing in 2016 are probably Sean Nolin Joey Wendle, and Rangel Ravelo. For 2017, you might add Matt Olson, Renato Nuñez, and Dillon Overton if they progress. But now you're getting into "lottery ticket" territory with players who have yet to master the higher levels.
I'm not going to assign wheat/chaff status because some will thrive, some will get injured, and many will flame out, and no one really knows who's who or at what rate. All I will say is that I would have hoped for a bit more in the pipeline, meaning that I feel there's more chance of chaff than there should be but hopefully this is a group that proves to be exceptionally wheaty.
Going through it position by position, I'm actually pleasantly surprised at how many positions have players I either am glad to have under contract next year, feel like I am watching them grow into better players tomorrow, or both.
The problem is that the A's have shot a lot of their wad already in trading Addison Russell, Daniel Robertson, Billy McKinney, Josh Donaldson, Jeff Samardzija, Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, John Jaso...And with those positions that really need addressing long term, you wonder how the A's will address them.
It won't be by signing top free agents and it won't be by trading the above guys again. Perhaps a splash in the International market, circa 2012 and Yoenis Cespedes? Perhaps the trades, mid-season, of Ben Zobrist and/or Scott Kazmir and/or Tyler Clippard will yield key pieces for 2016? Maybe another manifesto or two and a couple more Mosses, Chavezes, Davises (Ike, not Rajai) fall into the A's lap.
Or maybe the A's win the next 15 games and wind up "buyers" in July. Because, after all, baseball.