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Are the A's really going full (dis)Astro in 2016?

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Billy Beane's recent comments suggest he wants to take his time and have a group of prospects come up from the minors together. I'm not sure I take him seriously.

Wasting a season is a terrible crime.
Wasting a season is a terrible crime.
Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, Nico wrote a heartwarming column on watching a core group of prospects grow up together in the A's system, rise up to the big leagues together, and like a band of brothers conquer MLB. I liked that story.

His recent quotes as told to reporters on a conference call:

"The Houston Astros have done a really good job of spending the last three or four years really creating a dynamic farm system, and they're now starting to reap the rewards of that."

"If we're ever going to compete, we're probably going to have to take a somewhat similar approach and at least make sure we've got young players that are coming through the system that will be here for a few years."

"They're going to be a really good club for a long, long time, and they've had their growing pains, but you're starting to see it come together. They're only going to be a more challenging club for us going forward because of the phenomenal job they've done...They have such a deep farm system."

The A's are no doubt in full tank mode for the rest of 2015. I believe the A's official twitter account has been using the #DraftPosition every time the bullpen blows a lead. However, that doesn't mean that Beane is throwing in the towel on 2016, does it? Are the A's really going to go full disAstro until their prospects can make an impact?

Now that the trade deadline has passed, I am skeptical of his comments. If the A's were going full Astro, why are Jesse Chavez and Josh Reddick still around? Both are free agents after 2016, and both are good and thus valuable to other teams. Considering how many teams were looking for an outfielder or starting pitcher, why not amass more prospects for the grand plan? I highly doubt any value that the A's receive in the offseason will match what they could have gotten at the deadline. In the offseason there are dozens of ways for teams (large budget teams, especially) to address their shortcomings. Prospects get older and graduate to MLB, free agents abound, high salaried players get shopped around. There are lots of alternatives.

So, if the A's are keeping Chavez, Reddick, and Stephen Vogt around, are the A's going to at least sort of kind of try to make 2016 a fun and potentially competitive season? As a season ticket holder, I can live with the rest of season tank. The bullpen did this, and we're 10-24 in one run games. Whatever, stuff happens. But going into 2016 assuming that the ceiling is 4th place in the AL West is unexciting. But we didn't do the full dump that guarantees the last place finish.

So, what's in store?

Some paths to a more interesting team are:

  • Trade prospects: I'm sure Beane is feeling the burn from the Addison Russell trade, but he got a lot of value recovered in Semien, Phegley, Bassitt and Ravelo. I don't think he's "once bitten, twice shy." But only good prospects bring in significant help at the MLB level. I have a hunch that perhaps the Astros comments portend an unwillingness to trade prospects, at least prospects that the front office really likes. I don't think they were ever that stoked about Billy McKinney, but clearly they were pumped about Addison Russell. I have a gut feeling that Franklin Barreto might be moved. He's looking like a very good player, but the interviews from Bill Moriarty posted here have shown the A's brass to be less enthusiastic than the numbers would indicate. There are a lot of prospects that I believe are looked upon highly by other teams and evaluators but for one reason or another the A's might not be attached to. They could be moved, but maybe not necessarily for a rental. Also, side note, is it just me or do prospect-for-prospect trades rarely happen? Shouldn't they happen more?
  • Trade major leaguers: I could easily see Josh Reddick and Jesse Chavez moved in the offseason. Perhaps (and it hurts to say this) Stephen Vogt may find a home. Unfortunately other than starting pitchers (please don't trade Sonny Gray!) there's no major league talent to trade, really. Perhaps, like the Cahill-for-Parker swap or the Gio Gonzalez trade, major league talent can bring in major league talent. I suppose that still allows for the "core group" prospect plan.
  • Free agents: If prospects will be coming up in 2017, it would make sense to have some other good players. A few solid players coming up from the minors probably isn't enough to make the team a contender even two seasons down the road. Guys like Scott Kazmir and (sigh) Billy Butler are often available. Some will work out and some won't, but I don't think free agents at the $10-15 million/year level on three years or shorter contracts really affect the A's budget one way or another. We know they went after Chase Headley as well, and may attempt to be players in free agency. Relief pitching is another asset that apparently the A's are not afraid of adding on short term deals. I expect the A's to be players in free agency, and really the team can use someone in a lot of different spots. Bullpen, rotation, outfield, first base, middle infield are potential 2016 problem areas. Going into 2016 with the current mess would be bad news.
  • Scour the trash pile: This is a given. Billy Beane and his team will look for value wherever they can get it. Guys like Brandon Moss, Jesse Chavez, and Stephen Vogt were cast off by other teams and nearing the end of their professional baseball career. Jake Smolinski might be another success story from the trash heap. That being said, this is not really a strategy you can depend on. It may happen, and it may help, but it's hard to plan for it. The trash heap really comes into play in Spring Training when there's a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the team.

I just find it hard to believe that Beane will sit tight with a roster that looks pretty weak on paper, or just sort of rely on the trash pile and waiting for prospects. He may, as the quotes indicate, be more reluctant to trade prospects, but just hanging out waiting for youngsters to graduate to the big leagues seems like an insane strategy for Beane. As assistant GM David Forst said just 8 months ago to Eno Sarris, "That total rebuild is not something we really believe in, and not something Billy or I want to do. It's not enjoyable to sit through six months of a season and lose 95-100 a games. Luckily, I've never had to do it. Billy had to do it a little bit in the early 90s."

The suck forever strategy and hope a great group of prospects come up together isn't exactly new. Beane already saw the Rays succeed with that. The Royals are succeeding with that now. Why would he suddenly embrace that strategy, just because a team that sucked forever is finally decent? He's seen this before and he has never liked it.

Do we think that is really the plan? I don't. Expect some (but maybe less) prospects to be moved, some trades of the major league roster, free agents to be signed, and an honest attempt at fielding a winning team in 2016.

Time and again, even in the Geren years, Beane assembled a team that could be a contender. It did not always work that way, but if things were breaking right, Beane added the pieces midseason to try to take the team over the hump. Why should 2016 be any different?