When talking about the upcoming baseball season, I'm always a little surprised at how often the discussion hinges on the A's being a playoff team. I think there are two reasons for this: 1. seriously, did you see the 2015 team? and 2. a single year is an extremely short time between competitiveness/rebuilds. Factor in a usually strong division (one that looks to be strong for a few years to come) and a low payroll, it makes sense the A's would have to go through an extended period of total suck. And yet here we are hoping for a playoff berth after only one down year.
Missing the playoffs by a country
breakfast mile in 2015 was more painful than most years for a variety of reasons. It was an abrupt and possibly premature end (heh) to a contention window. The bullpen handed out wins to the opposing team on a nightly basis. Every game featured Billy Butler who was genetically engineered by Big Dentistry for you to grind your teeth into numerous expensive procedures. But at the end of the day it was juts a single bad season. Extra bad, yes, but these things go in cycles and it was our turn.
Missing the playoffs for two consecutive seasons is a burden we haven't borne since the dark days of Matt Holliday and Josh Willingham, days of eating so many dollar dogs you missed the crucial 2nd-6th innings of an inevitable 7-2 loss. Sadly, 2016 may be like that but that pain can be mitigated by thoughts of the future.
For seemingly the first time, the A's front office (Billy) publicly stated the intention to be like other teams, to build around a core and keep them here.
"If we're going to have hopefully some sustained success, it's going to have to be done organically, with a large group of players coming through," Beane said, citing the Astros as a model. "It may take a little bit longer, but hopefully we'll be able to hold on to them longer."
When I heard this, I was a little bit nervous. It sounds like a long term plan and as the empty box of oreos to my left will show, I'm not a guy who likes to wait. But we may not have to. Consider the infield picture as soon as this year, but more likely in 2017.
C: Vogt (4 more years of team control)/Phegley (5 years), Nottingham (6 years)
1B: Canha (5 years), Alonso (2 years)/Ravelo (6 years) Nunez (6 years), Matt Olson (6 years)
2B: Lowrie (3 years w/ buyout), Pinder (6 years), Wendle (6 years), Sogard (forever), Barreto (6 years)
SS: Semien (5 years), Pinder/Barreto
3B: Valencia (2 years), Pinder, Chapman (6 years), Nunez, Ryon Healy (6 years)
Every player listed will start the season at least at AA, often the largest hump for A's position player prospects. Passing that test leaves AAA which while formidable, can be fast tracked. These guys aren't far away.
I know what you're thinking and yes, prospects do fail all the time. We're all especially aware as A's fans and I won't point you to some of our worst offenders. There will be guys from the group above who disappoint you to no end and there will be guys not listed there who provide a surprise spark. But what gets me most excited, even beyond the words of praise from major prospect analysts is the depth. Not a Yonder Alonso fan? Here's a Renato Nunez. Not sure you believe in Nunez's glove? Matt Olson could be just as exciting a hitter. Worried Jed Lowrie might get hurt? Joey Wendle has a chance to be an Eric Sogard type, only with a bat. Drooling over the A's future infield is a less risky proposition thanks to the depth it has close to the majors.
And if you're a pipedreamer like me, consider a 2017 infield of Nunez, Wendle, Semien, and Pinder. That would cost a whopping $2 million total with the potential to be well above average. To be clear, that's an absolute dream but again, the depth makes it possible to have those four positions covered by above average bargains. Should it play out anywhere near that level and you've got all kinds of money to extend Gray and/or Reddick, or sign a free agent. Success out of this crop of infielders would also allow the A's to fill holes through other means like trades - but let's not get even further ahead of ourselves.
All of this is to say 2016 is especially important for these prospects. A successful A's season isn't dictated by just a postseason berth. Is that my number one goal? You betcha. But the progression of our closest prospects will dictate the near future for this club and will help decide what kind of year 2016 is for the Oakland A's franchise. No pressure, gents.