The A's were terrible in 2016. While winning 69 games is pretty niiiceeeeee, the A's, from a record standpoint didn't take a step forward. There are reasons to be excited, sure, and we'll delve into those as we get deeper into the offseason.
Obviously, teams that win more games are more likely to win more games the next year. It's not exactly ideal that the A's are still 21 wins from a typical playoff number.
But while most teams don't make the immediate jump from cellar dweller to playoff team, it does happen. So often in fact, that Grant Brisbee wrote about how odd it is that there's no surprise team this year when every year before has seen a similar yet less awesome version of the 2012 A's.
A healing touch, the story of the 2015 Rangers
In 2014, the Rangers won just 67 games. The following season, they won the weak AL West with just 88 wins, eventually losing to the Blue Jays in the most bonkers game of all time topped off by a bat flip that still hasn't landed.
Their turnaround was less surprising than others, as much of their 2014 struggles were injury induced. That squad saw partial or lost years from some or all of Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Rougned Odor, Yu Darvis, Derek Holland, Mitch Moreland, Adrian Beltre, Jurickson Profar, and more.
Those Rangers turned to noted warm bodies such as Kevin Kouzmanoff, Joe Saunders, and Robbie Ross to play baseball and as it turns out, that strategy didn't work. But in 2015, when those injured pieces healed and managed to stay healthy for an entire year, the Rangers were able to dominate a weak division with the help of some deadline acquisitions.
How's that relate to the A's?
The A's were certainly injury riddled in 2016, though there are reasons that happened. They're already in better shape in terms of depth for 2017, and their stamina should be improved thanks to a plethora of young players experiencing the length of a 162 game season for the first time. If the A's are to make a 21 win jump like the Rangers did, much of that likely will be due to renewed health.
The rise of the tankers, the 2015 Houston Astros
Just above the Rangers in those 2014 standings were the Houston Astros, everyone's favorite tanking bunch. Their fourth place finish marked their first non-last place finish in the previous four years, and in 2015, the Astros were thrust into unfamiliar territory, unable to make the very first selection in the big league draft for the first time since 2010.
They were also in unfamiliar territory as for the first time in ten years, they found themselves in the playoffs. That 16 win turnaround was largely the product of the youngsters finally panning out after years of mid 50 win teams.
How's that compare to the A's?
Similar but different. The A's have been objectively terrible in terms of big league success for two years as they've gone through a youth movement. Unlike the Astros, their on field losses weren't deliberate. Subsequently, the A's farm system isn't filled with the sure things of the word like a George Springer or a Carlos Correa, but as well all know, sometimes the key cogs are a little less expected, a la Jose Altuve or Ryon Healy.
The plug in a veteran, 2013 Boston Red Sox
In 2012, the Red Sox were loaded with solid hitters and abysmal pitchers. In 2013, they plugged in some random dudes that probably had no business playing out of their minds on their way to a World Series victory. It's happened before and it'll happen again, an there's nary a playoff run out there that wasn't fueled by some random guy. Baseball is stupid and that's how things go.
The 2012 A's, magic out of nowhere
The greatest team every assembled, the A's took a hodgepodge group of rugged men, put them in pajamas, and rode them to an epic AL West championship because baseball is awesome and that's how things go.
Those A's resembled the 2013 Sox most similarly and if the A's do find themselves playing meaningful October baseball, it'll likely be due to some savvy free agent signings and some randomly good players. But it'll take aspects of other surprise teams too - good health and good season from young players have fueled surprise playoff teams before.
While the flavors of the out of nowhere competitors are different, they're not exactly that rare. There's your optimist's take: the A's can absolutely make the playoffs in 2017. Some things just have to break right.