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Contending in 2017? How Do You Get Better On “Both Sides Of The Ball”?

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MLB: Oakland Athletics at Los Angeles Angels
“I got it! Or your head! Or...something, I don’t know.”
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

I liked Tim Eckert-Fong’s article asserting that the A’s can contend in 2017 because I like optimism, I want the A’s to contend in 2017, plus Tim seems like a swell guy. In reality, though, the tl;dr version of the article of why the A’s can go from worst to first, from highly flawed to highly awed, is "Hey, it does happen."

It does and more often it doesn’t. The problem the 2017 A’s face, specifically, is that they were terrible on defense while also being terrible on offense. (The pitching was nothing to write home about either, but on paper the quality and depth look to be promising going forward.)

The A’s infield offers a look at the conundrum Oakland faces in trying to improve its squad significantly before the arrivals of Matt Chapman and Franklin Barreto (please hurry!).

On the left side of the infield you have players, in Ryon Healy and Marcus Semien, who offer legitimate bats for the position but give some of it back on defense — in Healy’s case the bat is better but the defense worse; in Semien’s case the defense was closer to average but the bat wasn’t gang-busters like Healy’s.

Then on the right side of the infield, in Yonder Alonso and Joey Wendle you have the kind of defense you want in order to compete but you give up a lot of offense. So where do you get better? Do you upgrade your hitting at 1B and only get worse on defense where you are already bad? Or do you upgrade your defense somewhere at the expense of an offense that was already last in the league in runs scored? Hey, I hear Sam Fuld is available!

Obviously what you want are players who both hit well and play good defense, and guess what? Those guys are, well, very expensive if you don’t already have them early in their career. (That reminds me ... Matt Chapman and Franklin Barreto: please hurry!) I would love to see the A’s add someone like Dexter Fowler, but the reality is that precisely because he is good at more than one or two things Fowler, a fast switch-hitting OBP machine with some pop and good defensive skills, is probably going to be priced out of the A’s range.

Watching the playoffs has only been more painful because you always think your players are better until you see some real ones. Semien and Wendle are fine, but how they stack up next to Lindor and Kipnis? The Cubs are just really, really athletic and the 2016 A’s...weren’t.

So here are some truths we know: the 2017 A’s need to get more athletic and need to play better defense. This would be an easier fix were Oakland coming off of a season in which they were "middle of the pack" in runs scored. But they weren’t. Last in OBP, last in runs scored. Granted they had only a half season of Ryon Healy, but still they were dead last so you would want to improve the offense at positions like 2B, CF, RF — positions where you can’t easily hide poor defense. Aha, so get rid of defensive butcher Danny Valencia...and now your offense just got a bit worse...

No I am not offering a lot of answers because I don’t really have any, other than eagerly awaiting the talent that is now one step from the big leagues. Splurging uncharacteristically on a "both sides of the ball" player would be one avenue, be it a free agent or an international gamble. I will also point out that moving Healy to 1B improves his defensive value while not losing his bat, but that move likely will not come until Chapman arrives.

Another way to go is to emphasize offense heavily at the corners and defense heavily up the middle. Perhaps a team with, say, Joey Wendle and Jarrod Dyson, up the middle would be complementary with corners of, say, Healy and Brandon Moss. That’s potentially affordable because Dyson and Moss are more "one way" players. I’m not sure how else you get better on defense and still score more runs, while keeping your overall budget under $100M.

Thoughts? Other than: please do hurry, Chapman and Barreto!