The A's are currently nine games under .500 and seemingly in freefall. You might think the front office deserves a failing grade in 2016 for that alone, but evaluating management is a difficult endeavor. Moves like trading for Chris Coghlan or not trading Sonny Gray seem to be disastrous now, but there's a line in the sand where evaluation ends and plain luck begins. We just can't expect the guys in charge to perfectly predict the future, especially in a small sample in an unpredictable sport.
We can, however, judge aspects of the process. Here are my thoughts on the A's decision making in 2016 thus far.
The A's didn't bet much on 2016
This was always going to be a transit year, in between failure and contention with an outside chance at early success. Thus far, the returns on the outcome aren't great, guys that will be here for the future aren't pitching, hitting, or fielding well.
But there's good news. The A's gave up almost no future prospects to cross the bridge of 2016. Jacob Nottingham and Bubba Derby were traded for Khris Davis. The former has fallen on his face in AA ball, the latter has been solid but unspectacular in High A. Aaron Brooks, traded for Chris Coghlan, hasn't appeared yet this year due to injury. Brendan McCurry has been pretty solid at AA, but at least the guy he was traded for (Jed Lowrie) is actually producing.
Weirdly, the biggest loss from the offseason seems not to be a prospect, but a big leaguer. Drew Pomeranz is looking like his 2014, pre-chair punching self, striking out hitters at an incredible rate.
All told, the A's strategy clearly involved holding onto the pieces they thought would contribute in the future, and they were mostly right. The A's may be terrible, but at least they didn't sacrifice future prospects to achieve a last place finish.
Hahndling the rotation
The A's rotation was supposed to carry this team, put the average at best offense on its back and carry them to a chance at contention. Instead, they've been crushed by the tiny weight of the anemic offense while racing towards the cellar.
It's hard to know where luck ends and where the A's could have stepped in and predicted the bad times, but we do know some bad decisions have been made.
The most egregious move with the rotation involves Jesse Hahn, a man for whom the A's traded a now defunct All-Star catcher. Clearly they thought highly of the sinkerballer, and rightly so. He was studly in 2014 and pretty dang good in 2015 before succumbing to a forearm injury, missing the second half.
Hahn is a loaded gun with few bullets and all the potential in the world. In spite of a clear lack of health, the A's chose to waste some of his pitches in AAA Nashville, opting instead to use journeyman Eric Surkamp in his place. Hahn was just fine in the minors to start the year and while Surkamp did admirable in his starts, the A's lost valuable games without putting their best foot forward.
The lack of a long reliever
2015 was a disastrous year for the A's pen. Owners of one, maybe one and a half good relievers, the A's opted to spend their limited funds in 2016 on fixing the pen. The early returns are good, the A's have done a pretty decent job handling leads, Leonys Martin aside.
Yet instead of protecting their new and expensive assets from overuse, the A's have run their new arms into the ground. The A's rank fifth in total bullpen innings and first in pointless bullpen innings, a stat I just made up.
An easy way to keep Ryan Dull from pitching in the third inning every other game is to employ a sponge designed to soak up innings when your starters disappoint like they have all too frequently. The A's were handcuffed for a period of time when the pen just looked too deep to really assign anyone to that role. Now, with Liam Hendriks down and the rotation broken to more pieces than we've ever seen, the A's still don't have a guy who can protect every single bullpen pitcher from exceeding their 2015 mark for appearances made.
Billy Butler still being an Oakland A
Billy Butler's presence is a pill made easier to swallow by Mark Canha's injury and the A's descent from contention, but it still just doesn't make sense. If the A's were so desparate to rid themselves of his contract, they clearly don't value his on field contribution. That makes him a sunk cost, and if the A's don't think they'll get any value from him, there's no reason to employ him. There are numerous ways to fill his spot and his continued presence on the A's roster is a strange and stubborn decision, clearly tied to his $10 million salary which he'll be paid no matter if he's the A's DH or the A's latest DFA.
Where am I right? Where am I wrong? What do you think the biggest successes/failings of the A's front office are thus far for 2016?