You'd be hard pressed to find someone to argue the A's have had good luck recently. Since 2014, the A's have been one of the most injured teams in the league. This year alone, the A's have placed a playoff worthy rotation on the Disabled List while the active bunch has pitched worse than anyone expected. On the other side of the ball, the A's injury luck hasn't been much better. Four major players have missed major time this season alone and the healthy guys have under-performed to historic levels. The A's have the same record they did last season despite a myriad of undeniable upgrades to last season's worst unit.
I'm here to argue we've been lucky in a weird, roundabout way.
No, not on the injury front. Injuries are terrible, something I wouldn't wish on any team or player in the league. The A's losses have been painful but their injuries have been heartbreaking. Rather, I think we've caught a bit of a break with our results.
In 2015, the A's were not a good team. It would have taken a miracle to compete, and we experienced the polar opposite of a miracle. That said, the A's easily could have easily been around .500 nearing the trade deadline with a competent pen. If they were just a few games back, it's possible the team doesn't pull the trigger on trading Scott Kazmir and Ben Zobrist, two moves that brought back some of the few enjoyable A's on today's team. Tank Commander and company raced the ship straight to the bottom, effectively taking away any sort of doubt there may have been about the team's true talent level. If they don't, who knows. Maybe the A's end the year around 75 or so wins without garnering any prospects.
This year, we've got a similar situation. Obviously, contention would feel so much better than where we are now, clearly a bad, non-playoff bound team. But in a world where Sonny Gray starts the year healthy and the A's don't put seven starting pitchers on the DL, the team could be hovering around .500, awkwardly in between obvious contenders and clear sellers. The front office might wait to sell, or might not sell at all. Instead, the A's are miserable, well out of playoff contention and there's no question which direction the front office will go. This provides an opportunity: the A's now have a testing ground of low leverage big league games, a platform which will allow prospects nearing the bigs a chance to adjust to the next level so they can hit the ground running in 2017. It's time for the A's to seize that opportunity.
The rub of the current group of Sounds is that none are knocking down the door. None of these guys are Kris Bryants or Carlos Correas, guys you can reasonably expect to come in bats a blazing, ready to make an immediate impact. They'll all probably take some acclimating with a side of patience and with just under 100 low leverage games remaining, the A's have a chance to just let these guys play. It might not be the smoothest transition from the minors to the bigs, it usually isn't. Sean Manaea waves hi, gingerly.
It's good news for you too. If Joey Wendle continues to hit like he has over the last month (.295/.345/.495, hat tip NateHST for that nugget) he'll be an adequate offensive replacement and superior defender than Jed Lowrie, who very well could be moved. Chad Pinder has been even better in recent times and while it's not clear if he'll be a utility player or a starter, he's likely a long term roster piece. Dillon Overton has a high floor with decent upside and should take Eric Surkamp's place sometime around three months ago. And then there's Ryon Healy, who to the best of my knowledge, is not Billy Butler or Yonder Alonso.
These guys are all basically ready. None of these guys are sure going to dominate right out of the gate, none of them are certain to be big league contributors at all. But for the A's to avoid another awful year of errors and two run outputs, they'll need help from some of the guys nearest to the bigs. Those guys will have a great platform to prepare for more meaningful games in 2017, and the process should be a helluva lot more watchable, too.
It's time for the A's to start making some of these moves, though it's not exactly clear how. There will be openings as players are moved, but the A's will have to make some decisions to find younger guys playing time. The team as is isn't going to win. Calling up prospects might not change that, but it can mean better things for 2017 and beyond. Like Taj Adib wrote this week, the A's might have something special brewing at AAA, and it's time to see what we've got.
Better baseball is hopefully coming soon.