The A's are like a college program that knows its current players only provide a short window. In Oakland's case, the window is sometimes 6 years instead of the college 4, though often the players they acquire, e.g., Khris Davis, have no more than 4 years left on their contract, or will be dealt before they hit the more expensive 5th and 6th years of arbitration.
There are ways around this, to be sure, such as offering an extension to the still young, still good, and not outrageously expensive Josh Reddick, but history suggests the A's prefer to shy away from even those "medium-level" commitments in favor of swapping seniors for freshmen.
Meanwhile, Oakland says they never want to punt a season and this is where the patchwork strategy comes in. Bring in Ben Zobrist and see if you might get everything to break right. It didn't? Off he goes, off Kazmir goes. Now let's try adding Rich Hill and Jed Lowrie to a flawed team. If it doesn't work we'll send Hill packing, maybe Reddick too, and try again next off-season to take a fractured roster and find a couple short-term spark plugs who might, if everything breaks right, make us competitive.
If the A's front office is proving anything it's that this strategy doesn't work. You can't create windows as short as your current players' contracts, perennially lose core players, and then try to offset it with a patchwork attempt to turn 5 holes into 3.
When I say it doesn't work I mean it doesn't work now or later. Now, the A's are nothing more than a deeply flawed team -- and this is not the result of injuries, because with everyone healthy they are still deeply flawed. From the first day of spring training, straight through to today, they have been the worst fielding team in baseball, they have had a 4th OFer as their every day CFer, few players who are considered accomplished at both hitting and defense. And by few I mean: Reddick? Reddick, who looks to be leaving before the arrivals of those great minor leaguers the A's are waiting for.
Speaking of which, no the A's minors are not stacked. They're not. Every team (ok, not the Angels) has a Matt Olson and a Renato Nuñez (good prospects with clear warts) in their system and every team has a Dillon Overton and a Daniel Mengden (4th SP types who are looking good right now). Those guys might all be good or they might all bust, and it's not that they aren't solid prospects. It's that every team has prospects that solid.
The A's have three prospects I think are worth getting excited about, prospects that not every team has. That would be Sean Manaea, Matt Chapman, and Franklin Barreto, likely to make impacts in 2016, 2017, and 2018 if all goes well. Knowing how it goes with even the best prospects, between Chapman and Barreto likely one will live up to expectations and so the A's can reasonably expect to add a very good position player to the mix in the not-too-distant future. And that's great compared to what the A's have brought up over the years, but it's not franchise changing. And it's not today, when the A's have Reddick. Or tomorrow, when Gray is still under contract for a while. Or the next day, when Vogt is still near the right side of 30.
Don't get me wrong: the A's farm is in better shape than it has been most of the last few years and there are enough interesting prospects, such as Yairo Muñoz and the resurgent Ryon Healy, that again, "If things break right..."
And that's pretty much been the front office's mantra in losing their established good players faster than prospects can reach the big leagues, and in using two fingers to plug a dike that has sprung five leaks: "If things break right..."
Guess what? Things don't usually break right. Things go right when you create a long enough window for your best young prospects to meet your best old players, when you address all your needs instead of fortifying your bullpen while allowing CF and RF to loom as black holes as far as the eye can see.
The A's don't have the financial resources or flexibility to sign an Albert Pujols or a Robinson Cano, examples of middle of the order hitters on rival clubs, and that's ok because those deals are bad in the long term anyway. They don't want to endure years of utter futility in order to draft a George Springer and Carlos Correa, and that too is understandable.
Oakland does, however, have the resources to allocate "medium sized money" to a Nelson Cruz or to a -- you might have heard of him -- Josh Reddick. They also have little need for "high floor, low ceiling" additions like Jed Lowrie and Chris Coghlan (one of whom has worked out a lot better than the other, but that's not really the point), and far more need for the "high risk, high reward" opportunities found in the International market.
Essentially, the A's need to be a lot more aggressive about identifying a couple key pieces to keep beyond their "senior years," be a lot more aggressive about taking smart risks on the International market, and most of all create a paradigm where their best young players and their best current players can actually play together for a while.
With the "churn and bandaid" approach, you have present teams whose flawed are exposed, on a daily basis, at this level and you have a future that looks interesting but hardly a slam dunk. As the new approach, the old are on their way out.
It's not a good model and the A's are proving it. The A's don't "just need to get healthy"; they need to recognize that veterans like Reddick, Gray, and Vogt are solid, and youngsters like Manaea, Chapman, and Barreto may be solid, but that only when you have all of that together can you compete in the AL West. This is the big leagues.