The A’s are on a 69-win pace in 2016 and they’re getting ready to sell off the critical pieces that made them even that good. To be fair, the two main candidates to be traded at this year’s non-waiver trade deadline, Josh Reddick and Rich Hill, have also spent around a combined two months on the disabled list this season. If the A's are going to contend every year, as this front office insists it will, how will they accomplish that task?
How does a team like the A’s go from worst to first? Let’s take a look at, say, the Houston Astros, who went from 70-92 in 2014 to 86-76 in 2015, good enough for a Wild Card berth. The conceit of the headline is that anything can happen once you’ve made the postseason. After all, Wild Cards have won two of the last five titles.
How much of Houston’s 2015 ALDS roster was on the Astros roster at the start of July 2014? Eighty percent? Sixty percent? Try 36 percent, nine of 25, with just three other players in the Houston organization at that point:
|Houston Astros 2015 ALDS roster|
|In Houston org. at start of July 2014||Outside Houston org. at start of July 2014|
|Dallas Keuchel||HOU||SP||Jake Marisnick||AAA (MIA)||OF||2014 deadline trade|
|Collin McHugh||HOU||SP||Jed Lowrie||OAK||3B||offseason FA|
|Josh Fields||HOU||RP||Colby Rasmus||TOR||OF||offseason FA|
|Tony Sipp||HOU||RP||Luke Gregerson||OAK||RP||offseason FA|
|Jason Castro||HOU||C||Pat Neshek||STL||RP||offseason FA|
|Chris Carter||HOU||1B||Will Harris||AAA (ARI)||RP||offseason waivers|
|Jose Altuve||HOU||2B||Luis Valbuena||CHC||3B||offseason trade|
|Marwin Gonzalez||HOU||INF||Hank Conger||LAA||C||offseason trade|
|George Springer||HOU||OF||Evan Gattis||ATL||DH||offseason trade|
|Preston Tucker||AAA (HOU)||OF||Carlos Gomez||MIL||OF||2015 deadline trade|
|Lance McCullers||High-A (HOU)||SP||Mike Fiers||AAA (MIL)||SP||2015 deadline trade|
|Carlos Correa||High-A (HOU)||SS||Scott Kazmir||OAK||SP||2015 deadline trade|
|Oliver Perez||ARI||RP||2015 waiver trade|
It’s not terribly surprising that there was a lot of roster turnover on a club that went from 70-92 to 86-76. This should, however, give you a sense of the scale required to turn around the A’s, now on pace for their second straight top-nine draft pick after going 15 years without one.
It's important not confuse the necessary for the sufficient. I don't consider it particularly likely that any team will jump from the bottom of the league to a postseason berth in one season. I'm just saying that if it is going to happen, that championship team cannot much resemble the team the A's are putting out there now.
Who are the core players that could form the next surprise A’s? Let’s assume the A’s will do the usual thing of not extending their free agent players and trade them away, so Rich Hill, Josh Reddick, and Marc Rzepczynski won’t be a part of the 2017 World Champion Oakland A’s.
Rotation: Sonny Gray, Daniel Mengden, Kendall Graveman
The fun part of ALDS rosters is that you only need four starting pitchers. I think if the A’s are actually in a position to succeed in 2016, they’ll do it with another high-quality starter who isn’t currently in the organization.
I’m going with Kendall Graveman over Sean Manaea as Oakland’s potential fourth starter by virtue of experience, though the jury is still out on which one will show the quality promised first.
It wouldn’t be prudent to rely on Henderson Alvarez and his slow return from shoulder surgery, nor any of the other starting pitchers in Triple-A right now. They’ll doubtless have a role on next year’s A’s filling in for injured players and what have you.
Relievers: Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Ryan Dull, Fernando Rodriguez, Liam Hendriks, Jarrod Parker (DL)
I expect the A’s to trade John Axford for the salary relief mainly because I suspect the A’s will find as good and cheaper relievers in their trades at this year’s deadline and in the offseason. Marc Rzepczynski will become a free agent at the end of this year.
The Astros embarked on a major bullpen makeover in the 2014-15 offseason, and the A’s did the same in 2015-16. The A’s rank only 21st in bullpen ERA (4.30), though you can pin some of Oakland’s poor performance this year on having to pitch the fourth most relief innings in baseball. The A’s made the call to spend their precious dollars on relievers last year, and they’ll have to do the same next year.
I want to believe Jarrod Parker and the A’s will decide that his arm just isn’t capable of starting every fifth day and move him to the bullpen, but that’s what I thought this offseason. I’ll set aside my cynicism and put Parker in the bullpen.
Infielders: Marcus Semien, Billy Butler, Ryon Healy (AAA), Chad Pinder (AAA), Matt Chapman (AA), Eric Sogard (DL)
If the A’s are going to the postseason next year, the A’s have to be able to devote whatever tradeable players they have now to acquiring outfielders and relievers. That means the A’s have to be able to find quality infielders within their system.
The A’s will still need a utility infielder who isn’t a total disaster at the plate, and it’s become clear that the A’s don’t really see Tyler Ladendorf as someone who meets the latter half of that bill. Eric Sogard might fit that bill, and he’s a left-handed batter who can play more as an occasional rest player than as a platoon partner to the three right-handed batters I have at second, short, and third.
That means Jed Lowrie, Danny Valencia, Billy Butler, and Yonder Alonso will be headed out at some point. It’s hard to see where Billy Butler might have trade value, so I think he could continue to play in that platoon 1B/DH role, though the A’s need to limit his exposure to right-handed pitching.
Outfielders: Khris Davis, Jake Smolinski
Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick are on their way out to free agency, but the key omission here is Billy Burns, who needs to steal more than one or two bases a week and needs an on base percentage better than the .270 he’s sported so far to merit a future with the A’s.
I don’t know if Mark Canha is going to be someone the A’s can rely on, but he has all of his options and so the A’s can keep him in reserve unless his play merits more. I’d like to see the A’s do better than him in outfield options in this July’s shopping spree.
Jake Smolinski is doing interesting things in the short end of the outfield platoon with four home runs in 42 plate appearances against left-handers this year for a .359/.405/.718 line (200 wRC+). I would really like to see him paired up with Josh Reddick next year, actually, but any left-handed batting platoon right fielder will do.
Catcher: Stephen Vogt, Josh Phegley
I think both catchers will stick around. Stephen Vogt is now a two-time All-Star with leadership qualities enjoyed in the A’s clubhouse and around baseball. I wondered if one might want to upgrade on Josh Phegley with a better defensive catcher, but I don’t see a clear cut upgrade on Phegley, who will still earn the minimum in 2017.
All 14 of the currently active A’s I’ve listed will either be earning the minimum, on their first year of arbitration, or on multi-year deals with the club. I’ve filled in five players internally with three minor league infielders and two players currently on the 60-day disabled list.
That leaves six players that I believe the A’s will need to fill outside of the organization between now and the end of 2017: one starting pitcher, two relievers, and three outfielders. That’s my shopping list between now and the 2017 trade deadline.
These don't all have to be acquired all at once. Go back to how those Astros were put together in 2015. Only Jake Marisnick was acquired right away while a lot of activity waited for the offseason.
If we're going to make this thing happen, there's going to be a lost of roster movement, and that's fine. You'll have some familiar faces here, but we have to move on from this unexciting group if the A's are going to have a prayer at 2017 success.