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2017: Perhaps From Lemons Come Lemonade?

MLB: Spring Training-Oakland Athletics at Kansas City Royals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The A’s have admitted that once again this year they have a chemistry problem and I expect that next, Captain Obvious will announce that Khris Davis has a throwing problem. In the past week, veteran Coco Crisp has publicly shamed the front office and manager over his vesting option, veterans Billy Butler and Danny Valencia have exchanged words and then blows over shoe endorsements, and Yonder Alonso has joined Crisp in taking to social media to weigh in on Shoe-gate.

Then the chicken-and-egg question is raised: does losing help to create bad chemistry, or does bad chemistry help to create losing? And all the while, talented young players in the A’s minor league system grow up together and win together.

Inspired by a D.L. Nelson comment, I begin to wonder if the A’s best move now would be a somewhat radical one and that is to jettison the old and let the new grow up together at the big league level. Starting in April, 2017. On the surface it may seem like a terrible idea, but bear with me...

The purge would begin with the off-season release of Butler and the non-tendering of Valencia and Alonso to go with the free agency/retirement of Crisp. While there is no doubt that Valencia (offense) and Alonso (defense) have some value to a 2017 A’s team, their purging would free up money — their contracts currently combine for $5.8M. I would also jettison Jed Lowrie, be it by trade or if necessary his release, partly because he isn’t very good, partly because he will not be part of the A’s 2018-2020 teams, partly because in contrast to Marcus Semien, Ryon Healy and others Lowrie has failed the attendance portion at the School of Wash and that’s hardly what the young players need to see.

What does this mean for the 2017 roster? It means the acceleration of Matt Chapman and Franklin Barreto to join Healy and Semien on the April, 2017 infield, along with the natural graduation of Jaycob Brugman, who turns 25 in January and is having an excellent season at AAA Nashville, to join Stephen Vogt, Josh Phegley, Khris Davis, Jake Smolinski, Mark Canha and ideally a CF or RF signed or acquired in the off-season.

Matt Olson is on the bubble in this conversation, coming off an age-22 season at AAA that has had its ups and downs. If the A’s do not add an OFer Olson could be pushed to the big leagues but if they do he could begin the year at AAA until he forces his way up. Renato Nuñez, Rangel Ravelo, Bruce Maxwell, and Chad Pinder start at AAA as depth until they show enough to force a promotion.

The main idea is create an infield of Chapman-Semien-Barreto-Healy (Healy moving to 1B where he is ultimately best suited), and to let that group grow and settle in together, struggle and then thrive together. Of course this is a jump for Chapman and Barreto. Is it a good idea?

For Barreto, it would be a jump from AA, where he has dominated the second half to the tune of .341/.402/.486, straight to the big leagues for his age-21 season. Some teams are very open to jumping good prospects from AA to the big leagues while some teams prefer the "one level at a time" approach. In AA the competition tends to be younger and more talented, while at AAA the competition tends to be more experienced but perhaps less talented. In the big leagues the competition is, of course, both more experienced and more talented.

So in jumping either to AAA or Oakland, Barreto will be young for his league. Either place he will likely struggle initially as he has tended to do at every level. Why not do it in the big leagues, with the core group he is going to be with for years, and get those growing pains out of the way in 2017?

For Chapman, he will be 24 in April and has had a taste of AAA (hitting his first HR for Nashville yesterday). He is due to be up sometime in 2017 and this acceleration would just be a matter of exactly when in 2017 he is handed the job. Sure, you could keep him in Nashville for 2 months, gain a year of service time, and let Healy keep 3B warm for a while. But this defeats the purpose of purging the current malaise and replacing it with the core group that can bring the A’s to relevance as a cohesive unit. Let’s go.

Your message to Chapman: "Start your career as a top-5 defensive 3Bman and the bat will come around as it comes around." You are basically asking him to start out as Jack Hannahan on his way hopefully to becoming more Kyle Seager. Maybe you get 5 months of Hannahan and one month of Seager, perhaps you get one month of Hannahan and 5 months of Seager. Either way you would have Seager going into 2018 and that would be a very good thing.

Your message to Barreto: "Get comfortable. Don’t look over your shoulder because if you’re hitting .190 at the end of May you will be our starting 2Bman in June. Soak it up, believe that you belong, work with Wash and have fun."

Meanwhile Brugman and Smolinski, whether platooning in CF or RF, have a great chance of being league average or better. (If you don’t think so, consider that Smolinski’s career line against LHPs in the big leagues is .322/.396/.572 while Brugman, reportedly a solid defender at all three outfield positions, is currently hitting RHPs at a .331/.381/.508 clip at AAA.)

What you’re looking at here is a very talented, and raw, group that might struggle so much the first half of 2017 that the A’s fall out of contention — which is exactly what they have done the past two seasons only with less talent and less harmony or continuity. Or perhaps, this group that is used to winning and has a lot of talent hovers around .500 and goes into July with a chance to push for the wild card or perhaps even the division.

Most of all, you have a group that is under contract control for years (including Davis, Semien, Vogt, Phegley, Canha) that is poised to take the league by storm beginning in 2018 with a season of growing together under their belt. The group that won together in Stockton, Midland, and Nashville is ready to do it in Oakland.

Yes of course you could delay all this half a season, giving Barreto and Chapman some time at AAA and gaining a year of contract control in the process, but this means filling the clubhouse and the lineup with the very veteran chaff that has seemingly brought its own brand of sewage and toxicity to the table.

How about an atmosphere, from the git go, of "We’re going to grow together, we’re going to win together — that’s what we’ve always done" from the spring training back fields to the Opening Night lineup? Exciting losses and exciting wins, an exciting future and most importantly, exciting energy in the present. Talent, however raw, at every position. Together. Now, and for years to come. Growing together with their eye on the prize: take the league by storm soon. That’s a team I want to watch and that’s a clubhouse I want to be in.

Just a thought.