This headline comes with myriad disclaimers, starting with the acknowledgement that I don’t think the current squad is long on talent. So the A’s could win 78 games and be accused of nicely overachieving.
Also, you should check your cholesterol after reading anything I write during spring training, owing to the many grains of salt it takes to properly calibrate my unabashed optimism in late February and throughout March.
That being said, there is a palpable change around these here parts that began with the Dave Kaval-ry boldly announcing that plans for a new stadium would be confirmed and revealed in 2017. Granted, a new stadium next decade and 8-16 gourmet food trucks aren’t going to get the A’s past the Texas Rangers this season.
So why is my gut telling me that however good Oakland should be on paper, on the field they will be better? No, it’s not just the daily "feel good" stories about which player is also healthy and in the best shape of his life. It’s the devil that is in the details of the news coming out of Arizona.
On Sunday, we heard Rajai Davis waxing poetic about how genuinely thrilled he is to be back in the green and gold, putting his fashion where his mouth was by donning his jersey and shoes over slacks and dress shoes. This could be a Yonder Alonso redux: a player who loves the A’s but can’t really get on base for them. But one thing Rajai has always brought, along with enthusiasm, is the ability to change games with his speed.
The Billy Ball team which stunned the league in 1981 energized itself and its fan base with speed and derring do, and if you’re cynical about overcoming a lack of talent remember that the 1981 A’s infield featured Wayne Gross, Mickey Klutts, Fred Stanley, Rob Picciolo, Shooty Babbitt, Keith Drumright, and Dave Revering.
Then this morning I read about the other Davis, Khris, and his decision to skip representing Mexico in the World Baseball Classic in order to better prepare for the 2017 A’s season. You would more expect this from a player on a team expected to challenge for the World Series. What is more alluring than the chance to show your pride for your home country (or at least one of your parents’ home countries)? Apparently, Davis’ pride lies in the heart of Oakland — where the article reveals he moved this past winter.
When you read quotes like, "I got to just feel the heart of the city; that’s basically the purpose why I was there...I wanted to feel Oakland. I love it, honestly, I love the city," from a player explaining why he will forego representing a country in the WBC so as to best prepare for Oakland’s 2017 season, you realize no one is conceding 2017 yet because the sense of excitement, resolve, commitment, and organizational pride is too high. That’s...like...really cool.
It feels like an extension of the burst of loyalty, hope, and rejuvenation Kaval has brought to Oakland’s fan base and organization. It’s not just the fans who feel it, it’s the players who feel it and are buying in. All in, it appears.
Remember, it’s one thing to offer pleasant spring training sound bytes and another to pack your bags and relocate. If actions speak louder than words, actions suggest that from the food, to the overall ballpark experience and atmosphere, to players wanting to be here and do what it takes to win, it’s a new day in Oakland.
And there is talent. Just as the 1981 team had a laughable infield but an enviable outfield (Rickey Henderson, Dwayne Murphy, Tony Armas), a pathetic bullpen but deep rotation (all of whose arms would fall off, in beautiful synchronicity, on the same autumn evening), the 2017 A’s do have talent.
There is ample upside in the septet of Sonny Gray, Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, Kendall Graveman, Andrew Triggs, Jesse Hahn, and Frankie Montas. No it is not likely, but in a "things roll right" scenario you could wind up with a rotation of four #2 SPs in Gray, Manaea, Cotton, and Montas, and a #3 SP in Hahn, with Graveman still left over. Khris Davis can legitimately mash, Ryon Healy might be an actual real hitter developed by the A’s, Rajai Davis can steal bases at a league-leading clip, Matt Joyce has on base skills, the bullpen is deep, and so on.
So like the 1981 A’s (who opened the season 11-0, 17-1, and won the division’s first half in a strike-interrupted campaign), these 2017 A’s have some upside and some holes, and a sense of infectious energy and an auspicious dose of "We don’t know we’re not supposed to be good because this is our home and we believe."
Again, all that and $3.50 will get you a latte. You could project the A’s on paper and add 10 wins and you would still fall short of the playoffs. All of which was true 36 years ago and all of which won’t stop the 2017 A’s if it’s just meant to be. Heck, I’ve already got the "Davis Bash Brothers" down for 40 HRs, 3 of them from Rajai!
Get ready for some overachievement because your team is ready.