Don’t get me wrong, I could write a whole article about why the 2017 season will be boring and it would be titled "Vanilla" in homage to Jed Lowrie, Trevor Plouffe, Matt Joyce, and their merry band of "average journeymen who happen to be white but more importantly appear devoid of any known flair".
But you know what? Maybe it’s the spring optimist in me — I see plenty of story lines and good reasons to enter the 2017 season with the usual excitement and full attention.
Reason #1: Variance
No sport has variance like baseball has variance. Are the A’s likely to be competitive in 2017? No. Could they be surprisingly good? Sure. It’s not about counting on 2012 to repeat itself every five years; it’s about recognizing that predictions, expectations, and promises are fool’s gold in the great game of baseball.
What would it take for the A’s to be successful in 2017? As a starting point there is ample upside in a rotation of Gray-Manaea-Graveman-Cotton-Triggs followed by Mengden-Montas-Gossett, and the bullpen figures to be solid.
As for the lineup, just start with three guys "holding serve" from last season: Ryon Healy’s batting average, Matt Joyce’s OBP, and Khris Davis’ HRs, just repeated, would actually create a bit of a "murderer’s row" in the middle of the order. 1-2 bounce back/breakout seasons from the likes of Trevor Plouffe, Bruce Maxwell, and Mark Canha would go a long way.
You need a lot to go right and little to go wrong, but every year in baseball that exact thing happens for a couple teams projected to struggle, just as a couple teams projected highly will greatly fall short of expectations. In other words, 70 wins is a lot more likely than 90 wins, but 90 is absolutely not out of the question. That’s just baseball.
Reason #2: Nashville
From Opening Day forward, you can bet I will be all over the daily box scores coming out of AAA Nashville, which figures to house Matt Chapman at 3B, Franklin Barreto at SS, Matt Olson at 1B/RF, Mengden, Montas and Gossett in the rotation — all prospects who could be important pieces in the A’s very near future — along with perhaps Jaycob Brugman in CF, Chad Pinder at 2B, Renato Nuñez at 1B/DH.
It has been a long time since the A’s had so many legitimate prospects knocking at the door, and watching Chapman’s K-rate, how Barreto handles AAA pitching early in the season, reports on Montas’ efforts as a SP...so much is at stake with how that group progresses that 2017 promises to be a suspenseful and meaningful year no matter what Oakland’s record may be.
Reason #3: Place holders are not forever
It’s hard to guess how quickly Chapman, Barreto, Olson et al may force their way to Oakland and whether any of them will be meaningful contributors in 2017. We do know that just as Healy did in 2016, when a player is ready the A’s are not going to keep him down if he can make the big league club better.
Remember that in 2012 the April roster was no less train-wrecky than the 2017 collection of has-beens and hasn’t-ever-really-beens, but mid-season the A’s stumbled upon a new 1Bman in Brandon Moss, a new 3Bman in Josh Donaldson, key starting pitchers in Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin, all of whom gave the A’s significant shots in the arm in the season’s second half.
I will be watching Plouffe with Chapman in mind, pondering the addition of Montas to the rotation, imagining Barreto’s bat barreling up what Lowrie’s can’t. I don’t know if the A’s can play .500 ball through the end of June, but if they can there is a chance their second half roster could be a lot more talented than the group breaking camp with the team in April. And when you have talent, however raw, good things can happen.
Reason #4: Some guys are just fun
If the A’s can’t be great, they can at least be fun and recently Oakland has added some players who don’t let their physical limitations get in the way of "leaving it all out there on the field". Rajai Davis, whose "Rajai runs" were the highlight of a dreary 2010 season, brings the element of speed and derring-do. (When he is caught, of course, the correct term is not "derring do" but "wtf, Rajai??? Thanks, Frost.")
A "Rajai run," if you weren’t around for the 2010 campaign, is when you bounce a base hit through the hole and scamper all the way to 2B, then steal 3B while the pitcher is still in the stretch, and score by tagging up on a pop fly the SS catches over his shoulder. They don’t count for more than one run or anything, but they’re just fun.
And then there’s the inimitable Adam Rosales, who has yet to be thrown out at the plate on any of the HRs he has beaten out by sprinting around the bases like there’s no tomorrow. Even though if you’re Rosales there is always a tomorrow; you just don’t know whether it’s going to be in Oakland or Texas. Rosie is one of those players that you see him and you smile, no matter what the score. He’s fun.
The bottom line is: the 2017 Oakland A’s are most certainly in the playoff hunt until they’re not, and if/when they’re not their AAA team will be highly relevant to follow as it prepares to become a good team in Oakland. And while some of the place holders don’t look super exciting, they are temporary and if they have especially good seasons we will appreciate them. A lot has to break right for the 2017 team to exceed their low expectations, yet nonetheless I have checked the forecast and the chance of baseball is 100%. And Sonny.