Are we sure Billy Beane is still a great front office executive? I hate to ask it because I’m a big fan of Moneyball (definitely the book and even more so the movie). But 2002 was a long time ago. Beane, of course, was still a good GM recently as Oakland had another run from 2012-14 where they made three straight playoff appearances. And at the 2014 All-Star break they were considered the best team in the American League (people forget).
So that season Beane did something he never does. He went for it. At the trade deadline that year he sent top prospect Addison Russell to the Cubs as part of a package for Jeff Samardzija. Yikes. He also got Jon Lester from the Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes.
What happened next nobody could have foreseen. The A’s went 29-38 in the second half (22-33 since acquiring Lester). They still weaseled their way into the AL Wild Card game, but ran into a buzz saw known as the Kansas City Royals. That was it for the A’s. Beane went for it and the team didn’t come through. That off-season he traded Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays. Donaldson went on to win AL MVP while hitting 41 homers and posting a .939 OPS.
The Russell and Donaldson trades clearly haven’t worked out for Oakland, and they have really set the franchise back. The A's couldn't crack 70 wins in either of the next two seasons before jumping to 75 in 2017. Beane has been there for a while now. This hasn't been a top farm system in baseball for a while and the team no longer has the edge in the analytics they once did. It's fair to wonder if it's ever going to happen for Beane in Oakland.
What happened last year?
Even though the Athletics don't have an elite farm system, there were still some good things happening in the Bay Area last year. 75 wins for a team with no star players isn't terrible. That being said 2017 in Oakland was defined by a trade.
That trade was the Athletics sending Sonny Gray to the New York Yankees before the trade deadline. Just a couple of years prior Gray was looking like baseball's next ace. As a 25-year-old in 2015 he posted a 2.73 ERA and finished third in the American League Cy Young voting. 2016 was ruined by injuries and ineffectiveness, so after Gray pitched 16 games for the A's last year they shipped him to New York.
The headliner of the return was top outfield prospect Dustin Fowler. This was a kid who last summer ruptured his right patella tendon in his first inning with the Yankees. Brutal. He's healthy now, though, and might even be Oakland's starting center fielder to open the year. Fowler is a potential five tool player who could hit at the top of the A's lineup for years to come.
Has anything changed?
It was a relatively quiet off-season for the A's, except for that whole MLBPA grievance filed against the team for not being competitive enough. We'll sweep that under the rug for now though and focus on two minor moves Oakland actually made.
First was the trade for former Cardinals outfielder Stephen Piscotty. The 27-year-old had a down season in 2017, hitting just .235 with 9 homers after batting .273 with 22 homers the year prior. This move got a lot of buzz because it allows Piscotty to be closer to his mom, who was diagnosed with ALS last year. It probably had an affect on Piscotty's performance in St. Louis, and the hope is that being closer to home could fuel a bounce back.
Then the bargain hunting A's went and signed catcher Jonathan Lucroy to a one year, $6.5 million deal. Lucroy should be a big plus to a young starting rotation and it's unlikely he will be any worse at the plate than he was a season ago. In 2017 Lucroy posted a .716 OPS to go along with just six home runs. Ew. If he hits then he instantly becomes an attractive trade piece for any contenders looking for catching help come July.
Why should fans be excited?
Matt Olson is a damn monster, that's why. Since Olson (was) is a relative unknown and because he plays in Oakland this went pretty unnoticed, but the 23-year-old slugger hit an insane 20 homers in the 36 game stretch from August 11th through September 22nd last year. Even weirder? Olson hit just one double during that time.
Isolated power (ISO) is a stat that measures how often a player is hitting for extra bases. Olson currently has a career ISO of .357. For reference Babe Ruth had a career ISO of .348. This obviously won't last, but Olson is a reminder that Oakland has some players worth paying attention to. Third baseman Matt Chapman draws Nolan Arenado-esque comparison for his defense, and Khris Davis has hit the second most homers in baseball over the past two seasons.
Backyard Baseball 2018 representative:
Good lord I don’t know. Fowler should be a future star but he isn't yet known enough to warrant a Backyard Baseball spot. Same goes for Olson and Chapman. Marcus Semien? No. Jed Lowrie? Ugh. Lucroy? Ehhh. It has to be Khris Davis (40+ homers each of the past two years), but I’m not happy about it.
Khris Davis BB18 stats: