Overview (Present Rank: 23rd | Future Rank: 30th)
The Oakland Athletics gained massive mainstream media attention after the publication of “Moneyball,” a book written by Michael Lewis in 2003. That novel turned into a movie in 2011 starring Brad Pitt. It focused on the unfairness between big-market teams and small market teams regarding their payroll limitations. While teams like the Yankees had north of $150MM to spend on annual salaries, General Manager Billy Beane had the challenge of putting a competitive team together with less than $50MM in available resources for the Athletics.
What the story didn't focus on was the fact Oakland had three of the best pitchers in baseball (Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder) as well as the 2002 MVP Miguel Tejada. The A’s made the playoffs four years in a row, but ended up coming short in the deciding game 5 of the ALDS each season. After notching only one playoff appearance from 2004-2011, the A’s were defying the odds again by entering the postseason for three consecutive years that officially started the Bob Melvin era.
However, the departures of marquee players like Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Jeff Samardzija, and Jon Lester caused Oakland to fall back into the cellar in 2015. The present Major League roster is full of holes and the team remains in the bottom five of the league in payroll. Oakland's only opportunity to compete for a championship is to build through the draft, sign promising amateur free agents, and make the advantageous trades that once put Billy Beane in the spotlight.
*Detailed analysis conducted April 4, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season.
Stephen Vogt has mostly been used as a left-handed platoon partner that faces off against right-handed pitchers. Manager Bob Melvin gave Vogt 123 plate appearances against southpaws in 2015, but he still struggled against them. Vogt earned his first All-Star appearance last season after taking on full-time catching duties. Despite already being 31 years old, he’s still under team control for four more years. The A’s will need to find a right-handed hitting platoon partner to pair with Vogt while he’s still in Oakland.
Fortunately for Billy Beane, he might have already found that ideal platoon partner. He acquired Josh Phegley in the Jeff Samardzija trade with the White Sox before the 2015 season. Despite only 76 MLB games on Phegley’s resume, he posted a respectable .788 OPS against righties in 2015. Phegley won’t play much if Vogt stays healthy, but he’s the perfect compliment to the righty-mashing All-Star.
Future Outlook: Vogt/Phegley a solid platoon tandem
While Stephen Vogt garnered his first All-Star nomination, neither of these players are currently top-10 catchers. However, when put together in a platoon role where Vogt starts against right-handed pitchers and Phegley suits up against lefties, they form a perfect tandem. That might be productive for the next two, possibly three seasons, but Vogt is already 31 years-old, and Phegley is quickly approaching his 30th birthday.
Billy Beane and the rest of the front office will need to prioritize finding their catcher of the future. Whether that be through the draft where they hold three of the top 50 picks starting with the sixth overall selection, through the amateur free agent market, or from another organization, it must be something they pursue soon. Regardless of where they recruit their next star catcher, it has become clear they don’t have anybody in their organization that could be an effective catcher three/four years from now.
It seems like forever ago that Yonder Alonso was selected with the seventh overall pick in 2008. Alonso went on to headline the package the Reds sent to San Diego in exchange for ace Mat Latos before the 2012 season. He was looking to be a future star after placing sixth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2012. However, after the A’s were able to pry Alonso away from the Padres for relief pitchers and lower level prospects over the offseason, it’s become clear Alonso will never be a star. Still, Alonso’s in his prime as a 29 year-old, and put up an impressive .309/.407/.387 batting line away from the pitcher-friendly Petco Park last year. He still has no power though despite being 230 lbs and doesn’t have the other tools to make up for it. Unless he benefits from a remarkably high BABIP (like he did in road games last year), Alonso will be one of the least productive first baseman in the majors. With just two years left until he’s eligible for free agency, he’ll have to prove his production on the road last year was no fluke.
The player the A’s are hoping takes over for Alonso as the long-term answer at first base is Mark Canha. Acquired from the Rockies for Austin House in a deal Colorado surely regrets, Canha had a mini-breakout campaign in 2015. Canha’s 16 homers and 70 RBI’s both placed him among the top-3 in Oakland last season. While Alonso will still take the majority of reps at first base (unless he gets injured or underperforms), Canha can get at-bats while playing one of the corner outfield spots or as a temporary DH. However, if he and Alonso are ever in the same lineup, he’d be the one playing first base considering Alonso’s defensive liabilities. Canha’s already 27 years old, so he’ll need to prove he can do damage against Major League pitching this season, or his future outlook will become very unclear.
If Canha doesn’t work out, the A’s have a few other options in the upper levels of the minor leagues. Rangel Ravelo and Ryon Healy are both viewed as future major league contributors. However, no scout is confident either player will lock down a starting gig in their career. Both players have put up somewhat impressive numbers in the minors in recent seasons, but the majors is a whole different ball game. Neither player has the raw power or elite contact skills that warrant top prospect consideration, but they’ve been able to perform at a high level in the minors. The next few years will showcase exactly what’s more important as a precursor for what minor league players can do in the bigs: the raw tools a specific player possesses or the production they’ve been able to generate in the minors.
Future Outlook: With multiple options in-house, somebody needs to step up
Yonder Alonso has the most experience, but he’s far from having a guaranteed spot on the roster going forward. While he hit well when he wasn’t forced to play in the confines of Petco Park, it was fueled by abnormally high BABIP. If Alonso can’t take control of the spot, the A’s have options in Mark Canha, Rangel Ravelo, and Ryon Healy. None of these players (including Alonso) will intimidate much fear into opposing pitchers. While they might be serviceable, if the A’s want to become a perennial contender, an upgrade at first base would be a wise decision.
One year after Jed Lowrie signed a multi-year deal to return to Houston, they shipped him back to Oakland. Lowrie has now had two stints with both franchises, and he’s hoping his second run in Oakland lasts longer than just two seasons. It’s really up to him to make that happen as his disappointing 2014 season caused Oakland to let him go to Houston in the first place. Another lackluster 2015 season forced Houston to send him back to Oakland.
Now, Lowrie is 32 years old and coming off of back-to-back seasons of an OPS worse than .715. Still, in 2013 he was fantastic for Oakland, batting .290 with 15 homers. Lowrie has the ability to play second, third, or shortstop, and his defensive versatility will allow Bob Melvin to get creative with his lineups throughout the season. If Lowrie can shake off the injuries that plagued him last season, he could be a serviceable starter in Oaktown.
The other notable second baseman in Oakland’s system is Joey Wendle. He spent all of the 2015 season in Triple-A despite already being 25 years old. The .765 OPS he posted becomes that much less impressive considering most Triple-A pitchers are younger than the former Cleveland Indian. He has a bat that can play up at the next level, but his fielding will keep him in a reserve role. He’ll have to keep hitting to maintain a spot on Oakland’s bench.
Future Outlook: The excessive depth at shortstop will affect second base
If Jed Lowrie and Joey Wendle were the only players in Oakland’s organization with an ability to play second base over the next five years, the team should be very concerned. Fortunately for A’s fans, Billy Beane has done an outstanding job at stockpiling talent at shortstop. With a loaded amount of future starting shortstops in Oakland, it’s very likely one of them will move over to second base to fill the hole. For now, Jed Lowrie is a solid stop-gap solution that can still provide some pop.
Marcus Semien was just an average shortstop last season. Considering the fact he was only 24 years old, and a former sixth round pick, Semien has done pretty good for himself to even be a starter in the major leagues. Despite the low expectations surrounding him as an amateur, Semien’s potential is now much higher. While he may never develop into a top-5 shortstop, he could someday be on the verge of cracking the top-10. Semien doesn’t have any tool that stands out, but his maximum effort helps elevate all of his skills. Giving up former ace, Jeff Samardzija was tough for the franchise, but the return has been very impressive so far with Semien headlining the package. The 25 year-old still has five years of team control.
Behind Semien, the A’s have a multitude of players that will look to take his spot in the future. The player with the best chance of doing so is Franklin Barreto. Barreto is the team’s unanimous No. 1 prospect. His overall skillset has scouts viewing Barreto as a potentially elite shortstop. His quick bat, raw power, plus speed, and strong arm make him an ideal cornerstone at the shortstop position. The headliner of the Josh Donaldson trade has some kinks that he must work out, but he could be ready for the show by late-2017.
Including Barreto, four of the A’s top-10 prospects claim shortstop as their primary position. The other three are Richie Martin, Chad Pinder, and Yairo Munoz. Martin was the team’s first round pick last year (20th overall) out of the University of Florida. Martin was getting praise as the best defensive shortstop in the 2015 draft class, so a move to another position is out of the question for the 21 year-old. Martin might never set the world on fire at the plate, but he’ll have to improve on the .695 OPS he posted in his professional debut for the team’s Low-A team last year. If Martin never makes the right adjustments in the batter’s box, he still has a decent floor as a defensive stalwart.
Nobody in Oakland benefitted from the Arizona Fall League more than Chad Pinder. After a strong season in Double-A, Pinder slugged .549 against the game’s best young pitchers. He caught the eye of scouts around the nation with his excellent contact skills and solid defensive abilities as well. Now Pinder has put himself in the same conversation as Barreto and Semien for regular playing time in the middle infield for future A’s teams. If the 24 year-old puts together a solid showing in Triple-A this year, we could see him in the show before the end of the year.
Yairo Munoz has the longest way to go of the four prospects before cracking the big league roster. An impressive showing in High-A ball as a 20 year-old raised his stock significantly. It wasn’t a fluke either as he batted .298/.319/.448 in 2014 in Low-A ball as a 19 year-old in the season prior. He might be the most athletic of the bunch, and has the arm and glove to be a plus-defender at shortstop. Scouts are less confident about his bat coming around, but if he can put on some weight and drive more balls over the fence, he could have the whole package.
Future Outlook: Oakland can’t go wrong
Shortstop is unquestionably the strongest position in Oakland’s farm system with four of their top-10 prospects at the position. Not to mention, they already have Marcus Semien at the big league level improving every year. On top of Semien, Franklin Barreto has a real chance of being an impact player at the big league level. While neither Richie Martin, Chad Pinder, nor Yairo Munoz possess the same ceiling as Barreto, they could each be quality starters in their own right. With the excess depth at the position, the A’s will have to get creative in deciding who stays, who goes, and who changes positions. Mikey White was the team’s 2nd round pick last season with a chance at creating even more depth, but was very unimpressive in his first taste of big league action. With a plethora of options, no matter what they decide to do they can’t go wrong.
Danny Valencia has produced at a very high level in two of the last three seasons despite playing for four different teams over that span. While some might label him a ‘journeyman,’ Valencia’s production at the plate makes him much more valuable than the average journeyman. Known as a lefty-masher, Valencia actually hit righties better last season (.881 OPS vs. .834 OPS). Valencia can be a liability at times when playing the hot corner, but now that he’s able to rake righties just as good as lefties, his offensive potential more than makes up for a few defensive errors. He’s still under team control for two more seasons and is making a paltry $3.2MM this year. Danny Valencia might be one of the most underrated and underpaid players in the league.
In the minors, two of Oakland’s top-10 prospects play third base. Scouts are torn on which player will have the more successful major league career. One on hand, there’s Matt Chapman, the team’s No. 3 prospect (according to Baseball America). The 2014 first round pick doesn’t run well or have the best approach at the plate, but he makes up for it with a cannon for an arm, and power capable of hitting 20+ homers a year. The 23 year-old will start the season in Double-A, so he’ll need to produce there to not fall behind the curve. We could see the California native in the O.co Coliseum by the end of next year.
On the other hand, the A’s have Renato Nunez waiting in the wings. Nunez may never be a gold glover despite the strong arm, but he nullifies that with his potential in the batter’s box. Nunez dropped 18 bombs last year in 93 games and had 29 homers in 124 games the year before. It also helps that he cleaned up his approach at the plate by only striking out 66 times after tallying over 110 SO’s in each of the previous two seasons. Nunez should be ready to step in right when Valencia is eligible for free agency. Until then, the 22 year-old will need to keep improving his plate discipline and work on his range at the hot corner.
Future Outlook: Chapman or Nunez? Take your pick
Behind Danny Valencia at third base in the organization are two of the team’s top-10 prospects: Matt Chapman and Renato Nunez. While Valencia is underrated at the Major League level, Renato Nunez could be dangerously underrated at the minor league level. It’s not often a player hits 29 home runs in a season at only 20 years old, and he did it at the High-A level making it even more impressive. Matt Chapman has gotten more attention than Nunez, but he’s deserved every bit of it. He probably won’t hit as well as Nunez in the bigs, but he’s definitely the better fielder of the two. Plus, he has the offensive upside to be an everyday third baseman. If Chapman and Nunez continue on their path to the show, the A’s might have to trade one to a team with a desperate need at the hot corner to improve their other positions of need (1B, DH, RF, LHP, etc.).
It’s impossible to discuss Oakland’s outfield without first addressing the team’s most consistent hitter since his arrival in 2012. Josh Reddick, who slugged at least .445 in three of his four years in Oaktown, besides a down year in 2013, is just now entering his prime at 29 years old. He might never reach the 32 homers he notched in his breakout 2012 campaign, but he seems to be a lock for around 20 HR’s over the next few years. Considering the A’s are a small market team, they’ll have their work cut out for them in trying to re-sign Reddick once he approaches free agency after the season. They might consider trading him at the deadline if they’re out of playoff contention by July.
(EDIT: As the A's were over 14 games back in the division, they tried to recoup some value for Reddick before he walked in free agency, so they paired him with LHP Rich Hill in a package to the Los Angeles Dodgers for prospects RHP Grant Holmes, RHP Frankie Montas, and RHP Jharel Cotton. Click here to see how Reddick will fit into Los Angeles' crowded outfield situation [8/1/16]).
One of the best surprises from last year’s overall disappointing season was the emergence of Billy Burns. He burst onto the scene at 25 years old by stealing 26 bases in his rookie season. Burns wasn’t ranked among the team’s top-10 prospects pre-2015 (according to Baseball America), but earned the fifth most American League Rookie of the Year votes despite the historic competition he had. Considering his minor league track record, that may have been a case of beginner’s luck. Even if he doesn’t produce as much at the plate, he’s still one of the fastest players in the league with the range to cover all the gaps in the O.co Coliseum (EDIT: Billy Burns has been traded to the Kansas City Royals for Brett Eibner [7/30/16]).
Mentoring Burns is one of the premier center fielders from the 2000’s in Coco Crisp. Now 36 years old, Crisp is relegated to left field where his declining speed and weak arm aren’t as much of a problem. Offensively, Crisp has become a shell of his former self struggling to hit .175/.252/.222 on the season. Crisp will earn a guaranteed $13MM if he racks up 550 plate appearances over the 2016 season. He’ll have to stay away from injuries and start almost every game to get that lump sum.
Considering Crisp’s abysmal performance in 2015, Billy Beane made sure Crisp would never get close to the 550 plate appearances it takes to trigger his 2017 option. Beane traded for left fielder Khris Davis right before pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training. While he might not have the most power of any ‘Khris’ Davis in baseball (Chris Davis of the Orioles hit 47 bombs last year), his 49 homers over the last two years will bring much needed power to Oakland’s lineup. Davis doesn’t provide much value outside of the power department, but as one of top power hitters in baseball, Bob Melvin will always find a way to get Davis into the lineup.
The A’s have plenty of fourth outfielder types like Jake Smolinski, Sam Fuld, Jaycob Brugman, and Arismendy Alcantara in their system, but they’ll likely never settle the long-term issues Oakland has in their outfield. With Khris Davis and Billy Burns under team control for at least the next four seasons, the A’s just need a right fielder to replace Reddick once he inevitably departs in free agency. That’s where Matt Olson comes in.
As a 2012 first round pick, the then-20 year-old put the baseball world on notice by slugging 37 homers in High-A ball. Olson has the power to be a catalyst in the heart of a Major League lineup. His poor contact abilities and passive approach at the plate hinder his offensive potential, but those are things he can improve on as he gets more seasoning in the minors. Olson has a strong arm, but he’ll never be a plus defender in the outfield thanks to lackluster speed and range. Alongside Franklin Barreto, Matt Olson could have the most potential in the A’s organization.
Future Outlook: Davis, Olson, and ????
Josh Reddick is the A’s best offensive player remaining in 2016 after Josh Donaldson and Ben Zobrist were both dealt within the last year. With free agency looming for the 29 year-old Reddick, it’s doubtful the small-market A’s will be able to match the offers he receives on the free agent market. As a non-contending team, it’s unlikely the Georgia native will give Oakland a hometown discount either. Even if he does walk, the team has Matt Olson waiting in the wings ready to bring his powerful bat to the show. In left field, the team acquired Khris Davis to lock down the spot for the foreseeable future, but right now Billy Burns is the projected center fielder of the future. With Reddick gone, the A’s will have an outfield consisting of Davis and Olson for years to come. However, unless Burns proves his rookie year wasn't a fluke, Oakland must find a long-term replacement in center field.
After spending eight years with the Royals, Billy Butler signed with the Oakland Athletics for 3yrs/$30MM before the 2015 season. Longtime Royals DH, Mike Sweeney departed Kansas City for the Bay Area in 2008 so Butler followed suit seven years later. In his first year in Oakland, he proved that he’s not even close to the same player that won a silver slugger in 2012. Instead of hitting 29 home runs and driving in 107 runs like he did in 2012, Butler had 15 homers with 65 RBI’s. He won’t be competing for Silver Sluggers anymore, but he’s still a competent designated hitter in Oakland’s lineup.
Future Outlook: Butler has two more years
Billy Butler signed a 3yr/$30MM contract before the 2015 season. After another mediocre season, the 30 year-old only has two more years left on his deal. After his departure, Billy Beane might not have to go outside the organization to find a replacement. With the excessive depth at first base, third base, and shortstop, he could have numerous players at those positions vying for regular playing time. It’s possible Bob Melvin could have his choice of starting players based on the opposing matchup and alter the player DHing on a regular basis. This would be different than the conventional idea of relying on one single player to be the DH repeatedly. We’ve seen Billy Beane revolutionize the game of baseball before, so evolving how they use the DH position would be nothing new for this innovative front office.
With a starting rotation full of right-handers, Billy Beane evened things out a little bit by signing Rich Hill on a 1yr/$6MM deal. This is certainly a risky deal considering Hill has only started four games over the past six seasons (all coming in 2015). However, Beane minimized the risk of the deal by only guaranteeing $6MM to acquire the 36 year-old’s services. This is a prime case of a low-risk, high-reward deal that could be very beneficial for Oakland if he carries over his dominance from last season into 2016.
(EDIT: After a dominant 2016 campaign, albeit with injury concerns, the A's were able to pair Hill with OF Josh Reddick in a package to the Los Angeles Dodgers for prospects RHP Grant Holmes, RHP Frankie Montas, and RHP Jharel Cotton. Click here to see how Hill will fit into the Dodgers' injury-prone rotation [8/1/16]).
After a strong 2014 season led to the A’s third consecutive playoff appearance, Beane believed he needed to acquire more premier players to get over the hump. The biggest name he went after last offseason was Ben Zobrist of the Rays. He had to give up top prospects Daniel Robertson, Boog Powell, and veteran C/DH John Jaso in return for the 33 year-old Zobrist. After disappointing first half to the 2015 season, the A’s were sellers at the trade deadline with Zobrist being the team’s biggest trade asset. With a nine-game lead in the AL Central, Royals GM Dayton Moore believed Zobrist was the piece that could get his squad over the hump after falling short of winning the World Series in 2014. Long story short, the Royals gave up Aaron Brooks (EDIT: which turned into Arismendy Alcantara [6/9/16]) and top prospect Sean Manaea. Ben Zobrist did become that missing piece for Kansas City as they won the 2015 World Series, but the A’s got a great consolation prize in Sean Manaea.
The A’s couldn’t even win with Ben Zobrist on the roster, but at least the team has a brighter future with Sean Manaea now in the Bay Area. While Manaea has the profile of a future ace (6’5”, 2013 first round pick), his inconsistent velocity and command has scouts thinking Manaea will settle in as mid-rotation starter instead. With a fastball that touched 89 MPH in some games and 95 MPH in others has evaluators questioning what type of pitcher Manaea can become. After concluding the year with a successful stint in the Arizona Fall League after dominating Double-A hitters, 2016 could be the year we see what the 24 year-old has to offer.
Of course, Manaea isn’t the only projectable lefty in Oakland’s system. The A’s also have 6’2” Dillon Overton ready to start the season in Triple-A. Overton underwent Tommy John surgery after being drafted in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft, and hasn’t been the same since. His velocity has dipped from the mid-90’s to barely reaching 90 MPH plateau at all. However, his deceptive delivery helps his fading changeup and plus curveball fool opposing hitters. Overton doesn’t have the potential of Manaea after the surgery, but he could still fit in as a No. 4 starter in the bigs.
Future Outlook: It’s boom or bust with Manaea
Considering Rich Hill is signed on a one-year deal as a 36 year-old and Felix Doubront will miss the entire 2016 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, the A’s don’t have many lefties they can rely on going forward. However, they do have Sean Manaea and Dillon Overton poised to make an impact in the majors within the next two seasons. While Overton has lost a lot of velocity post-surgery, he still has enough in his repertoire to become a Major League pitcher.
The real lefty A’s executives are looking forward to is Sean Manaea. Brought over in the Ben Zobrist deal last July, Manaea has boom or bust potential. With a fastball that can touch 95 MPH, but also falter to 89 MPH at times, many scouts are unsure of Manaea’s future. Oakland is hoping he can utilize the height, projectability, and upside scouts saw in the first round pick to become an ace for the club in the future. The inconsistencies that have plagued him in the minors will have to all of a sudden disappear if he is to reach that ace status in the big leagues.
Not many 5’10” people become a Major League Opening Day starter. Not many 5’10” people are armed with a mid-90’s fastball and a devastating breaking ball. Sonny Gray has defied the odds by becoming the ace of the Oakland A’s. The 2011 first round pick is now coming off of back-to-back seasons of 200+ innings, 165+ SO’s, at least 14 wins, and an ERA below 3.10. His exceptional 2015 season earned him the third most AL Cy Young award votes behind Dallas Keuchel and David Price.
The 26 year-old still has four years left under team control giving the Athletics plenty of time before having to decide whether or not to extend Gray. With multiple positions needing upgrades, it’s becoming increasingly likely that the A’s end up selling high on their ace pitcher to receive multiple high-potential prospects in return. Assuming Gray continues his dominance, expect Billy Beane to repeat the nature of trading established star players for numerous top prospects, and restock Oakland’s farm system.
After being brought over from San Diego for Derek Norris, Jesse Hahn performed admirably in his debut season for the A’s. He pitched well until his season was cut short due to elbow and forearm inflammation. Heading into 2016, few pitchers have more injury-related question marks surrounding them than Hahn. With a Tommy John surgery already in Hahn’s past, the A’s are being very conservative with the 26 year-old. If he can get past the injury problems, Hahn could go back to being an effective mid-rotation starter with five more years of team control.
A meteoric rise in 2014 saw Kendall Graveman start the season in Single-A, go through every level in the minors, and finish the year with four strong innings for the Blue Jays at the Major League level. After being included in the Josh Donaldson trade, he’s poised to become a staple in Oakland’s rotation for years to come. The 24 year-old had a solid full-season in the bigs last year posting a 4.05 ERA over 21 starts. Now the A’s need him to keep that up in the middle of their rotation until he’s eligible for free agency after the 2020 season.
After missing close to the entire 2015 season, the Miami Marlins released Henderson Alvarez. This gave the Oakland A’s an opportunity to sign the 26 year-old on a cheap one-year commitment. Before the injury Alvarez was a difficult pitcher to figure out. He has a mid-90’s fastball, but doesn’t strike many batters out. He allows plenty of contact, but rarely gives up the long ball. Because he gives up so much contact, his results are highly dependent on the batter. He could go back to his old self (ERA around 3.50), or he could pick up right where he left off from last year (6.45 ERA in four starts); only time will tell. If he can induce results closer to his 2013/2014 self, the A’s will keep him under team control for 2017 as well.
Included in the Jeff Samardzija trade from a year ago, Chris Bassitt impressed the people in the Bay Area after a strong rookie season in 2015. After posting a 3.58 ERA over 13 starts, he’ll be given the chance to start in Oakland’s rotation in 2016. Bassitt’s improved arsenal led to the positive results in 2015, but he still has a ways to go before cementing himself as a Major League starter.
Oakland has two starters in their farm system with the potential of becoming annual members of the A’s rotation. Casey Meisner and Dakota Chalmers are both projectable righties with fastballs that scouts see consistently hitting mid-90’s once they reach majors. Meisner was the player the A’s acquired for Tyler Clippard last year while Chalmers was selected in the third round out of High School. Both pitchers have ceilings trending toward the middle of the rotation, but the 21 year-old Meisner and the 19 year-old Chalmers have much developing to do before a Major League appearance is imminent.
Daniel Mengden, Raul Alcantara, and Daniel Gossett don’t have the same ceilings as Meisner and Chalmers, but each of them could start games for Oakland every now and then. Many evaluators see Mengden, Alcantara, and Gossett as borderline starters more likely filling the spot starter role if multiple players ahead of them go down with injuries.
(EDIT: The A's added more right-handers to the mix when they traded LHP Rich Hill and OF Josh Reddick to the Los Angeles Dodgers for prospects RHP Grant Holmes, RHP Frankie Montas, and RHP Jharel Cotton. Click here to read more about the trio from LA [8/1/16]).
Future Outlook: Sonny Gray leads the pack
The A’s rotation stands in the middle pack despite the multiple question marks surrounding Henderson Alvarez, Chris Bassitt, and Kendall Graveman. That’s mostly because Sonny Gray has solidified himself as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. With four years of team control left, Gray could see the majority of the rotation fluctuate over that time period. Jesse Hahn seems to be a lock behind Gray, but the question marks start behind them in the rotation. The A’s aren’t overflooded with talent in the farm system, but Casey Meisner and Dakota Chalmers have separated themselves amongst the competition. Those four could become viable options come 2020, but Billy Beane and his staff must work on tweaking and improving this rotation until then.
Many things got in the way of Oakland making a fourth consecutive playoff appearance in 2015. One of the main factors preventing the A’s from October baseball was the labrum tear Sean Doolittle suffered near the beginning of the season. Doolittle was coming off of three straight seasons of ERA’s below 3.15, WHIP’s below 1.080, and at least 60 strikeouts each year. It remains to be seen how Doolittle will rebound from the injury, but the A’s surrounded him with more established veterans to minimize the risk if Doolittle struggles. After signing a 5yr/$10.5MM extension in April, 2014, he’s under contract through 2018 with two more team options for 2019/2020.
Billy Beane didn’t make any blockbuster moves over the offseason, but the additions of Ryan Madson and John Axford could have the biggest impact of all newly acquired A’s. Both setup men have closing experience, but have gone through completely different paths since losing their spot as the primetime reliever. Madson missed every game between 2012-2014 due to recurring elbow injuries before picking up right where he left off in Kansas City’s bullpen last year en route to his second World Series ring. Meanwhile, Axford lost the closer job due to performance, and has spent the last three years posting mediocre stats in five different team’s bullpens. In 2016, the A’s are banking on both returning to form and helping Doolittle close out close games.
Behind the three pitchers with closing experience are four relievers with two combined saves in their respective careers. Ryan Dull, Liam Hendriks, Fernando Rodriguez, and Marc Rzepczynski all still have solid track records as middle relievers. Dull is the unproven prospect, Hendriks is the newly transitioned reliever, and Rodriguez and Rzepczynski are the established veterans with rocky results due to the volatility of relieving games.
The A’s don’t have much in the farm system either, but a few converted starters could boost the depth in the bullpen going forward with names like Zack Erwin and Daniel Gossett coming to mind.
Aaron Kurcz is the only legitimate relief prospect in Oakland’s farm system with a mid-90’s sinker paired with a sweeping slider. The 25 year-old is on the cusp of breaking through to the show and proving his talent against the best hitters in the world. R.J. Alvarez and J.B. Wendelken are two names that could be fixtures in Oakland’s bullpen going forward, but never used much in high-leverage situations.
Future Outlook: Short-term looks good, long-term not so much
After adding Ryan Madsen and John Axford to a bullpen that will get a healthy Doolittle back, the A’s bullpen suddenly looks much better than it did a year ago. The bullpen was a disaster in 2015 with the third highest ERA in the league and the worst Left On-Base percentage (LOB%) as well. Anyway you look at it, Oakland’s bullpen needed drastic improvements, and 2016 looks to be the turning point in that department. However, with little to no relief talent in the farm system, the outlook of the bullpen will appear bleak once again if Beane doesn’t make moves for more established veterans. Until then, the team hopes Doolittle recovers fully from his injury and goes back to being one of the best closers in the game.
OVERALL OUTLOOK: Rebuilding once again
Longtime GM Billy Beane has become one of the most renowned executives in all of sports thanks to his ‘Moneyball’ approach in the early 2000’s. Because of an excellent ability to put together winning teams with such low payrolls, Beane has remained the head of all baseball decisions in Oakland for almost 20 years. However, the fact remains that Beane’s A’s have only reached the American League Championship Series once (and were swept 4-0 by Detroit). Beane’s tenure with Oakland hasn’t netted the best postseason results, and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon.
Oakland does have some quality young talent in place (like Sonny Gray, Sean Manaea, Marcus Semien, Franklin Barreto, and Matt Olsen), but it’s going to take much more than that to compete with the AL West powerhouses like Houston, Texas, and Seattle. The only logical path to a championship appears to be through a long rebuilding process. The real question will be if Beane is still in charge of the team's baseball decisions when it’s over.