Athletics

Billy Beane and the A's are a baseball problem, not a marketing problem

Billy Beane and the A's are a baseball problem, not a marketing problem

When Sonny Gray is traded by the Oakland Athletics (15 days and counting, for you calendar whores), the longest-serving Elephants will be, as you well know, shortstop Marcus Semien and catcher Josh Phegley, the two enduring pieces of the 2014 Jeff Samardzija dump job.

In other words, Semien and Phegley are not long for the Oakland Job Fair, and that would leave the longest serving Athletic as . . .

Sean Manaea, the next ace of this staff of Ikea pieces. He’s been an Athletic for a season and a half, which means that he may not see the first of the year.

You see, the A’s are now being run as though they are a vegetable bin, with a shelf life of “I saw this broccoli a week ago. Get rid of it.”

This is an advancement from their usual veteran cleanouts, because with the trade of Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to Washington Sunday, the A’s have nearly achieved what we thought their true goal has been – to trade every player until they have for no players at all and just turn the Coliseum into a ghost ship.

And no, it doesn’t matter what the division of labor actually is -- whether this is being inspired by Billy Beane and executed by David Forst, or done a different way. The A’s have always been the most adept team in baseball at self-immolation, and now they can see the finish line – the first team to take the theory of scorched earth and modify it to become scorched scorch.

It isn’t so much that they have taken a nascent juggernaut and blown it up as some weird roster-o-phobic indulgence. The A’s are 42-50, or slightly better than most people thought they’d be at this point, and lots better than the Giants, as though that has ever been a consideration – though it should be.

But the A’s are working on their own clock, which is to have a real post-Pinocchio baseball team in time for the new stadium, which needs to be done by the time Major League Baseball removes their revenue sharing sippy cup. And with that in mind, they have decided to clear out the store for new inventory.

Again.

Hence, Wm. Lamar Beane explaining what people have been shrieking at him for years:

“Really what’s been missing the last 20 years is keeping these players,” Beane told a mediatronic throng before Sunday’s 7-3 win over Cleveland. “We need to change that narrative by creating a good team and ultimately committing to keep them around so that when people buy a ticket, they know that the team is going to be around for a few years.”

He then followed with an acknowledgement that the new sheriff in town is architecture, and reinventing the flat tire is no longer permissible.

“It sort of fits into everything in the direction we’re going,” Beane said of the deal. “First of all, we have to take a look at where we are — we’re in last place. And the direction we’re heading is, we’re going younger. We need to be disciplined with it, particularly with what we’re trying to do in the community as far as a stadium. There’s only one way to open a stadium successfully, and that’s with a good, young team. We’ve never really committed to a full rebuild. ... I will say this, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with ownership: There is a real commitment to finding a stadium. That’s not just lip service at this point. You’ve seen it.”

The real problem, of course, is that they have torn down the house because they’ve had to tear down the house. It isn’t so much that fans can’t stay connected to players as it is that the A’s braintrust has delivered players who are deemed non-useful so quickly.

It suggests, after all is said and done, that their lack of patience is the result of their missed guesses, and their missed guesses are the result of their lack of patience.

It may simply be that Beane, and Forst as his first adjutant/successor, are not as good as they should be at creating teams worth keeping, and excellent at starting over.

This is chickeny-eggery debate at its least satisfying, but the A’s are not a marketing problem. They are a baseball problem. Their rebuilds should not be so frequent, and they should not be skilled at them. The market-size argument is simply not good enough any more, and it really wasn’t that compelling to begin with.

And definitely not good enough for Beane at long last.

“Absolutely, no doubt about it,” he said. “The important end of the sentence is rebuilding and keeping them. This is my 20th year on the job. There are only so many cycles that I can go through before I get as exasperated as everybody else.”

The obvious rejoinder after all these years is, “What kept you, Skippy?”

A's hire Matt Williams as third base coach

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AP

A's hire Matt Williams as third base coach

OAKLANDThe Oakland A’s named Matt Williams as third base coach on Bob Melvin’s coaching staff for the 2018 season, the club announced today.

Williams spent five seasons on the Arizona Diamondbacks coaching staff as first base coach (2010) and third base coach (2011-13, 16) and also managed the Washington Nationals for two seasons.  He was named National League Manager of the Year by the BBWAA in his first season as manager in 2014, guiding the Nationals to a 96-66 record and an NL East title.  He went 83-79 in 2015 for a 179-145 (.552) record in two seasons as manager.

Williams played 17 seasons in the majors with San Francisco (1987-96), Cleveland (1997) and Arizona (1998-2003).  He was a .268 career hitter with 378 home runs and 1218 RBI in 1866 games.  Williams was a five-time All-Star and won four Gold Gloves as a third baseman.

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Ryon Healy trade has domino effect

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AP

Ryon Healy trade has domino effect

The A’s wasted no time making their first major move of the offseason, and it has a domino effect on how their 2018 lineup will take shape.

The trade of young slugger Ryon Healy to the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday paves the way for left fielder Khris Davis to start getting heavy at-bats as the designated hitter, the spot left vacant by Healy.

It also points to another move the A’s want to pull off — acquiring a right-handed hitting corner outfielder who presumably can eat up those defensive innings that Davis spends as the DH.

It’s a series of moves that isn’t all that surprising given the A’s roster makeup right now. Healy, who hit .282 with 38 homers in 221 games over his first two big league seasons, is capable of playing either first or third base. But Matt Olson and Matt Chapman secured those spots, respectively, with their solid showings as rookies last season.

“We’ve obviously talked a lot since the end of the season about adding to the bullpen,” A’s general manager David Forst said on a conference call Wednesday night. “At the same time, with the emergence of Matt and Matt, on the corners, maybe Ryon needed to be somebody we might have to move ...”

It makes sense for Oakland to find a way to shift Davis from being the everyday left fielder while still keeping his 40-homer bat in the lineup. Opponents have routinely taken extra bases the past two seasons on Davis’ throwing arm, and whether they add a newcomer to play left or shift Joyce or someone else there, chances are they can benefit from better defense in left.

The A’s also feel they got an important chip back from Seattle to help bolster a bullpen that ranked 13th in the American League last season with a 4.57 ERA. They received right-hander Emilio Pagan (along with minor league shortstop Alexander Campos), and figure that the 26-year-old Pagan is someone the A’s have pegged to be an immediate contributor in their ‘pen.

A 10th round draft pick in 2013, Pagan made his big league debut in 2017 and posted a 3.22 ERA over 34 games spread over four stints with Seattle. He endured a rocky first couple of outings but, after being called up for good in the second half, eventually worked his way into a late-inning setup role. Pagan struck out 56 and walked just eight in 50 1/3 innings, numbers that surely popped out to Oakland’s front office.

He’ll likely be called upon in middle relief to help set the table for Chris Hatcher and closer Blake Treinen, as the bullpen currently looks.

Campos, just 17, spent this past season in the Dominican Summer League, and Forst said the A’s were eyeing Campos last summer when they eventually traded Yonder Alonso to the Mariners. Oakland wound up getting center fielder Boog Powell back in that deal.

Did the A’s rake in enough for Healy? As with all trades, it will take time to judge. But it’s fair to say that Healy’s departure will be felt in a clubhouse that is characterized by the emergence of many young position players, and he was a part of that group. In fact, when Healy was called up in July 2016 — knocking Danny Valencia out as the regular third baseman — he became the first of several promising position-player prospects to establish himself in Oakland’s lineup.

He rented a house in the East Bay and eventually took in Chapman, Olson and Chad Pinder as roommates. There’s a fiery side to Healy’s on-field personality that was a positive for the A’s, and watching him play Oakland as a member of an AL West rival will make for entertaining theatre.

Another storyline is how Davis takes to being a regular DH. Forst praised Davis’ approach to his game and doesn’t anticipate any problems, adding that the A’s still want to get Davis some time in the outfield.