One year ago today, many A’s fans and baseball pundits believed that 2014 would be the Oakland Athletics’ last chance at a World Series title for the foreseeable future. Flash forward to today, and General Manager Billy Beane may have given one last breath of life into his team.
As an A’s fan, 2014 was a fun yet supremely disappointing season in many regards. As painful as the collapse was, I’ll never not enjoy watching one of my favorite teams go to the playoffs (I’m a Vikings and a Timberwolves fan… I don’t take playoff trips for granted).
After a puzzling collapse in which the best offense in baseball collectively forgot how to hit a baseball, Beane realized that the club’s core players just weren’t going to get it done.
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After the A’s lost in the Wild Card game in heartbreaking fashion, many people wondered if they had seen some of their beloved Athletics don the green and gold for the last time. A’s fans had seen this in 2006: fall well short in the postseason, have absolutely zero hope for the future in the farm system, and promptly see the team blown up in the offseason.
As it turns out, there is one major difference between the 2006-’07 offseason and now. Back then, Beane aimed to rebuild. Now, he is re-tooling.
Through free agent signings and trades, the A’s have added Billy Butler, Ike Davis, Brett Lawrie, Mark Canha, Marcus Semien, Ben Zobrist, Tyler Clippard, and a ton of young quality arms. The A’s could end up being even better than they were a season ago.
The A’s are attempting to do A’s things this season — replace overvalued, overpaid pieces with younger, cheaper, comparable players. Take Lawrie and the first base platoon for example.
A Davis/Butler platoon at first is both younger and more productive than a regressing Brandon Moss. Davis has a career .254/.357/.456 line against RHPs, while Butler has hit .314/.393/.519 against lefties. Moss? .248/.327/.473 against righties and .248/.322/.401 against lefties. That is a big upgrade for Oakland.
The bullpen will also be much improved with the addition of Clippard to replace Luke Gregerson. Luke was a nice player but seemed to make the biggest mistakes at the worst possible times. Clippard and Gregerson had similar ERAs last season (2.18 vs. 2.12, respectively), but Clippard’s FIP was far lower (2.75 vs. 3.24) which suggests that Gregerson was often times bailed out by good defense while Clippard was good on his own.
The upgrades certainly don’t stop there, but I think it goes without saying that Ben Zobrist is an infinitely better option at second than Eric Sogard.
Unfortunately, Beane’s moves didn’t address the farm system. He gave up the Athletics’ no. 1 prospect in Daniel Robertson to acquire Zobrist and, indirectly, Clippard. These two will be free agents at the end of the season and almost assuredly will not sign with Oakland. Furthermore, while he may have stockpiled many young, talented pitchers, they can’t play every position.
Beane took a major gamble last season and lost. He’s taking another huge gamble this season. He opted to avoid a lengthy rebuild and reload the farm system to go after a short-term fix. Yes, Oakland received a promising young shortstop in Franklin Barreto, but he is only 18 and is years away from the majors.
Traditional rebuilds have an eye on 3-4 years in the future. Beane probably could have sacrificed those years, 2015 included, to completely restock the farm, but he saw something. He realized there were pieces he could acquire to assemble a new core and go for it all. Again. As a fan, I love it. There’s nothing better than a summer in which the A’s have a chance for the pennant.
2015 will be a fun ride.