No team in baseball has suffered quite as much misfortune the last two years as have the Oakland A’s. Some of it is deserved—trading Josh Donaldson was an objectively terrible move—but most of it has been a string of improbably bad luck. It’s not just the unheralded late-season collapse in 2014, which led perfectly into the infamous late-inning implosion in the AL Wild Card game. It’s the absurd 25–50 record (.333) in one-run games since the Yoenis Cespedes trade; it’s the crazy run distribution that saw the A’s simultaneously boast the AL’s third-best run differential (+48) and its worst winning percentage (.446) on July 3 last season; it’s the MLB-worst 48 blown leads in 2015, eight more than the next worst AL team.
tl;dr: Things have not gone well in Oakland since the 2014 trade deadline. And while all the outlying numbers of the last two year might lead one to look for some serious positive regression in 2016, a look at their unimpressive roster says otherwise.
Brett Lawrie (INF), Jesse Chavez (SP), Drew Pomeranz (SP), A.J. Griffin (SP), Dan Otero (RP), Pat Venditte (RP), Sean Nolin (RP)
Khris Davis (OF), Rich Hill (SP), Ryan Madson (RP), Liam Hendriks (RP), Jed Lowrie (2B/SS), Yonder Alonso (1B), John Axford (RP), Marc Rzepczynski (RP), Chris Coghlan (UTIL), Henderson Alvarez (SP)
Billy Beane has always been on the hunt for cheap, potentially undervalued assets around the league, but this year he and new GM David Forst seem to have really gone all-out on the concept*. The four players they brought in who stand to be at least semi-regulars in the lineup—Khris Davis, Jed Lowrie, Yonder Alonso, and Chris Coghlan—will earn a combined $15.5 million in 2016, or about two-thirds of what the Angels will pay Josh Hamilton to suit up for the Rangers. That’s a great deal, financially speaking, but what’ll actually get the A’s in terms of offensive production, outside of Davis, is less clear. Lowrie is well past his prime, Alonso is the poor man’s James Loney, and Coghlan is only two years removed from being a sub-replacement player. They’d be solid pieces on a team looking to shore up the back-end of an already strong offense, but the A’s don’t seem to be that.
There’s a scenario where Danny Valencia, Billy Burns, Josh Reddick, and Stephen Vogt all build on their strong 2015 seasons, or at least hold at that level, but I’m not sure I would construct my roster with that expectation. Valencia is a platoon player who’s career year was heavily buoyed by unprecedented success against right-handed pitching, Burns is one pulled hamstring away from losing a huge chunk of his value, Reddick is going to undoubtedly be traded before the end of the year, and Vogt… well, OK, Vogt is gonna be good (against RHPs, at least). This lineup could be average, but it doesn’t seem to have much upside beyond that.
*This is probably risk aversion from having to dole out $11 million to both Billy Butler and Coco Crisp for 2016.
Sonny Gray and pray for rain. So, so much rain.
I mean… their No. 2 starter owns a 4.57 ERA in 73 career starts. That is unequivocally bad. Yes, he posted a 1.55 ERA with an 11.2 K/9 rate in four starts for the Red Sox late last season, but he also posted an 11.25 ERA with an 6.8 K/9 rate in four starts for the A’s this spring. Which small sample would you put money on? (Average those out, you get a 4.39 ERA.)
Chris Bassitt and Kendall Graveman both have some upside, but it’s the kind where maybe they’ll end up pitching well enough over a full season to belong in the bigs as No. 3 and No. 4 starters. For now, they occupy those spots only nominally. Finally, Felix Doubront is just not good. Expect him to be replaced by Jesse Hahn, Henderson Alvarez, and/or Sean Manaea in fairly short order.
If you squint really hard, I suppose there’s a way this rotation works out. Even if Rich Hill goes completely belly up, Alvarez and Hahn could come in and save the day somewhat. Not great odds, though.
Hey, a part of Oakland’s roster that actually seems to project well! The A’s were absolutely undone by a shallow bullpen last season, so it makes sense that they’d spend the most time and money this winter rebuilding there. With Ryan Madson, John Axford, Liam Hendriks, and Marc Rezepczynski now on board, the bullpen won’t fall to pieces (again) should Sean Doolittle miss a good chunk of the season (again).
Ryan Dull was strong in his brief debut with the club last season, and will have Future Closer/Trade Bait written all over him if he can keep it up in 2016.
Outside of the bullpen, this team just does not look good. I am at a loss as to how they are projected by both PECOTA and FanGraphs to be right on par with the Angels this season. I suppose there’s always a possibility of Billy Beane Magic™, but I’m not betting on it.
Player Previews: Yunel Escobar; Kole Calhoun; Mike Trout; Albert Pujols; C.J. Cron; Daniel Nava; Carlos Pérez; Johnny Giavotella; Geovany Soto; Andrelton Simmons; Cliff Pennington; Jered Weaver; Andrew Heaney; Garrett Richards; Hector Santiago; Matt Shoemaker; Huston Street; Nick Tropeano; Joe Smith; Mike Morin; José Álvarez; Fernando Salas; Craig Gentry; Cory Rasmus; Roster Depth