The Oakland Athletics’ rebuilding process took an inevitable step on Monday when they dealt their ace Sonny Gray to the New York Yankees for three young players. Now that the A’s rebuild is in full swing, what might that process look like and how long will it take for Oakland to be a contender once again?
The A’s have been flirting with a rebuild since the 2014 offseason, when they traded Josh Donaldson, Jeff Samardzija, Derek Norris and Brandon Moss following a wild-card loss to the Kansas City Royals. However, they didn’t fully commit to rebuilding. For every one of those trades, they made veteran additions through free agent signings and low-profile deals, adding players such as Ben Zobrist, Rich Hill, Matt Joyce, Yonder Alonso, Ryan Madson, Rajai Davis, Jed Lowrie, Santiago Casilla, Trevor Plouffe, Adam Rosales and John Axford. Those veterans weren’t acquired to fill a long-term need for the team but instead were meant to keep the A’s somewhat competitive year after year. That approach didn’t net them many wins and prevented the A’s from giving younger players a meaningful look in the big leagues.
Things began to change for the A’s in June. Rather than continue to lose with a veteran-laden starting lineup, the A’s decided to move forward with their rebuild and give more playing time to their younger players. Veterans Plouffe, Stephen Vogt and, most recently, Rosales were let go to allow Matt Chapman, Bruce Maxwell and Chad Pinder, respectively, the opportunity to take over their roles. Axford also was released. Madson and Sean Doolittle were traded, and, of course, so was Gray. Over the next few months, the A’s likely will continue to replace the veterans in their lineup with younger players. If suitors can be found past the non-waiver deadline for players like Lowrie, Alonso and Davis, they also will be dealt. Even if those players aren’t traded, the A’s likely will give their younger players most of the playing time when rosters expand in September.
Going into the offseason, the A’s roster turnover should continue. The A’s likely will explore trading Joyce, Santiago Casilla and other veterans (whether there is a market for those players remains to be seen). In addition, the A’s will have a big decision to make about whether to hold onto — and possibly extend — Khris Davis or use him as a chip to continue the rebuilding process.
The end result should be an A’s 25-man roster dominated by first- and second-year players in 2018. There will be a few younger veterans on the roster such as Marcus Semien, Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea and Ryon Healy, but the vast majority of the A’s regular lineup will be at the beginning stages of their big-league careers. With a group of prospects currently either getting their feet wet in the big leagues or playing in Triple-A and Double-A, the A’s hope they will form the core of their next contending team. Oakland will use the next two years to evaluate those players at the big-league level. Some will find roles with the A’s while others will fall back.
At the same time the A’s are evaluating young players in the big leagues, they also will look to add more talent to the lower levels of their minor league system. The A’s have had the sixth overall pick in each of the past two drafts and had big bonus pools to spend because of that draft position. They will be drafting, most likely, in the top 10 again next year. In addition, the A’s spent big during the 2016-2017 international free agent period. Their spending put them in the penalty — limiting the A’s to spend no more than $300,000 on any international prospect for this year and next. But the hope is that the A’s netted several potential top prospects with the haul. Oakland will continue to put a lot of resources into its scouting department to get the best possible returns it can from its draft position, and will spend big on the international market again, once the A’s are out of the penalty phase.
The A’s goal will be to have a group of players with two to five years of service time as the core of their big league roster when they are ready to contend. The A’s also will look to build up their farm system so that if that core materializes, Oakland will have the resources to make trades to augment the roster and make a push for a title. If that plan sounds familiar, it should. It is the model that the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs most recently used to get into title contention. It is also the plan the Chicago White Sox and the Atlanta Braves are utilizing now. And, if you want to go way back in history, it is similar to the approach the A’s took in the mid-1980s in building what would become their Bash Brothers dynasty, and in the mid-1990s when building what would be the early 2000s teams.
If all breaks right for the A’s, their rebuilding process will end just as they are opening a new ballpark in Oakland. A lot will have to go right for the A’s for the timing to work out that way, but it is a goal for the organization to pursue. The most dangerous teams in baseball aren’t necessarily the deep-pocketed ones; they are the ones with young stars at the big-league level and prospects other organizations covet. For the A’s to be dangerous again, they had to move out of the “one foot in/one foot out” approach to rebuilding that they employed the past two seasons. Now that they are embracing the rebuild, the A’s can move forward with a clear direction.
By Mellisa Lockard