It was inevitable, the way most any outcome is when it’s given ample time and opportunity: The Athletics have, at last, zigged and zagged their way to near-oblivion.
Billy Beane, David Forst, and their parliament of front-office owls had spent their tenures going against every widespread strategical trend to find a metaphorical nut — akin to the good little hipster squirrel small-payroll teams must emulate to compete on a regular basis — and had done well in doing so, reaching the postseason each fall from 2012-14. At some point, though, the mathematical principles guiding Oakland’s decisions were going to trump their resourcefulness.
“Some point” passed in 2015, when Oakland’s nearly two-decade-long stretch without a 90-loss campaign ended. The A’s are going to drop another 90 this season, giving them consecutive such efforts for the first time since the ’70s. Shy of blind faith in Beane and Forst — and that used to be enough — there isn’t sufficient reason to believe things will be different for Oakland in 2017.
So, what are we to make of these A’s — do they remain on the cutting edge, or have they fallen off? Truthfully, it’s hard to know.
The A’s have always operated differently than the factory default. For a while, Beane and Forst had seemingly mastered their shmoney dance: They would find useful veterans in the bushes or the soil or the sand or wherever, extract a few productive seasons from them, then trade them to restart the cycle. They were one of the righteous few who resisted tanking — perhaps because they lacked the funds to sign top amateur talent. Instead they approached each winter with the intent to compete next season — an intent that, when twinned with their capped resources, led to confusing stretches where they bought and sold.
Recently, Oakland’s frenzied moves haven’t worked out as expected. Trading Josh Donaldson for Brett Lawrie (among others) looks like a franchise-altering misstep — as is the case whenever a team deals a MVP-caliber player without receiving one in return. They also missed out on Drew Pomeranz‘s ascent, though it’s tougher to hold that misfire against them. Still, the A’s of the past would’ve benefited from those kinds of swaps — now they’re on the other side of the trade.
Beane and Forst haven’t been aided by the fact that their dips into the up-market have worked out poorly. It’s still anyone’s guess as to why the A’s devoted so much of their resources to relievers (Jim Johnson, Tyler Clippard) and a designated hitter (Billy Butler), but none of the above worked. The A’s did hit on their Rich Hill and Ryan Madson signings, leading us to wonder if that’s their future: gambling on high-variance deal after high-variance deal as a way to differentiate themselves in a league that’s suddenly full of smart (or smarter) front offices.
And therein is the difficulty in anticipating improvement from the A’s in the near-future. At best, they’ll win enough bets to come out ahead here and there. At worst, they’ll try resorting to the same old dance whose choreography they can no longer pull off — in large part because their lacking big-league roster has limited their nimbleness. Sure, there’s Sonny Gray and maybe a few others, but years of fruitless drafts and some rough trades have left them in an undesirable spot, one without a sufficient currency in cash, veterans, or prospects.
You can never say for certain what the future holds for the A’s — trust us, we’ve tried time and again — but we just have a hunch it’s nothing good. Not anytime soon.
Source: CBS Sports / Here’s how the A’s went from small-market heroes to present-day zeroes