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2018 AL West Preview: The Oakland Athletics

50 exciting young players and one horrible stadium

Oakland Athletics v Chicago White Sox
fun fact: when I searched “Oakland Athletics hug” in our picture tool, it took me three pages to get to a picture actually featuring any Oakland Athletics
Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Our series examining the Mariners’ AL West rivals continues this week, with our gaze lifting northward to the Bay Area. If you missed our overview of the Angels, start here. Wait, hang on—I’m being told I can’t even afford to look at pictures of the Bay Area, I’m actually typing this from the closet I share in El Cerrito with four other bloggers. Anyway, same drill here as before: today, a general overview; tomorrow John and Connor will look into the starting 9 the A’s will field (at least, the 9 who will start the season); Wednesday Jake will cover the pitching; and on Thursday we’ll look into their 2018 projections and farm system.

2017: the A’s season in review:

Last year, for the third consecutive year, the A’s ended up in the bottom of the AL West, 12 games under .500. Here is a picture of the A’s top 12 WAR producers last year. How many of them can you recognize?

I count four where I can actually match the face to the name. I know, objectively, one of these people is Jed Lowrie, and at least two are Matts. Three are Matts? Are they not all, kind of, ontologically speaking, Matt-ish? (Except you, Daniel Mengden, you and your face-squirrel).

High point of the season:

Dingers! We got dingers! We got lots and lots of dingers! Of the four top home run-hitting teams in baseball last year, three of the four were AL West teams, with the A’s checking in right behind the Yankees, Astros, and Rangers, with the Orioles right behind them. That’s an impressive accomplishment, considering not only the firepower in the Yankees and Astros lineups, but also the homer-happy park factors of all the other top home run teams. Almost half of the A’s total runs last year came in the form of the longball, which may not be a sustainable way to build an offense, but is super-fun to watch when things are going well.

Low point of the season:

About that “when things are going well” part. The 2017 A’s had streaks where they lost four or more games in a row on eight separate occasions, with the worst losing streak an absolutely brutal stretch from the end of August into September where they lost eight in a row, being swept at the Angels, then at the Mariners, then returned home to suffer two more losses at the hands of their in-state division rivals before finally scraping out a win in the last game of the series. That win would propel them on to a four-game sweep of the Astros where they compiled 40—not a typo—runs. There’s streaky, and then there’s the 2017 Oakland A’s.

Side note: The A’s had the most walkoff losses in the division, with 8. That’s how many walkoff losses Seattle and Houston had combined. However, all these numbers pale in comparison to the Blue Jays’ 15 walkoff losses, so congratulations, Oakland, you’re not even the best at being the worst.

Strength of the 2017 team:

Even though I make fun of Jed Lowrie and their triumvirate of Matts, the A’s got just over a combined 12 wins from those four players, plus modest contributions from the rest of their starting nine. The A’s aren’t in a position to win now, so their young players are gaining MLB experience and while they might not be lighting the world on fire, they aren’t embarrassing themselves, either. Oakland has lots of cheap, young talent that should only get better. Getting 77 dingers from those four—plus another 43 from “two true outcomes” Khris Davis—doesn’t hurt, either.

Weakness of the 2017 team:

The A’s have long employed a strategy of selling off their players the instant the red jewel in their hands start to glow and in turn stacking up young, controllable talent via trades and the draft. While that’s definitely a way to build up a young, cheap team to play in your old, cheap stadium, there’s something to be said for a steady veteran presence that can help young players refocus when they struggle in-season. Khris Davis may be a veteran presence, but I wouldn’t exactly call him a steady performer. Ryon Healy has spoken in interviews about how excited he is to be able to learn from Seattle’s veterans, notably Nelson Cruz. I’ll be curious to see if Healy’s game does indeed take a step forward on a team with more pronounced veteran leadership.

Selected off-season additions and subtractions:

Subtractions: RHP Jesse Hahn (trade), 1B Ryon Healy (trade)

Additions: DH Brandon Moss (trade); LHP Ryan Buchter (trade); RHP Yusmeiro Petit (FA); RF Stephen Piscotty (trade), RHP Emilio Pagan (trade)

The A’s managed to add to their roster without spending much money or sacrificing a ton of talent, as is their MO. They got a few lottery tickets in PTBNL prospects by sending off players like Joey Wendle and Jaycob Brugman, but overall it’s been a mostly quiet off-season in Oakland (unless they’re doing something like last year when they offered Encarnacion $20MM/yr and we only heard about it later). Maybe the most notable move is the Piscotty trade, which is one of those trades that benefits both teams: the A’s gave up two solid infield prospects in Max Schrock and Yairo Munoz from their rich farm to the infield-deprived Cardinals, who returned one of their many surplus outfielders to an A’s outfield that has some holes in it. There’s more to it than that, though: Piscotty grew up an hour away from Oakland and attended Stanford. This past May, his mother Gretchen was diagnosed with ALS, and the trade will allow him to be closer to his family.