The Oakland A’s are a franchise that has gone in cycles during the tenure of club president Billy Beane. They produced consistent contenders from 1999-2006, then had to tear it down and rebuild given the constraints of the small market. From 2012-14, the A’s had another nice run. They’ve spent the last three years in tear down-rebuild mode. They sit with a record of 31-29 and it bears asking if this Oakland team is again back on the rebound.
How this ultimately plays out depends on the development of six key players, ranging in age from 24-26…
*Sean Manea is the ace of the rotation and as established as you can be for a 26-year-old. He has made 12 starts this season and has a 3.60 ERA. What we’re waiting to see is if Manea has another level he can reach, that of legitimate ace on a playoff team. Keep in mind, a 3.60 ERA is much higher in Oakland, with its large dimensions and vast foul-ground than it would be at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium.
*Daniel Mengden, also a starting pitcher is 25 and off to a strong start. The ERA is 2.91 after twelve starts. This is consistent with what Mengden showed last year in his brief major league stint, when he put up a 3.14 ERA in seven starts.
*Another 25-year-old starting pitcher named Daniel, in this case Daniel Gossett. The early returns in this case aren’t as promising. Gossett’s ERA is 5.18.
*In the bullpen, 26-year-old Lou Trivino has been a key part of the fourth-best relief corps in the American League. Trivino, a true rookie, has an ERA of 0.82 doing setup work for Oakland’s solid closer, Blake Treinen.
*The everyday lineup has a pair of first-round draft picks at the corner infield spots. Back in 2012, Beane invested in a high school first baseman named Matt Olson. Last year, Olson made his big league debut. Playing just 59 games, he posted an on-base percentage of .352, a slugging percentage of .651 and finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting.
The numbers aren’t that spectacular this year, but even with major league pitchers getting a book on him, Olson’s stat line is still a solid .332/.471—and let’s keep in mind, those ballpark dimensions discussed above are going to hold those numbers back. Who knows what hitters like Olson—to say nothing of veterans like DH Khris Davis—might do with the inviting targets of the short porch in the Bronx or the Pesky Pole in Boston.
Third baseman Matt Chapman was drafted in 2014 out of UC-Fullerton, a good baseball program that just reached the NCAA Super-Regionals this year. Chapman also got his first big-league time last season and he slugged .472. The numbers are down this year, but .422 slugging is still respectable for this early stage of a career.
It’s tough to see this Oakland team making the playoffs this season, although if Seattle comes back to the pack as I predicted they would yesterday, it’s possible. A more realistic goal is to continue to play winning baseball and have a strong foundation in place to start another cycle of contending teams. That’s a goal well within reach.