On Monday, the Oakland Athletics held a season-ending press conference. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle and Joe Stiglich of NBC Sports were present, and both provided insightful takes on the words from A’s VP of Baseball Operations Billy Beane and GM David Forst.
Somewhat expectedly, it doesn’t seem as though the A’s are likely to add significant payroll or make any sort of all-in push towards contention this year.
“Next year, you want to improve,” Beane says (via Slusser), “but more than anything, if we can just get long-term pieces in — a process that was started this year and will continue on — I think we’ll feel good. If we have the opportunity for a playoff spot, of course, I think we’ve always been opportunistic, and we’ll look at the winter that way, but we do want to be disciplined long term.”
Slusser also adds that Beane expressed disappointment in the volatile development process of their young pitchers (which would include up-and-down seasons from Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman and Jharel Cotton), but adds that the free-agent market for starting pitchers is too risky to plunge into. The A’s, according to Beane, want to build their pitching staff “organically.” 2016 first-rounder A.J. Puk and trade acquisition James Kaprielian are good bets to contribute to the A’s rotation in the near future as well.
However, the A’s believe that their offense is in very good shape for the future. Khris Davis hit 43 homers last season, and they have no plans to shop the slugger, per Beane (via Slusser). He’ll complement a young core led by Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Bruce Maxwell and Chad Pinder that has earned the faith of the front office. That group will only get stronger as additional minor leaguers join the MLB club. Highly-touted prospect Franklin Barreto could begin the season at Triple-A, for instance, but seems likely to contribute in 2018 as well.
Notably, the A’s brain trust is already looking at which members of the young core to lock up via long-term extensions.
“First, we want to make sure we’re identifying the right guys,” said Beane (via Stiglich). “I’ll just say it’s probably a conversation we’ve already started. We’ve had that discussion already. It’s going to be important for us to do it.”
Olson, Chapman, Manaea, and Ryon Healy all seem like candidates for these type of extensions (though Slusser notes that Oakland could choose to dangle Healy in potential trades for pitching help). The A’s appear to be acting more proactively on this front than the organization typically has in past years, and interestingly, Beane cites the new stadium as a factor.
“When you’re talking about building a club for a stadium that’s six years off, and if you’re talking about locking them up, then you’re looking to have to lock them up for a long time. So that’s sort of the trick and the balance that we have to address this offseason, if we’re going to embark on that… I think right now we’ve just got to operate that (the ballpark) is going to happen (on time). The other option is one we’ve done my entire career here, which is constant churn. I’m churned out.”
The A’s are treating their new ballpark as additional motivation to get a strong perennial contender together. They believe that by combining a team the fans are excited about with a move to a brand new stadium, they can give a major boost to a franchise that will continue to see revenue-sharing checks dwindle over the next few seasons. Beane cites the Indians’ success with a similar enterprise back in the 90s as the model for his plan.
“I think you have to be very proactive long before a stadium opens,” Beane said (via Slusser, in a separate article). “Listen, you have to get people excited about the product that’s going in a new stadium if you expect them to pay higher prices or even come at all. That’s really important. So for me, the model has always been the Indians. No one has done it since then nearly as well. If you wait too long and try to create a team a year before the stadium opens, most of them badly miss the mark, and we’ve got to take advantage of it.”
It’s been a tough couple of seasons for the A’s since an aggressive but ultimately disappointing playoff push in 2014. But if they can lock up some of their promising young players and continue to add to an intriguing foundation, the franchise could be well on its way to sustainable success sooner than later.