A’s must win at the deadline to win in 2018

The A’s are sellers at the trade deadline, once more.

What’s different from 2015, though, is the market and their roster’s surging performances, which should prompt general manager David Forst to sell as many pieces as he can so the A’s can compete in 2018.

That starts with Billy Butler, who the team signed after the 2014 season, and underwhelmed as a designated hitter during his first season with Oakland. Butler has posted stats well below his career averages in 2016, but he’s vastly improved his road numbers, suggesting that he may be a valuable bench player or designated hitter for a team with needs at first base.

Sonny Gray, with a barren pitching market, could join teammate Rich Hill to fulfill a blockbuster deal that could help the A’s contend in two years — and most teams within seven games of first place likely willing to listen to big offers.

Josh Reddick, who the A’s have stubbornly scorned with ridiculous contract negotiating — while the outfielder has been met with repugnance in the A’s clubhouse — could headline the outfield market and get a decent return for Forst. Coco Crisp could net a rookie player with raw talent.

And Stephen Vogt, with one of the slimmest catcher’s markets in recent history, could put the A’s over the top when the time to contend is there.

The A’s, of course, haven’t excelled in their player evaluations in recent years.

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Strapped with a self-imposed low budget payroll limit, while raking in the dough from the league’s revenue sharing, the A’s are not in the best position to succeed. But their evaluators have been poor, and that may be the gentle choice of adjective.

It’s been made evident by the last two season’s worth of trades. That includes shipping pitcher Drew Pomeranz to San Diego for Yonder Alonso. Pomeranz is an All Star. Alonso is still a sub-par hitter that can play a decent first base.

Josh Donaldson, who Oakland moved to Toronto following an MVP-caliber year in 2014, got the A’s a big, fat, whopping, nothing. Jeff Samardzija got the A’s Marcus Semien, who should be shopped this month, and a player with tremendous upside with the right cast of characters around him.

In all, though, the A’s have done little to build a real contender, ever really, through trades. They’ve succeeded in getting to the postseason. And that’s not easy. Beyond that, though, the A’s have always been more overachievers than consistent threats.

What’s more, the A’s have never been so far behind the curve as they are today. Their metrics are not proprietary, save for maybe some medical information, and that’s not going to change soon.

But the A’s front office may be nearing a shakeup, especially if they screw the pooch on this season’s trade deadline.

More importantly, here’s the lineup the A’s could have entered the 2015 trade deadline with by not moving any notable players, along with their on base percentages at the time:

.317 Billy Burns
.353 Ben Zobrist
.401 Josh Donaldson
.366 Yoenis Cespedes
.340 Josh Reddick
.336 Stephen Vogt
.317 Mark Canha
.313 Billy Butler
.300 Addison Russell

(H/T to Rob Neyer and JABO for that data)

Here’s who the A’s have acquired via trade, and some bits on them:

3B Brett Lawrie // Lawrie was never well liked in the A’s clubhouse, met with total disdain by some, and never seemed to offer the same effort as others. He was a bad hitter and defender, often attempting to make the hero’s play rather than the team’s play.

SP Kendall Graveman // I like Graveman, he’s down to earth, gives everything he has, and takes things hard when they don’t go his way. I think there’s more room for growth. But not much more, and that means his ceiling is as a fourth or fifth starter.

OF Billy Burns // The days of slap shot singles appear to be over, and Burns’ numbers are showing the true impact of what he can do. Burns, like Graveman, does everything he knows how to do so the team can win. But, like Graveman, his total ability is limited.

ML IF Joey Wendle // Wendle is a prime example of where things get interesting with the A’s. We don’t know what he can do in the bigs, and won’t for several years. He doesn’t look like a superstar, though, and is nowhere near the top 25 in any notable media scouting list.

And their 2014 first round draft pick, who is on the roster for now…

ML 3B Matt Chapman // Another minor leaguer who could find himself playing at the Coliseum in September, Chapman has pop, and he can make consistent contact at the minor league level. But facing big league pitching is so different — where guys like Graveman shine at AAA, but then find themselves in a new and unfortunate reality — and Chapman could be another version of Graveman.

Those are some of the players the A’s have gotten in trades, and certainly some of the most notable. None have become anything close to stars, though Oakland gave up stars to get some of them. Wendle was brought in because Moss overachieved for a second season.

Lawrie never showed himself to be anything more than an average major leaguer, and the A’s gave up the best hitter in the American League to get him.

Graveman, too, as much as I appreciate his personality and work ethic, probably won’t live up to what even a quarter of Donaldson meant for a team.

Here’s what the A’s do have coming, though: a trio of exceedingly talented starters who could become frontline options for any roster.

Sean Manaea, Dillon Overton and Daniel Mengden have top flight potential, and the A’s should build around them. Oakland should acquire some minor league bullpen arms who have a high ceiling, and develop them. And they should do it now.

Because all true contenders are built around pitching and clutch hitting. Clutch hitting can be taught, at least more than extremely good pitching.

What’s more, the American League West is built for the A’s to succeed in 2018.

The Rangers are good now, but it’s not likely they’ll be more than a third place team in two years. Their most talented players are on the wrong side of 30. There’s no reason to think the Mariners will contend, and Houston is built around three outcome players.

Which leaves the A’s and Angels — the latter with premium draft position over the last two seasons, but no track record of recent success aside from their 2009 crop that includes Mike Trout and Randal Grichuk.

And as little faith as I have that the A’s will make the right decisions, I have less in Los Angeles or Seattle.

Which means, by default, I also believe Oakland will win the division in 2018. But that’s contingent on what they do over the next 20 days. Making every rumor, whisper, or wince, all the more relevant.