Though it was merely three years ago, every member of the Athletics‘ most recent postseason run has now since departed Oakland.
On Monday, Sonny Gray was traded to the New York Yankees, joining 2014 teammates Sean Doolittle and Stephen Vogt in being dealt this season. The well-documented high turnover rate of the A’s, having much to do with back-to-back last-place finishes, was addressed by manager Bob Melvin:
“That’s what happens when you go through something like this. You end up not only losing impactful players, veteran guys, but the direction changes.”
The club’s new direction is that of a team looking to close the gap between it and the entire division, which it finds itself chasing once again. General manager Billy Beane said that there is only one way to close that gap:
“This is part of our process, as we sit here right now. We’re in last place, so we needed to do something. Sonny was a great player for us, but at this point we need a lot of great players. There’s a talent deficit that exists right now and the way to acquire multiple good players is to trade some of the good players you have.”
Jed Lowrie, a member of the 2014 American League Wild Card Game participant, was held through the deadline, but his spending 2015 with the Houston Astros makes Kendall Graveman, Josh Phegley and Marcus Semien the longest-tenured continuous A’s.
Graveman (2-2, 3.83 ERA) will come off the disabled list (right shoulder) to make the start Thursday, assuming Gray’s spot in the rotation, according to Melvin, while Phegley is on the 10-day DL, with no true timetable for a return from an oblique strain.
And Semien, who led all big league shortstops in home runs (27) in 2016, spent just over two months on the DL. The 26-year-old was also quick to pass the buck when asked about his role as the leader. He did, however, say that he had no problem with offering leader-by-example duties.
In search of the veteran leadership that would normally be offered by the players representing the club’s most recent prosperity, rookies like Matt Chapman and Jharel Cotton have been asked to look to guys still trying to find their own Bay Area bearings.
Semien understands the business aspect:
“We’ve had a lot of players that other teams have wanted, and a lot of the players in this room we got in return. … There’s not a lot of guys from that Opening Day in 2015, but that’s part of it. We’ve just want to play better so we can keep all of us together.”
The end of that turnover cycle which has consumed years of Oakland aspirations may be in sight, according to Beane, who said that the “goal” moving forward is to maintain key players. But, for now, Gray’s departure represents little more than the latest fan-favorite, team-leading All-Star to be jettisoned by a perennial seller.
This time, the return was enviable.
In exchange for the services of the 2015 AL Cy Young third-place finished, the Yankees handed over their No.s 4, 8 and 12 prospects and immediately became No. 3, 5 and 11 in the Oakland system, according to MLB Pipeline.
Of the three, only shortstop Jorge Mateo is available to play in 2017. Outfielder Dustin Fowler is sidelined following a knee surgery in late-June, and pitcher James Kaprielian is recovering from an April Tommy John Surgery.
Beane, though, is not concerned about either injury, and expects Fowler, the top prize of the deal, to be 100 percent when the club reconvenes for Spring Training next February:
“(We) did a pretty exhaustive medical review, and we feel very comfortable where they’re at with rehab and when they will be ready, in both cases. In Dustin’s case, we expect him to be ready to go in Spring Training and be a part of our major league club next year.”
Instead of an inhibitor, Beane saw the injuries as an opportunity to add the best quality players with a future further than one year in mind, saying the move was made to improve the team in the long-term.
Fowler, who New York selected in the 18th round of the 2013 draft, was batting .293 with 13 home runs, 43 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 70 game with Triple-A Scranton before being called up for him major league debut, in which he suffered the season-ending knee injury.
Kaprielian was selected in the first round (16th overall) in the 2015 draft, and was a target of the A’s, though Beane was informed by the Yankees talent evaluation team that he wouldn’t fall past them. The drawback with the 6-foot-4 right-handed hurler is the injury history. In two seasons as a pro, he has thrown just 29-1/3 innings. But he did so effectively, posting a 2.45 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in those eight games (six starts).
Mateo, a 22-year-old international signee, is batting .258 with 39 stolen bases in 99 games at three stops in the minors this season.
He, as well as Fowler, represent the A’s new direction, a future that persists of highly athletic players capable of playing solid defense and steal bases.
As for the past, which now includes Gray, the team will not forget its roots. As Semien said, the team is excited for its former ace, as he embarks for a postseason race under the bright lights of the Big Apple. And Melvin, who has expressed his affinity for the hurler, echoed the sentiment:
“We were close, and we wish him the best. We’ll be watching. He landed in a great spot.”