The Oakland Athletics may still employ veteran executive Billy Beane but make no mistake. The days of Moneyball are long gone.
Don’t let the six playoff appearances in the last decade fool you. The A’s are in full tank mode, having gone from 86 wins in 2021 to a mere 60 last season. Prospects for 2023 aren’t looking much better either.
Maybe it’s just the latest rebuild. Perhaps ownership is serious about fast-tracking a move to Las Vegas. One way or another, the Oakland A’s have absolutely nothing to look forward to this season. Not even when the Mets visit in mid-April or when they face the Yankees in the Bronx in May.
In fact, the best Oakland can hope for in 2023 is two things: the Yankees usually underachieving at the Coliseum when they visit in June, or somehow finishing with less than 97 projected losses.
Greatest Addition: Jesus Aguilar. The journeyman first baseman won’t turn a lot of heads but will keep Oakland from playing completely unwatchable baseball. Aguilar spent last year with the Marlins and Orioles and had an awful season, batting .236 with 16 home runs and a .661OPS.
He’s nothing special in the field, isn’t overly athletic, and Oakland Coliseum doesn’t inspire confidence that his power will return. Just the same, Aguilar should be penciled in as the A’s’ starting first baseman and will hopefully benefit from the new pace of play and shifting rules.
Greatest Loss: Sean Murphy. He’s the latest example of Oakland not wanting to pay a player and trading them before they get too expensive. Murphy had a career year in 2022, batting .250 and setting new personal bests with 18 home runs and 66 RBI. The A’s rewarded him with a trade to Atlanta and got little back in return.
Atlanta subsequently rewarded Murphy with a new six-year, $73 million extension and set themselves up for success at catcher. Oakland, meanwhile, will trust youngster Shea Langaliers to succeed the former Gold Glove catcher and hope trading him for peanuts was worth it.
Greatest Strength: Young pitching. For all of the A’s’ faults, acquiring and developing young arms has been their bread and butter for almost two decades. Just ask the Yankees, who gave up two exciting young arms in JP Sears and Ken Waldichuk last trade deadline to acquire Frankie Montas.
Fans will recall Sears posting a 2.05 ERA in seven games with the Yankees last year, including two spot starts, and then he posted a 4.68 ERA in ten with Oakland. Waldichuk posted 13 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) in the minors before making seven starts for Oakland at the end of the season. He finished with a 4.93 ERA and his 4.39 FIP suggests a higher ceiling.
It just goes to show that despite their obvious tanking, the A’s are at least doing something right in player development.
Greatest Weakness: John Fisher. It’s one thing when an owner doesn’t spend money because his team’s player development system is that effective. Case in point, Bill DeWitt Jr. and the St. Louis Cardinals’ machine-like means of nurturing young talent.
Fisher, on the other hand, isn’t even trying to hide how much he wants to move the A’s to Las Vegas. Forget trying to build another winner around youth or embrace Oakland’s championship past, including a World Series three-peat from 1972-74. The A’s will tank and tank again until they either get a new stadium in Oakland (unlikely) or get the all-clear to move cities.
In the meantime, Fisher can keep collecting the paycheck while Oakland’s attendance continues to freefall.
Will the Oakland A’s have any silver lining in 2023? If anything, it will be the pitching. We’ve already discussed Sears and Waldichuk, and the A’s also took a flyer on Japanese righty Shintaro Fujinami. He’s 28 and pitched to a 3.17 ERA in ten years with the Hanshin Tigers, so maybe there’s something there. James Kaprielian is also due a bounceback year.
There’s also the very real possibility the Yankees visit in late June, fall flat, and that gives the A’s a short shot in the arm. Remember, the Yankees haven’t won a series at the Coliseum since 2016.
But other than that, all signs point to the team moving. It’s not what the fans want, but whatever ownership says goes, right?
In which case, Viva Las Vegas.
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