From 2018-2020, the Oakland Athletics were a genuinely good team. After making the playoffs all three seasons and even winning the division in the shortened 2020 season, the future seemed bright.
The roster had legitimate stars. Matt Olson quickly became one of the best first basemen in the league while Marcus Semien and Matt Chapman filled out one of the best infields in the league.
Behind the dish, Sean Murphy was coming into his own and helped a pitching staff that featured Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea Jesus Luzardo, and Frankie Montas. Out of the pen, Liam Hendriks was perhaps the best closer in the league.
Astonishingly, after beating the White Sox in the Wild Card round and falling to the Astros in the ALDS, all of the aforementioned players would leave the team over the next three years.
Choosing To Lose
In 2022, the Oakland Athletics would finish with a record of 60-102, finishing last in the A.L. West. It’s easy to wonder how they got to this point after three straight playoff appearances.
Firstly, they allowed both Hendriks and Semien to leave in free agency. Joining the White Sox and Blue Jays respectively, both players have continued to be among the best at their positions.
Following the 2021 season, all of Bassitt, Chapman, and Manaea were traded away. Losing Chapman was especially painful for a fanbase that watched him grow from a highly touted first-round selection to one of the game’s best third basemen.
The worst was yet to come however as Olson, the team’s best player and one of the MLB’s premier first basemen, was traded to the Braves. The consolation however were the additions of Shea Langeliers and Cristian Pache, both considered top prospects in the sport.
A Means To What End?
“Tanking” is hardly a new concept in sports. The idea of trading your best players to avoid mediocrity and hitting the reset button on the franchise has been practiced for decades. While it may be hard for a fanbase to part with these players they’ve grown to love, teams like the Cubs and Astros have proved it can pay massive dividends.
However, Oakland has botched the tank in almost every sense. While they have managed to trade all of their valuable assets, they have simply failed to receive adequate prospects in return.
While the aforementioned Pache was a premium prospect at a valuable position, they have opted for quantity over quality in their other trades by choosing to add multiple mid-tier prospects instead of one high-end player.
Currently, the A’s active payroll is just over $41 million. For reference, the defending World Series champion Astros have a payroll of nearly $174 million. Clearly, the distance between Oakland and Houston, who share a division, could not be any larger.
It’s Only Getting Worse
Despite all of the moves made with the intention of tearing the team down in 2021, this year’s off-season has perhaps been the most egregious.
Sean Murphy, a 28-year-old catcher who worked his way through the Oakland Athletics’ minor league system as a third-round pick, was traded to Atlanta. In return, they would receive a collection of prospects headlined by Kyle Muller and Esteury Ruiz.
Muller, a left-handed pitcher, posted an 8.03 ERA across three starts for Atlanta last season, but showed some impressive strikeout potential while in AAA. He will be the team’s opening-day starter. Ruiz should join the outfield in Oakland before long.
With opening day on the horizon, members of the Athletics fanbase were no doubt interested in the development of Pache after a 2022 season that saw him finish with an OPS+ of 34. An ungodly low number, there is plenty of time for the 24-year-old to turn it around with some additional coaching to help fix his approach. He showed as much by finishing spring training with a .362 OBP.
Instead, Oakland decided he was not going to be a part of the team’s future plans. Having not made the opening day roster, he will either be traded or they will try and pass him through waivers in an attempt to stash him on the AAA team. What’s more likely is a team committed to winning will add him in hopes to cultivate his talent further.
Bad For Baseball
“The ballpark is the key to having a larger payroll so we can compete more effectively with bigger market clubs, have a better fan experience, and retain players,” said A’s president Dave Kaval as they look to move the team out of Oakland and into Las Vegas.
Would increased revenue in one of the country’s biggest cities help the A’s build a team? Of course. However, the team has provided no inclination that they’re willing to spend what it takes to be competitive in the modern MLB.
After all, the club made $62.2 million last season, fifth-best in the league. Alas, the only impactful free agent signing the team made was bringing in 32-year-old first-basemen Jesus Aguilar on a one-year, $3-million deal. The A’s will hope he gets off to a hot start and they can trade him before the deadline.
While the move to Las Vegas will certainly happen, it’s hard to see it making the A’s much better. Of course, players like Langeliers and Paul Blackburn have potential, but who’s to say they won’t be the next to go? With the league’s 22nd-best farm system according to MLB.com, the future is bleak.
Regardless, the team’s ownership group will continue to profit off of television deals, an eventual state-of-the-art stadium, and whatever fans continue to show up. The 2023 Oakland Athletics will be one of the worst teams in the sport, if not the worst, and it has all been intentional. Not only bad for the players, coaches, and fans, the A’s are simply bad for baseball.