Much like 2002, the same year as Moneyball, the Oakland Athletics look poised for greatness with a younger core of players. After trading away many star players before the 2015 season, many around baseball questioned the future of the A's. 2015 and 2016 were disappointing seasons, with the club finishing with 68 and 69 wins, respectively.
Manager Bob Melvin has done a fantastic job with the youngsters on the roster, though, and the front office has done everything to build a bright future for the franchise for the next few years. Other than a few veterans that came via trades the players on the current 40-man roster have been developed over the last few years. Now, these youngsters are showing just how good they are on the field and thus putting the rest of the AL West on notice.
If it wasn’t for the front office conducting trades for prospects from 2014 to 2016, the A’s wouldn’t be where they are today. The club landed current starting pitchers Daniel Mengden and Sean Manaea in separate trades during the 2015 trade deadline. Manaea now has a no-hitter on his belt, which he threw this season against the Boston Red Sox, and Mengden has a 4.47 ERA in his first full season with the club this year. Even the reacquisition of infielder Jed Lowrie has helped the A’s out tremendously, as he is having one of the best seasons of his career at 34-years old with a .274 batting average, 19 home runs, and 78 RBI.
Khris Davis has also come to his own since joining the A’s before the 2016 season. Davis has hit 123 home runs in less than three full seasons with Oakland and is currently in a three-way tie for the AL lead in home runs with 38. Lowrie, Davis, and Matt Joyce are the veteran leaders in the young clubhouse, but most of the youngsters came up in Oakland's farm system in some capacity coming into this season. They also reacquired former star pitchers Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson, who have contributed more than anyone could have expected them to this season, making the A’s a bigger surprise than anyone saw coming.
It’s not only the veterans doing the work but also the players who are entering their first full seasons in the big leagues. One player to note is their power-slugging first baseman, Matt Olson. Olson took the league by storm last year, much like Philadelphia Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins, by hitting home run after home run. Olson hit 13 of his 24 homers in September last year and it helped the club go 16-12 that month, the only one in which they recorded a winning record.
Third baseman Matt Chapman has been someone else who has flown under the radar not only in Oakland but the rest of the league. Chapman’s .274 batting average is the best on the team among qualifiers this season and he also leads the team in fielding percentage at .963. He has 14 errors on the season, but he’s a favorite to take home the Gold Glove Award at third base in the AL thanks to an eye-popping DRS of 26. Chapman only hit .234 in 84 games last year but made up for it by hitting 14 home runs.
Olson and Chapman will be the face of the franchise down the road. They’ll also have the likes of top prospects Franklin Barreto and Dustin Fowler full time by next year, with utility man Chad Pinder also taking on a bigger role, likely in the outfield. The good news for the A’s is they won’t have to depend on aging players like Lowrie and Joyce to perform as well as they are right now because of how loaded the farm system is. Oakland looks to be taking a similar approach to their division rival Houston Astros, who sat at the bottom of the division for three seasons only to become one of the best teams in baseball when their top prospects came up to the big league club.
The A’s have surprised many fans and people this season. Their 42-15 record since June 16 is the best in baseball, and like the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, and Phillies, they look to be a year early for winning. Their 76-51 record has them just a game behind the defending champion Astros in the AL West, and the Seattle Mariners are only 4.5 games behind them in the AL Wild Card race. Even if this team doesn’t get the job done this year, a World Series title should return to Oakland with this core group of players. The A’s are a serious threat to the rest of the league and adding to their stacked lineup and rotation could make this team stealthy over the next few seasons.