It’s early enough in the season that you can make the case that things can still be turned around for the Oakland A’s. Perhaps a few winning months come along and the Wild Card isn’t such a far-fetched fantasy by the time September rolls around.
It’s also late enough in the season to acknowledge that the A’s have dug themselves into a deep enough hole that perhaps the 2015 season is already a lost cause. After all, the last time the A’s found themselves 10.5 games out of first place by the end of May was in 2009. That team finished 75-87 and in last place in the AL West, not exactly something to strive for.
With injuries to key players such as Ben Zobrist, Sean Doolittle and of course the rehabbing Tommy John duo of Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, it probably stood to reason early on that Beane would give his club the benefit of the doubt and see if things could be turned around with reinforcements on the way.
After all, the A’s haven’t actually played as poorly as their 13-24 record indicates. However, heading into Saturday night’s game against the White Sox, Oakland boasts the worst record in the Majors. So, how well could you really argue that they have played?
They are 1-12 in one-run games. That’s a discouraging number for sure, but looking at it from the glass-half-full point of view, those are games that easily could have swung the other way and given the A’s a much better record. They are 2-17 in games decided by two-runs or less. Just as the one-run losses tell us that Oakland was far off from a much better record, the record in these two-run losses tells us that the A’s are staying competitive in most of the games early on in the season.
So what is causing them to lose a lot of these close games? You instantly have to jump to the defense and the bullpen.
It’s not really a secret that the A’s defense has been atrocious through the first 37 games of the season, committing exactly 37 errors for an average of one per game.
Worth remembering though, no two players in the A’s infield aside from Eric Sogard and Stephen Vogt played together at all last season. There has to be a certain period given to the team to jell together and find a rhythm. Ike Davis, Marcus Semien, Brett Lawrie and Zobrist were all brought here in the offseason.
Semien, the biggest committer of errors this season, is in the middle of his first full season as an every day player, having been converted from a utility role. His bat certainly suggests he is deserving of a shot at an everyday gig, his glove just needs some more seasoning.
Zobrist will return from the DL soon and his versatility can be used around the diamond to cut down on some of the defensive miscues. He could also return to the role of the everyday second baseman and allow Sogard to slot back into the utility role. Perhaps the A’s will think a bit outside the box and slot Zobrist at shortstop and slide Semien over to second base to cut down on his errors.
The thing with Semien, before I move on, he is athletic enough to handle shortstop. It’s apparent why Beane said there was no Plan B at shortstop. The issue with Semien is a bad case of Chuck Knoblachitis. For those unaware of what I mean, he’s thinking too much and as a result he’s rushing his throws in an attempt to not make an error, and low and behold he makes an error. This is why perhaps it isn’t such a bad idea to slide him to second base and let him build some confidence defensively before giving him another shot at shortstop. Do something before the problem builds up too much for him to recover from.
Then there’s the bullpen — an even bigger culprit in the A’s downfall this season. There doesn’t seem to be a lead the A’s can hand over to their ‘pen with certainty that they can hold onto it for a win.
So is there an answer? Beane already dealt for Edward Mujica. Doolittle will return soon enough and perhaps that allows the other relievers to settle into more comfortable roles and know what to expect night after night.
With the Houston Astros currently atop the division, and Seattle and Texas also below .500, the A’s could make up ground in what appears to be a weak division if they can turn their bullpen around and starting put some complete offensive and defensive games together with their starting pitching.
But if all that continues to fail, or the A’s have found themselves too far out of the race before the reinforcements are able to come back, how long does Billy give the team before he blows it up?
Scott Kazmir could be valuable on the trade market. Josh Reddick has built up value thanks to his .333 batting average and solid play this season. Oakland has Josh Phegley to catch, would Stephen Vogt’s newly discovered value make him a trade candidate? Tyler Clippard would certainly draw some phone calls. Ben Zobrist would be valuable if he comes back and proves he’s healthy for a few weeks. Would some of them be dealt? Would they all be turned into younger prospects?
Kazmir and Clippard almost assuredly would be dealt. It seemed already assumed that Reddick may have been shown the door last off season, so perhaps the time could come now. It wouldn’t be a surprise, but it would certainly be unpopular — not that Beane cares about such things. If I had to wager a guess though, I would think that Reddick probably stays with the club for at least the duration of the season.
Deals get made at the point where they will have the biggest impact on the future of the club, whether that future is immediate or down the road. In a completely opposite situation, Beane made the Jeff Samardzija trade last year at the beginning of July rather than waiting for the deadline. It’s not at all unfeasible to think that some deals could be made by the middle of June if Oakland doesn’t start winning some of these one-run games, and the errors and bullpen blown games don’t settle down.
The Miami Marlins have an immediate need for ninth inning help. The A’s have Clippard. Could a deal happen? Sure it could. Oakland could probably squeeze a decent return for Clippard’s services before the Marlins fall any further out of their own race in the NL East.
Kazmir would be a fit in Boston or New York, as well as a handful of other destinations that will start emerging as clubs start to settle into contention. What players would Billy pull from a club for the remainder of Kazmir’s season?
Kendal Graveman or Chris Bassitt could slot into Kazmir’s rotation spot if necessary. There’s always Barry Zito to eat some innings in a lost season if it came to that too.
Despite the fact that the A’s haven’t played as poorly as their record indicates, it won’t take much more losing before we’re looking at another set of new faces in Oakland to replace a portion of the current group that has only managed to win back-to-back games this year once.