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The future is finally approaching in Oakland

Oakland Athletics' Ryon Healy connects for a three-run home run off Toronto Blue Jays' R.A. Dickey for his first major league hit in the second inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 16, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

In recent years, the Oakland A’s have become synonymous with trading away star players for prospects. They’re always building towards the future.

Vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst have made countless trades that sent All-Star players to other teams in exchange for prospects. After the 2014 season, the A’s brass traded away five of their seven All-Stars.

Most notable was the trade of third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays for major league third baseman Brett Lawrie and three prospects; pitchers Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman and shortstop Franklin Barreto.

Many of the fans were devastated as Donaldson went on to win the AL MVP for Toronto in 2015 and, out of the return for Donaldson, only Barreto and Graveman worked out. Barreto is currently playing at Double-A Midland and Graveman, though he has struggled at times, has pitched so well this season that he has solidified himself as a member of the starting rotation.

Still, the question I am most often asked by A’s fans is this: “If the team is always trading stars for prospects in order to build for the future, why hasn’t this supposed ‘future’ arrived?”

It’s a valid question. How many times will the A’s let their star players go before they decide that a winning combination of players has arrived and actually try to compete for a tenth World Series title? 

A lot of the reasoning behind trading stars for prospects has to do with money. Athletics’ owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher have the money to allow the team to, for the most part, keep its homegrown superstars. However, baseball is not the owner’s priority and A’s payroll is evidence of that. In 2015, their payroll was the the fourth-lowest in MLB.

Prospects and younger, inexperienced players cost less than signing players who are established and respected around the league. They are usually under team control for five or more seasons. Once they hit free agency, however, teams with money to spend will offer them contracts the Athletics front office could never dream of offering.

Still, fans of the Oakland Athletics are getting anxious and agitated, angry even, that the future they have been hearing so much about seems as though it will never arrive. Their stance is basically, “anytime a player becomes good, the A’s will trade him for more prospects.” That has mostly been the case, and likely will remain the case, as long as the current ownership controls the team. It’s sad but it is the A’s reality at this time.

However, there is hope for the Athletics and their fans yet. Both the big league team and farm system are filled with young talent. Young talent that is of similar age and similar controllability. In theory, within a year or two, the A’s could resemble the A’s of the early-2000s.

(John Cordes/Icon Sportswire)

(John Cordes/Icon Sportswire)

Back then, the A’s had a trio of young aces in Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson and the majority of the position players were young, along with a few veterans, like outfielder David Justice, sprinkled in here and there.

The 2002 A’s went on to set an American League record, winning 20 straight games. Even though they lost to the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS that year, it still created excitement and proud, happy fans.

That time didn’t last forever. When players got too expensive they were traded or, as in the case of 2002 AL MVP Miguel Tejada, simply allowed to walk away into free agency without even an offer from the ball club. 

The fans in the East Bay are yearning now for a World Series contender. It may take a season or two, but it appears to be on the horizon. It’s possible that the Athletics are on the verge of finally finding the mysteriously absent “future” that they have been waiting for.

Assuming ace Sonny Gray, 26, returns to form after a rough 2016 season, the A’s rotation should be a winner. With many injuries to the pitching staff this season, the A’s have had to call up rookies Dillon Overton, Daniel Mengden and Sean Manaea to pick up the slack. Of course, as rookies they’re still adjusting but they’re all talented. In a year, perhaps two, they will be seasoned big leaguers. Kendall Graveman, a rookie in 2015, would be the final piece of the rotation puzzle.

Gray will be the first to hit free agency, but not until 2020; Graveman will follow in 2021, giving the A’s four or five seasons in which to compete.

The prized pitcher that the team just picked up in the Josh Reddick and Rich Hill trade on Monday, Grant Holmes, won’t be MLB-ready for a couple of years but he was a number-one draft pick and has been getting rave reviews from Los Angeles Dodgers’ writers and fans who are sad to see him go.

Things are similar in the bullpen and with the position players, many of whom haven’t even hit the big leagues yet. Rookie Ryon Healy has, in a very short time, proven himself to be the team’s third baseman of the future. Rookie reliever Ryan Dull has done the same this season, showing an immense amount of poise in pressure situations. The A’s received two MLB-ready relievers in the Reddick/Hill trade with Los Angeles, thereby putting more young arms in the bullpen.

According to MLB.com, only a third of the A’s top-30 prospects are expected to be in the majors after 2018, with the other two-thirds arriving any time between this September when the rosters expand and the beginning of the 2018 season. The A’s have collected a lot of talent and the guys that arrive post-2018 will be around before Gray, Graveman or A’s power-hitting shortstop Marcus Semien hit free agency.

In September, we should get a glimpse of what the A’s could look like in 2017. Infielders Rangel Ravelo, Chad Pinder and Matt Chapman are potential call-ups, as are outfielders Brett Eibner and Matt Olson. Young catcher Bruce Maxwell is already being mentored by Stephen Vogt on how to become an All-Star-caliber catcher and the two other pieces in the Reddick/Hill trade, Frankie Montas and Jharel Cotton, should be up with the big league club to gain experience in the bullpen.

Things seems to becoming together for the A’s. With most of their top talent expected to hit the big leagues by 2018 and with another ten expected to be MLB-ready by 2021, the A’s finally have a crop of prospects that are all due to hit the majors around the same time. They should be able to build a young, strong contending team with these guys.

The future may, finally, be on the horizon in Oakland.

 

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