The Oakland Athletics lost in the Wild Card game in 2019 for the second straight season. But they are poised to make the jump in 2020 to a true contender. And the KC Royals could learn something from the path they have taken.
The Houston Astros have been in the news a lot lately because they spent the last several years tainting their success by cheating. And cheating with a level of shamelessness that can only be described as impressive. They may have even cheated against our own KC Royals.
The Astros are now busy this trying to find a few honest men to replace their top management, who were all fired. But what they should be concentrating on this offseason is the fact that the only major sports franchise left in Oakland is about to pass them up as the best team in the American League West.
The Oakland A’s enter the 2020 season with an impressive young lineup. It appears they will have an offensive lineup featuring some combination of Matt Olson, Marcus Semien, Matt Chapman, Ramon Laureano, Franklin Barreto, and Jorge Mateo. All are young hitters currently in or just now beginning their prime years. Two of those players were chosen through the draft. The others were acquired by trading players like Jeff Samardzija and Sonny Gray and Josh Donaldson.
Likewise, the Oakland pitching staff in 2020 will feature young guns Jesus Luzardo, Sean Manea, A.J. Puk, and Frankie Montas. Again, only Puk was drafted by the Athletics. The rest of these young arms were acquired by trading away players like Rich Hill, Josh Reddick, Ben Zobrist, and Sean Doolittle.
My argument here is not that the KC Royals made a mistake by trading Sean Manea for Zobrist. Quite the contrary. That was a great trade for Dayton Moore. He understood where his team was in 2015 and what they needed. But it was also a great trade for the A’s. Because they understood they were in a rebuild and acted accordingly.
After the KC Royals beat Oakland in the Wild Card game in 2014, the A’s did not waste time trying to decide if they were coming or going. They did not make sentimental decisions or keep pretending as if they could fix all of their problems with draft picks. Jeff Samardzija and Josh Donaldson were both gone in favor of Barreto and Semien by Christmas. These are the lessons to be learned.
While the Astros have spent the last few seasons trying to perfect their trash can banging scheme and the Angels have spent that time finding new and innovative ways to waste the prime years of the best baseball player that has ever lived, the A’s have just gone about the business of becoming the team to envy in the AL West. They have become that team by stockpiling young talent. And they have acquired much of that talent by moving valuable pieces they knew would not be around when they were ready to compete for titles.
This story for the Oakland A’s, to this point, has not had a perfect ending. They have lost in the Wild Card game for the last two seasons. But, by building their team the way that have they are stretching their window for winning. Their best years are just beginning.
The KC Royals should think about how good guys like Doolittle and Samardzija and Sonny Gray and Ben Zobrist were for the A’s. And how the Oakland still did not hesitate once they were presented a chance to acquire coveted prospects.
The Royals should consider what their plan is right now. Is there a plan with our own veteran guys? Players like Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy and Alex Gordon and Whit Merrifield and even Jorge Soler. Do we expect those players to still be in Kansas City and contributing when we are ready to contend?
If the KC Royals get to 2022 and find themselves to be a team with too many holes to truly contend, it will be due to not making the tough decisions in 2018 and 2019 and 2020. It is still not too late. But as the Athletics have shown, the first step is being honest with yourselves about where you are in the rebuilding process. And about which players will have anything left to contribute when it is time to play meaningful games again.