Welcome to The Stew’s annual team elimination posts. Like our video-game posts of last year, these are best done in theme. This time? We’re going with “Game of Thrones.” Each eliminated team will join the “army of the dead.” But we won’t just talk about their demise. We’ll also highlight some positives, pick out a memorable moment, tell you their biggest need and let you know when the club might be good again.
Sorry, Oakland Athletics, but you won’t sit on the Iron Throne this season.
That’s not exactly a surprise. The A’s — young and put together on a low payroll — are one of those teams that needs to have a number of prospects excelling at once to chug forward into contention. Odds were low that was going to happen this year, even if the lineup did pack some punch.
The A’s did finally pull the trigger on a Sonny Gray trade, which helps its pool of prospects. Outside of the scoreboard and the standings, the A’s hope they’re close to resolving their long-running stadium drama. And they entered another big sports drama, showing this season might be remembered for reasons beyond the field.
Let’s take a deeper look at the year that was in Oakland:
UNBOWED, UNBENT, UNBROKEN (aka WHAT WENT RIGHT)
The A’s have had no problem hitting the long ball. Five different players have topped 20 home runs this season. That includes Khris Davis, who topped 40 for the second straight season. Matt Olson reached 20 homers in just 51 games, and in the process became the first player since Giancarlo Stanton to hit 20 homers at major and minor level in the same season. He looks like a future fixture in the A’s lineup. Off the field, the A’s finally found a spot where they hope to build their future ballpark. Any small step forward in that agonizing process has to be considered a win. (Mark Townsend)
THE RED WEDDING (aka WHAT WENT WRONG)
The A’s lived by the long ball, but ultimately depended too much on it. Despite being top five in home runs for most of the season, the A’s offense wasn’t very effective in other areas, leaving them near the bottom ten in runs scored. The A’s compounded that with a bottom five pitching staff that has no obvious replacement for traded ace Sonny Gray. Rookie Jharel Cotton was especially disappointing, allowing 28 homers in 23 starts. (Mark Townsend)
THE NORTH REMEMBERS (aka MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT)
For better or worse, the moment that most people will remember about the Oakland Athletics this year is when Bruce Maxwell took a knee for the national anthem on Saturday. It didn’t affect the outcome of a game and it won’t be reflected in the standings, but it was a monumental moment.
He’s the first MLB player to protest in such a way, and baseball — with its tradition and conformity — isn’t exactly the place where many thought such a protest would happen. But Bruce Maxwell had his reasons, and now it seems like his teammates and A’s fans are more behind him than they’re not.
WORDS ARE WIND (aka MOST IMPORTANT THING TO FIX)
The A’s finally pulled the trigger this year and traded Sonny Gray. That’s left their pitching in a bit of a shambles. Cotton hasn’t looked anything like he did in 2016, and Sean Manaea didn’t improve in 2017, he went in the opposite direction. As tough as their pitching situation is, they have a more pressing issue to fix in 2018. They need to find a way to string hits together consistently, at least to offset their pitching. The A’s offense is hitting tons of home runs — 226, fifth in the league — but 130 of them have been solo home runs (seventh in the league). Home runs are great, but they’re even better if someone is on base when one is hit. It’s a really efficient way to score more runs, which the A’s really need to do. Of course, they could choose to try and reinforce their rotation, which needs a boost after underperforming this season. They have to pick one of those if they hope to play better in 2017 on either side of the diamond. (Liz Roscher)
A DREAM OF SPRING (aka HOPE FOR THE FUTURE)
A midseason trade with the Yankees brought in some nice minor-league talent, but with risks. Dustin Fowler is recovering from a gruesome knee injury, while James Kaprielian underwent Tommy John surgery. Fowler and Jorge Mateo could contribute next year as long as Fowler comes back healthy. The team finally called up Franklin Barreto, who you might remember from the Josh Donaldson trade. His debut looks pretty bad, but he’s still considered a strong prospect. Plus, these things take time. Even Mike Trout struggled in his first taste of the majors. Much of 2018 will focus on Barreto’s development in the majors while the rest of the club’s prospects continue to work their way up through the system. (Chris Cwik)
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