The near future looks dark, but the big picture is much brighter
The Oakland A’s aren’t perfect. They haven’t won a World Series title in over three decades. They don’t pay to keep star players. Their stadium situation is a mess. Their owner is an embarrassment.
Hold on, I’m pretty sure I was going somewhere with this.
Oh yeah. The A’s aren’t perfect, but one thing they do consistently is win games. In the regular season, at least.
Oakland appears headed for another rebuild this winter, as their latest window of contention has probably closed. The next couple summers will likely be on the quieter side, which makes this a good time to remind ourselves that The Process usually goes pretty well around here and generally yields Octoberish results.
To illustrate the point, let’s step back for a look at the bigger picture. The tweet below shows the combined MLB standings since the beginning of 2010, with the A’s reigning atop the AL West division.
Just how GOOD or BAD has your team been this past decade…. What surprises you the MOST about these standings? pic.twitter.com/OfedIhx4fj
— The Game Day MLB (@TheGameDayMLB) January 22, 2022
- OAK, 961-881
- LAA, 925-917, 36.0 GB
- TEX, 925-918, 36.5 GB
- HOU, 913-929, 48.0 GB
- SEA, 875-967, 86.0 GB
Granted, this specific graphic is an exercise in arbitrary endpoints, as there’s nothing special about 2010. For what it’s worth, Oakland stays in first place if you start the clock in 2009, 2011, or 2012, but if you move back to 2008 then the Angels pass them. If you jump forward to 2013, which was the year Houston joined the division from the NL Central, then the Astros take over.
But there’s no statistical trickery that can fudge this large of a sample. In order to find any range of a dozen seasons in which you lead your division, you must have done a lot of winning along the way. And it’s been a competitive field, as the Astros spent most of this time as a juggernaut, the Rangers went to a couple Fall Classics, the Angels had Mike Trout, and the Mariners were the least bad of all the last-place teams.
What’s more, this span encompasses almost two full cycles for the A’s, requiring them to construct two entirely separate contending rosters. In 2010 they were partway through building, and they got to the playoffs three times from 2012-14. After another short rebuild, they were October bound three more times from 2018-20, with a near-miss in 2021 when they hung in the race down to the wire.
Not only have the last two rebuilds produced winners, they’ve also done so relatively quickly, without needing a decade of ineptness in between. Unfortunately none of this recent success translated to championships, but averaging a postseason trip every other year is a good start in that hunt for a ring. The most important thing is to at least get into the bracket.
There is one new variable, though. The standings in the tweet more or less encompass the Bob Melvin Era, which began in mid-2011, and if you adjust the endpoint to his arrival as manager then the A’s remain on top. Melvin did a superb job with some ragtag rosters on tiny payrolls, netting Manager of the Year honors in 2012 and 2018 by leading upstart young squads to the playoffs, and he made the most of whatever groups of talent were put in front of him.
Now Melvin is gone to San Diego, and new skipper Mark Kotsay steps up in his place. Assuming the front office can work its magic again to identify the next wave of good players, it will be up to Kotsay and his revamped coaching staff to develop them into a contender.
The 2021 season was a bummer for Oakland. This winter is going even worse, and the upcoming summer might be tougher still. But overall, the A’s have performed admirably over the past decade-plus, and that history gives plenty of reason for hope that they’ll climb back up to the top of the division again sooner than later.