2015 Oakland Athletics: No playoff loss this year

Rick Monday

Rick Monday was the first pick in the very first amateur draft 50 years ago this June. If you think it’s inexact now, know that seven of the 20-first-round picks in 1965 never made the majors. Or that the Reds took Bernie Carbo in the first round and Johnny Bench in the second. Of those first-rounders, Monday was the most successful: only four — Monday, pitcher Joe Coleman, Carbo and catcher Ray Fosse — had WARs of more than 10. Monday made his big-league debut just 15 months after being the No. 1 pick, and was up for good by 1967, when he hit .251 with 14 homers. He was an All-Star in ’68 (.274, 8 homers, 72 walks, 14 steals), hit .290 in ’70 and 18 homers in ’71 when the A’s won their first division title. But Monday was traded after ’71 for pitcher Ken Holtzman — he had to wait another decade to be that successful in October. Monday spent five years with the Cubs, hitting 26 homers in ’73 and 32 in ’76, when he was 18th in the MVP vote — the only year he ever received a vote. In his last year with the Cubs he stopped two fans who went on the field at Dodger Stadium and tried to burn an American flag. “Tommy Lasorda was in his last year as third-base coach …,” Monday told mlb.com in 2006. “Tommy ran past me and called these guys every name in the longshoreman’s encyclopedia.” The Cubs traded Monday to the Dodgers for Bill Buckner and Monday became more of a fourth outfielder after ’78, playing 100 games just once more in his career. In ’81, Monday thrived — he hit .315 with 11 homers in 66 games and slugged .608, and in the postseason his two-out homer in the ninth inning of Game 5 won the NLCS for the Dodgers, who beat the Yankees in six games in the World Series. Career numbers: .264, 241 home runs, 774 RBIs, 1,619 hits, 98-189 stealing, .804 OPS, 125 OPS+, 33.1 WAR, 2 Hall of Fame votes, tied with Lou Piniella and Mickey Rivers, in 1990.

On deck: Shortstop Addison Russell is gone, as are the two pitchers (Jeff Samardzijia and Jason Hammel) he was traded for, as were the A’s after the wild-card playoff game GM Billy Beane said they wouldn’t have been in without the trade. But it worked out about as well as the A’s move to San Jose. The A’s thought they could trade Russell (career .897 minor-league OPS) because they had Daniel Roberston (.310/.402/.471 in the Class A California League last year), only they then traded Robertson in the package for Ben Zobrist and Yuniel Escobar, the latter of whom was traded for Tyler Clippard. So who’s left? Franklin Barreto, an A by way of Jays’ trade for Josh Donaldson, is this year’s shortstop prospect; he hit .311 and slugged .482 in a short-season league at age 18. More likely to help sooner is Matt Olson, who will fill the role Adam Dunn retired from: huge left-handed slugger who homers, walks or strikes out. Olson did all that, in order, 37, 117 and 137 times last year in the California League at age 20. Olson was a compensation pick for free agent David DeJesus signing after 2012 with the Cubs, and he could he hit a lot more home runs than the 94 DeJesus has in 12 years. Give Beane credit: would anyone else have thought DeJesus world warrant a compensation pick? For the pain and suffering of him hitting .240 for the A’s?

Trivia: The Athletics have won one playoff series since 1990. Who were their winning pitchers in the 2006 ALDS three-game sweep of the Twins? Answer below.

What he said: Manager Bob Melvin: “Our organization does a great job of targeting the type of players that we want.” What he meant: “We know how to shop on the cheap.”

Outlook: The A’s performed their last reboot after their only playoff series win in the last 24 years in 2006. They went five years without a winning record or a playoff appearance before seasons of 94, 96 and 88 wins.

The latter hardly seems worth it, having traded Russell, a 21-year-old shortstop with a .515 minor-league slugging percentage. Those come around as rarely as playoff series wins by the A’s.

This year’s team isn’t as good — no one platooning Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry in a corner outfield could pass a lie detector test and say he expects to win 90 games. But Beane tried to preserve the appearance of contention with the reality of rebuilding. That’s not easy to do — it’s like trying to walk a straight line when inebriated. Eventually, you’re going to veer.

Last year’s wild-card team lost four players from its starting lineup — Derek Norris, Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie — and two pitchers from its rotation — Samardzijia and Hammel. Not surprisingly, finances played a part in every move, either through pending arbritation or free agency. The A’s weren’t getting stuck with the bill.

Beane knows how the best way to trade is to find the most desperate partners. He got Brett Lawrie to replace Donaldson at third and Barreto to replace Russell as No. 1 prospect, plus rotation depth Kendall Graveman (2.30 ERA in the minors) for Donaldson from Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, who needs badly to win in 2015.

Beane took advantage of Padres GM A.J. Preller’s eagerness to extract starter Jesse Hahn (his 3.07 ERA in 73.1 innings is no fluke if his 2.26 minor-league ERA is any indication) and oncoming 23-year-old reliever R.J. Alvarez (190 strikeouts in 129.1 minor-league innings) for soon-to-be arbitration-eligible catcher Derek Norris, who as the Royals demonstrated, threw out only 17% of opposing base stealers.

And Beane sent Samardzijia to the White Sox, who are feeling the pressure from the Cubs to win now, for catcher Josh Phegley and infielder Marcus Semien, both of whom have power potential and strike-zone discipline deficiencies.

And just when it appeared Beane was conceding 2015, he took on the last year of Zobrist’s contract and Escobar for catcher John Jaso, Robertson and minor-keague outfielder Boog Powell (.412 minor-league on-base percentage), then flipped Escobar for Tyler Clippard, who’s still waiting for the Game 4 call from Matt Williams. Of course, Clippard is a little late to save the A’s, who had their own relief issues against the Royals.

Who knows what would have happened had Sean Doolittle and Luke Gregerson protected the lead. Maybe the A’s play the part of the Royals, sweep the Angels and Orioles. Maybe not.

The trick is getting into the playoffs, and after that, any wild card can play well enough to win. Like the Royals. Or the Giants.

The A’s have been unlucky this century in the playoffs, not unworthy. They won’t lose in the playoffs this year for a good reason: they won’t get there.

Trivia answer: The three winning pitchers for the A’s in their three-game sweep of the Twins were Barry Zito, Kiko Calero and Dan Haren. Both Calero and Haren came to the Athletics in a trade for Mark Mulder; it was Calero’s only postseason victory and one of just two for Haren.

Team song: The Clash: Should I Stay or Should I Go

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