Photo by Kimberly Contreras

Oakland A's entering critical three-month stretch

OPINION: The start of the 2016 MLB Draft marks the beginning of a critical three-month stretch for the Oakland A's front office, as they look to set the foundation for a new chapter in the organization's history.

For the first time since the other Clinton was in the White House, the Oakland A’s have a single digit pick in the first-round of the MLB Draft. For the A’s, Thursday evening marks the beginning of the most critical three months this organization’s front office and scouting department has faced in at least that long.

Since Tim Hudson made his debut midway through the 1999 season, the A’s have been a remarkably steady organization – sometimes very good, sometimes kind of bad, usually somewhere in the middle. That steadiness has resulted in several division titles and a couple of Wild Card berths, but it has also come with a disadvantage – the A’s have never been bad enough to find themselves picking near the top of the MLB Draft.

From 2008-2010, the A’s picked 12th, 13th and 10th, their longest run of “top half” of the first-round picks since the 1990s. In 2012, Oakland had the 11th overall selection, and they parlayed that pick into Addison Russell. However, not since the A’s took Barry Zito with the ninth overall pick has Oakland selected in the single digits in the first round of the draft. While there is always talent to be found throughout the MLB Draft, it is a generally accepted notion that the "true" first-round talent can be found in the top-half of the round, with talent assessment getting significantly more subjective after that. The higher a team picks, of course, the better chance that team has to get an elite, franchise-changing talent.

This year’s draft isn’t considered particularly strong at the top, although that has been said about other drafts in the past, only to turn out wrong in the long run. Still, the number six overall pick will put the A’s in a position to choose between several elite talents, something that rarely happens in the latter half of any first round.

On top of that, the still relatively new bonus pool system makes this year’s draft even more important for the A’s than any over the past decade. Before 2013, teams could go by the Commissioner’s suggested slots for picks or ignore them without consequences. Now there are significant penalties for teams that go over their allotted bonus pool. The A’s have the sixth-highest draft pool ($9.8 million) to spend thanks to their high draft position and an extra pick at #37. That extra money will put the A’s in a position to take a few risks on players with higher signing bonus demands, if they so choose.

It isn’t just the draft where the A’s have some money to spend this year. Right after the draft completes, the baseball scouting world turns its full attention to the July 2nd international signing market. The A’s $3.8 million international bonus pool is the fourth highest in baseball, putting the A’s in position to go after some of the biggest talents on the international market. The A’s have been relatively quiet over the past few years on the international scene, but have been connected to some of the top talents available this year.

July 2nd, of course, is just the start of the international signing period, so signings will continue over the next several months. However, the A’s will have their attention on one other area that could help re-shape their organization in July: the MLB trade deadline. The A’s are going nowhere fast in the AL West race, so it seems very likely that Oakland will be sellers once again this July.

The A’s won’t necessarily trade every veteran on the roster, but there are a few players that it would be surprising if the A’s didn’t move: starter Rich Hill being the most obvious trade chip (assuming his groin injury isn’t too serious). Reliever John Axford, outfielder Josh Reddick and third baseman Danny Valencia could also be moved, as all four players should garner significant interest from contenders.

The A’s did very well as sellers last July. Although they traded only three players, they came away with two young starters who could slot behind Sonny Gray in the A’s rotation by the end of this year (Sean Manaea – who is already in the big leagues – and Daniel Mengden). The A’s also picked up a highly regarded prospect (Jacob Nottingham) they were able to trade for a young major league slugger (Khris Davis) and a pitcher they were able to flip (Aaron Brooks) for a major league utilityman (Chris Coghlan, although that Cubs trade hasn’t really worked out for either team; NOTE: after this article was published, the A's sent Coghlan back to Chicago in exchange for utilityman Arismendy Alcantara), and a raw but promising lower-level right-handed pitching prospect (Casey Meisner). If the A’s can do similarly well this deadline period, they should improve their farm system significantly.

Over the past 15 years, not many organizations have been as good at drafting and developing or trading for young major league talent as the A’s. However, the A’s haven’t been as good at identifying franchise-changing talent. The A's did draft Nick Swisher, Gray and Russell, but those are the only major-league "stars" (or potential stars, in Russell's case) to come out of their first round selections since 2001. Of course, the jury is still out on Matt Chapman and Richie Martin. On the trade front, the A's have picked up several solid future big leaguers, but Josh Donaldson and Carlos Gonzalez are probably the only "stars" they have netted as prospects in a trade over that period (Franklin Barreto still pending, of course). Oakland's ventures into the international market have been mixed. Michael Ynoa never reached his full potential with the A's because of injury, but Renato Nunez could be a future All-Star in the big leagues.

The San Francisco Giants completely changed the fortunes of their franchise by taking full advantage of their top-10 picks over the past 10 years (netting Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey and Zack Wheeler), while teams like the Toronto Blue Jays and the Chicago Cubs (to name a few) have enhanced their farm systems significantly through the international market. The A’s need to take similar advantage of the opportunity they have in front of them today and over the next three months to find some core talent that can be building blocks for this organization for the next decade. They may not see this opportunity come around for at least another year. No pressure guys!

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