If only A’s hadn’t traded away their best players

It’s been a rough dozen or so months for the Oakland Athletics.

Thirteen months ago, they looked like the best team in the American League. Today, they look like one of the worst teams in the league, already assured of finishing this season with their worst record since 1997.

And if you’re an A’s fan, it’s hard to resist thinking about what might have been.

No, not just last year, when the A’s carried a big lead into the eighth inning of their playoff game against the Royals, only to lose. Also this year.

How’s this for a lineup?

CF Billy Burns

2B Ben Zobrist

3B Josh Donaldson

LF Yoenis Cespedes

RF Josh Reddick

1B Stephen Vogt

DH Brandon Moss

C Derek Norris

SS Addison Russell

That’s a lineup of players the A’s either have now, or could have if not for recent trades. Here’s that same lineup, but this time with their 2015 wOBA’s (a solid measure of overall hitting performance):

317 Billy Burns

353 Ben Zobrist

401 Josh Donaldson

366 Yoenis Cespedes

340 Josh Reddick

336 Stephen Vogt

304 Brandon Moss

307 Derek Norris

300 Addison Russell

Pretty impressive, huh? With a couple of MVP-caliber performances in the middle of the lineup?

Well, here’s a pretty fair representation of the Athletics’ actual lineup this season, especially since the departure of Zobrist in late July:

317 Billy Burns

317 Mark Canha

340 Josh Reddick

313 Billy Butler

336 Stephen Vogt

288 Ike Davis

310 Brett Lawrie

309 Marcus Semien

268 Eric Sogard

The American League wOBA average is .316, which you can push to .320 to (approximately) allow for pitchers. So without doing anything, the A’s would have five well above-average hitters. Instead they’ve now got (depending on your definition) one or two, in Reddick and Vogt. They’ve also got two hitters who are well below average, in Davis and Sogard.

Which is how you go from third in the league in scoring to 10th. And most of that decline’s due to preseason moves, with only Zobrist traded during this season.

A few caveats are in order here:

– Trading Addison Russell left room for Marcus Semien, who a) still has a pretty good chance to be a pretty good player, and b) was acquired by trading Jeff Samardzija, who’s been pretty awful for the White Sox in his walk year;

– Cespedes was dealt last season for Jon Lester, who pitched exceptionally well for the A’s until the eighth inning of the American League Wild Card Game; and

– … actually, that’s about all I’ve got, caveat-wise.

In retrospect, the faith the A’s placed in Ike Davis and Billy Butler and Brett Lawrie now seems terribly misplaced, as all have been below-average hitters at positions where you typically expect above-average hitting. Meanwhile, about the only thing that’s gone right this season is Danny Valencia. But even he comes with an asterisk, as Valencia spent the first four months of the season with the Blue Jays before being waived despite outstanding numbers.

Yeah. The Blue Jays were so loaded this summer that they didn’t have room on their roster for a super-utility player with a .296/.331/.506 batting line. So the A’s swooped in and Valencia’s just kept hitting. Unlike almost everybody else on the roster who’s left over from last year.

In fairness, I was on board with the trades for pitching last summer, and I thought trading Donaldson for Lawrie might wind up looking decent enough.

Instead nothing’s worked out, with those moves resulting in little value to the franchise, and some other, more questionable moves working out just as poorly, particularly signing Billy Butler for three years and $30 million.

It would be foolish to count out Billy Beane and the A’s. They’ve been counted out before, then averaged 93 wins per season from 2012 through ’14. But considering their competition in the American League West, both on the field and in the executive suites, Beane’s job might be harder now than ever before.