The A’s began the second half of the season 13 games under .500 and 15 1/2 games out of first place and seemed to recognize the daunting nature of those numbers with several changes to their operation Friday.
It was made clear before the second-half opener that veterans Danny Valencia and Coco Crisp would see reduced playing time, with minor leaguer Ryon Healy called up to take Valencia’s place at third base. Manager Bob Melvin said that given the A’s record, “We have to look at some other guys and see if they’re going to be pieces for us in the future.”
The implication was the A’s, who finished in last place in 2015 after three consecutive playoff appearances, may use the rest of the season to build toward better returns starting next year. Over the past few days, though, a few players said they’re not conceding the season even as veterans receive reduced roles and trade rumors swirl around others.
“I don’t see it that way,” shortstop Marcus Semien said. “We’re trying to win right now. We’ve got talented guys all around on the 40-man roster. Anybody’s capable of coming in here and helping us win. That’s the goal. That’s my goal – I want to turn this thing around. We’ve got to get hot to turn this thing around.”
“Obviously, we have a lot of work to do if we want to play postseason baseball,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “But nobody here has talked about the fact that we’re done or out of it. I think we played really well over the weekend, and this is a big stretch for us coming up the next two weeks before August 1.”
Aug. 1 is the non-waiver trade deadline, and how the A’s perform in the next two weeks could determine whether they hold a sell-off like last summer, when Scott Kazmir, Ben Zobrist and Tyler Clippard were traded in July.
“Hopefully, we can start to play a little better here and resist having to deal with that,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Based on where we are in the standings, you do hear (trade talk). It’s an individual thing whether or not you can put that aside and not focus on it.”
Starting pitcher Rich Hill, closer Ryan Madson, Valencia and right fielder Josh Reddick have been mentioned as potential trade targets for contenders. Reddick said he thinks about his contract situation “not a lot,” but he acknowledged it appears the A’s are starting to look toward the future.
“It kind of makes you feel like we’re trying to get some guys experience to focus on next year,” Reddick said of the recent shuffle. “I really don’t know what the path is, just trying to get out here and win with whoever we can. The one kid we brought up in Healy has been pretty spectacular in the first few games with us. It is promising to see what kind of guys we are going to bring up.”
Healy hit a three-run homer in his second game Saturday and played strong defense – an area where Valencia has struggled – as the A’s won two of three games last weekend against the Toronto Blue Jays, who came in the American League’s second wild-card team. Reliever John Axford said the series indicated how the A’s have to win in the second half.
“We’re in the spot we are, not really winning ballgames, struggling at times, it’s good to get a look at some of those young guys and see what they can do,” Axford said. “And the way they contributed right away – we won some games and fought hard in those games, close games – it’s good to, I guess, see what the future holds.”
Valencia’s demotion seemed sudden given he spent most of the first half as Oakland’s cleanup hitter, batting .304 with 12 home runs. Crisp was hitting .244 but played in 73 of the first 89 games and has been a sparkplug.
“They’ve been two of the most consistent players for us this year, so it’s really hard to see them get their playing time cut,” Vogt said. “That being said, it’s exciting to see young guys come up and get their opportunity. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s interesting.”
It remains to be seen whether more changes are in store for the A’s, be it through trades or organizational movement. Current players said they intend to maintain the same goal as long as they’re wearing the Oakland uniform.
“We’ve just got to win, bottom line,” first baseman Yonder Alonso said. “We feel like we have a pretty good team. We’ve got to play well collectively and just go out and compete with whatever guys we have.”