Organizational Rankings: #11

Today, we keep looking at some teams that have legitimate hope, so it gets harder from here on out. And, for those of you who haven’t seen the previous parts (which are linked below), keep in mind that this is a forward looking exercise – we are evaluating clubs on their overall ability to contend for a World Series title in the future. We are not evaluating how they have performed historically. This is about the health of each organization going forward.

Rankings So Far

#30: Washington Nationals
#29: Florida Marlins
#28: Houston Astros
#27: Kansas City Royals
#26: Pittsburgh Pirates
#25: San Diego Padres
#24: Cincinnati Reds
#23: Colorado Rockies
#22: Detroit Tigers
#21: St. Louis Cardinals
#20: Toronto Blue Jays
#19: San Francisco Giants
#18: Minnesota Twins
#17: Chicago White Sox
#16: Baltimore Orioles
#15: Seattle Mariners
#14: Philadelphia Phillies
#13: Los Angeles Dodgers
#12: Texas Rangers

#11: Oakland Athletics

Ownership: D

Lew Wolff seems like a pretty smart guy. I’m sure he wants to win, and it’s not really his fault that the A’s play in the worst stadium in baseball. But, since this section is about the team’s ability to compete financially with the rest of baseball, the A’s end up near the bottom of the pack. They don’t draw fans, they just blew up the Fremont option for a new stadium, and they appear locked in to the Oakland Coliseum for the foreseeable future. That means that they’ll continue to operate on one of the lowest payrolls in the game, and that puts them at a significant disadvantage.

Front Office: A

At this point, even the most ardent old school guy has to admit that Billy Beane is just very good at this whole GM thing. During their initial success, the credit was given to the A’s Big Three, but now that all have moved on and the A’s continue to compete with limited resources, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Beane and his crew have done a great job of exploiting weaknesses in other team’s analytics to build quality rosters. They scout better than people give them credit for, and they obviously have a pretty firm grasp on statistical analysis. They aren’t perfect, but every organization in baseball would love to have Billy Beane in charge. It will be interesting to see how much longer he stays, though – rumors continue to swirl that he’s going to move upstairs and hand the job to David Forst in the not too distant future.

Major League Talent: C

The additions of Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, and Orlando Cabrera have put the A’s in a position to compete for the AL West title this year, but when you look for a young core of major leaguers to build around, you start to realize that there’s not a lot here to be excited about. Daric Barton has a lot to prove and might have to do it in Triple-A. Travis Buck needs to stay healthy. Ryan Sweeney is a role player, not a building block. Gio Gonzalez, Dana Eveland, and Sean Gallagher are interesting arms with upside, but they’re all guys you want at the back-end of a championship rotation. They’re an ’09 contender if they can get a healthy starting rotation, but there’s going to be a lot of turnover at the big league level after the season.

Minor League Talent: A

Beane’s decision to trade off significant major league assets let him rebuild his farm system very quickly, and the A’s have some premium talents headed for the Bay Area. Few organizations have two arms that can match up with Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, and Vin Mazzaro provides some extra depth behind the big two. Michael Ynoa is perhaps the most hyped signing out of Latin America in years, and provides a high ceiling long term asset. Adrian Cardenas, Jemile Weeks, and Chris Carter provide some position player depth, and I’m a bigger fan of Aaron Cunningham than some others. With a bunch of stopgap position players at the major league level, there will be open jobs for a lot of these guys for 2010, and the guys on the farm will be the ones they’re counting on to contend going forward.

Overall: B

If they could figure out how to get into a real stadium and generate some revenue, they’d have a chance to put a stranglehold on the AL West. However, that doesn’t look likely any time soon, forcing the front office to keep trying to win with tape and bailing wire. It can work, but it’s tough to sustain on a yearly basis, and some bad luck with prospect development could set them back for several years. The A’s margin for error just isn’t very large, and they have to continually make excellent decisions in order to stay ahead of the curve. They should be able to maintain their analytical advantage, but for how long? The rest of baseball is catching up.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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As an M’s fan, I cringe at the thought of Billy Beane having a real payroll to work with.